Saturday, December 12, 2015

Cloth Pads - A Success Story and Tutorial

This is a post that I've hemmed and hawed about putting out there for quite some time (a few years in fact). It's not that I'm ashamed or anything remotely close to that, it's that this is one of those things that could be awkward to know about a person you're friends with but not best friends with ... if that makes sense. So people who know me in real life, be warned: if you don't want to know personal details of a feminine nature, stop reading now!

So, what's all this fuss about? Well, it's about periods. Yes, menstruation and all its paraphernalia. This all started off in very unlikely way for me. Years ago, I was very into couponing and freebies, and one of my favorite blogs to follow for deals was Hip2Save. One day (about 3 years ago now), Collin posted about a freebie from Party In My Pants (yes, you read that right). Party In My Pants is a small company that make and sell cloth pads. At the time, the thought of women using cloth pads and washing them had never even crossed my mind and I was a bit blown away to be honest. Because of our "throw it away and get rid of any evidence" culture toward any bodily function, the thought was kind of gross - which is the reaction I get from 95% of the people I mention this to. I had to admit though, I was pretty curious about this concept. Would it actually work?

Here's where my personal TMI comes in. I've always had issues with the apparatus of that time of the month. I can't use tampons for legit medical reasons, and even though I used the "expensive pads", I was always very uncomfortable after a day or two of using disposable pads. I live in Florida, so the already humid region is even more so, causing things to stick and rub and just not feel very good at all. Even more TMI - I have a very heavy flow. Much more than average, apparently. I never knew this until a few years ago. I have to use overnight pads all the time or I have embarrassing problems. So, this freebie offer hit me at just the right time when I was wondering if there could be any thing better than just suffering through a week each month. I've used the same set of about 6 Party In My Pants pads each month for almost 3 years now, and I've been extremely happy with them. What a difference! I really wish that I could say I turned to this option because I was some kind of eco warrior or something, but I am only a believer due 100% to comfort and thrift. It was a strange concept to get used to at first - washing out blood soaked pads and reusing them - but in the end it's really no different than washing cloth diapers, or a rag you used to wipe down the toilet, or even a shirt a kid threw up on. Yes it's a gross mess, but that's what the washing machine is for! I throw my pre-soaked pads in the washer, and out they come clean and ready for use again. The cloth pads are also ridiculously cheaper than the throw away variety, especially if you use the ones I used to (Always Infinity or whatever their latest and greatest is now).

Up until now, I've only had about 7 or 8 pads. Two years ago I decided to try making my own, and I had one that was successful then, plus I won a free one on Party In My Pants' Facebook page (they have giveaways every time they introduce a new fabric collection - I highly recommend friending them for this reason). This was a fine amount since it was really all I could afford - I have a few different sizes and levels in my collection and all these cost me somewhere around $50 to $60. Not bad for 3 years of periods, amiright? The pads I have are all cotton and have a water-proof nylon backing, and they are only just starting to show signs of wearing out. They aren't leaking yet, but the water-proof layer is looking a bit more soaked in if that makes sense. I'd rather preemptively refresh my collection before leaking becomes an issue, but to be honest I just don't have $50 laying around to buy a few pads with - even though I love supporting such a great small company and I feel their products are certainly worth the price. At the end of the day, I have the ability to sew ... so why not make my own?
My stash of pad-making-materials.
I've looked into the various fabric options periodically over the past few years, and I've acquired materials little by little. Most of my info has come from cloth diaper suppliers (like Wazoodle and Diaper Sewing Supplies) and various eco-bloggers (this is a great post) who make pads of their own. The first time I tried making pads 2 years ago, I used ProCool fabric for the waterproof outside (the blue to the left above) and Zorb (the lofty white on the far right above) for the core (both from Wazoodle). The one resulting usable pad was ok, but the outer fabric was nothing like I thought it would be. It's similar to a thick oilcloth, and very slick outside so it likes to shift around. I have a bunch left, but I'm just gonna save it until I need to make diapers one day I guess. The zorb works really well and holds a lot of liquid, so I still use that. I've read about people using terry cloth or flannel inside, but I just don't like the idea of sitting on a towel (too bulky) and flannel sounds like it would be too light weight and not hold enough. The zorb fits the bill for me - thin but very absorbent. I was just still on the hunt for outer fabric closer to my beloved Party In My Pants pads. Only a month ago, I heard about PUL (polyurethane laminate) and its use as a waterproof outside. When I learned Joann's sells PUL, I grabbed a 1/2 yard to try it out during one of their big sales along with a moisture wicking lining (which just sounded like it couldn't hurt, you know?). I finally buckled down, pulled out some scraps of cotton, and made my own pads :)
I had so much fun choosing from my scraps for these pads :) I went with scraps from my Take A Seat DressSkewed Flowers Dress, and Margot Pjs. It's projects like this that help me justify keeping every reasonable sized scrap I end up with, lol. All of the fabrics I chose for tops are good quality quilting cotton or cotton flannel = highly absorbent. Since grain is not so important in a pad, I just laid them out so they looked straight, and cut them all in one go. I made the pattern myself by tracing my favorite PIMP pad and adding 3/8" seam allowances. This free pattern is really similar just with square ends, but you could easily round them to make the same pattern as me.
I also used this scrap from a long-ago bag making project - because I couldn't resist the idea of geishas since it's so ridiculous, lol.
For my pads, I cut the full pattern piece in PUL (for the backing), Stay Dri Wicking Fabric (for the lining), and the cotton print (for the top). I also cut a smaller "core" piece in the Zorb.
To keep holes in the waterproof layer to a minimum, I attach the core and liner to the cotton top piece first by marking out a semi-circle next to the wings. I deliberately cut the Zorb core so that I will just barely be caught in this stitching line so the moisture stays in the middle of the pad, not flowing out into the wings as much.
I laid out each pad assembly line style and stitched along this semi-circle. It doesn't have to be exact (clearly, mine is not perfect, lol), this is really just to attach the 3 top pieces together. After this, I cut the seam allowance down on the zorb piece, and clip into the points at the ends of the stitching line on the zorb as well to minimize bulk at the seams.
Next, I laid the PUL piece with the shiny side out on top of the cotton top. You're going to flip the pad right side out after stitching and you want the fabricy side of the PUL to be on the outside (I had to do a bit of hunting to find this out).
Because the shiny side is facing out as you sew, it will want to stick to the presser foot. I got to use my teflon foot for the first time and it worked wonderfully :) No sticking at all! If you don't have a teflon foot or a roller foot, you can use tissue paper - just sew through the piece with the tissue paper on top, then peel it off when you're done.
I stitched around the perimeter with a 3/8" seam allowance, leaving an opening to turn the pad right side out (it works best if the opening is between the wing and the curved top and about 2" long). I trimmed down the seam allowance, flipped it right side out, using a point turner to push the seams out smooth, then pressed it to make the next step easier. Next I just fold the open end under to match the already closed edge, and topstitched about 1/4" from the outer edge.
Next I just gave them a good press to set the stitches, added snaps to the wings and called them done :) I was able to make all 4 of these in about an hour from cutting to finishing, and I would have paid $56.00 plus shipping if I'd purchased them from PIMP. I don't really know how to figure the cost exactly for each of these, but I'd guess they cost about $2.00 each to make with everything I used :) Not too bad of a savings if I say so myself.
So there you have it - my cloth pad confession :) These were so ridiculously fun to make, plus they were quick which is always really satisfying. Obviously my top-stitching isn't perfect by any means, but seriously no one will see them but me so I really don't care, you know what I mean? My favorite part is undoubtedly attaching the snaps. It's such a simple process that looks super professional, plus you get to use a hammer in the sewing room. I love it!

