Title:
Neck warmer and method for making same
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A neck warmer has a flat, pliable, substantially rectangular body. The rectangular body has first and second ends and top and bottom edges, and further has first and second opposite exterior surfaces, bounded by the first and second ends and top and bottom edges. First fastening means are attached to the first surface of the rectangular body proximate to the first end, and second fastening means are attached to the second surface of the rectangular body proximate to the second end. The first and second ends of the rectangular body are removably fastenable to each other at the first and second fastening means. The first and second fastening means are positioned such that when the first end is attached to the second end, the rectangular body forms a tube having inner and outer circumferential surfaces provided by the first and second exterior surfaces of the rectangular body. The tube is dimensioned to fit around a wearer's neck.



Inventors:
Visco, Anthony G. (Chapel Hill, NC, US)
Visco, Zachary R. (Chapel Hill, NC, US)
Application Number:
11/022434
Publication Date:
06/29/2006
Filing Date:
12/23/2004
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A41B1/12
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
SUTTON, ANDREW W
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
JACOBS & KIM LLP (1050 WINTER STREET, SUITE 1000, #1082, WALTHAM, MA, 02451-1401, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A neck warmer, comprising: a flat, pliable, substantially rectangular body having first and second ends and top and bottom edges, and further having first and second opposite exterior surfaces, bounded by the first and second ends and top and bottom edges; first fastening means attached to the first surface of the rectangular body proximate to its first end; second fastening means attached to the second surface of the rectangular body proximate to its second end, the first and second ends of the rectangular body being removably fastenable to each other at the first and second fastening means, the first and second fastening means being positioned such that when the first end is attached to the second end, the rectangular body forms a tube having inner and outer circumferential surfaces provided by the first and second exterior surfaces of the rectangular body, the tube being dimensioned to fit around a wearer's neck.

2. The neck warmer of claim 1, wherein the first and second fastening means comprise complementary pieces of hook-and-loop material.

3. The neck warmer of claim 2, wherein the first and second fastening means comprise complementary strips of hook-and-loop material that are substantially parallel to the first and second ends of the rectangular body.

4. The neck warmer of claim 1, wherein the rectangular body comprises a first layer and a second layer, the first layer providing the first surface of the rectangular body and the second layer providing the second surface of the rectangular body.

5. The neck warmer of claim 1, wherein the first and second layers are formed by folding a single piece of material in half.

6. The neck warmer of claim 1, wherein the first and second layers are formed by attaching together two separate pieces of material.

7. The neck warmer of claim 6, wherein the first and second layers are formed from materials having different colors.

8. The neck warmer of claim 6, wherein the first and second layers are formed from two different materials.

9. The neck warmer of claim 3, wherein the first fastening means comprises a plurality of substantially parallel strips of hook-and-loop material, and wherein the second fastening means is selectably fastenable to one of the plurality of substantially parallel strips of hook-and-loop material, thereby adjusting the size of the tube formed by the rectangular body.

10. The neck warmer of claim 1 further including a pocket attached to an exterior surface of the rectangular body.

11. The neck warmer of claim 10, wherein the pocket includes pocket closing means.

12. The neck warmer of claim 4, further including a pocket between the first and second layers of the rectangular body.

13. The neck warmer of claim 12, wherein the pocket is accessible through an opening in an edge of the rectangular body.

14. The neck warmer of claim 13, further including pocket closing means along the length of the opening.

15. The neck warmer of claim 4, further including an inflatable tube between the first and second layers.

16. The neck warmer of claim 15, wherein the inflatable tube includes an inflation nozzle, and wherein the inflation nozzle is accessible through a hole in a layer of the rectangular body.

17. The neck warmer of claim 15, wherein the neck warmer is substantially flat and pliable when the inner tube is deflated and wherein the neck warmer assumes a supportive shape when the inner tube is inflated.

18. A method for making a neck warmer, comprising: providing a rectangular sheet of pliable material; folding the sheet in half along a central crease line to form a folded rectangle having first and second ends and top and bottom edges, the top edge of the folded rectangle being defined by the crease line, the folded rectangle further having first and second opposite surfaces bounded by the first and second ends and top and bottom edges; using an L-shaped seam to close an end and the bottom edge of the folded rectangle to form a pouch with an open mouth; reversing the tube through the open mouth; folding a portion of the mouth inward to form a finished edge; attaching a first fastening means to a first exterior surface proximate to the first end and attaching second fastening means to a second exterior surface proximate to the second end, the attaching of the first fastening means also closing the mouth of the pouch.

