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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!

Our pads used rice, but you can also check out our article on other filler options: Organic Fillers for Warming Pads: We Compare Rice, Corn, and Flaxseed.

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 (164)

    June Karnitz said:
    June Karnitz's picture

    My daughter just linked me this. I think I will make some of these this winter when we go to Florida. I was given a  Singer sewing machine,  from the 30's, from my neighbor and will be using that. It's such a beautiful machine,  and cannot wait.  Everyone will be getting these next Christmas !!

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

    @June - Welcome aboard - we hope your project turn out well, and that we browse through all the other wonderful ideas we offer. It sounds like your gift list is good to go.

    Cathy Hays said:
    Cathy Hays's picture

    I was wondering besides whole cloves, allspice & lavender....any other suggestions for what can be used for a lovely smell...CATHY

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

    @Cathy - many peope like to use essential oils - peppermint is known to be especially soothing. But remember, with oils, a little goes a long way!

    mariam k said:
    mariam k's picture

    i want to ask if i will use rice and i will reheated it, does the rice will get damage, and what about the Rice weevil they will grow inside or no

    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous's picture

    I love these and plan to make some for Christmas gifts.  But I have a question about the fleece.  Does it need to be 100% cotton?  If so,  where did you find yours?  Thanks so muchà

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

    There really isn't a 100% cotton fleece. We used a standard polyester fleece. Because these pads are not meant to be heated for very long, there really isn't a danger of melting or other heat damage. However, many people do prefer to use only natural fibers. In that case, you could certainly use a cotton flannel, corduroy, or lighteight wool rather than the fleece. 

    Kathy N said:
    Kathy N's picture

    I love your website and use it often. Just an FYI for anything going in the microwave---to prevent anything melting or catching fire from accidental overheating, please use 100% cotton thread! This is also a good tip when making pot holders, microwave bowl holders, and baked potato bags...and make sure your fleece batting is also 100% cotton as well. 

    Alexis said:
    Alexis's picture

    Could I use flannel for both sides or is that not recommended...

    anne.adams said:
    anne.adams's picture

    @Alexix: You could use a cotton flannel for both sides. We have not made one from flannel so can't give you any more specifics, but cotton is fine in the microwave and has a pleasing soft surface.

    MM said:
    MM's picture

    I just made this rice hot bag today, and it turned out great, thank you for excellent instructions!  Much appreciated, I am enjoying the hot rice on my back now, feels so good!  I made the neck size bag and find that 2 minutes in my microwave was perfect.  

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

    @MM - That's great news. So glad you loved the pattern. Here's to a relaxing weekend! 

    Nannette said:
    Nannette's picture

    I don't sew.  Therefore, I don't even have a machine.  Can I purchase this somewhere?

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

    @Nannette - Glad you like the project! We don't sell products at this time. Our site is all about inspirting people to sew... even if they've never tried before... is it working on you yet . If not, I'm sure you could find a friend to make them or perhaps a search on a handmade-oriented site, such as Etsy, would yeild something similar. 

    Tammy g said:
    Tammy g's picture

    Some articles say don't use fleece or flannel so are you saying it's OK to use both...

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

    @ Tammy - As shown in this tutorial, we've used lightweight fleece in combination with cotton ticking with great results. We haven't personally tested flannel, but in general, most people who've made this projects (and they have been hundreds!) like 100% cotton fabric for at least one side. Many quality flannels are 100% cotton so it could be an option. Using all fleece reduces the "breathability" of the pads, which means they could retain too much moisture with the constant heating and re-heating. 

    j827 said:
    j827's picture

    I've been making these for years, with removable washable outer covers.  I used an old sheet to make the inner bags for about 20 of them, then bought cute dish towels and altered them for the outside cover.   I am so spoiled, I cannot go out in my cold car without one across my lap!  And with this in bed with me, who needs a man??? (Just Joking, Honey)

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

    Adding a comment from an email message: I also used pins to hold back the rice and didn't have to worry about them getting in the way at all!  Might be a nice addition to the article!  Step 8 – just a comment that this part is a little confusing on first read, as it sounds like perhaps you mean that there are both neck and back compartments in the same pad: perhaps it should be: For the neck pad version, 1¾ cup for each compartment and for the lap/back version, 1½ cup for each compartment” Also, I am making my heating pads out of muslin, then making cases with fleece on one side and silk (or cotton, ran out of silk) on the other.  Working with the rice can be a little challenging, so it is much easier to not have to worry about messing up the appearance if you know you are going to put a case around it, anyway!

    Dave Armstrong said:
    Dave Armstrong's picture

    Does the rice start to smell after so many times in the microwave?  Can you over heat/cook the rice?

    Barb Spry said:
    Barb Spry 's picture

    I always heat my heat bag together witha cup of water in the microwave to prevent the rice or wheat from burning. 

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

    @Dave - we have not had any issues with smell. As mentioned above, these are designed to be heated in the mircrowave for only about a minute. Staying at this approximate length of time is your best bet, and if you keep the pad dry, there really isn't any danger of "cooking" the rice.

    Hannah831 said:
    Hannah831's picture

    In the fabric dimensions for the back pad, it recommends getting half a yard and then cutting out 1 13"x17" rectangle. Couldn't you just use a fat quarter if that's all you need? Just wanted to make sure I'm not missing something...

    Thanks for the great pattern! 

    MzMillie said:
    MzMillie's picture

    Hi Hannah .. I just found this site yesterday, so plz forgive me for the delayed response. I have made a few of these in the past and have tried using fat quarters. Unless you have a very good quality fat quarter, it will not work well for this project. The thinner fat quarters tend to get really hot or almost too hot for anyone to use. In addition, the rice pokes out of the material after being in the micowave a few times.

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

    @MzMillie - Thanks for the update with your experience!

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

    @Hannan831 - Yes you could!. We use yardages inour supply lists unless specifically doing a project with pre-cuts so don't usually list the pre-cut alternatives to the yardages shown. 

    Ethel Schnorr said:
    Ethel Schnorr's picture

    Not only is the construction and style great, but the bright, happy stripes sure would make your aches lessen, too!  Thank you for a great idea and pattern!

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

    @ Ethel - Thanks! Ticking is a happy fabric.

    Liddia B said:
    Liddia B's picture

    I just found your web site yesterday and am so excited to try many of your projects. I am going to start with this one. It is never to early to start sewing for Christmas. After all today is the first day of spring!!!

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

    @ Liddia - Welcome aboard. We hope you come back often... and bring all your friends! You get the gold star for starting early on your gifts.

    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous's picture

    I use a hand towel or  wash cloths    depending on the size I want to make. 

    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?

    jack63kids said:
    jack63kids's picture

    Could you just put the rice bags into the microwave and not the outer bag with the zip? Then you could use any kind of zip you like. Either that or you could just sew 'pillow slip' openings on the washable cover and slide your bags inside.

    I like the idea of having a washable bag or cover, though it's a shame to cover up the original pretty design, so your idea to have idividual rice bags is a good one.

    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.

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