A buff is a tubular scarf that offers both warmth and protection. It’s very easy to sew and can be done on a regular sewing machine and a serger, and in this tutorial, I’ll show both versions.
Best fabrics for sewing a buff
Use a soft, lightweight knit fabric. It should stretch crosswise but have minimal lengthwise stretch for best result. A 100% cotton t-shirt fabric is an excellent choice. Wool knit is another great fabric pick for sewing a buff. Lycra fabrics can work too, but the seam might get stretched out if you are sewing the buff on a sewing machine.
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To sew a buff you’ll need
- Soft knit fabric
- Sewing machine needles for stretch fabrics (knit ballpoint needle, see my guide for sewing machine needles for knits)
- Sewing machine thread
- A sewing machine or a serger
- An iron to press the seam
- Scissors or a rotary cutter (rotary cutter will make cutting straight lines easier.
Sizes for the buff pattern piece
Width: 40 cm (15 ¾”)
Height: 48 cm (19”)
Width: 44 cm (17 ¾”)
Height: 50 cm (19 ½”)
Width: 48 cm (18 ¾”)
Height: 52 cm (20 ½”)
Preparing and cutting the pattern
Draft the pattern on a large piece of paper or simply measure the pattern straight on the fabric.
Place the pattern piece on a single layer of fabric. Make sure the greatest degree of fabric stretch is across the width of the pattern.
How to sew a buff with a sewing machine
1. Fold the fabric in the middle
The fold should be lengthwise, right sides facing, the wrong side up.
2. Sew the side seam of the buff
Use a narrow zigzag stitch, which means that you use a smaller stitch width compared to a regular zigzag, around 1.5 is usually a good setting. The seam allowance should be between 0.6-1 CM (1/4-3/8”).
If the fabric is stretching out and is getting too wavy, it means it has too much lengthwise stretch. If you still want to use a stretchy fabric, use regular water-soluble stick glue to join the fabric together before sewing. Another option is to use water-soluble double-sided tape (Wonder-Tape) (Amazon affiliate link).
3. Press the seam open
This step is not necessary but it will be much nicer to the skin if the seam is flat rather than bulky. Use low to medium heat depending on the fabric (wool or polyester low heat, cotton slightly warmer). Press carefully.
4. Stitch the seam down
Again this step is optional but it will make the seam is chafe-free and will not rub your skin. Pick a decorative sewing machine stitch or use a regular zigzag stitch, and sew over the seam from the right side. Check out this step-by-step photo tutorial on exactly how to sew this stitch on your sewing machine.
You can also check out this step-by-step video tutorial on how to sew a buff with a sewing machine
How to sew a buff with a serger
Using your flatlock seam on the serger (either the 2-thread or the 3-thread) you can create a buff that is pretty much rub-free. So if you have a serger, I highly recommend using a flatlock rather than a regular 3- or 4-thread overlock and in this tutorial, I’ll show you how.
How a flatlock serger seam works
You sew together the fabric, with the wrong sides facing, right side up.
Then you pull the fabric to the sides so that the seam opens up and lies flat.
The reverse side of the flatlock seam, which forms a set of ladders. You can also use this side outwards if you like.
1. Fold the fabric wrong sides facing, right side up
Yes, for a serger flatlock seam you’ll need to sew the seam together from the right side, with the wrong sides facing if you want to get the flatlock seam visible on the outer side of the buff. IF you prefer the ladder stitch on the outside, fold the fabric with right sides facing.
2. Set your serger up for a flatlock seam
Check your manual for the exact settings. For a really flat seam, chose the 2-thread rather than 3-thread flatlock seam. If you want to use use a 3-thread (more durable, check my 3-thread flatlock tutorial on how to make it lie flat).
3. Sew the flatlock seam
Make sure the serger knife just cuts a smidgen of the fabric. Align the fabric edges with the knife to make sewing straight easier. Start and finish with a long thread tail, as these will be attached inside the seam in the next step.
4. Pull the seam open
Now you’ll have a very flat, chafe-free seam that will feel soft and nice on your skin.
5. Secure the seam
Attach the loose ends with a hand sewing needle. Just sew a few stitches inside the flatlock seam and tie them together.
You can also check out this step-by-step video tutorial on how to sew a buff with a seger using the flatlock seam:
The finished buff
I hope you found this tutorial useful, it’s a very easy accessory to sew, and using the techniques shown here, you’ll buff will also be very kind to your skin.
This post contains Amazon affiliate links, meaning that a commission is earned from qualifying purchases.
Summer FliesSeptember 25, 2015 at 10:21 pm
I have no real need for a buff in my climate but when I was in Syria and Jordan on holidays (alas in 1997 I think when things were normal) my bags were lost for 12 days of the 14 we were there and someone offered me one of these in fleece. It was a revelation – you could use it as you have to cover ears and hair or around the neck or more open and covering the ears and head. I liked that there were no flappy bits like a scarf. So easy.