19. A method for making a neck warmer, comprising: placing a first rectangular piece of material on top of a second piece of material having substantially the same shape and size as the first piece of material; using an U-shaped seam to attach together the top edge, bottom edge and an end of the rectangular pieces of material to form a tube with a pouch with an open mouth; reversing the tube through the open mouth; folding a portion of the mouth inward to form a finished edge; attaching a first fastening means to the first exterior surface proximate to a first end of the pouch and attaching second fastening means to a second exterior surface proximate to the second end of the pouch, the attaching of the first fastening means also closing the mouth.

20. The method of claim 19, wherein the first and second rectangular pieces of material are different colors.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The present invention relates generally to improvements in the field of cold weather apparel, and more particularly to advantageous aspects of an improved neck warmer and method for making same.

2. Description of Prior Art

Although there are currently a number of different types of apparel worn around the neck in cold weather, each has certain disadvantages. For example, traditional scarves typically use excess material, and can present a safety hazard. Other types of cold weather neckwear typically lack versatility, and may be awkward to use. For example, a collar-type article of clothing that is pulled over a wearer's head may be difficult to pull on over a hat, hood, or eyeglasses, and may disturb the appearance of the wearer's hair. In addition, the clothing industry is highly competitive, with typically narrow profit margins. There is thus an ongoing need for clothing designs that combine economy and ease of manufacture with ease of use and an aesthetically pleasing appearance.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

These and other issues are addressed by the present invention, a first aspect of which provides a neck warmer having a flat, pliable, substantially rectangular body. The rectangular body has first and second ends and top and bottom edges, and further has first and second opposite exterior surfaces, bounded by the first and second ends and top and bottom edges. First fastening means are attached to the first surface of the rectangular body proximate to its first end, and second fastening means attached to the second surface of the rectangular body proximate to its second end. The first and second ends of the rectangular body are removably fastenable to each other at the first and second fastening means. The first and second fastening means are positioned such that when the first end is attached to the second end, the rectangular body forms a tube having inner and outer circumferential surfaces provided by the first and second exterior surfaces of the rectangular body. The tube is dimensioned to fit around a wearer's neck.

Additional features and advantages of the present invention will become apparent by reference to the following detailed description and accompanying drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 shows an elevation view of a neck warmer according to a first aspect of the invention.

FIGS. 2 and 3 show isometric views of the neck warmer shown in FIG. 1.

FIG. 4 shows an elevation view of a rectangular piece of material used to construct the neck warmer shown in FIGS. 1-3.

FIG. 5 shows an isometric view of the rectangular piece of material shown in FIG. 4, folded along a central crease line.

FIG. 6 shows an isometric view of the folded rectangular piece of material shown in FIG. 5, after it has been partially stitched together.

FIG. 7 shows an isometric view of the open end of the partially stitched piece of material shown in FIG. 6, after the unfinished edges at that end have been folded inward.

FIG. 8 shows an isometric view of first and second pieces of material used to construct a neck warmer according to a further aspect of the invention.

FIG. 9 shows the pieces of material shown in FIG. 8, after they have been partially stitched together.

FIG. 10 shows an isometric view of the open end of the partially stitched together pieces of material shown in FIG. 9, after the unfinished edges at that end have been folded inward.

FIG. 11 shows an isometric view of a finished neck warmer according to the aspect of the invention illustrated in FIGS. 8-10.

FIG. 12 shows a top view of the neck warmer shown in FIG. 11.

FIG. 13 shows an isometric view of the neck warmer shown in FIG. 11, positioned around a wearer's neck.

FIG. 14 shows an elevation view of a neck warmer according to a further aspect of the invention, in which the size of the neck warmer is adjustable.

FIGS. 15-17 show elevation views of neck warmer according to further aspects of the invention, in which the neck warmer includes a pocket.

FIG. 18 shows an elevation view of a partially constructed neck warmer according to a further aspect of the invention.

FIGS. 19-21 show isometric views of a series of stages in the construction of an internal pocket suitable for use with the partially constructed neck warmer shown in FIG. 18.

FIG. 22 shows a top view of a completed internal pocket suitable for attachment to the partially constructed neck warmer shown in FIG. 18.

