March 10, 2012

30 Minute Warm Compress Rice Bag

Due to a combination of recent school stress, bad sleeping positions, horrible posture, ill health, an American exercise routine (read: lethargy), and a deflating pillow, I hurt everywhere. My shoulders and neck are like rocks, my right jaw is slightly swollen and painful (a blocked parotid gland, according to the school nurse), and I have some sort of pimple on my upper leg that makes pants painful. For the jaw, the nurse recommended sour lemon candies (to stimulate salivation) and a warm compress, which is what I also need for my shoulders. Thus, I decided I needed one of those warm compress rice bags immediately.

I didn’t want to do any measuring or fussy things like that, so this is a quick-and-dirty version. I didn’t even pin. I used some leftover washed, pressed, and folded bleached white muslin from another project and some plain, brown rice that was “best by Jan 12” (oops…). White rice would probably be better because it has less oil and chance of going rancid, but brown is what I had. And just so you know how on the fly this was, when I say my fabric was pressed, I mean I pressed it three months ago. If I were making a gift, I probably would press it for real but not when it’s for me and my back hurts this much.

For this project, you’ll need:
  • A small amount of 100% cotton or linen* fabric – I used a scrap of plain bleached white muslin (see my idea at the end about making a removable cover!)
  • 100% cotton* thread
  • Rice (white if you have it) – the amount depends on the size of your bag and how full you want it; I used probably a little more than 2 cups

*A note about fabrics: I strongly advise using 100% natural materials, such a cotton or linen, for this because they don’t melt in the microwave, unlike polyester and other synthetic fabrics. You’re only microwaving it for a minute, but it’s better safe than sorry.

Unfortunately, as I was starting to take pictures, my batteries died. Sigh. But it’s so easy that you don’t really need them anyway. I based my bag on the instructions here.

First, I found a rectangular box under my housemate’s bed that was the approximate dimensions of what I wanted for the finished project. You want one that’s a bit bigger than you want because of seam allowances. My finished bag is 10 ½” x 3 ⅝” plus a ⅜” seam allowance. I meant to do a ¼” seam allowance but accidentally did a ⅜” (on my retro machine, the presser foot guide is ¼”, but apparently my new machine’s is ⅜”)

Fold your fabric scrap in half and align a long edge of your box to the fold. Trace around the box and cut on the lines.

Sew ¼” (or ⅜” – whatever you’re comfortable with) from the edge of the fabric on all three sides, making sure to leave a 2” gap on a short end for turning. I like to reinforce my corners with backstitching to make them sturdier.

Trim your seam allowances to a scant ¼” (except at the 2” opening) and clip corners. Turn and poke out the corners. I used a mechanical pencil with the lead retracted. Finger press the opening edges towards the inside or press flat with an iron if you want to be all professional-like. ;)

Use a funnel or piece of paper taped into a cone and fill with rice. I filled it to about ¾ of the way up. Remember that the more rice you put in, the stiffer and less flexible it will be. When you’re happy with the amount of rice you put in, all you have to do is close the opening.

You can do this in a couple ways. One way would be to slip stitch it shut by hand. This would make for a professional and invisible closure. Or, if you’re lazy and unprofessional like me, you can pin and topstitch by machine. Actually, there’s really nothing wrong with my topstitching it because I’m planning on making a removable cover for it when I have time, anyway (flannel, maybe?). The cover will be washable and protect it from dirt, skin oils, etc. It will also insulate it. If you do find that you need to wash the bag the rice is in, just slice open part of a seam (easier with topstitching! see, it’s not just lazy!), pour out the rice, and launder. When it’s clean, simply refill with rice and sew shut again. You do not need to throw it out like the lady in the previously linked post suggests. Waste not, want not.

For heating, I put it in the microwave for 30 s, flipped it, did another 15 s, flipped, and did another 10 s. This was about perfect for me. If your microwave isn’t spotless (and whose is?), put it on a plate or a napkin to keep it clean.

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