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Note: You can also follow these directions with plain rectangles of fabric, instead of cutting the hourglass shapes. They may bunch up a bit more in the middle, but they'll take a lot less time to sew.
1. Get some material. I'd recommend 100% cotton for the top and bottom pieces, and an all-cotton batting (such as "Warm n' Natural," which goes on sale at JoAnn Fabrics/Cloth World for $4.49/yard) for the filler. You can also use multiple layers of cotton fabric for the filler, but it takes about 8 layers for it to be effective, and that ends up being rather thicker than I preferred. I used about a yard of 90" width batting and maybe two of fabric (unbleached flannel is really nice), and made about 15 pads (most of which I ended up giving away). [I had periodically (no pun intended...) sold them to the health food store in town for $1.50 a piece, where they retailed at about $2 each. Just a thought if you, like me, could use a little spending money.] Total cost: ~$7
2. Wash the fabric before cutting the pieces out! I made the mistake of cutting and sewing before washing the pads, and they shrank in really weird ways --still usable, but not as pretty as they could be, and not as big as I'd planned (which was fine for some of the recipients). Don't wash the batting on its own -- it will disintegrate in the washer/drier. It will shrink a little bit once sewn into the pads and washed, but not enough to make a big difference.
3. Lay out the pattern piece. The new design will tessalate -- that is, if you cut out two rows, there will be a third row between them that's "free". See drawing at right. Use the outside, darkest line for the main fabric, and the inside solid line for the batting (you can just print one, cut your fabric pieces with the outside line, then cut the inside part out and use that for the batting).
4. Sew the pieces together. For pads with three layers of fabric and three of batting, I made a stack as at left. This way, once the pieces are pinned together, I never had to sew directly onto the batting (the sewing machine didn't like doing that).
As you sew, make sure that all the layers are caught in the thread. The batting, being somewhat smaller than the outsides, will have a seam allowance of closer to 1/6" than 1/4" -- that was done purposefully, since I found that the edges were too thick. on the ones I'd done with the batting at the same size as the outsides. Leave a gap of about 1.5 inches (4 cm) on one side of the larger half of the pad (just below the wing) to allow the pad to be turned right-side-out. Also, make sure that your stitches are secure by back-stitching at each starting and stopping point; you may want to reinforce the stitching around the pivot points for the wings, as well.
When turning, make sure that the two fabric pieces that were together ("top" and "bottom") become the outside pieces. (It's actually a lot simpler than I'm making it sound here.) The unseen layer is there only to keep the sewing machine from having to sew on the batting itself, since some machines don't like that very much. If your machine will sew on the batting directly, go ahead and do that :) Or, you can use a barrier fabric (like good-quality nylon, or, if you have it, PUL) for the unseen layer, to keep your pads from leaking. (I've only bled through a couple of pads, and that was when I used an all-flannel pad -- no batting -- and had unexpectedly heavy bleeding.)
If you have a serger, you can just serge around the edges, although I've personally had a very hard time serging around curves. This means that instead of stacking the pieces as above, you should stack them as they will appear in the finished product (batting on the inside, outsides right sides out). I would serge as in the diagram at right.
5. Topstitch the now-inside layers of batting to the fabric pieces (along the lines shown on the pattern pieces). Also be sure to sew up the hole used for turning. You may want to topstitch around the whole outer seam, about 1/4" from the edge --I found that this prevented major leakage around the edge of the pad.
6. To keep the pad from slipping around when worn, you can sew a button onto one wing and a buttonhole on the other, or attach snaps, or create a special pair of underpants. For the latter you could leave off the wings, sew buttons to both ends of the pad, and sew buttonholes onto the underpants themselves such that the pad was in the right place for you (or do the same thing with hook-and-loop tape). However, I've found that just using the wings for a button/hole, or putting on snaps, has worked out fine. If you use a nice, fuzzy flannel and your underpants are cotton, they will actually stay in place reasonably well without any kind of fastener. Just be careful when you use the toilet -- I had forgotten I was wearing a pad during my last period, and it fell right into the toilet (and was summarily disposed of, ew).
6. Care instructions: I just throw my pads in the wash whenever it's being done. With the button/hole combination on the wings, you can fold the pad into thirds and button it closed, to prevent leakage while it's still damp --just make sure you unbutton it before throwing it in the wash, or it won't get as clean. In the past, I hadn't bothered to presoak or anything like that; however, they haven't been getting as soft as I would like (they stay kind of crusty -- yuck!), so I will attempt to rinse them out or something in the future. If you wanted to get fancy, and had to cart them to and from work, you could make little envelopes for them by sewing rectangles of fabric together, or just fold them up as above.
Happy sewing -- hope this works for you!
Click on the template below to open full-sized version. It should print to about 9.5" long, but can certainly be scaled up or down for different-sized pads. Or you can just eyeball the printout and draw your own -- nothing is set in stone :)
Of course, you can just as easily sew a simple rectangle with no tabs or anything. I made a bunch of quickie pads for overnights by just folding a large rectangle of flannel (about 18" by 15", I think) into a smaller rectangle and sewing around the edge. They're not pretty, but they get the job done, and are easier to make than the ones with tabs. Flannel doesn't tend to slide around in one's undies, so the tabs can be superfluous -- nice to have, but not 100% necessary. Most often, I use a thin version of the pad above (one layer of cotton batting) and my Diva Cup, which I highly recommend; while it takes a little getting used to, it's a terrific product and one I expect to use for many years.
Shawn Michelle has this amazingly clever method, which I liked so much I asked if I could post it (and lucky for all of us, she said yes!). What I like about these is that it's a multiple layer, but it will dry quickly once opened out. Excellent design.
"What I did was buy some wash cloths and about a yard and a half to two yards of flannel (I can't remember exactly how much I bought, sorry.) I made the pads as long as the wash cloth, but I cut them so that they are nine inches wide. (oh, I should mention that I laundered both the wash cloths and flannel before I started cutting so the cloth would be preshrunk.)
"What I used for a water proof layer, was my daughters old changing pad from when she was a baby. (I thought it was poetic that the pad end up being used this way.) ;-) I cant remember what the pad is called, but you can buy all sizes from small lap pad size to a size big enough to cover a crib mattress. This particular pad I bought used at a garage sale when I was pregnant with my daughter. I used it with all three of my children and I cant count how many times it has been through the washer and dryer, (on high heat!)and it is still completely waterproof. If you can't find any other type of water proof material, you can purchase this type of pad VERY cheaply at places like walmart or toys-r-us in the baby section. I cut the pad to the length of the wash cloth and three inches wide.
"I put the wash cloth on one side, the flannel on the other, and I sandwiched the waterproof layer on the left edge. Then I zigzaged around the edge twice. (It would probably LOOK nicer if you have a serger.)Then I straight stitched length wise three inches from the edge and then another straight stitch three inches from the opposite edge. That keeps things from shifting and makes it easier to see where to attach the tabs. I made tabs out of flannel by cutting small rectangles, putting right sides together and sewing around two long sides and one short side, then I turned them right side out and attached snaps. I used the type of snaps that you squish on instead of sewing on. (I've had a lot of success with that type in the past) I snapped two tabs together, and laid them across the center of the pad (on the flannel side)at this point you should attach the tabs at the exact same spot you did the straight stitches. (try to have the snaps as close to the center of the pad as you can) Then fold the raw edges of the tabs and hem. Wa.. La.. finished pad."
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