FIG. 23 shows an isometric view of a finished neck warmer according to the aspect of the invention illustrated in FIGS. 18-22.

FIGS. 24 and 25 show isometric views of alternative embodiments of an inflatable neck warmer according to a further aspect of the invention.

FIG. 26 shows an isometric view of a folded piece of material suitable for use in constructing the neck warmer shown in FIGS. 24 and 25.

FIGS. 27 and 28 show isometric views of straight and curved inner tubes suitable for use, respectively, in the neck warmers shown in FIGS. 24 and 25.

FIG. 29 shows a partially constructed neck warmer according to the aspects of the invention illustrated in FIGS. 24-28.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

FIG. 1 shows an elevation view, and FIGS. 2 and 3 show isometric views of a neck warmer 10 according to a first aspect of the invention. As shown in FIG. 1, the neck warmer 10 has a substantially rectangular body, with top and bottom edges 12 and 14, and first and second ends 16 and 18. The neck warmer 10 further includes a first exterior surface 20, and a second exterior surface 22 (shown in FIGS. 2 and 3) that is substantially identical to the first exterior surface 20 in size and shape. The first and second exterior surfaces 20 and 22 are substantially rectangular in shape and are bounded by the top and bottom edges 12 and 14 and first and second ends 16 and 18 of the neck warmer 10. As discussed further below, according to a further aspect of the present invention, the second surface 22 may be constructed from a different material from the first surface 20, or may have a different color or aesthetic appearance from the first surface 20.

The neck warmer 10 further includes fastening means 24 and 26 for removably fastening the first end 16 of the neck warmer 10 to the second end 18. According to the present aspect of the invention, the fastening means 24 and 26 are provided by first and second strips of hook-and-loop material. It should be noted that other fasteners or fastening means may be used without departing from the spirit of the invention. For example, it would be possible to use a plurality of smaller patches of hook-and-loop material in place of either or both of the continuous strips 24 and 26 shown in FIGS. 1-3. These patches may be shaped as circles, squares, stars, or the like. Also, it is possible to attach the fastening means to the neck warmer 10 in a variety of ways without departing from the spirit of the present invention. In the embodiments of the invention described herein, the fastening means are attached to the neck warmer by stitching them into position. However, it would also be possible, for example, to use an adhesive to mount them into place.

Hook-and-loop material typically includes a piece of “hook” material that is selectably fastened to, or unfastened from, a complementary piece of “loop” material. As used herein, the term “hook-and-loop material” refers generally to a piece of either hook material or loop material. The term “complementary” is used to describe a second piece of hook-and-loop material that fastens to a first piece of hook-and-loop material. If the first piece of hook-and-loop material is hook material, then a complementary second piece of hook-and-loop material would be loop material, and vice versa. It should be noted that hook material typically has a rougher texture than loop material. In constructing a neck warmer 10 according to the present invention, it may be desirable to position the respective complementary strips of hook-and-loop material in a configuration that maximizes wearer comfort.

Returning to FIG. 1, it will be seen that the neck warmer 10 is provided with a first strip 24 of hook-and-loop fastening material attached to the first surface 20. As shown in FIG. 1, the first strip of hook-and-loop fastening material 24 is mounted to the first exterior surface 20 of the neck warmer 10, proximate to its first end 16. According to the present embodiment of the invention, the first strip of fastening material 24 is positioned such that it is substantially parallel to the first end 16, with a small amount of clearance between the edges of the strip 24 and the top and bottom edges 12 and 14 and the first end 16 of the neck warmer 10.

As further shown in FIG. 1, the second, complementary strip of hook-and-loop fastening material 26 is mounted to the second surface 22 of the neck warmer 10, proximate to its second end 18. As shown in FIG. 1, the second strip 26 of hook-and-loop material is positioned with respect to the second end 18 in a configuration that is substantially identical to the positioning of the first strip 24 of hook-and-loop material relative to the first end 16. Thus, it will be appreciated that the first and second exterior surfaces 20 and 22 of the neck warmer 10 have substantially identical appearances, differing in that one of the fastening strips 24 or 26 is hook material and the other strip is loop material.

