By Donna Rees
Heat Paks make great gifts and are easy to make, inexpensive (you can make one for less than two dollars), durable, and welcomed with sincere gratitude by the fortunate recipients. Expectant mommies who have low back pain, elderly folks (who use Heat Paks not only to soothe tight muscles but also as foot warmers or seat warmers), and hardworking moms and dads who need some help dissolving those awful kinks that show up in tired shoulders after a hard day’s work-at home, at the office, on the farm, or in the driver’s seat-have all appreciated receiving this gift.
This would also be a good gift project for children as young as 8 years of age, because it involves simple, straight stitching. If you use striped or plaid fabric, the child can even follow lines on the fabric as he sews the seams. I recommend using a sewing machine, but you could easily hand stitch this gift too.
- yard (or less) of the fabric of your choice (cotton, flannel, fleece-preferably something soft)
- Approximately 2 pounds of rice (Wheat works well also, but I prefer to use rice; it seems to hold heat longer. Don’t use corn; it starts to stink after a while.)
- Sewing machine
- Needle, thread, straight pins
- Scissors, ruler, pencil
- Pattern (made with a paper grocery sack, graph paper, or tissue paper)
I used the following steps to create a Heat Pak whose finished dimensions are approximately 20″ x 6″. I enjoy using a large Heat Pak because it can be draped across the width of my shoulders. However, I frequently use smaller Heat Paks too. Experiment and see which size works best for you or the person for whom you are making the gift. (Sometimes the size of my Heat Pak is determined by the size of the scrap piece of fabric I have.)
- Using a paper grocery sack, tissue paper, or graph paper, create a pattern: a rectangle approximately 21″ x 14″.
- Double the fabric. (If you are using a heavyweight fabric, it’s not necessary to double the fabric.) Pin the pattern onto the fabric, and carefully cut around the pattern.
- Remove the pattern from the fabric, and then fold the 21″ x 14″ rectangle into a 21″ x 7″ rectangle, with the “right” side of the fabric folded inside. Sew 1/2″ seams down both ends.
- Turn the bag you’ve created inside out and press it with an iron. Pin together the back and front of the bag at intervals of approximately 3″. You can measure exactly or just “eyeball” it; it’s not critical to make these pockets identical in size.
- Starting at the folded edge of the bag, sew a straight seam from that folded edge up to 1/2″ below the “open” edge of the bag, and then backstitch to secure it. Do this as many times as needed. (If you use these dimensions, you will have six pockets.) You can make the sections of your Heat Pak wider or smaller to suit your taste. Heat Paks with wider pockets are more pliable.
- Using a spoon or a funnel, fill each pocket approximately 1/2 full with rice. As you fill each pocket, turn the raw edges in toward the rice, 1/2″, on both sides. Hold the turned-down edges together tightly and pin them in place.
- Using a double-threaded needle, whipstitch the pinned edges together securely.
- Experiment to find out the perfect length of time needed to warm up your Heat Pak in your microwave oven. I recommend starting with a 1-minute warm-up, increasing the amount of time by 15-second increments until the desired level of heat is reached.
- Store your Heat Paks in a convenient, dry place near the microwave oven.
- To add a charming finishing touch to your gift, create a tiny “booklet” of instructions for heating and storing the Heat Pak. Carefully print or use script to write the instructions in ink on heavyweight paper, like the kind found at scrapbook supply stores.2 Create two small openings in the top, left corner of the booklet; loop a soft, bright ribbon through them; tie a bow; and use a small safety pin (concealed if possible) to attach the ribbon to the Heat Pak.
- Enjoy giving a gift that is unique, personal, inexpensive, and is a potential source of great comfort and pleasure to the recipient!
Donna Rees is a General Editor for TOS. She loves to give useful, homemade, frugal gifts, and she is delighted to share this idea with you. Donna and her family have a large collection of Heat Paks (they usually call them “heat things”) that are used daily-at least until they accidentally overheat them! The Rees family hopes you enjoy making some for yourself and as gifts too. Endnotes:
- If your fabric is thick (e.g., corduroy), there is no need to double it, but if you use cotton or a cotton blend (anything lightweight), I recommend using a double layer of fabric. This will (1) make your Heat Pak more durable, and (2) help it retain heat longer.
- If you live close to a print shop, ask the manager if he would let you have (free) some samples of heavyweight paper from the print shop’s shelves. Many printing companies save their usable surplus paper and are happy to give it away!
Copyright 2009. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, Fall 2009.