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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

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  • 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 (91)

    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. 

    padels said:
    padels's picture

    Just a quick note if using field corn from farm supply it might be dusty.  I put it over an old window screen and  tried to get any loose dust off before making.  Also, at the farm supply store make sure and ask for plain corn and not sweetened.  Not having a farm myself I did not realize that some came with a type of molassas or sweetner on it sometimes.

    NM in NS said:
    NM in NS's picture

    Just whipped up one of these myself with some gorgeous polished cotton of a print called "Winter Wonderland" (swirls of purples with white stars and snow flakes) and some natural coloured soft cotton lace on the edge.  I make these regularly as gifts, and usually use a few tablespoons of dried lavender buds (no essential oil).  I find the buds keep the hot pack nicely scented for quite a while, but when the scent fades, I add a touch of essential oil here or there on the fabric which freshens it up!

    Karen P. said:
    Karen P.'s picture

    My daughter, who has moved 3000 miles away, was looking for a heat pack recently like the one we had when she lived at home.  Of course, it remained at home as it belonged to 'the house', and not her.  I made her one of these for pennies and in less than an hour.  Have just shipped it to her for her birthday.  Awesome gift and great directions.  Guess what everyone is getting for Christmas next year????

    catiamone said:
    catiamone's picture

    I'm going to make a template of my hand and stitch the outline on top of an additional piece of fabric.  then sandwich altogether so the rice will be on top and it can be used for a hand warmer for those with arthritic joints or hands. This way the warmer will not slide off.

    LisaTQF said:
    LisaTQF's picture

    I've made and used these for years.  I was crushed the day I found out that my rice pack wound up in the wash with the sheets.  I caught it before it went into the dryer, and let it air dry on a sunny windowsill for a few days.  Believe it or not, it still worked!   ****However,****  after a few uses, I noticed that the grains of rice had turned to powder within the pack.  I was curious, so kept using it to see what would happen.  No rice powder has leaked out, it still heats up, but it loses heat much faster than when each grain of rice was intact.  It also has a faint smell now, but it will do until I can make a new one!

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

    @ Lisa TQF - Thanks for telling us about your situation. Good info to have!!

    Mumof2 said:
    Mumof2's picture

    I have made something similar but filled it with feed corn.   Mine has lasted for a long time.  What is good is it ends up smelling like popcorn.

    Brianna said:
    Brianna's picture

    Can you use warming oil instead of essential oil ?

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

    @ Brianna - we aren't familiar with use of the warming oil. Our best advice would be to make a small square sample pouch, fill it with the rice enhanced with the warming oil. Then heat it and see if you like the scent, and make sure it doesn't stain the cover - sometimes the other oils are more likely to bleed through, even in small quantities.

    AAA-DOO said:
    AAA-DOO's picture

    Should I use a regular straight stitch to sew this? thx. AAA-DOOO (a family nickname)

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

    @ AAA-DOO - yes, a straight stitch is fine.

    Carol B. said:
    Carol B.'s picture

    Love this tutorial.  I am a little concerned about using rice since there's been so much news lately about arsenic in rice. I think I'll try buckwheat for the filler.

    JenJango said:
    JenJango's picture

    You're not eating it, pretty sure that the mostly-harmless-trace-amounts aren't going to seep through several layers of fabric and then your skin. You get more arsenic than that just walking on soil. 

    BethR7 said:
    BethR7's picture

    I made one yesterday for me as a 'prototype' for Christmas presents. In place of the tag, I embroidered my name (with my moms sewing machine), and sewed that on. So far my mom and her fiancé have tried to steal it from me, so I think it'll work for good presents! Thanks for the easy tutorial!

    Debbie Dee said:
    Debbie Dee's picture

    I noticed the buttons in the visual but not in the directions (unless I missed it). What is their purpose? I was at the throttling yesterday & bought a perfectly good percale striped sheet I can't wait to use it. It feels so good to reclaim our resources, save money & make practical Christmas gifts all at the same time :)) They are beautiful & your tutorial perfect for visual learners ( such as myself). Thanks Do you have a copywriter on this pattern?

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

    @ Debbie Dee -- those aren't real buttons, they are the decorative heads on the straight pins. And yes, all projects and patterns on Sew4Home are copyrighted. I'm sure these pads will be a big hit as Christmas gifts. 

    KellyDreams2013 said:
    KellyDreams2013's picture

    I am an avid sewer with a closet full of fabric that I need to use up AND I've been looking for inexpensive gifts for Christmas for the neighbors.  This solves both challenges - well, at least it will HELP with the swelling fabric stash!  lol!