The neck warmer 10 is constructed from a pliable material. According to the present aspect of the invention, the material used is polar fleece, although other materials may be used without departing from the spirit of the invention. These materials include, for example, knitted or woven materials, including materials knitted or woven from different types of yarn, including fuzzy yarns and specialty yarns. As shown in FIGS. 2 and 3, the pliability of the neck warmer 10 allows it to be arranged in a tubular configuration. In FIG. 3, the first and second strips 22 and 24 of hook-and-loop fastening material have been pressed together to fasten them to each other. It will be seen that in order to align the fastener strips 22 and 24 so that they can be fastened to each other, the neck warmer's first end 16 overlaps the second end 18. The neck warmer 10 is dimensioned such that when the neck warmer 10 is arranged in its tubular configuration, it fits comfortably around a wearer's neck. In its tubular configuration, it will be seen that the hook-and-loop fastening strips 22 and 24 are sandwiched between the neck warmer's overlapping ends 16 and 18.

It will be seen that the neck warmer 10 shown in FIGS. 1-3 requires significantly less material to manufacture than a traditional scarf. In addition, the neck warmer 10 is safer than a traditional scarf. Traditional scarves have caused injury and death when they are wrapped around a wearer's neck and become entangled in machinery, door, tree branches, or the like. The neck warmer 10 shown in FIGS. 1-3 does not have any excess material that can become entangled. Also, the neck warmer 10 has a safety release feature. If the neck warmer 10 somehow becomes entangled in something, the hook-and-loop fastener strips 24 and 26 will pull apart, freeing the wearer.

In addition, it will be seen that the generally rectangular shape of the neck warmer 10 facilitates the addition of corporate logos, team names, or other designs. These designs, for example, may be embroidered directly onto the neck warmer 10. Alternatively, the designs may be placed onto labels that are then sewn or otherwise attached to the neck warmer 10. If desired, a logo or other design may extend across an entire interior or exterior surface 20 or 22 of the neck warmer 10. It should further be noted that because the neck warmer 10 is reversible, a wearer of the neck warmer 10 may choose to wear it with the logo or design on the outside or on the inside, depending upon the situation. In addition, because the neck warmer 10 is reversible, it would be possible to have a different logo or design on each side, thereby increasing the versatility of the neck warmer 10.

FIGS. 4-7 illustrate a technique for constructing the neck warmer 10 shown in FIGS. 1-3. FIG. 4 shows an elevation view of a rectangular piece of material 30, such as polar fleece, or the like. According to the present aspect of the invention, the rectangular piece of material has a height of approximately 13 inches. However, the height of the material may be modified without departing from the spirit of the invention. The starting piece of material 30 may be cut from a larger sheet or roll of material, and may have rough, unfinished edges. Polar fleece and other fabrics typically have a “right” side and a “wrong” side. In FIG. 4, the right side of the material faces forward. Along the center of the rectangular piece of material 30, there is shown a crease line 32, which divides the rectangular piece of the material 30 into upper and lower halves 30a and 30b, each having a height of approximately 6.5 inches.

In FIG. 5, the upper half 30a of the rectangular piece of material 30 has been folded at the crease line 32 to overlay the lower half 30b to form a folded rectangle, with the “right” side of the material on the inside of the folded rectangle. The crease line 32 forms the top of the folded rectangle. The left, bottom, and right edges of the folded rectangle are not yet attached to each other, and have unfinished edges.

As shown in FIG. 6, an L-shaped seam 34 is stitched through the upper and lower halves 30a and 30b of the folded rectangle 30 to close its left and bottom edges. It will be seen that with the L-shaped seam 34 in place, the folded rectangle 30 now forms a pouch with an open mouth 36.

The pouch now reversed through its mouth 36 to bring the “right” side of the fabric to the outside. It will be seen that after the pouch has been reversed, the bottom and left edges of the pouch now have finished appearances. The unfinished edges at the mouth of the pouch are finished by folding them towards the interior of the pouch along crease line38 and stitching them into place. FIG. 7 shows an isometric view of the mouth of the pouch shown in FIG. 6 after the rough edges have been folded in at crease line 38.

