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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 just a couple minutes 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

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  • 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 (40)

    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. 

    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.

    Thankful Mother said:
    Thankful Mother's picture

    For the past two days I've been dealing with a tension migraine that has had me debilitated and left feeling extremely terrible. I lost the heating pad my fiance got me and started scrambling around, finally landing on your site. Quickly I got my rice, fabric and sewing supplies to make one. All by hand and I'm reaping the benifits of the warmth right now. Thank you for this information! Truly a blessing.

    Lenski said:
    Lenski's picture

    I used a towel for mine and it is sooo cozy!

    A new one I just made was wet when I took it out of the microwave.  Will that get better?

    alicia.thommas said:
    alicia.thommas's picture

    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. 

    Peggy Haws said:
    Peggy Haws's picture

    This is so crazy, my son a firefighter just had a birthday and asked that I make him a set of heat pads in different sized, but he wants beans not rice.  He says the rice smells weird.  I had been thinking of how as he wants some that will wrap around like a wrist or ankle, with a strap.  I had already figured I would make compartments, but did not really know what size they needed to be.  So this will be very helpful.  What do you think of the beans rather than rice or corn?

    alicia.thommas said:
    alicia.thommas's picture

    @Peggy Haws: Yes, you can use dried beans. Other filler options include dried feed corn, lentils, buckwheat hulls, flax seed, and cherry pits. We have not tried all of these options, but do know that opinions differ based on personal preference. Some of these natural filles have a light aroma that depends on what you use. If it smells bad, it may be burned (over heated). There can be a slight dampness with these pads on heating, especially the first times they are used due to the natural moisture contained in the filler. You never want to put it away until it's totally dry and room temp. For, example, don't store it right after use in a plastic bag.

    Kathy Butts said:
    Kathy Butts's picture

    People have asked me...what happens if the rice bag gets wet? Will the rice "cook" and you have to throw the whole thing out?
    Thanks!

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

    @ Kathy Butts - Not everything is designed to get wet and this is one of those things. Kind of like when you tell you doctor, "It hurts when I do this..." And he responds, "Then don't do that!"  If it's just a little wet spot, you could let it dry. If it's soaked through, it would probably be best to open the hand stitched seam, dump out that rice, wash and dry the cover, then replace the rice. But really - there's no reason for it to get wet.

    Grandma B said:
    Grandma B's picture

    My arthritic knees thank you!  I will make this and put a button hole at each corner and after microwaving slip a ribbon through the hole to tie around my knees.

    Rosalie Fernand said:
    Rosalie Fernand's picture

    Has any had any problems with fleece? Fleece is recycled plastic bottles.

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

    @ Rosalie Fernand - As I mentioned above, it's really all about how much time your mircowave will take to heat the pads. 1-2 minutes of heating is all we're talking about - much different than potato bags. Because we haven't tested every option, I can't guarantee exactly what and what won't work, but in general, the fleece we used was 100% polyester and worked well with just the few minutes of heating over multiple tests.

    TK said:
    TK's picture

    I'm new to the sewing game and just love this tutorial and item!  Thank you so much!  I have just printed it and can't wait to give it a whirl!!  Very easy and thorough instructions - just what I need!!  Thanks for answering all the questions also - I have read through all of them and feel confident that I can do this project easily!  I have looked at many projects and yours is one of the clearest I've come across.  I usually end up clicking out half way through something because I've gotten lost or it just gets too complicated for my skill set right now.  I just wanted to share my appreciation!  I'm sure I can do this!!!

    mwlipari said:
    mwlipari's picture

    I have had my eyes on this project for some time.. I made two of the neck size yesterday and could not believe how fast and easy they were to make.These are an excellent scrapbuster project. I used terry cloth for the back and flannel for the front. I left off the rick rack. I made two. One for my yoga aches and one for my husbands sailing aches. I have already used mine!

    joannespatch@yahoo.com said:
    joannespatch@yahoo.com's picture

    These will make GREAT Christmas gifts, can't wait to get started!!!

    joannespatch@yahoo.com said:
    joannespatch@yahoo.com's picture

    Can't wait to get started...these will make GREAT Christmas gifts 

    cathyohler said:
    cathyohler's picture

    I have a friend who sent me her rice heating pad for a do-over, and not knowng how to make her a new one, I have not returned it.  Her dog ripped it open.  Now, thanks to your beautiful site I will be able to replace hers.  Yours is so much nicer.  I have truly enjoyed your site; there are so many projects I hope to try. Thanks for the easy directions and the  lprofessional results!!!

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

    @ cathyohler - great news! your friend will be so happy.

    Peggy3145 said:
    Peggy3145's picture

    This is a great tutorial! I've made larger ones that I've filled with "chicken scratch" that I put under the covers at the foot of my bed so my feet stay warm all night. :) Mine aren't nearly as cute as these, nor did I think to add the rick rack. 

