Friday, September 30, 2011

Warm hands from a warm heart.

I know I have slightly misquoted the old cliche, but in this case it is accurate. I want to share this great, easy idea for bringing a little warmth to those you love and appreciate. I am sure that for some of you this is not new, so bear with me, there might be a twist or two you haven't thought of before. My sister introduced me to this a few years ago when she made a heart shaped fabric pouch full of rice for my kids. When popped in the microwave for 1-2 minutes it gets nice and warm and stays that way for a long time. Once cool it can be warmed again and again. Since that first bag I have made big ones with channels that I use to warm up the foot-end of my bed in the winter, small ones that you can slip in the pocket of your coat to warm your hands and all sizes in between. They are spectacular for sore muscles as it is a moist heat and they have a nice weight and formability that makes them tend to stay where you put them. I even made one for a little boy who had recently lost his beloved feline sleeping partner. He was missing the weight and warmth of the cat when he went to sleep. I got a photo of him and his cat in younger days, iron transferred it onto some fabric and made him an approximately cat-sized bag to warm and sleep with each night. I heard from his mom that it helped him through the hardest part of grieving. There are as many ways to make these as there are people to make them, but there are a few details I have experimented with over the years and I would like to share them.

You can buy bags that have buckwheat hulls in them at the kiosks at the mall, and I understand bags like this that contain cherry pits can also be found (and apparently smell wonderful when hot) and I am sure there are many other iterations I have never heard of. However, rice works very well, is readily available and inexpensive. A simple bag can be made in an hour or less with a minimum of fabric and a couple of cups of rice. You can make a cute pieced version with small scraps or a simpler iteration using a single fabric. I will cover how to make a little scrappy heart and a couple small hand warmers out of a single fabric.

You will need for the heart:
two 2x3" pieces of fabric to make your heart
about a 5x7" piece of background plus a few scraps to finish it out to the final size
a 5x5" piece for the back
two 5x5 pieces of ALL COTTON batting (synthetic will melt)

You will need for the solid fabric hand warmers:
Two 4x8" pieces of  fabric (cute novelty prints and seasonal prints are fun)
Two 4x8" pieces of ALL COTTON batting

Note that you can make these without the batting, as I did for years.  However the batting helps to insulate the heat from the rice, making it more difficult to burn yourself with an accidentally overheated bag and it also causes the bag to hold the heat a bit longer.

The heart in this project will be, as we say, "wonky" and unplanned. First take the two 2x3" pieces and lop off both top corners of each as well as a long slanted cut off the bottom left corner on one and the bottom right corner on the other. If they seem to need further amendment to sort of look like a heart take off a vertical sliver on the outside of the offending piece on the same side that the long slanted cut came from. Then take the background fabric and begin cutting generous triangles off to fill in the spaces around the heart shape. 

Begin sewing the triangles to the heart fabric in this order; inside upper heart corners, outside upper heart corners, vertical cuts, long slanting cuts. Now, don't do this half heartedly.... hahahaha! I kill myself!  Really, you should end up with two half hearts. Trim the inner edges straight and lay them rights sides together and sew the middle seam. I often press this one open to avoid bulk. What a nice crumby heart you have! Now trim the outside edges straight and take your scraps and begin adding them in order to make a piece about 6" square.
Once you have a large enough piece you can trim the best 5" out of the middle. This allows you to do a final placement of the heart for the best possible effect.

ready for trimming

Now the rest of the instructions apply to any fabric you want to use. Layer each fabric piece with the corresponding batting piece. At this point you may decide to add some detail with quilting. Pieces this size don't need to be quilted, but I find that these little projects give me a chance to practice rusty free motion skills so I quilt mine. So, quilt as desired, or not.

layered and quilted
note the unsewn sections on the bottom edges

Place the 5x5" front piece and back piece together, sew a 1/4 - 5/8" seam all the way around EXCEPT for about 2" in the middle of one side. Be sure to back-stitch at the free ends. This opening will allow you to turn it right side out. Use the eraser end of a pencil to poke out the corners.

Now comes the rice. A bag this size will take a little more than a half a cup of rice. Experiment a little for yourself... You want it pleasantly full, but not so full that it is hard to hand stitch closed. Pin the opening closed (so you don't spill rice all over the floor) and slip or whip stitch the opening closed.

whip stitch the opening

Leave a long tail after you knot off the end and take a long stitch through the body of the bag. Cut the thread off at the surface. The long tails, just like in quilting, prevent the knot from working its way loose. now you have a cute little "warm heart" to give to a teacher or friend to keep her hands toasty on cold days working the carpool line or walking to the bus.

bury your end after the knot, just like with quilting
The instructions are very similar in the case of the 4x8" piece. Whether you decide to quilt it or not, fold each piece in half, right sides together and stitch around the three open sides except for about 2". In this case I did not stitch to the corner and it made me remember why it is a good idea... It is much harder hand turn that corner section when hand stitching it closed than it is to turn a section left open that does not include a corner. Regardless, turn right side out and fill with rice. This size takes a little less than a half a cup of rice. Hand stitch it closed. Repeat with the second piece and voila, you have pocket hand warmers.

A word about warming these in the microwave. Please use caution and common sense. It is possible to heat them to the point that they will burn you (they also tend to take on a scorched smell if over heated). For bags containing more rice, more time is necessary to achieve the desired temperature. Hand warmer sized bags take no more than about 1 minute if you do them together. Larger bags with 3-4 cups can take 2 to 2:30 minutes. If I am giving them as a gift I always include a set of written instructions. I experiment with the finished bag to find the time that works best for my comfort and always give a shorter amount of time in the instructions.

That being said, they make great gifts for teachers and bus drivers, they are a great comfort to sick children with the chills or a tummy ache, they are awesome on sore muscles and stiff necks. My large channeled version (seen below on the left) is used in the winter nightly to warm up my otherwise frozen feet.  The train bag and the skull bag belong to my boys and the patchwork bag was made by one of them and was the first one we tried batting in. I have also used the hand warmer size bags (minus the cotton batting) as mini cold packs by storing them in the freezer. They do not hold cold as long as they hold heat, but they are a small comfort to minor bumps on a head or shins when frozen peas are a little overkill. My sister heats up half a dozen medium sized bags and puts them in a cooler to take to late fall soccer games to keep the 'benchwarmers' and fans warm on the sometimes frigid fall mornings. After a while of hard use they get sort of grungy looking and the rice begins to smell, well, used. At that point, if you like the bag enough you can open it up at the hand sewn seam, dump the rice, wash the shell and fill it with new rice.

my family's stash of rice bags, minus the ones kept in the freezer

I hope you enjoy this project. Forgive me if it was not clear (and make a comment and I will try to make it understandable) as it is my first written tutorial attempt.

1 comment:

  1. Eden, these are great! I have a buckwheat hull one that I've used to help with the chronic neck pain I've developed. These are much more fun and I think I'd prefer the weight of the rice. Also, using them as a way to help children cope with the grief of losing a pet is a wonderful idea. Thanks for linking up.