According to a further aspect of the invention, the closing of the mouth 36 of the pouch is combined with attaching a hook-and-loop fastener strip to that end. Returning to FIG. 1, it will be seen that the first fastener strip 22 is affixed to the neck warmer by a rectangular seam 40 that travels along the inner perimeter of the fastener strip 22. Returning to FIGS. 6 and 7, the unfinished edges of the mouth 36 of the pouch may be folded in and held in place as the first fastener strip 22 is stitched into position. At least part of the rectangular seam 40 passes through the folded-in edges of the mouth 36 to hold the folded-in edges in place. A second rectangular seam 42 is used to attach the second fastener strip 26 to the second end 18 of the neck warmer 10. The first and second fastener strips 24 and 26 may be attached to the neck warmer 10 in any order without departing from the spirit of the invention. In the present embodiment of the invention, in attaching the fastener strips 24 and 26 to the neck warmer 10, a clear, monofilament thread is loaded into the sewing machine's bobbin, and a suitably colored multifilament thread is loaded onto the sewing machine's upper spindle. In constructing the present embodiments of the neck warmer, two thread combinations have been used: (1) white multifilament and clear monofilament, for use with white hook-and-loop strips, or (2) black multifilament and clear monofilament, for use with black hook-and-loop strips. Given the method of construction, the only visible thread is the stitching on the hook-and-loop strips. Thus, neck warmers having different colors or patterns may be assembled using the same thread and bobbin, so long as the neck warmers all have the same color hook-and-loop strips. However, it will be appreciated that different types of threads may be used without departing from the spirit of the invention.

From the above description of the invention, it will be apparent that the neck warmer 10 shown in FIGS. 1-3 has two layers or plies, formed by the upper and lower halves 30a and 30b of the rectangle 30 shown in FIG. 4. It will further be apparent that, if desired, the space between the two layers may be filled with an insulating material, such as down, synthetic filling, and the like. The space between the two layers may also be filled with a microwaveable, heat-retaining material, such as buckwheat, rice, or the like. Filler material may be loaded directly between the two layers and then permanently sewn or otherwise sealed between the two layers. Filler material may be freely distributed between the two layers, or may be loaded into defined compartments within the neck warmer. Where the filler material is permanently sewn into the neck warmer, the entire neck warmer would be placed in a microwave oven to heat the filler material.

Alternatively, it would also be possible to load filler material into a filler insert or a plurality of filler inserts (not shown). The filler insert or inserts may further be installed in the neck warmer such that they are removable by the wearer. In that case, the wearer would be able to remove the filler insert or inserts and place them into a microwave oven for heating, separate from the rest of the neck warmer. Once heated, the filler insert or inserts would then be reinstalled into the neck warmer, which would then be placed around the wearer's neck.

It will further be apparent that because the fastener strips 22 and 24 are affixed to the neck warmer 10 in a substantially symmetrical fashion, the neck warmer 10 is reversible. In other words, the first surface 20 of the neck warmer may provide either the inner or outer circumferential surface of the tubular configuration shown in FIGS. 2 and 3. In the embodiment of the invention shown in FIGS. 1-7, the reversibility feature may be useful for a number of reasons. For example, one side of the neck warmer 10 may become worn or stained. The wearer can then reverse the neck warmer to hide the worn or stained portion.

FIGS. 8-12 illustrate the construction of an alternative embodiment of a neck warmer 50 according to the present invention. The finished neck warmer 50 is shown in FIG. 11. FIGS. 8-10 are a series of drawings illustrating the construction of a neck warmer 50 according to this aspect of the invention. As illustrated in FIG. 8, two separate rectangular pieces of material 52 and 54 are used to construct the neck warmer 50. The two rectangular pieces 52 and 54 may be made out of the same material or different materials and may have the same color or aesthetic appearance or different colors or aesthetic appearances. The use of different materials or materials having different appearances may serve a number of different purposes. For example, it may be desirable for the inner and outer surfaces of the neck warmer to have different colors or designs, allowing the neck warmer to be reversed for coordination with different outfits. Also, it may be desirable, for example, for the outer surface of the neck warmer to be waterproof, but for the inner surface of the neck warmer to be breathable. It may also be desirable for one of the surfaces to be reflective.

In FIG. 9, the first rectangular piece of material 52 is laid on top of the second piece of material 54, with their “right” sides abutting each other. The two pieces are then sewn together at their top, left, and bottom edges using a U-shaped seam 56 to form a pouch with an open mouth 58. The pouch is then reversed through the mouth 58, bringing the “right” side of the top and bottom pieces of material 52 and 54 to the outside. The unfinished edges at the mouth 58 of the pouch are then folded in at crease line 60. FIG. 10 shows an isometric view of the mouth 58 of the pouch after the unfinished edges have been folded in.