Marjolijn RietsemaOctober 26, 2020 at 8:36 pm
Thank you for this. The Flat lock seam works well and I agree you can’t tell the seam from the fabric while wearing. I altered the size only because the stretch on my fabric is a little different and I like my buffs nice and snug. Happy to know that I don’t need to spend $20-$30 on a buff anymore! Phew. M
GlennJune 30, 2017 at 6:41 am
That’s really the issue with the homemade buff, it has to be knitted or it really isn’t a replacement. You can come close with what you did, but you do have a seam, where a buff has none. There are many negatvie comments in many camping supply websites about how a buff is too expensive for what you get, how the finishing is bad, etc.. The reviewer/complainer tells us how easy they are to make. They all show us the same thing, a sewn product with a side seam. I’m sure your seam is not bothersome, but that area doesn’t stretch the same as a buff. A true buff is knitted, it is not a sewn product. I owned an old Turtle Fur neck gator for skiing back in 1990 and would often move it so that the seam doesn’t annoy me on the slopes. Old Turtle fur products had a side seam. I haven’t purchased one since though. I have an original buff and a polar fleece buff, I’ve never used my turtle fur neck gator again. The buff steteches better and has never annoyed me. However I believe in diy, and you have more color/design choices making it on your own and for a fashion accessory you be better off with your method. However for skiiers and hikers I recommend the performanace benifits of a no side seam product for activities. It’s like Ketchup and mayonaise, everyone makes their own mayo, its is easy and it tastes better than store bought, but ketchup is too hard to make and doesn’t taste any better and often is worse, so you buy it. Thanks for your post.
JohannaJune 30, 2017 at 8:36 am
Totally, they are not the same thing and the tubular design has it advantages for sure that you can’t recreate as a homesewist. I think it comes down to preference and if you can live with a side seam or not. As for me, I wouldn’t want one to rub my skin, hence why I used a flatlock seam in my tutorial. That worked well for this purpose, but again it is not the same as a seamless tubular version. Thank you for the input.
TracyKMNovember 4, 2017 at 12:22 am
I did a regular 4 thread serger seam on all mine. I have worn them under helmets, for high performance activities, etc and have never been bothered by the seam or noticed it didn’t stretch there. I even sleep in mine sometimes. And I’m so tactile defensive I freak when a hair lands on my bare skin.
M-CSeptember 19, 2020 at 1:56 pm
I agree with Tracy, I have never been bothered by the seams in these things, and never bothered to flatlock them even. I made some merino wool ones when I lived in snow, and wore them constantly as they really helped me breathe. Even with a face hypersensitive from the cold I never had any trouble. But maybe that’s because I know enough to spend 5 seconds looking at what I am doing and putting the seam in the back?
JanieAugust 6, 2017 at 4:33 am
Thanks for this tutorial!!! I have a knit fabric that I love and thought I’d turn extra fabric into a buff. Thanks!!!
JohannaAugust 6, 2017 at 1:56 pm
You’re welcome, it’s such a rewarding easy project to make 🙂
franSeptember 11, 2017 at 12:13 am
Another option is to sew a french seam then sew it down close to the original seam. I just did some hiking in the White Mountains and need something to keep the salt out of my eyes. The buffs cost between $20 and $30 dollars so I thought I would try and make a few for my hiking group with a yard of fabric. I should be able to get quite a few for less than $10.00. Thanks for the pattern.
JohannaSeptember 13, 2017 at 11:02 am
What a great idea! I didn’t think about that, but it’s a great option when you lack serger.
KJMarch 24, 2018 at 1:56 am
I have made several of these using old merino wool shirts. I don’t care that there is a seam along the side. The important thing is I made them myself, they work, and they are free. Merino neck gaiters are the best! Thanks for the posting!
MaureenFebruary 3, 2019 at 12:11 am
Which way do you lay the stretch on the long or short direction of the material?
BetseyMay 23, 2020 at 12:57 pm
I had one that I had purchased and used a lot but found a remnant of similar fabric that looked as if it would work for buffs. I was able to make two out of the remnant for probably 5.00. Great colors, very practical! I use mine under my motorcycle helmet and could use them now as masks. Thanks for sharing this information!
LeslieJuly 9, 2020 at 9:49 pm
A lot of people are starting to make these buffs from antimicrobial performance fabrics, like ChitoSante and Polartec Power Dry or Power Grid. Many of them also have 50+ UPF which makes them even more functional. I did a video tutorial for Discovery Fabrics that pretty similar to yours, a while back…this is the first time that I have seen yours. Very clear instructions, as usual!
LilyJuly 25, 2020 at 3:44 pm
Thanks for this awesome tutorial with different serger options! I am planning to sew some for my kids before they go back to school and wanted to ask why 4 way stretch material is not suggested for this project? Also, do you have any recommendations on how to measure their heads to figure out how big to cut the fabric? Thanks again!
Leslie HanesJuly 28, 2020 at 9:00 pm
I just take the fabric I’m going to use and stretch it around the person’s head to see how much I need, then I cut.
Johanna LundströmNovember 25, 2020 at 12:29 pm
Hi! Sorry for late reply, the reason is that if the fabric is very stretchy lengthwise the seam might stretch out, not making it very suitable for the sewing machine option, but a little stretch isn’t an isseu
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Jen Von GradulewskiJanuary 2, 2021 at 9:38 pm
I had imagined making one of these but in a vertical tubular shape where all seams are on the inside. I am a cold person so for me it seems better to have it doubled up anyway. Thoughts?
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TracyDecember 21, 2021 at 2:45 pm
So the top and bottom are left unfinished? I know knits don’t necessarily unravel but they can stretch out and you can get runs the length of the fabric if you don’t cut the edge perfectly. I’m thinking a narrow rolled hem on the overlock, or some other edge stitch. Thoughts?