Nice photo! Grab a coffee let’s have a girly chat, all welcome!
I have wanted to start writing projects to inspire about how to use up your bits of fabric for a while now and have been gathering ideas from some wonderful people who have been working on inspiration within Pinterest for a number of years so get onto the Threadelicious Pinterest Sew-Recycle Board and take a look.
I would like to say that I/we are all forever grateful for all of the talent out there sharing their ideas and creativity for free.
With that said, I had previously decided that any mend, recycle, upcycle or using scraps project I work on will be available for free for anyone who visits the Threadelicious website Public Blog regardless of if they are a member and subscribing or not.
These reuse/recycle articles are not intended as training or teaching documents although hopefully they are full of useful information and inspiration, they are more about my findings, research, experiments and musings in an attempt to get your taste buds tingling enough to get out your sewing machines needle and thread and bits boxes.
So there is really no excuse to throw away your scraps, failed projects (yes I admit this happens), samples and worn out clothes when you have these resources at your fingertips. Anything you make will be a bonus and you can always gift these items on and or try to inspire others to do the same, or you can simply use your scraps for experimentation, learning or simply for plain creativity. You can make anything into a party...get some friends around and have a play!
For this little project I would like to focus on daily use knicker liners and sanitary pads, and can I just say that I have just spent 15 mins thinking about how best to write this article with the correct amount of political awareness around words to use to describe menstruation and other bodily excretions as it is important to me. If you are on either end of the political scale on this subject I will just tell you that I am going for a middle ground with this.
Here is a personal note so if you don’t want to read about my graphic and very personal human life then feel free to skip past this wholesome paragraph…..
Over the past few years I have personally been taking plastics out of my life for reasons of health (plastics are poisoning our bodies) and for reasons of environment (plastics are choking the world). Using plastics has never really sat easy with me so I started plugging away and trying to remove them from the house as much as possible. One area where I have struggled a little with is in the feminine hygiene department, and although I used a moon cup for decades (made from silicon - which I will be forever grateful for and wholeheartedly would recommend every menstruating human to move to for the rest of their menstruating life) I still have used disposable panty liners and have always thought about but not ever made the move to cloth sanitary pads/liners. Could it possibly be that making cloth pads has always been on my bucket list? I can’t say why, time, other more important things to do, being privileged and having disposable options readily available to me, putting my head in the sand, all those things combined and more besides I suspect even when I know I have consumed double the measured amount. I have always used two at a time, I put it down to height and girth but I have always found disposable pads to be way too short for my body, I find that all of the fluids react in a sort of capillary way on my body exiting at both front and back as well as where you would expect everything to go. Manufacturers in my opinion just simply don’t make pads long enough, so I possibly have disposed of twice as many pads as I should have. I do have guilt associated with this amount of waste and have often wondered if other women have found the same problem, how many women are out there doubling up length wise….and don’t get me started on double decker pads during heavy flow times in my life when a moon cup was not possible – yes that equals 4 or more disposable pads at a time!
There are some obvious pros and cons with using cloth pads, the elephant in the room and obviously the biggest con is that you have to launder them, this is fact that you will just have to get over for some this will be like a slap in the face and something they don’t want to face up to for others and hopefully the majority just a natural part of having a human anatomy. If you have ever used a moon cup you are familiar with seeing your blood loss so this is not so much of an issue. Years ago cloths (inside or out), guards or belted pads were the only way to go other than allowing free flow anyway so it’s just a matter of getting used to this process again. It’s as simple as either cold wash (less staining) immediately after use in the sink then add to the laundry, or if you are away from home store in a waterproof bag (a scrap project for another day!) until you can wash out or soak at home then throw into the laundry – dried blood is harder to get out so pads will stain over time. For a best environmental laundering using your usual laundry powder (I do make my own) or bicarb for a soak with maybe a natural disinfectant like a lemon/lemon balm or tea tree oil (not softener as this can affect absorbency), and hanging out to dry naturally. I read a great tip recently about throwing your pads into the shower and stomping on them while you wash to start getting them clean, I do this with swim-ware and sometimes bras anyway. When using cloth pads you might need to be mindful of other household members especially if there are blood issues/disease etc., where separate laundering may be necessary or essential.
The Pros are worth the mention though, with the environmental issue being top of the list;
They are reusable so you are less likely to run out.
They can be really soft on the skin (more about fabric choices shortly). After my experiments I prefer this against my skin than disposables.
They won’t cause itchiness or sensitivities and less thrush symptoms than the disposable pads.
They won’t turn and stick on you.
You can use organic cloth to ensure that there are no pesticides or dyes getting to your skin adding less toxins to the mix.
