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Microwavable Rice Heating Pads

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We love the simple clean lines of these microwavable neck and lap/back heating pads. After under a minute in the microwave, you'll get up to an hour of safe, warm heat without the dangers inherent in electric heating pads: burns, fires and electrical shock. Electric heating pad cautions actually read: Never use in a situation where you could fall asleep. Hmmm... often falling asleep is my goal. These pads are not difficult to make, and are a useful gift for most any adult. They're good for muscle aches or when you feel a chill and don't want to turn up the thermostat. You can also freeze them for a pleasant cooling effect. Although, just typing that made me shiver. Add a drop of essential oil if you'd like a little aromatherapy.

Before you begin, measure the interior of your microwave oven just to be sure the lap/back pad will fit when folded in half (about 8" x 12"). Most microwaves will easily accommodate something of this size, but there are a few older and space-saver models that may require you to slightly reduce the size of the pad.

We show you dimensions and supplies for both a neck pad (22" x 8" flat) and a slightly larger lap/back pad (16" x 12" flat).

To give your heating pads as a gift, fold them up and tie them with a piece of natural twill tape. Pretty and practical!

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

This project is a great for fabric scraps. You can use flannel, as well as quilting or décor-weight cotton. Just don't use anything with metal threads (unless you want a fireworks display in your microwave). We chose cotton ticking for its clean, fresh look and tight weave. Ticking is an old time fabric that was historically used for covering pillows and mattresses because its tight weave kept feathers, horse hair, and other fillers in place. Today, ticking has once again become trendy for design accessories like throw pillows, as well as for upholstery. There is something classically soothing about those woven stripes.

Ticking is available almost everywhere fabric is sold. We found good selections at both Fabric.com and Fat Quarter Shop. The ticking we used is not the industrial-strength mattress variety, but a décor-weight that has a soft drape after washing. As we always suggest, pre-wash and press your fabric before beginning this and other projects.

Neck Pad

Image

  • ¼ yard of 44-45" wide cotton ticking or similar; we used a red stripe 
  • ¼ yard of 45"+ soft fleece or similar; we used winter white
  • One package of jumbo rick rack in red: this is optional, as is the size of rick rack you use
  • 7 cups of uncooked rice for filler
    NOTE: Corn is another option for a filler, just don't use the popcorn variety... feed corn is a economical option.
  • All purpose thread to match fabric; we used natural
  • See-through ruler
  • Fabric pen or pencil
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Seam gauge
  • Seam ripper
  • Straight pins
  • Optional: Essential oil (we added a drop of vanilla spice or you can add a few lavender buds). You should be able to easily find a selection of essential oils in the organic section of most grocery stores.

Lap/Back Pad

Image

  • ½ yard of 44-45" wide cotton ticking or similar; we used a classic navy stripe 
  • ½ yard of 45"+ soft fleece or similar; we used winter white
  • 1 package of jumbo rick rack in navy: this is optional, as is the size of rick rack you use
  • 6 cups of uncooked rice for filler
    NOTE: Corn is another option for a filler, just don't use the popcorn variety... feed corn is a economical option.
  • All purpose thread to match fabric; we used natural
  • See-through ruler
  • Fabric pen or pencil
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Seam gauge
  • Seam ripper
  • Straight pins
  • Optional: Essential oil (we added a drop of vanilla spice or you can add a few lavender buds). You should be able to easily find a selection of essential oils in the organic section of most grocery stores.

Getting Started

Neck Pad

  1. Cut ONE 9" x 23" rectangle from the red ticking.
  2. Cut ONE 9" x 23" rectangle from the fleece.
  3. Cut TWO 25" lengths of the red jumbo rick rack.

Lap/Back Pad

  1. Cut ONE 13" x 17" rectangle from the navy ticking.
  2. Cut ONE 13" x 17" rectangle from the fleece.
  3. Cut TWO 18" lengths of the navy jumbo rick rack.

    At Your Sewing Machine

    From here on, the instructions are the same for both the neck pad and the lap/back pads (except as noted). We use ½" seams throughout.

