13 January 2012

Handmade Holiday: How to Make a Channeled Rice Heat Pack

 Okay, very nearly through with the holidays. Most definitely, though, a rice pack is something you can make any time, for yourself, or as a gift for any occasion. They are very simple to make, and oh, so rewarding. If you have never used one with channels for the rice before, you will never go back after trying it. I have gone through a few over the years. The rice will eventually shrink quite a lot, and they stop staying warm for very long after a couple years. Or your husband lights it on fire while you are in labour. 

They are awesome for sore muscles, to lay across your shoulders, or back. They are comforting for a sick child, to hug or put on a sore tummy. I love warming mine up and tossing it into bed before me so my feet spot is nice and warm. My daughter likes to warm hers up for bed in the Winter, too, to snuggle with and keep her nice and warm. My husband will heat his up before driving to work in the cold, wrapping it around his neck before getting in the car. I'll plunk mine on my head or neck for headaches. I've used it for breastfeeding woes, (plugged ducts, mastitus, etc.) and I wouldn't give birth without one. I finished one the night before having Katalin, because I desperately wanted it for labour again, it helped so very much to ease the back pain and contractions. (I'm pretty sure my body wasn't going to go into labour before it was done.) You can use them to keep food warm in transit, and you can also freeze them for use as a nice, flexible, fabric covered ice pack.

So, those should be plenty enough reasons to make one. Even if you're not having a baby. Now make one. I always use fleece, it's soft and fuzzy, and stretches when you pack it full of rice. The size is up to you, I like to make a rectangle long enough to be able to throw over my shoulders or around my neck without having to hold it in place. (Keep in mind that you will need to fit it in your microwave, though you can curl it up or fold it in half to do this.) Cut the fleece twice as long as you would like your pack to be, and fold it in half, right sides in.

Your fabric should be doubled up, with the fold to the side.

Sew shut both long sides, first with a small straight stitch, then again over that with a small zigzag. You need these seams to be strong. Trim the excess off. Cut close enough to the seam not to clog the channels you will be adding, but leave enough that your stitching won't come out under stress. Because you are going to put it under stress. Your pack should now be closed on three sides, with one short side open.

 Turn your fabric right-side-out. If you are good at sewing straight lines and eyeballing equal spacing, awesome, go ahead and do that. I am terrible at it, though, so I measure and use a vanishing fabric pen to mark out my channels. Small channels are nice, but they are very difficult to fill. I make mine two inches apart, and I wouldn't suggest going too much smaller than that. I've done it, but it wasn't worth the effort it took to fill enough for me to want to do it again.

 Now sew your channels, again with a short straight stitch followed by a small zigzag stitch on top.

Now for rice. If you would like to scent yours, now is the time. For some of these rice packs we used clove oil, and for others I added crushed dried lavender. I've also used tea tree, nutmeg, and vanilla, and you can pretty much use whatever takes your fancy, provided you don't add too much moisture to the rice. Mix it into the rice before filling.

We use a funnel and a chopstick to fill our packs. The funnel for obvious reasons, the chopstick to get the rice moving when it jams in the funnel, and to use as a ramming device (with the wider, flat end,) to pack the rice in tight. And you do want to get it as tightly packed as you can, because, as I mentioned before, the rice will shrink and the more you can cram in, the longer your pack will last. Run your fingers down the channels to move the rice down. Leave about an inch unpacked at the ends to sew. Yes, I totally handed this job over to my husband while I worked on sewing more packs. He found it helpful to put a clip on the first channel to keep it from spilling while he filled the rest, and I am pretty sure he would have clipped all of them had he been able to find enough clips.

I forgot to take a picture of this last bit, but it is simple enough. Sew a basting stitch as close to the rice as you are able on the last side, and then do your straight / zigzag stitch routine just outside that, again, as close as possible. Pull out the basting stitch, and trim the excess off. You are done!

To use your rice pack, pop it in the microwave for about two minutes, less if you made yours small, more if you made it larger. Aside from rice pack size, the length of time you use will depend on your microwave, the age of your rice pack, and the humidity, you may find you need more or less time. It will catch fire if you put it in too long, so start at two minutes and add time in 30 seconds increments if you would like it warmer. As your rice pack ages, you may be putting it in for longer. If your rice pack stops holding heat well, give it a few lights sprays of water and it will perform better again. Microwaves with hot spots can be a problem, so if you have one, please take care and keep an eye on your pack while warming it up.



  1. What a nice looking hot pack, I know my daughter would love this, she has been talking about getting a hot pack for her shoulders. I will have to pick up some fleece next time I go to the fabric store. Thanks for the tutorial! :)

  2. Yes, yes, yes! And thank you. Do tell me if you make yours, and if my instructions were thorough and helpful. :)

  3. I wish I had one as long as my bed but I'd need a huge micro for it, right? I never thought of making one with channels but now my wheels are spinning! and as a heat pack for food HELLO! BEST IDEA EVER!

  4. Thank you! This came out great, and I am NOT a good seamstress!


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