Or if you prefer you can make them out of beautiful prints, or use a combination of fabrics with organic on the inside and fancy on the outside.
You may find that they are more absorbent and thinner (although not as thin as the ultra-thin disposable daily liners) and don’t need to be changed as often or you may wish to change more often for freshness not worrying about throwing away a disposable pad, and the bathroom bin is not going to be a place you no longer want to stand next to.
I have even read that they can help reduce the length and heaviness of periods or reduce pains, although my jury is out on that one! I do agree that a moon cup reduces pain though.
Of course they are more environmentally friendly as they will last you years (and can be composted at the end of their life) and with the bonus of costing less money especially if you are making them yourself and from fabric scraps!
The best thing I think is that you can customise them for your own requirements especially if you are making them for yourself, you just need to be up to a little experimentation to try out different lengths, widths, wing options, fastening options, absorbency and waterproofing. If you are buying them then some cloth pad designers are willing to listen to your requests too (giving your money to a small business is always a good idea).
Although the aim is to reuse scraps as much as possible this should not undermine the sensitivities surrounding cloth pads as an investment and feeling secure wearing them, there’s no use in using scraps if they are not up to the job, if they don’t work how you want them to you are never going to wear them. You are looking after your health and the environment by using cloth pads so you want them to work, should you have spare fabric that will work then this is a really bonus, triple whammy, and you could use your other fabric scraps that would never work simply for experimentation in getting your designs/shapes right.
When thinking of fabric the most important aspect is how absorbent or waterproof do you want the pad to be, how dry will you need it to feel and how soft will it be and do you want to hide stains in a patterned fabric or would you rather go natural organic with no dyes. It’s all a bit of personal choice and experimentation in getting it just right for your needs. Remember you can add as many different layers as you need and feel comfortable with.
Natural fibres may be better for your body, feel cooler and breathable and are absorbent but may stain more and may feel wetter. These fibres can work better in a top layer next to the skin; cotton, bamboo and hemp (such as flannel, quilters cotton, velour, fleece) or for an inside/core layer, such as a fleece or terry to add more absorbency. Although not fully waterproof using more layers can keep fluid from getting through to the outside of the knicker. The key is finding your confidence level. Don’t forget you can also add organic cotton thread to the mix if you want to keep everything as natural as possible.
Synthetic fibres my not be as absorbent but can be soft and may allow moisture to wick through to another core layer and can hide staining more if a patterned fabric is used. Synthetic fabrics may be more waterproof but may cause you to sweat. For the best water proofing its back to plastic, some fabrics have a plastic coating some sort of polyurethane laminated fabrics (varying thicknesses), which can also be used for your wet bags and will wash well but be careful in the dryer, best to air dry after laundering in this case. A couple of layers of a good nylon fabric might give you the waterproofing you need. It goes without saying though that synthetic fibres can take years to decompose so it all depends on your requirements and balance of your perceived physical need versus your political views of nature.
As a basic idea think what fabric are you using on the upper layer, what are you using on the lower layer (which is enough for a daily knicker liner), then for more absorbency/protection you should think about inner layers, using more layers for a thicker pad.
As with most other sewing prewash your fabric before using to ensure it is pre-shrunk and be ready to create test pads.
To secure a pad you could use plastic snaps (I know!) or metal ones, or better still recycle some buttons/buttonholes or possibly a French Tack. Or Velcro/elastic (although more plastic!) or if you are using your pads for daily liners that you don’t need to change often but are using them because a knicker gusset is not substantial enough in absorbency and length or you could simply sew the pad down the middle of your knickers and make it a permanent feature.
Shapes and Sizes
Ok here’s the thing there is no one size fits anyone when it comes to shapes and sizes so if you go out and buy your pads you will need to shop around to make sure you will wear what you buy. Everyone has their own ideas of what is comfortable and what is best for them. But here are a few basics to get you thinking along the right lines.
If you are wearing thongs or G-strings and you have any flow to catch good luck with that (well….come on!). Look it’s not for me but who am I to judge. If you want to go down this route then you can buy or make thong pads and inter-labia pads where you can fold and roll a petal shaped piece of fabric internally between the labia. I won’t be covering these in this article because you can work this out for yourself after reading to the end, it’s really the same process, it’s all about deciding on shape and sizes. It is also something you can search for there are plenty of examples for sale on Etsy that you can have a look at to get you started. If you feel this is really for you then you could also check out cloth tampons.