    Erin Renninger said:
    Erin Renninger's picture

    If you use a light colored fabric kids can decorate it with fabric markers. Great gift for ggrandparents! 

    remarquez1 said:
    remarquez1's picture

    Hi, good morning. Is there any change in the rice used when the bag is washed?. This absorbs moisture and keeps his feature? 

    Thank you

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

    @ remarquez1 - The bags are not meant for heavy-duty washing. There really shouldn't be an occasion for them to get super dirty, and so you should be able to be simply spot clean with mild soap and water without submerging them. When done with the spot cleaning, leave the pad out to dry thoroughly. 

    pat crawford said:
    pat crawford's picture

    Great instructions and beautiful pictures.Thank you...

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

    @ Sarah Zimmer - No, Sew4Home does not sell projects nor do contract sewing. We are all about inspiring others to sew.... like YOU ;-).

    Susy B said:
    Susy B's picture

    Love this.  I've already made a lot of the pouches and am ready to fill them.  I happened to have a bag of dried lavender flowers I'd like to use.  How much rice would I eliminate in each pouch, if any to accommodate the lavender?

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

    @ Susy B -- the amount of lavender is really a matter of personal preference as to the intensity of the aroma. We always use essential oils, so I don't have "real-world" test results for you. Others have recommended up to 50% lavendar to rice. However, you don't want to remove TOO much rice or the pad will feel kind of sloppy. Since you are making several, perhaps you can test it out with one, heat it up to see how you like it, and go forward from there.

    lisagd said:
    lisagd's picture

    I received a couple kitchen towels as a gift that are that icky velour-type fabric. I can't stand the feel when I dry my hands on them, so I've been trying to think of something else to do with them. This tutorial fits the bill! They're big enough that I can use them to make bed warmers for winter to keep my feel from getting so cold.

    MarisaDeWolfe said:
    MarisaDeWolfe's picture

    If it's not cotton, don't make it to microwave it. If you must use it, make it as a cover for packets of rice,flax,whatever, made out of cotton. Anything non-cotton will burn, scorch or melt in the microwave.

    Tina Peterson said:
    Tina Peterson's picture

    Your tutorial is beautiful! Very well explained. Thanks! I love the idea of using the ticking too - they look really cute!

    Lorlyn said:
    Lorlyn's picture

    I made some of these using 100% cotton wash clothes and the only thread I had on hand was an all-purpose mercerized thread, which after looking at it closer, I think it has polyester in it and I was under the impression it was to not have any polyester. 

    It could be a coincidence, but I am wondering about the thread I used because after 5 times of heating up the microwave bag in my microwave, it started acting funny and I had to unplug it because it would not shut off or allow me to control it with the buttons.  I never saw sparks or anything that would give me the impression it was going to start a fire while microwaving them, but now I am wondering about the thread used and why it does not work now?  I have never found any other kind of thread in the stores I visit.     

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

    @ Lorlyn - It's hard to tell long-distance what is happening. We used all-purpose thread and the fleece is polyester. These are meant to heated for a very short period of time. They are not like the "potato bags" and other high-heat items for which you must be super-duper careful about everything in the construction. We didn't test with washcloths, but if they are 100% cotton, it seems like that would be fine. However, if your microwave only behaves this way when you are trying to heat up the heating pad, then you should no longer try it. If the microwave shuts off when you open the door, chances are there's an issue with the appliance itself unrelated to the heating pad. 

    Carolynscountrycreations said:
    Carolynscountrycreations's picture

    i had heard that flax seed is best when making these.. Do you know if that is true? 

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

    @ Carolynscountrycreations -- we haven't yet tested this project with flax, but we too have heard it makes a wonderful filler. Everyone has their favorites, but I certainly haven't heard about any huge drawbacks when using flax seed. The main benefits seem to be that flax gives off a moist heat, that as flower seeds they contain oil and so seem to retain their heating ability longer than grain fillers, and that they can be chilled. Best way to find out? Give it a try. And, let us know what you think. 

    Bev2 said:
    Bev2's picture

    Several years ago I bought one of these filled with flax seed.  It was fine for a few years; after that it started smelling rancid.  I have emptied out the contents, washed the pouch, and am on this website to see what was recommended for a filler.  Rice it will be!

    Sandy mohr said:
    Sandy  mohr's picture

    Can linen fabric be used to make a corn bag?  I have  some fabric I would like to use.

      

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

    @ Sandy mohr -- we didn't use corn as our filler - although others have and it seems to be fine. We also didn't try linen so can't give you a 100% guarantee. However, as a natural fiber, it should be fine. If you want to use it in the microwave, you simply need a fabric than can take the heat and has absolutely no metal content.

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