If you decide to try making pads yourself with the same materials, it's recommended you wash the finished pads before you use them. I didn't know this so I just used one immediately and I could see a bit of seepage around the stitching holes on the bottom of the PUL fabric. It wasn't enough that anything leaked out, but washing apparently will fluff the fabric back up around the holes from the stitches and stop this problem. I will also mention from my previous experience using the zorb core - the zorb is susceptible to "compression leaks", meaning if it's really full and you sit on it, it can basically squeeze the liquid out the sides. Trust me, I know this. So just be aware and don't let them get completely saturated (they are not so comfortable that way anyhow). Other than one time with a little side seepage, I've had no problems with the zorb. I'm hoping that the moisture wicking layer will suck the liquid down into the zorb faster and leave the top drier - we shall see.
After my first night of success, I went a little crazy and used up all my PUL and moisture wicking fabric. I experimented with flannel layers for the core on a few so I could use them for lighter days, as well as with a few shorter pads. I made all different sizes, but I wound up with 13 pads out of the 1/2 yard pieces of those fabrics (plus all my scrap cotton and the zorb). For the pads I made, I would have paid $166 from PIMP. Not a bad savings for 2 night's work, eh?
Anyway, I'm ridiculously pleased with myself about this project :) I have plenty more materials and tons of scraps - this is also giving me a great opportunity to use some crazy fat quarter prints that I loved but have no idea what to do with. Even though no one will see them but me, why not have them look pretty, right? Hopefully I haven't freaked anyone out too much with this post, lol. Do any of you use cloth pads? Have you made your own? I'd love to know your experience!

Fabric: 1/2 yard of white PUL fabric from Joann's - $6.50, 1/2 yard of Stay Dri Wicking Fabric from Joann's - $4.50, various cotton and flannel prints - scraps from stash = free, 1/2 yard of Zorb absorbent fabric - $4.00 (I think - I bought it years ago)
Pattern: Self drafted from PIMP pad, but this pattern is similar - free
Notions: snaps - $5.00, thread - stash
Hours: 2 nights, so about 6 hours total
Total Cost for 13 pads: $20.00


  1. This is a good post--maybe squeamish for some, but I enjoyed reading it. I've known about reusable pads for a while, just never got around to making them. I'm going through menopause now but sometimes need a panty liner. I was also studying how to make leak free training pants for my grandson (I think pull ups are a scam). They are made like regular training pants with a leak free pad inserted in the middle. How clever! I'd like to have a few pairs of these for myself. lol.

    1. I feel you on the liners - the smaller ones in the final photo are mostly liners and i use them frequently with a cup. I totally agree about pull ups - they are so expensive! Plus they are just a different looking diaper. My mom swears by the thicker undies for training pants because they absorb but still let the kid feel wet (which they don't like). My nephew just finished potty training and they used pullups when he went to sleep, but I just can't see the point since it's just a diaper. End rant, lol.

  2. This is a great idea for those who do use pads. I haven't used pads in years.I would however make a panty with a built in pad because I always had issues with pads that start moving around.

    1. That's a good idea! I do have a problem with them slipping occasionally. It's not a big deal since you can feel it, but it would be nice not to have to worry about it. I use mine with a cup a lot of the time, so I don't have to worry too much. Definitely an idea for the future :)

  3. Since we're getting do you manage used pads when you're not at home? Sandwich bag? Can't imagine popping one in my handbag...

    1. I have a waterproof zipper bag that I carry in my purse :) I keep the unused ones and the used ones together and just put the used ones in the laundry when I get home. I've never had a problem of anything getting on the unused ones either - you fold the pad front and back toward the center, then fold the wings over top and snap it shut. Works great :)


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