Sunday, September 20, 2015

An Unmentionable Subject We Should Talk About

Today's post is about making menstrual products. This may not interest you at all, and I respect that. The important part you should know before you pass on this post is 1 out of 10 school girls in Africa either miss classes or drop out completely due to their periods. Education gives all children an enormous advantage. Girls as well as boys should be able to attend school.
This is a crucial project, and we need to be able to talk about it. Little Dresses for Africa has information that explains more cultural aspects in detail, and also includes basic instructions for making products. 

I would like to show you a very simple, affordable way to contribute to the project yourself, or to make some for your own use. There are growing numbers of people sensitive or allergic to materials or chemicals used in pads, and this is an ecological and economical alternative. All around me young mothers are choosing cloth diapers once again for their babies for the same reasons, yet not considering cloth pads for themselves. There is no comparison in the level of comfort. Are you still with me?

My 5 babies were diapered in cloth with a mix of disposables when necessary. I made many cloth diapers myself when diaper covers hit the market in the 90's. I experimented with all sorts of fabrics throughout the years, but nothing compares to the absorbency of microfiber towels we have today. That's what we are using in this project.

Both the pads and the carrier are machine washable. The carrier has PUL, a water resistant layer, so it should be line dried while the pads are dryer safe. My experience has shown these to last 5+ years with regular use, if not much longer.

Read All Instructions Before Beginning.

For this project you will need:
  • 2 microfiber shop towels
  • 16" width of fabric of flannel
  • 1 pc. PUL approximately 6"x12". PUL is a water-resistant fabric available at your local JoAnn's or online. It is typically used for diaper covers.
  • 1 pc. flannel approximately 6"x12". A scrap is fine.
  • 2 pc. Velcro One, Velcro, or a snap set

Start with a good grade of flannel. "Fleurish" by Valori Wells is my pick here today. 

My microfiber layer is simply shop towels bought in a package at my local Sam's Club. They are approximately 15" square, but there are some variations. Choose two as close in size as possible, and layer in between a sandwich of flannel staying as near as possible to the selvage edge.

Pin the layers to keep from shifting, and mark lines around the perimeter of the microfiber by feeling through the fabric. We will be cutting the serged edges of the microfiber off in a later step so stay slightly inside the rolled edge. Mark with a fine point marker.

The area at the fold of the fabric (top) will be reserved for making the carrier. Do not cut or discard.

Measure down 4 1/2" from the line at the top horizontal to the fold. Draw a line straight across from cut edge to edge. This will be one very large overnight pad.

Across the lower edge of the fabric horizontal to the selvage, mark every 3" across the fabric. You should have about 5 regular sized pads here. 

Draw all the lines in a fine point marker. These will be your cutting lines. Starting with the inside lines, stitch a seam on either side of each inside line. The outer most perimeter edge only requires one line of stitching. I suggest staying at least 1/8" to each side of the marked lines, and using a 3.5 mm stitch length .

Carefully trim all outer edges with a rotary cutter while removing the serged seams of the microfiber cloths. You may find it easiest to use a transparent ruler to see each line precisely.

There is no harm if you accidentally cut through the stitching of a seam. It will be taken care of in the next step.

A serger is ideal for overlocking the edges. Most knives are spring-loaded, and can be turned out of the way. It is not necessary to trim any seams for this application. Sew slowly because of the bulk you are stitching through. If you don't have access to a serger, use a tighter zigzag or overlock on a regular sewing machine to secure all the edges on each pad.

Chain stitch whenever possible!

Gorgeous fabric like this would make any girl's period brighter!

Now you have two choices. You can use a regular commercial pad without wings as a waterproof layer--no plastic to touch your skin that way, or easily make a reusable one. 

Washable Carrier

From the top with pad inside the carrier

Carrier from the bottom with the 'wings' fastened

I wanted to show you how "un-scary" pattern making is. You can do this!

I took my finished pad and a scrap of muslin fabric. I added 3/8-1/2" around the whole pad, and added 'wings' like a commercial pad would look. When I cut it out and tested it, the wings were too short to overlap. I added 3/4" to each wing so for the overlap, and it was perfect. No solid science--just guessing. *HINT: A curved line going into the 'wing' area is always easier to sew and turn inside out. While the LDfA site shows a corner, I believe this curve is far more functional.

The carrier is made from 3 layers. A bottom layer of flannel (shown in blue), a middle layer of PUL, and a top layer of flannel. Both the top and bottom flannel layers can be cut at the same time with wrong sides together.

This step is my preference. I prefer to cut the PUL one at a time with the shiny side up. It is a more expensive fabric, has a slight tendency to shift, and you do NOT want to pin through it. It is not self-healing, and holes will cause leakage. Need your pattern to stick? Try a little glue stick at several points.

Create another small pattern piece for the straps to hold the pad in place. Mine measured about 2"x5". Cut 2 pieces from scraps. Sew wrong sides together, press flat with seam on the underside, and zigzag or stitch seam flat. Pin to each end of the pad about 1" from the unfinished edge.

Sew a small piece of Velcro One or your choice of fastener to one edge of the top flannel staying inside all edges by at least 3/8". Sew the mate of the Velco to the bottom flannel on the opposite side flap. Always layer things together to see if they work before you sew!  

I suggest using clips of some kind instead of pins in the next step, but if you must use pins then only pin the outermost 1/4" seam allowance.

Layer the PUL on the bottom with the shiny side up. The fabric side down will make it easier to sew. The top layer (shown in pink with the straps) goes next (will be in the middle) with the right side up. The bottom layer (shown in blue) goes on top with the wrong side up. 

Sew all three layers together leaving an opening at either the front or back edge to turn. I used a 2.5mm stitch length. Clip corners. Turn right side out. Fold in the raw edges and top stitch across the opening.

Totally an awesome Ta-Dah! 
Three cheers for you!

From start to finish including pattern design and picture taking, I had well under 1.5 hours. I know from experience you can make a good stack of pads in an hour.

My mother is an avid maker of Little Dresses, and has spoken to so many people about the need of these sanitary items. Don't make this subject taboo here like it is in Africa. We can help the girls, and help each other.

Share this tutorial and your patterns with anyone who will listen, and bless some little girls with an 'unmentionable' gift. Information and contacts are available at:

Come on, Doxie girls.


Sandra Walker said...

Julie, you continue to push the boundaries, and this post opened my eyes and educated me to something I had absolutely no idea about. If we can quickly respond to sending quilts to tornado or flood victims and to refugees, this is something we can very very easily contribute towards as well! I will mention it to the ladies in my guild when we sew our quilts for seniors in wheelchairs, and point them to this post. Thank you for your courage to bring this up online where a large audience can and hopefully will respond. I know I sure am going to sew up some of these. Empowerment and education of women--I'm ALL over that.

Stitchin At Home said...

The quild I belong has made some of these and donated flannel for other to help make some. A necessary and valuable item for girls.

Jayne said...

Good for you Julie! You just educated me and others on this touchy subject! My daughter has made and used pads like these for years! With an increasing awareness to unnatural and harmful products they have become a wonderful alternative for many people. The fact that these simple and inexpensive items could change a young girls life is mind blowing for me!

Anja @ Anja Quilts said...

Great post. I have not personally made any, but a Girl Guide friend in Ontario has made these with her Unit.

Tish Stemple said...

This was a great post! I had not thought about this before. This is something that would be so simple to make and completely life changing for someone to receive. My local guild is always looking for projects, I would love to share your information with them if you wouldn't mind.

Julie said...

I would be thrilled to have you share this.

Dogwood Lane Rambles said...

Thanks so much for this tutorial I have long wanted to help in some way with this and now I can!