    1. If you want to add a label as we did, add that first to the center of one of the compartments. It should be about 2" from the bottom at a minimum.
    2. Pin the rick rack to the two long sides, centering it on the ½" seam line (ie. the center of the rick rack should be ½" from the raw edge). Machine baste in place.
      Click to Enlarge
    3. Pin the ticking and fleece rectangles right sides together. Sew all the way around leaving about a 3" opening on one end for turning and adding rice. Remember to pivot at the corners and to lock your seam at either side of the 3" opening.  
      Click to Enlarge
    4. Trim the three sides without the opening, and clip the corners.
      Click to Enlarge
    5. Turn right-side out and press, folding in the raw edges of the opening so they are flush with the sewn seam. Your rick rack should pop out along each edge.
      Click to Enlarge
    6. Find the center of the neck pad and and mark with a pin. From the center, measure 5½" to either side and mark both of these points with a pin. These are the marks for the four rice compartments. 
      NOTE: For the lap/back pad, measure just 4" to either side of the center pin.
    7. Adding the essential oil is an option, but if you want to add it, now is the time. I used ONE drop for each pad and my whole sewing room smells wonderfully like vanilla spice.  If you're using essential oils, put the rice in a large bowl, add the oil and stir. One drop goes a loooooog way.
      Click to Enlarge
    8. Add rice to fill the first compartment. You want to be able to conform the pad to your neck, so don't overfill. We used about 1¾ cup for each neck pad compartment and 1½ cup for each lap/back compartment. I made a simple paper funnel to make pouring rice easier (a regular plastic funnel tends to clog). Hold the pad up vertically so the rice falls to the back of the first compartment you marked earlier, giving you a clear path to sew the compartment closed without sewing through any grains of rice. 

      Click to Enlarge
    9. Sew a vertical line of stitching at the first compartment line. If you used ticking, you have a line to follow from pin point to pin point. If not, you can use an erasable fabric pen to draw a straight line between the two points. Pin through both layers along the line and sew. Stop from time to time, with the needle in the down position, and shift the rice towards its compartment to keep the presser foot area clear. It's a bit time-consuming, but not difficult.
    10. The first compartment should look about like this:
      Click to Enlarge
    11. Repeat for the next three compartments. 
      Click to Enlarge
    12. When the last compartment is filled with rice, hand sew the the opening closed with a tightly-spaced slip stitch.

    Using Your Pads

    Since microwaves vary in how quickly they heat, start with 1 minute and see how it feels. The microwave we tested required about 2 minutes to achieve the desired toasty warmth. DO NOT overheat, you can scorch the rice. Once you know how long it takes your microwave to heat your pad, you can set that time for future uses. Do not attempt heat the pad in a conventional oven.

    You can also use this tutorial to make a simple cover for a heating pad. To do this, measure the heating pad and cut two rectangles from flannel or quilting cotton. Cut the rectangles two inches wider and five inches longer than the finished outside dimensions of the pad. With right sides together, sew along both long sides and across the bottom. Serge or zig zag the raw edges. On the top end, fold under ½" and press. Fold under an addition 1" to form a hem. Edgestitch the hem in place. You can add a ribbon tie or two if you'd like to hold the cover closed on the end after you slip the heating pad into place.
    Click to Enlarge

    Contributors

    Project Design, Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Alicia Thommas

    Section: 

    Comments (130)

    rosebudy said:
    rosebudy's picture

    I have used old blue jeans, ones that are soft work best.

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ rosebudy - soft denim would be a dandy choice.

    Ilene S. said:
    Ilene S.'s picture

    Thanks so much for the tutorial.  I just made one in dark home dec fabric using masking tape to get the dividing seams straight and pins...lots of pins... to keep the rice from flowing out of the compartment I was sewing. Works great!

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ilene - thanks for the tip on what worked best for you! So glad you had success.

    Gina w said:
    Gina w's picture

    i am going to experiment with a design or two  to get the right size for shoulder and lower back.  I am planning to make standard size individual bags of rice, 3 " x 6 ". Then taking your basic design, sewing a long plastic zipper to one of the long sides and creating individual pockets to place the rice bags in.  This will be an outer sleeve that can be washed.  So, any opinions on if the plastic zipper will be affected by the microwave.?  How long will the rice last?   And could beans, such as northern beans also work?

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Gina - We haven't tested any plastic zippers in a microwave. You'd want to do that prior to starting your project. And, be aware that even if the teeth of the zipper are plastic, it may still have metal zipper stops. We didn't try all the possible fillers, but did do a comparison of the top three (link below). Our advice for ones not covered is to make a mini pouch from your fabric scraps and test it in your microwave with your chosen filler to see if it has good heat retention properties. 

    http://www.sew4home.com/tips-resources/sewing-tips-tricks/organic-filler...

