I use to think that chilblains were a Dickensian illness, likely due to some sort of fog-induced deficiency. Then, during my first winter in Ireland, I broke out with my own case of chilblains.
They came in the form of tiny red and painful dots on my fingers that made it rather difficult for me to write.
It seems funny for someone who grew up in a snowy climate to experience chilblains in a relatively mild climate. However, I think it came from the combination of moist cold air and the lack of indoor heating.
It was always cold in Ireland. Every room in our house had an open vent to the outdoors. Electricity cost a fortune, and we really could only afford to heat enough to prevent the water in the pipes from freezing. I quickly discovered the joy of electric blankets and heat packs.
The Joy of Homemade Heat Packs
Back in our west coast home, we have similarly moderate weather but we also have nicely insulated walls and windows. However, I still love our hot and cold packs. We have a set of 4 and use them every day from October to March.
- Una and I take a hot pack to bed with us every night. They are perfect for keeping our feet warm.
- Alternatively, take a cold pack to bed on a hot day.
- They are a quick way to warm up when you come in from a cold, wet bicycle ride.
- To soothe a tension headache, lay a hot pack across the back of your neck and over your shoulders.
- For a migraine headache, lay down with a cold pack on your forehead and a warm pack on your stomach. This works best at the first hint of a migraine.
- And of course, hot and cold packs are helpful for injuries and cramping.
- Fabric and thread: Use 100% cotton fabric for the bag and the cover. Cotton is not only soft and breathable, it’s also microwavable. You’ll need about 1/4 yard of fabric for each hot and cold pack and a spool of thread in a complementary colour.
- Barley: Each pack uses 4 cups of barley. Pearl barley and pot barley are both perfectly fine. You can also add 2 tbsp of dried lavender flowers to the barley if you want to add scent to your hot and cold packs.
- Sewing machine: Unless you really like hand sewing, a sewing machine is necessary for this project.
- Start by prewashing your fabric. It’s good to get rid of excess dye or stabilizers, etc.
- Cut 4 rectangles of fabric, two for the pack and two for the washable pack cover. The need to be 20″ long and 6.5″ deep.
- For each of the 4 rectangles, fold over 1/2″ of fabric on one of the short sides and iron flat. This will be the opening of the heat pack and cover.
Hot and Cold Pack
- Starting with the two rectangles that you’re planning to use for the heat pack, match the right sides together. Sew along 3 sides, leaving the short side with the folded over fabric open. Use 1/2″ seam allowance.
- Turn the rectangle right side out and iron the seams flat so that they are nice and crisp.
- Pour 1 cup of barley into the rectangle. Measure 5″ along the rectangle and stitch across. This will create 1 section in the heat pack.
- Pour in another cup of barley, measure another 5″ from the last seam and stitch across. Do this 3 times, so you have a total of four sections in your heat pack.
- For the final section, match the folded sides together and sew it closed.
- I will admit that sewing the barley filled sections is a bit tricky. I broke at least 2 needles by accidentally hitting a barley grain while I sewed up my packs.
- It’s pretty handy to have a washable cover for the heat pack. With the fabric for the cover, sew along the folded-over short edge to make a sturdy opening. You could do a double fold hem, but I didn’t bother.
- With the right sides of your rectangle together, sew along the other three sides.
- Turn the rectangle right side out and press flat.
- Insert the heat pack and you’re done!
Using the hot and cold packs
To heat the pack put it in the microwave for 2 minutes. Don’t overheat it or you might burn the barley.
To cool the pack place it in the freezer for 1 hour. I don’t recommend storing it in the freezer for much more than a few days as the moisture might affect the heat pack.