The edges of the mouth 58 are then stitched into position to present a finished appearance. Similar to the embodiment of the invention illustrated in FIGS. 1-7, the closing of the mouth 58 of the pouch may be combined with attaching a hook-and-loop fastener strip to that end. A complementary hook-and-loop fastener strip is also affixed to the other end of the neck warmer 50. FIG. 11 shows an isometric view, and FIG. 12 shows a top view, of the neck warmer 50 after it has been arranged in a tubular configuration, with its ends fastened to each other. FIG. 13 shows an isometric view of the neck warmer 50 in position around the neck of a wearer 62. The position of the overlapping portion of the neck warmer 50 on the wearer's neck may be freely varied for purposes of comfort or appearance.

The neck warmers 10 and 50 illustrated in FIGS. 1-13 each are constructed to have two layers. However, it will be appreciated that it would also be possible to construct a neck warmer according to the present invention with only a single layer. For example, it would be possible to construct a neck warmer using only one of the two pieces of material 52 or 54 shown in FIG. 8. However, if only one sheet of material is used, it would be desirable for all of the unfinished edges of the material to be hemmed or otherwise finished.

The neck warmers 10 and 50 illustrated in FIGS. 1-13 are designed to fit a neck of a particular size. Thus, it is contemplated that these neck warmers 10 and 50 will be manufactured in different sizes, such as small, medium, large, extra large, and the like. However, it would also be possible, within the spirit of the invention, to modify the design of the neck warmer such that its size is adjustable.

FIG. 14 shows an elevation view of a neck warmer 70 according to a further aspect of the invention. The neck warmer 70 is similar to the neck warmers 10 and 50 shown in FIGS. 1-13. However, the neck warmer 70 includes a plurality of fastener strips 72-76 at one end, with at least one complementary fastener strip 78 at the other end. It will be seen that the neck warmer 70 can be adjusted to be worn by wearers having different neck sizes. Fastening strip 78 to strip 72 results in a relatively narrow tube. Fastening strip 78 to strips 74 and 76 results in progressively wider tubes. This adjustability feature may also be useful if a particular wearer chooses to wear another article of clothing, such as a turtleneck collar, underneath the neck warmer 70. Also, a wearer may wish to loosen or tighten the neck warmer during the course of a day.

Other arrangements may also be used to allow a neck warmer according to the present invention to be adjustable. For example, it would be possible to use one wide strip of hook-and-loop material, two wide strips, or other combinations thereof. Because loop material is typically softer than hook material, it would be desirable for the fastening means to be arranged such that if any portion of the fastening means comes into contact with the wearer's neck, that portion would be loop material.

FIGS. 15-17 show plan views of three neck warmers 80, 90 and 100 according to further aspects of the invention, in which the neck warmers have been provided with pockets that can be used to hold keys, credit cards, cash, or other small items. Thus, when using a neck warmer according to this aspect of the invention, a wearer is freed from having to carry items in pants pockets, shirt pockets, or the like. This aspect of the invention may be particularly useful when the neck warmer is used for running, or other outdoor activities. It should be noted that although the neck warmers shown in FIGS. 15-17 show only a single, substantially rectangular pocket, it would be possible within the spirit of the present invention to provide pockets of different shapes, or to provide a plurality of pockets.

In the neck warmer 80 shown in FIG. 15, a pocket 82 has been created by attaching a square patch of material 84 to an outer surface of the neck warmer 80 using a U-shaped seam 86 that attaches the left, bottom, and right edges of the square patch 84 to the neck warmer 80, leaving the top edge open. The open top edge serves as the pocket opening. The edges of the patch 84 are finished by turning them under and hemming them. As shown in FIG. 15, the pocket opening is secured by a pair of complementary hook-and-loop fastener strips 88. One fastener strip is attached to the surface of the neck warmer, and the other fastener strip is attached to the inner surface of the square patch 84.

Alternatively, the neck warmer shown in FIG. 15 may be modified by leaving the pocket open, that is, without hook-and-loop fastener strips 88. Such a pocket would allow a wearer to gain easy access to the pocket's contents. The pocket may be shaped to accommodate a particular item.

It should be noted that other fastening means may be used to allow the pocket opening to be closed. These include, for example, snaps, hooks, zippers, and the like. Thus, as used throughout the present description of the invention, the term “pocket closing means” refers generally to these and other like arrangements used to close a pocket.