    Amy@azmomof3@cox.net said:
    Amy@azmomof3@cox.net's picture

    Just put together a set of these for myself.  Thanks for the great tutorial, although the rice did keep shifting on me.  Will make the gift ones next, and hope the stitching is a little straighter.  Can't wait to use on my aching back.

    mwlipari said:
    mwlipari's picture

    If you shif the rice all the way away from the stitch line then use straight pins to make a straigh line just above the rice it helps to make a temporary barrier so you can stitch without the rice shifting as much.

    janlbar1@yahoo.com said:
    janlbar1@yahoo.com's picture

    I just bought fabric to make these & I was doing a little more investing on them & came across your site. Your site is the best one I have seen yet, Thanks. By reading the posts above you can use other fabrics other than 100% cotton, So polyester is OK? I was afraid other types might melt, LOL.  Also I noticed you had a few buttons on yours. So plastic buttons are OK? One last question, other than rick rack can you use ribbon? All the ribbon I have found say polyester. I have grosgrain ribbon, but not sure what it's made of. I also found one a site where they put a little loop made from ribbon to hold on if to hot, kind od like a pot holder loop you hang it from. I thought that was a good idea. Again thanks for the great instructions. Jan, PS- my daughter bought all of us the potato bag for Christmas & they do not work LOL it took them over 3 times at 4 minutes intervals. Just placing them on the plate was faster, we returned them all. LOL

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

    @ janlbar1 - so glad you are enjoying our site and this tutorial! As I mentioned above, it's really all about how much time your mircowave will take to heat the pads. 1-2 minutes of heating is all we're talking about - much different than potato bags. Because we haven't tested every option, I can't guarantee exactly what and what won't work, but in general, cotton and cotton/poly blends should be fine. The fleece we used was 100% polyester and worked well with just the few minutes of heating over multiple tests. I would be more hesitate about recommending ribbon over rick rack because there are SO many variables with ribbon and some of it can be quite susceptible to heat -- even the heat of an iron. I'd say stick with the rick rack. And, we did not use buttons and would not recommend buttons - I think think you are seeing our straight pins, which have decorative button heads.

    janlbar1@yahoo.com said:
    janlbar1@yahoo.com's picture

    Thanks for getting back to me, I think I will try the Fleece to it's so soft. I will do a test in the microwave with what I use just to make sure it will be OK. Thanks again for your help :)

    Kerry Davidson said:
    Kerry Davidson's picture

    A while ago I was making these bags, but with wheat instead of rice, for a massage practice.  I discovered that the best way to fill them was with a funnel made from the top of a plastic soft drink bottle - works like a dream.  Thanks for this tutorial, I have been wanting to make some more, particularly a segmented one, and you've inspired me to get to it - I particularly like the idea of the fleece on one side.  Thanks for a great newsletter too.

    stephanie antoni said:
    stephanie antoni's picture

    yay! thanks for posting this tutorial back up! i have all the materials ready to go... maybe i'll actually make one for MYSELF some day...

    Hagrids Mom said:
    Hagrids Mom's picture

    really appreciate the guidelines on size and the amounts of rice! thank you so much for posting this. Definitely one of the better tut's I've seen on these.  

    Momo said:
    Momo's picture

    How did you know I recently bought ticking?  I made cute fitted (to my bowls) microwave hot pads with it, but I think I have enough left to make one of these, also, and I sure would enjoy it right now!  It's 34F at this moment in central Florida and supposed to down to 23F!   Brrr!

    auntbarky said:
    auntbarky's picture

    This may be a stupid question, but---could you use pajama flannel that's marked "flammable".  I'm thinking you could, but want to be sure.  There are so many cute patterns in pj flannel.  By the way, thanks for the great instructions for these rice warmers.  I don't know of anyone that wouldn't like one or both! 

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

    @ auntbarky -- flannel made for sewing is all required to be marked "flammable" because of the guidelines set in place by the Consumer Product Safety Commission for children's sleepware. Ready-to-wear sleepware traditionally infuses both the fabric and the thread with flame retardant chemicals in order to meet these CPSC standards. Flannels used for sewing do not attempt to meet these standards so they are required to list their fabric as "flammable" as "fair warning" to people considering sleepware projects. We are a very litigious society, and this is similar to the lengthy list of cautions and disclaimers that seem to come with any item these days. All that to say, the flannel you are referring to would be okay for this project. As mentioned above, we recommend testing the warming time and not over-heating. 

    auntbarky said:
    auntbarky's picture

    Thanks for the info on flannel. I didn't know any of that. 

    Tina C said:
    Tina C's picture

    Perfect timing!  I was stumped for one more gift I need to give to a wrestler I'll see this weekend!

    Jane Coombs said:
    Jane Coombs's picture

    These look too nice. We bought 'bed buddies' years ago. In the winter I heat them up and warm the bed with them to avoid putting the heat on. I live in SoCal. Over the years I have dismantled the originals and remade them a couple of times. I am about to start from scratch this time as the rice needs to be discarded. Thx for the tutorial. Everybody should have these on hand at the least for minor aches and pains relief.

    Teaberry said:
    Teaberry's picture

    It's a negative 3 degrees this morning. I sure would like to have one of these right now!

    nclark said:
    nclark's picture

    What a great gift this will make. Thanks sew4home.  I will get started on this project right away!

    yaya.joanne@hotmail.com said:
    yaya.joanne@hotmail.com's picture

    Don't you need to use 100% cotton in the microwave?

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

    @ yaya.joanne - the 100% cotton warning is for microwave bags you would make to cook food - such as the popular potato bags. Because these bags come into contact with food you will eat, cotton is the best choice. Also, potato bags are normally heated in the micro for much longer than we are suggesting for the heating pads. It is important, as we state above, to NOT overheat the pads. 

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