Microwave Heating Bags
This is the season to make reusable microwave heating bags, also called rice bags or heat packs. These bags are terrific for:
- Hand warmers for anyone who wears gloves in the cold (hunters, skiiers, you as you get into your car in the morning)
- Neck wraps to ease sore muscles caused by hunching over the sewing machine
- Easing the pain of fibromyalgia and arthritis
- Helping breastfeeding moms lower their milk and comfort sore breasts
- Cold feet in bed
- Keeping food warm on the table or while being transported. Just put the dish on top of the heating bag.
- These bags can also be frozen, and used as a ice pack for cold therapy.
So, how do you make them? Easy! A microwave heating bag has four parts, an inner pocket, the filler (we recommend feed or deer corn), a zippered plastic bag and a pillowcase. Why corn instead of rice, beans or buckwheat? Corn stays cleanest the longest, won’t have problems with humidity, mold and mildew and generally won’t provoke allergies. You can purchase field corn by the pound where bird food is sold -- it is the whole kernel corn. Be sure to use whole corn, not cracked corn.
Start with a 9 x 22 piece of scrap fabric. Fold it in half, right sides together, so it measures 9 x 11. This will be your inner pocket. Sew three sides, leaving a little opening to fill, and turn it inside out.
Fill with 3 ½ to 4 cups (about 2 pounds) of Extra Clean Feed Corn. You may be able to find this in a feed store, or a discount store in the hunting section. Examine it closely as you fill the bag and remove anything that is not corn, like husks or leaves and the occasional bug. You want the corn to be loose inside the bag – don’t pack it too tightly. When you are done, sew the final section closed.
To both sterilize the corn and help it to dry out, place the newly made bag on a paper towel in your microwave and heat it for 2 – 3 minutes. Let it cool for at least two hours, shake it up, and do it again on a dry paper towel. If your paper towel or the inside of your microwave is still showing moisture, do the heat/cool cycle one more time. Mmmm, doesn’t it smell good? That smell won’t last for more than the first couple of heatings, though.
After it has completely cooled, place your pocket inside a plastic zippered storage or freezer bag. (Sandwich bags are not thick enough.) This will keep the corn bag itself clean and dry. This bag-in-a-bag is what you will put in a pillowcase.
Now the fun begins! When making the pillow case, let your imagination run wild. Use your orphan blocks, a discarded appliqué, or maybe a scrap of flannel. Make a ruffle or add piping to the edges if you like. Have fun with it, but keep in mind it will be microwaved so you may not want to use metallic threads or threads that melt.
The 9 x 11 size may not be practical for all applications. For example, hand warmers should probably be smaller (6 x 6), to fit in the persons glove. Or larger (18 x 18), to use over your feet when you are sitting on the couch, or to drape over your hands like a muff as you stand at a cold bus stop. If you do make an alternative size, remember to keep the amount of corn in the bag loose and either increase or decrease the amount of time you microwave your heating bag according to how large it is.
Be careful not to leave your bag in the microwave too long! Both the bag and the filling will catch on fire if you leave it in too long.
Are you giving your bag as a gift? Here is a little poem you can use:
The Rice Bag
This little pillow filled with rice,
Is such a comforting device.
Microwave for 2 minutes on high
And kiss those aches and pains goodbye.
Apply it to the troubled spot,
The heat will ease the pain a lot.
Or warm those little toes so cold,
You'll find this nice to have and hold.
Or freeze it for a little while,
And fix that booboo up in style.
Instead of a compress made of ice,
Use this pillow filled with rice.
Click here to read a story about how a rice bag helped someone in the hospital.