    Donica said:
    Donica's picture

    I have a quick question. I'm relatively new to sewing. Don't really do much besides sew my son's merit badges on his Scout uniform. I've made several of the heating bags using flax seed and lavendar buds and everyone I gave them to love them. My question is - how can I make a slip on cover out of the extra material that can be washed. I cut out squares to patch together but can't figure out how to sew them all together so I can actually use it as a "pillow case". Do you have any you tube video tutorials you could suggest??

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Donica - at this end of this article, we've included how to make a simple "sleeve cover" - you could do the same, just adapt to fit the dimensions for your bags.

    Heart said:
    Heart's picture

    Wondering if you could leave the long side open, stitch the dividing "pockets", fill each section with a measured amount of rice and then stitch it closed.  I don't sew much so I'm sure there's a reason not to do it this way, but can you explain what that  is?

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Heart - there were a few of reasons - we wanted the long seams with their rick rack to have a clean finish, which is best achieved stitching right sides together and then turning; if you do that seam last, the seam would have to be topstitched closed. You'd end up with one long side that had a traditional clean seam and the other a topstitched seam with a little "lip," which wouldn't look as good. In addition, that topstitched seam would cross over the top ends of all the compartment division seams - also not a great finished look. Finally, it's really most efficient to keep the rice in place using this method. Stitching that long seam (even if you pinned it well) with the rice inside would likely cuase it to more easily spill out along the way. 

    auntbarky said:
    auntbarky's picture

    I JUST finished a neck wrap as a last minute gift to go along with a massage gift certificate.  So easy and fast to make, and I am so pleased with the results.  I didn't use any rick rack (although this is a favorite trim of mine), just some scraps I had on hand. And I used a combo filling of lavender, rice and flax seed.  My only regret is that I didn't make more of these as gifts this year.  Guess what everyone will be getting next Christmas or for birthdays next year!

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ auntbarky - that's great news - they do make wonderful gifts!

    Lucy said:
    Lucy 's picture

    I'm a new sewer and trying to understand the instructions. Is there a reason the rickrack is cut longer than the side (which also has a seam allowance)? Just to be sure it's not too short? The excess is trimmed off at the end as the fabric is trimmed?

    Thanks!

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Lucy - that's a fine question. There are really two reasons. The main one is indeed to make sure it doesn't end up too short. Sometimes a trim can shift slightly when sewing it in place, so having just a bit extra gives you safety at each end. And yes, any excess would be trimmed away when you trim back the seam allowance and clip the corners. For rick rack, we even go a bit longer than with a plainer trim or ribbon. This extra allows you to center of the rick rack's "waves" so they are even at the ends. 

    Cristiana said:
    Cristiana's picture

    First, thank you sou much for this tutorial. I've made quite a few as gifts. Now, I want to make one for my sister, but she doesn't own a microwave.  Have you tried heating it in a conventional oven? Would it burn the fabric?

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Cristiana - we have not tested it in an oven, and cannot recommend that option. Part of what makes this a good warming pad is that you don't need to heat it very long, which is what allows that organic fillers to work so well. I'd be afraid of leaving it in the oven for a longer period of time - even on a low heat - it could be dangerous not only for possibly scorching the fabric but also for a situation in which the filler is more likely to cook. 

    Tom10Thumbs said:
    Tom10Thumbs's picture

    The rick rack idea is neat; I will give it a try soon.  A caution: the first time I used the compartment approach on a different design I broke a needle trying to sew through a grain of rice.  Very important to keep the rice out of the stitch line.  Hand basting a barrier before sewing is not a bad decision.

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Tom10Thumbs - Glad you like the project, and yes, getting the rice out of the way of the seam is important. 

    Laura UK said:
    Laura UK's picture

    Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou (currently suffering a sore back)

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Laura - you're welcom - your back will love it!

    Mary C said:
    Mary C's picture

    Just came across your pattern and liked it so much I pulled out my sewing machine, dusted of the cobwebs, and made one in no time flat. My husband has neck and lower back problems so after I finished it I heated it up and gave it to him, he absulutly loved it :) So it looks like I now have to make another one for him for his lower back. So thank you so much for this pattern. Great instructions and very easy to follow :) 

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Mary - We're delighted to hear about your success. Hope you'll come back often and try some other projects.

    Elvo said:
    Elvo's picture

    Hi, I was just at the fabric store and looked for a nice s polar fleece fabric, but for the life of me could not find any that were100% cotton, they were all polester. Is there such a thing as 100% cotton fleece? I'm thinking that polester is not microwaveable, that it may melt or burn? But heating for such a minimal time as the 2 min. required, maybe it isn't an issue? I do so want to make these! What a wonderful tutorial! Thank you for your reply in advance.