Knickers are not all created equal. If you are like me you have a range of sizes of knickers, some old some new, some plain some sexier with a bit of lace. Whatever shape cloth pad you design you can guarantee that it is not likely that you will get the same result with each pair of knickers you put it in. So you can either just go with a one size fits all attitude or experiment more with shape for your knicker collection. A gusset that is not wide enough or just lace will not be able to support a cloth pad with wings, the pad will shift around too much. On the other hand knickers that have a large gusset such as boyfriend pants or boxer shorts will bunch up if you use a cloth pad with wings which is fine if you can live with it.A little bunching of a knicker gusset is no big deal it means that the pad is less likely to shift about but again it’s about personal choice and how much bunching you are willing to live with.
Linked to the last point if you are using cloth pads with wings the width and length and shape of the wing will have an impact in how the pad stays in place on your knickers. Getting a cloth pad to stay in position is the trickiest part of designing your own I think. If you are using a winged version you will need to consider the shape and size of the wing. A wing has a width (along the pad) and a length (moving away outwards from the pad, this length allows the wing to fold under the knicker gusset and be attached one way or another closed to the other wing) the wider the wing the more it will affect the knicker gusset and can cause a little knicker scrunching but it is more likely to stay in place, the thinner the width of the wing the less knicker scrunching but it is more likely to be less secure especially if the pad is a long one, during experimenting I had plenty of upper leg licking action from the pad when walking which for me is very unsettling as you think it’s not where it should be and omg am I going to lose it in the middle of the shopping centre as the pad shifts around in the knickers and even some disappearing action in an upwise direction if you get my drift! Look it’s all part of the experiment, at least this way you really get to know what you are comfortable with!
For me the challenge with cloth pads is how to best secure them and keep within my comfort zone. Pads can be secured using wings with snaps or buttons (with extra-long pads you could have multiple wings, elastic, Velcro, stitching down onto pants, clever pocket design to slot unwinged pads inside, or belts if you want to go down that route.
Wings are not necessary for a pad. Or you can combine unwinged pads with winged pads to add more absorbency as you need it.
A pad can be any size or shape for your own use it does not have to look pretty, especially if you are recycling your materials. As with any sewing projects your techniques will finesse over time and experimentation.
Have a really good think about length and width, don’t just copy what size your current pad is. How long do you really want your pad to be? If you are like me you may change your mind several times before you settle on this one.
The point is that you are in full control when you make your own.
My own Shape Experiments
Can I just say that I have not finished experimenting and I am not sure that I ever will, I am quite sensitive when it comes to my own comfort in this regard.
At this stage I am still testing so this is not a detailed and comprehensive lesson on pad making but if you are not sure where to start maybe looking at my testing might give you an idea on how to get started.
For other ideas have a google and see what’s out there.
For my experiments I started really simply, butcher paper and pencil for pattern making, knickers and daily liners that I currently use. You can use a sewing machine although hand stitching your pads is a great way to make them if you don’t have a machine to use.
I used a stitch and turn out method but you could go down a more simple route and overlock (corners can be tricky with overlocking) or use a hand stitch/button hole/blanket stitch to close and edge the seams.
This is how I wear my daily liners as I said I just find them two short for my body. These are extra thin barely there disposable liners and I know that whatever I make to replace these is going to be thicker so I am going to be more physically aware of them.
An easy way to start is to draw around the shape roughly.
For my wish list I wanted a longer pad so I cut down the middle of my shape and inserted a piece of paper to get the length I felt happy with and then re-joined the side lines. I then also added a ¼” seam allowance all the way around the shape, this will be your sewing line. To check that everything is roughly symmetrical I folded down the centre length of the shape when cutting out. (you could also add a grainline at this point if you wish and mark the Front and Back ends of the pad if you have different shapes at each end, I simply went for the same end shapes as my current pad but you could get creative here if you want to).
Using this as your pad pattern lay it onto your fabric of choice and cut out your pieces, you will need a top layer (I used a bamboo jersey from a previous project) and a bottom layer (I used some quilters cotton cut from a Test Garment mock-up that I no longer need). If you need more absorbency and are using 1 or more inner core layers then consider cutting these smaller to sit inside the sewing line as they may get in the way when you want to turn you pad right side out and be too bulky.
With top and bottom layer right sides together stitch all the way around the sewing line leaving a couple of inches open to allow for turning. It will help with turning if you snip into the seam allowances on any curves before you turn.
Either turn your pad right side out with any core layers in place or position them inside after you have turned the outer layers.
To close up the hole poke in the seam allowance and hold down with pins. You can now top stitch close to the edge all the way around the pad to seal it and to help it keep it shape.
As part of my design I decided to stitch down the centre for extra upholstery, which would be a sensible thing to do if you have one or more inner core fabrics to hold in place. By stitching down the centre with a thicker pad be mindful that any fluids will follow the path of least resistance and may collect in this area.
I used a pretty little stitch for this. Of course you can add as many lines of decorative stitching you want to. Sweet!