Crafting a Blanket That Hugs You Back
A family business creates cozy cocoons
When planning a backpacking trip for three generations of their large, extended family five years ago, mother-daughter team Laurie Hansen and Rachelle Albrecht of Cedar City, Utah, had no idea their experiments with sewing inserts to insulate children’s sleeping bags would inspire a new kind of blanket that “hugs you back.”
“We wanted to trap air for warmth,” Hansen, a former nurse midwife, explains. “We tried all kinds of fabric and used a sewing machine and elastic thread to allow stretch in all directions, sewing bunches in patterns back and forth to make it durable.”
The result? Luxuriously textured “cocoons” and throws that failed as sleeping bag inserts but triumphed as naturally weighted blankets. “We kept testing for quality and warmth with the whole family gathered at our cabin in Brian Head,” says Hansen. “Everyone went wild for how they felt.”
Clearly onto something, they perfected their technique and visited countless fabric stores before settling on a soft, Velboa-like fabric they had created and sourced from two overseas manufacturers. They embarked on identifying their market and most promising sales venues. After searching for company names, they landed on “Albrea,” inspired by Rachelle’s last name, and applied for utility patents for the cocoon and the unique elastic stitching techniques used in both cocoons and throws.
They started attending trade and design shows, designed a website, began advertising on social media and attended their first craft show in December 2019. Although they did well at subsequent craft shows in February 2020, the pandemic led to cancellation or greatly reduced attendance at most locations.
Nonetheless, through word of mouth, orders started coming in. “The cocoon is like a sleeping bag you climb into, but our bestsellers are our blankets,” says Albrecht, a former teacher. “It’s hard to describe but when people sit down in a chair at a craft show and put one of our largest throws on their lap, you usually hear ‘Oh, my gosh’ or, ‘You’ve got to try this!’”
While weighted blankets have gained notoriety in recent years for their soothing effect on the nervous system, Albrea’s are unique. “Weighted blankets can feel claustrophobic because they’re so heavy,” Albrecht says. “Ours are lighter, and because of the elastic you never get that claustrophobic feeling.”
Their fans report sleeping with their cocoons or throws every night, and Hansen and Albrecht receive emails touting their products’ anxiety-reducing benefits, along with heartwarming stories. “There was a lady whose college-age daughter struggled with anxiety and came home every day, climbed into her cocoon and came out 30 minutes later a calm girl,” Albrecht says. The parents of an eight-year-old autistic boy reported that their son climbed into the cocoon and instantly fell asleep.
Both admit that working with family can be challenging at times. “We’ve had to set boundaries when we’re together socially at family gatherings,” Hansen says. “My mom is a really strong personality in a good way; she gets a lot done,” Albrecht adds. “Working with her has helped me learn how to stand up for things I really want.” Together they’ve learned to bring out the best in each other, encourage each other through ups and downs and cheer each other on.
The biggest reward? Knowing that their quest for the perfect blanket in terms of comfort, weight and warmth has finally more than paid off. “The stitching we came up with means they stretch in every direction in a way I’ve never seen anywhere else,” Hansen says. “When we started this, we had no idea how good these blankets would make people feel.”