The neck warmer 90 shown in FIG. 16 is similar to the neck warmer 80 shown in FIG. 15. A flap 94 has been added at the top of the pocket 92. Hook-and-loop fastener strips 96 are used to removably fasten the flap 94 to close the pocket 92. Other pocket closing means may also be used. The neck warmers 80 and 90 shown in FIG. 15 and 16 may be worn with the pocket either inside or outside. Depending upon the contents of the pocket, it may be desirable to have the pocket on the outside for comfort, or on the inside for security. It would also be within the spirit of the invention to provide a plurality of pockets, and it would further be possible to provide one or more pockets on both the inner and outer surfaces of the neck warmer.

FIG. 17 shows a neck warmer according to a further aspect of the invention in which a pocket 102 has been formed in the neck warmer between its two layers. As shown in FIG. 17, an opening 104 has been provided at the top edge of the neck warmer 100, providing access to the interior of the neck warmer 100. First and second transverse seams 106 and 108 have been stitched across the neck warmer 100, with one seam at each side of the opening 104. It will be seen that each seam 106 and 108 defines one side of the pocket. As shown in FIG. 17, the bottom of the pocket 102 is provided by the bottom edge 110 of the neck warmer 100. However, it would also be possible to provide a separate bottom seam (not shown) to define a shallower pocket. If desired, a pair of hook-and-loop fastening strips can be affixed between the two layers of the neck warmer 100 proximate to the opening 104 to allow a wearer to open and close the pocket 102. Other pocket closing means may also be used for this purpose.

FIGS. 18-22 illustrate a technique for constructing a neck warmer 120 according to a further aspect of the invention. The finished neck warmer 120 is shown in FIG. 23. FIG. 18 shows a partially completed neck warmer 122, which resembles the neck warmer 10 shown in FIGS. 1-7, except that there is an opening 124 in the bottom edge. As shown in FIGS. 19-22, a pocket is formed from two rectangular pieces of material 126 and 128 that are stitched together using a U-shaped seam 130. It should be noted that although two separate pieces of material 126 and 128 are shown in FIGS. 19-22, it would also be possible within the spirit of the present invention to construct a suitable pocket using a single piece of material (not shown) that is folded in half, and sewn accordingly.

A zipper or other pocket closing means is installed between the two pieces of material 126 and 128, with flaps 132 and 134 extending outside of the pocket. The flaps 132 and 134 are used to attach the pocket to the interior of the neck warmer. These flaps 132 and 134 may also be used in attaching a zipper across the mouth of the pocket. If hook-and-loop strips are used to close the pocket, they may suitably be attached to the inner surfaces of the pocket, just within the pocket mouth.

FIG. 22 shows a top view of the pocket, illustrating the installed zipper 136. Other pocket closing means may be used in place of zipper 136. As shown in FIG. 23, the finished pocket 138 may be used to store small items 140, such as credit card, keys, and the like. It should be noted that the material, shape, size, fastening means, and location of the pockets shown in FIGS. 15-23 may be modified without departing from the spirit of the invention. Also, the pocket may be used to hold other types of items including, for example, medication, cosmetics, heating or cooling pads, scented materials, or the like.

FIGS. 24 and 25 show isometric views of alternative embodiments of an inflatable neck warmer 150 and 150′ according to a further aspect of the invention. According to this aspect of the invention, the neck warmers 150 and 150′ are provided with inner tubes that may be inflated and deflated by a wearer. FIG. 24 shows a neck warmer 150 that, when inflated, has a substantially straight shape. FIG. 25 shows a neck warmer 150′ that, when inflated, has a curved shape. The shape of the inflated neck warmer may be varied to provide support for the neck, the back, or other body part. When the inner tube is deflated, the neck warmers 150 and 150′ lie flat and have a generally rectangular shape. The neck warmers 150 and 150′ include complementary strips of hook-and-loop material 152 and 154, and 152′ and 154′, at each end. The inner tubes are pliable when they are deflated. Thus, when the neck warmers 150 and 150′ are in their deflated configurations, they function in a manner similar to that of the neck warmers shown in FIGS. 1-23 and described above. When the neck warmers 150 and 150′ are in their inflated configurations, the neck warmers assume an inflated shape that is sufficiently rigid to provide support to a wearer's neck or other body part. The inflated neck warmer 150′ shown in FIG. 25 is curved so that it fits at least part of the way around a wearer's neck, providing support to the wearer's head. This curved shape of the inflated neck warmer 150′ facilitates its use as a pillow, neck support or back support for air travel or in other situations. However, as shown in FIG. 24, the neck warmer 150 may have a straight shape, or other shape, as desired.

