I am a self taught sewer. I got my first sewing machine on my very first mother's day and I taught myself the basics. I was looking for some simple things to make and this rice pack thing kept coming up. One year I decided to try it out and it has become a staple gift.
Almost every year I end up making this fantastic rice pack for someone on my list and without fail, everyone LOVES it. If you gather all your supplies, you can crank out a bunch of these in one afternoon and cross a few of those names off the list, done and done!!! I love the versatility of this gift. It can be placed in the freezer and used as a cold compress or warmed in the microwave to soothe you on a cold day. They can be made in all different shapes and sizes to suit whatever you may be using it for. They are loved equally by kids and adults. I like to call this gift a "creeper" because it is one of those gifts that people get and say "thanks" causally but a month later when they use it and realize how awesome it is you get some really enthusiastic feedback! The gift that keeps on givin'! We have a ton of these hanging around our house and they last for YEARS. So let's get crack-a-lackin'. Want to see how it's done? O.K., here goes:
STEP 1. Gather all your supplies. This sounds silly but I can not tell you how many times I have started a big project, gotten half way through and realized I was missing something. D'oh!!!! Save yourself that headache and put it all out in front you! You will need liner fabric for the inside rice pack (I used muslin but any cotton fabric will be fine) and fabric for the outside cover. How much fabric you will need, will depend on the size of your rice pack. I used 11 x 18 inches for the liner and 12 x 19 for the cover. You could start with 1/2 yard of each for the sake of experimenting. I also want to mention that you do not need to make a cover for these. You can use half the fabric and it takes half the time but if you are giving it to a household with kids, washable is always best (you are going to have to trust me on this one!). The outside cover can be taken off and washed and dried but the rice pack itself is not machine washable and can only be wiped clean in the event of an unfortunate soiling (sick kids love a warm rice pack......you catch my drift?) You can have lots of fun picking out themes and colors. You will need thread that coordinates (I just used white thread and light colored fabric to make it easy). You will need hook and loop sew-in velcro to seal the top of the bag (This is optional as you don't need it if you are not making a cover for your pack). You will also need a pair of sharp scissors or a rotary cutter to cut your fabric. You will need a nice big bag of white rice. If you want a scented pack, you will need essential oil.
The one thing I did not mention was the sewing machine. You will be needing one of those! If you do not own one, maybe you could borrow your crafty friend's or maybe your kid's school might have one you could borrow from the home economics class. Here in Boulder, there are actually creative spaces where you can go and borrow the equipment. Maybe there is place near you that offers sewing classes where you could borrow a machine, if you don't have access to one.
If your are making a ton of these, Costco has giant bags of inexpensive rice. I like my rice packs to be pretty big so I used about 5 cups per pack but how much you will need will depend on the sizes of the packs you will make. If you really want the all the bells and whistles, you can also add essential oils. I made some over 5 years ago that still smell wonderful every time I microwave them! Lavender is popular but I also like vanilla, citrus, and maybe cinnamon would be nice for the holidays!
STEP 2. O.k. and away we go! You may want to wash and dry your fabrics before cutting and sewing to take care of any shrinking that may occur (I usually jump right in, too excited to start so I have skipped this part many times but I should at least tell you the correct way!) Start by cutting two rectangles (one for your rice pack, and one for your cover). If you are opting for the coverless version, just cut one! I like mine big so I cut the liner 11 x 18 inches. I then cut the cover fabric to be 12 x 19. I made it about an inch bigger so the rice pack will fit inside. (If you are not washing the fabrics, maybe up that to 12.5 x 19.5 or 13 x 20).
STEP 3. Fold the muslin (the liner) in half short end to short end. You are going to sew around the short end and the long end leaving one of the short sides open. I used a 1/2 inch seam allowance but just be sure you have sealed all gaps so there will be no rice escapees! This will make more sense as you are doing it but here is what it looks like:
STEP 4. Fold out the short end that you left open about 1/2 inch and press (you can just smooth it down with your fingers or use the iron.). I like to use the iron for a sharp seam which makes it easier to sew.
STEP 5. Now turn the whole thing inside out being careful not to unfold the top. If you want to add essential oil, mix it with the rice in a bowl first (or be impatient, like me, and just add it to the bag you already filled with rice and mush it around a little). I used about 5 cups of white rice and 10 drops of essential oil. It will smell pretty strong initially but it gets more mild over time. You can adjust the amount to your liking. Keep in mind that some folks can find scents a little overpowering so just keep your recipient in mind to determine how much or whether or not to add scent. If you are making a different sized pack, I fill a little over half the bag with rice. You can carefully lay it flat to see how full it will be but you will want to leave enough room for the rice to spread out a little and also to make it easy to sew (so that rice isn't spilling out all over the place!).
STEP 6. Now sew that puppy down!! Make sure there are no grains of rice at the top before sewing. They sneak up on you! I like to sew it twice for double reinforcement.
STEP 7. Now take your cover piece and fold it in half short sides together. Make sure the right sides of the fabric are facing each other (it will look inside out). You are going to sew down each of the two short sides leaving the wide side open. Now fold open the top just like you did with the rice pack (about 1/2 inch). Again, you can finger press or opt to iron. Now you will sew around the entire perimeter using 1/4 inch seam allowance from the bottom of the folded edge.
STEP 8. Now cut a piece of each of the hook and loop velcro (about 2 inches each). Place in the middle of each folded over side (I just eyeballed it but you can measure for better accuracy.). You want to make sure the pieces of velcro are lined up so they will stick together when you turn this thing inside out. When sewing on the velcro, I go really slow. If your machine has a feature to put your needle down, that really helps around the corners when pivoting at a turn.
At this point you can turn it inside out and see how it looks (if it is not laying flat around the corners, you can turn it back inside out and trim the seams being careful not to cut too close to where you sewed. Once you are satisfied, put the rice pack inside and see how it fits.
I always like to give mine a test whirl in the microwave. For a bag this size, I start out with 2 minutes on high. I like mine super hot. For a kiddo you might want to play around a little. Start with one minute, then go at 30 second intervals. Make sure to hang onto it for a little bit because it takes a while to feel how hot the rice is (believe me these suckers can retain a lot of heat!) so please be careful. Don't be concerned if the bag feels a little moist. I guess it's the steam escaping but as I mentioned earlier, I've had these for years and have not had any problems.
And, Voila!!! Play around with different colors and patterns. Dress them up with gift tags and pretty ribbon. A handwritten note with instructions on how to use them always is a nice touch! I used some of the holiday gift tags from my Etsy shop here and here. Here is a sample of what you could write:
HAND MADE RICE PACK
For a cold compress: Place in freezer. I like to keep mine in a ziploc bag. Remove and use for sore muscles, injuries or anything else you might use a cold compress for.
For a hot compress: Heat in the microwave for one minute. Check the temperature and increase at 30 second intervals until desired temperature is reached being careful not to get burned (these get really hot). Great to bring to bed on cold nights as a foot warmer, for achy muscles, or just to warm up on a cold day!
If you get cold hands and feet in the wintertime, these are great to heat up and take to bed with you! Warms those digits right up!!!!
These do not have to be holiday themed at all. They make great gifts any time and the colors and themes are limitless. Experiment with shapes and sizes too. Smaller sized packs are great to keep in the freezer for boo-boos, especially for Gramma's fridge. I once made one that was long and tube-like to wrap around the recipients neck. Hey, don't be afraid to TREAT YO' SELF and make one for YOU while you are at it! You won't regret it!
Hope you have enjoyed the post. Happy creating!