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Elvo - There isn't cotton fleece - what we used was a standard low nap polyester fleece. Because the heating time is mimimal, as you mention, we haven't experienced any issues at all. If you are concerned, you could certainly use ticking on both sides or subsitute flannel for the fleece.

    Elvo said:
    Elvo's picture

    Thank you so much for your reply. The fleèce is so nice and soft, will give it a try!

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @Mom of girls: No - instant rice is blanched and then dehydrated in the process to make it "instant" - this removes most of the moisture, but still leaves aout 12 - 15%, which means repeated re-heating as you'd do with this type of pad, would likely release too much moisture. Raw rice is a better bet. You can read more about filler ideas here: http://www.sew4home.com/tips-resources/sewing-tips-tricks/organic-filler...

    Rosemary-MN said:
    Rosemary-MN's picture

    I will be trying your pattern. In the past I used a mans grey 100% cotton tube sock with rice and it worked well. I sewed the end closed but you could even just tie a knot. Very simple. Even after a year, I think the rice felt too damp when heated but maybe I will try one of the other fillers this time.  I will try the local feed store for feed corn. THANKS!

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Rosemary-MN: Glad to know you'll be trying out the project - let us know how it turns out for you. 

    Tina T. said:
    Tina T.'s picture

    My question stems from the type of thread to use to sew the bags together.  I have either 100% viscose rayon or 100% polyester.  I have heard both sides to not use rayon and not use polyester.  I am making handwarmers to give as gifts.  Please help.....

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Tina T - we traditionally recommend polyester.

    Chantel said:
    Chantel's picture

    When filling with rice is there any way to make sure that the rice is distributed evenly throughout the compartments? Or do you just eyeball it? Thanks!

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Chantel - as you see above, you fill one compartment at a time - so just make sure you're using the same amount for each compartment. The rice shifts and settles - so there will always be a bit of movement. But that's one of the cool things that allows the pads to mold to your body. 

    Roary said:
    Roary's picture

    with myself being such a worry-filled person I rembered how there was controversy about how rice had arsenic in it and quickly threw the pillow on the flirt. Will/can this pillow be harmful??

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Roary - This type of heating pad is not harmful. The studies of rice and arsenic all center on cooking and eating rice or rice based foods. 

    Roary said:
    Roary's picture

    With me being overwhelmed with worrying of cancer I remembered how rice has arsenic and tossed my rice pillow on the floor. Can this pillow be harmful? 

    Meredith Smith said:
    Meredith Smith's picture

    Perhaps a silly question - are these machine washable with the rice? Or should you just spot clean? Thanks! Looking forward to making mine!

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Meredith Smith - Yes, they are meant to be spot-cleaned - they cannot be machine washed with the rice inside. Some comments below have mentioned creating an inner lining pouch and then an outer sleeve that could be removed and wased. As we mentioned, that would be great, but you'd need to do an overlapped "envelope style" opening for the outer cover since any type of zipper or snap ... or even many buttons .... would not be microwaveable. 

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ glide - since most flannel is 100% cotton, it can be good choice, however, you'd want to make sure it was a thick flannel or use at least a couple layers. Many flannels are rather thin and would not work well; you need a fabric with a bit more substance.

    christina said:
    christina's picture

    I am curious what brand or type of oils you suggest to use?  I have no knowledge in the essential oils area, lol

    Debbiemarie said:
    Debbiemarie's picture

    I have used ground walnut shells from the pet supply store, this works as well as rice in my opinion.

    Hi-Mom-B said:
    Hi-Mom-B's picture

    My daughter stole my last rice bag, and I'm looking forward to using your great design.  Does it matter whether you use white rice or brown rice?

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Hi-Mom-B - We haven't tested with brown rice, but have read that most people use and prefer white rice because the brown rice sometimes gives off a less desirable smell.

    MollyBail said:
    MollyBail's picture

    I recently made a few of these, but when I put them in the microwave, they got kind of condesate-y and wet. Any idea why or how to stop it?

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ MollyBail - Rice provides a natural, slightly moist heat. That's something many people like because it increases circulation and speeds recovery. If it's truly wet, you may be overheating it. The natural moisture decreases some over time. I'm sure it depends on how it's stored and how much moisture is in the air. 

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