FIGS. 26-29 illustrate a technique according to a further aspect of the invention for constructing the neck warmer shown in FIGS. 24 and 25. In FIG. 26, a rectangular sheet of suitable material 160, such as polar fleece, is folded along a central crease line, wrong side out. As shown in FIG. 26, the rectangular sheet of material includes a small hole 162 that is used to provide access to the inflation valve of an inner tube. FIGS. 27 and 28 show isometric views of inner tubes 164 and 164′ suitable for use, respectively, in the neck warmers 150 and 150′ shown in FIGS. 24 and 25. FIG. 27 a “straight” inner tube 164, and FIG. 28 a curved inner tube 164′. Each inner tube 164 and 164′ includes an inflation valve 166 and 166′. The inflation valves 166 and 166′ include nozzles 168 and 168′ that protrude, respectively, out of inner tubes 164 and 164′ and are used to blow air into the inner tubes 164 and 164′. When the inner tubes 164 and 164′ are fully inflated, the nozzles 168 and 168′ may be pushed into a recessed position so that they no longer protrude out of inner tubes 164 and 164′.

Returning to FIG. 26, it will be seen that the hole 162 is positioned so that is aligns with inflation valves 166 and 166′. As shown in FIG. 29, the folded rectangular piece of material 160 is stitched with an L-shaped seam 170 to form a pouch and is then reversed through the mouth of the pouch. Similar to the neck warmer shown in FIGS. 8-13, discussed above, the inflatable neck warmer may be constructed using two separate pieces of material, using a U-shaped seam. The inner tube 164 or 164′ can then be inserted into the pouch so that the inflation valve is properly located within the hole 162, as shown in FIG. 29. The mouth of the pouch is then folded in, and fastener strips 152 and 154, or 152′ and 154′, are attached to the two ends of the neck warmer. If desired, the material 160 shown in FIG. 26 may include extra sections to facilitate the expansion of the neck warmer when it is inflated. The extra sections of material may be arranged in pleats or other suitable configurations.

It will be appreciated that a neck warmer according to the present invention has a number of advantages over the prior art. First, the neck warmer is versatile. Because it is reversible, the neck warmer can present two different aesthetic appearances, doubling its usefulness in a wardrobe. In addition, the neck warmer can be used as general cold weather outerwear, but may also be used for sports, like skiing, skating, winter running, or the like. Second, the neck warmer does not have to be pulled over the head. This feature can be significant where, for example, the wearer has eyeglasses or a hat, or is concerned about his or her hair. In addition, the neck warmer may be easily placed around a child's neck.

As further described herein, further aspects of a neck warmer according to present invention provide additional useful features, including a pocket that can be used for storage of small items, and an inflatable tube that allows the neck warmer to be used as a travel pillow. Also, as mentioned above, the neck warmer may include a material, such as buckwheat or rice, that can be heated in a microwave. This material may be freely distributed within the neck warmer or loaded into defined compartments within the neck warmer. Alternatively, as discussed above, the material may be contained in filler inserts that may be removable.

A neck warmer according to the present invention is also significantly safer than a scarf. Wearing a scarf, there is a danger that the scarf will get caught in machinery, in a door, or the like. A neck warmer according to the present invention is close-fitting, substantially reducing this risk. If the neck warmer gets caught or pulled at, it will typically release, thereby tending to prevent injury to the wearer.

It will further be appreciated that the neck warmer uses a minimum of material, thereby saving on manufacturing costs. Because the neck warmer is rectangular, it is easy to ship, store and display. In addition, it folds easily for packing, or for placing into a jacket pocket.

While the foregoing description includes details which will enable those skilled in the art to practice the invention, it should be recognized that the description is illustrative in nature and that many modifications and variations thereof will be apparent to those skilled in the art having the benefit of these teachings. It is accordingly intended that the invention herein be defined solely by the claims appended hereto and that the claims be interpreted as broadly as permitted by the prior art.