Friday, 7 December 2018

Free Pattern Friday: Washable Menstrual Pads

Welcome to my monthly 'Free Pattern Friday' feature, where I road test a free sewing pattern or tutorial: sometimes a children's one, sometimes a women's one. I publish these posts every first Friday of the month, timed to provide inspiration for those of you who plan to get their sew on over the weekend. I firmly believe that, if you pick your projects carefully, sewing doesn't have to be a crazy-expensive way to clothe yourself and your family. Thanks to all the amazing pattern designers who have offered up their hard work for us to enjoy for free.

I'm definitely still on the sustainable-sewing (or sewing for sustainability) kick that I begun a month ago. After the successful making and implementing of fabric handkerchiefs to cut down my families consumption of tissues (and the plastic that they come wrapped in), I felt it was finally time to try something that I've been planning to make for years: washable menstrual pads/panty liners. 

My initial research found that different people swear that a myriad of different fabrics are the best for the job, but having found this easy-to-use free pattern and tutorial by Luna Wolf (thank you, Victoria!), I decided just to get stuck in and have a go, and hopefully figure out my own preferences through experimentation. BTW, although this is a free pattern, there is a link on her site where you can buy her a cup of tea via Paypal to say thanks. Some free patterns are released as a way to encourage customers to buy some of a designer's other products. But Luna Wolf/Victoria doesn't have anything for sale, so this is a really nice way to show your appreciation.  

Pattern type and sizing info:

The Luna Wolf pattern/instructions actually includes patterns for five different types of pad: pantiliner, 8.5 inch pad, 9 inch pad, 10.5 inch pad, and 11.75 inch pad, along with fabric suggestions and step-by-step  instructions. Personally, I prefer wearing tampons during my period (small personal deviationI know that menstrual cups are the more sustainable option, however I had a bad experience with a moon cup and to be honest I'm afraid to try them again. As a compromise, I've started buying tampons from TOTM, as they are made from unbleached, GOTS certified organic cotton, and do not contain, nor are wrapped in, any plastic. The next step I'm about to take is to start using non-applicator tampons to reduce waste further. TMI? Don't care), but prefer using panty liners at the end of my period, and at other times through out the month. It's my consumption of these disposable panty liners that I'm trying to put an end to with this project. I hate to think about how many of them I've sent to landfill during my life so far, and I'm determined not to throw away any more. Long story short, I used the smallest sized pattern for these.  

Fabric info:

As I mentioned above, many makers of washable pads seem to have very strong ideas about the best fabrics and fibres for absorbency, preventing irritation, longevity and so on. The Luna Wolf pattern/instructions includes advice about which types of fabrics can be used for the topping, backing and the core, and how many layers you may need. I wasn't making pads for the heaviest part of my period, so maximum absorbency wasn't necessarily my goal. Therefore I decided to try mainly using what I already had to hand. I did, however, 'splash out' on a fat quarter of PUL, a type of breathable but waterproof fabric that is often used for washable nappies, that was mentioned by a lot of pads makers during my research. It cost £3 from Plush Addict, and I reckon nine small pads could be squeezed out of a fat quarter. 

My initial experiments can be seen in the picture above. The one on the left is formed from the following: quilting cotton topping, three layers of 100% jersey for the core, and quilting cotton and PUL for the backing. The one on the left is formed thus: 100% cotton jersey for the topping, plus three layers of the same for the core, and only PUL for the backing. Personally, I found the jersey better for the topping as it was slightly more absorbent and a bit softer. The PUL-only backing was fine but I preferred the heft and appearance of the extra layer of woven cotton backing. 

For my 'final' versions (pictured above), I decided on the following: 100% cotton jersey topping, three layers of brushed cotton for the core (made from a decommissioned pair of pyjama bottoms, see below), and PUL and woven cotton for the backing. 


I have yet to try out the new batch of pads/liners during a period, however the first batch worked fairly well, so I have high expectations for the improved versions. The size and shape of the pattern seemed to work perfectly for me. When using the first versions, I could sometimes feel the 'wings' against my thighs, which hopefully won't be the case with the second batch as I've added an additional set of press studs to each. It did, however, feel great to be using a reusable product rather than a disposable one and I'd like to encourage anyone who has a period, uses pads or liners and likes to sew to try making something like this to cut down their waste.

Customisation ideas:

I'm not sure this is exactly the type of project to let your creativity run wild, however, here are some ideas for ways you may wish to try to alter/improve this pattern:

  • Experiment with different fabrics and fibres for the topping, core and backing. There are heaps of washable pads listed on Etsy, so that would be a good place to see what other people have used
  • I've heard talk of some people making pads with removable inserts, I'm not entirely sure of the purpose for this, possibly for easier laundering?
  • Stitch the core to the topping in a different way, creating a striped or check pattern perhaps?
  • If you don't have this type of press studs and clamp combo in your stash, try stitch-on press studs or buttons/button holes for fastening
  • One commenter on my Instagram post about this topic said that she found plastic press studs lasted longer than metal ones. I've used these metal ones on baby dribble bibs that have seen many washes though, and haven't had any problems with them

Would I make it again?

I'm guessing that my total of six pads may not be enough to see me through the month, so I may make more in the future. And if I do, I'm 95% sure this will be the pattern I'll use. These would also be a quick and fun project to give to a sustainably-minded friend who has made noises about switching to washable pads but has yet to take the leap (niche, I grant you). 

Have you made washable pads or liners? How have you found they fair compared to the shop-bought, disposable versions? Have you swapped all your period products over to washables?


Cornelia said...

Great post. I loved the bit when you don't apologise for TMI. Beautiful. I didn't get along with moon cups either, so I'm pleased to read a bit more about another alternative.

Maria said...

I made my first washable pads 8 years ago and they still hold up very well (I haven't used them for 8 years straight though due to two pregnancies and breastfeeding). I very much prefer cloth pads to disposables; I don't like the plastic feel of the disposable ones. The washable pads do,however,shift around a little bit when I move so I use disposables during workouts, otherwise I would have to adjust the pad all the time. Other than that, it's all cloth!

Emily Handler said...

About pads with inserts - I find them useful because I can use them with different thicknesses of insert for different days, or even without an insert on some days.

I've seen some people use velcro instead of snaps but never tried it myself. To be honest I was too lazy to put snaps on most of mine so they have safety pins. Doubly useful because I can pin it right on to my undies.

Maria said...

Oh, I love this! I´ve wanted to make some for some time now. And thanks for the gift hint- I think I might have two sustainable minded friend with an interes in this, actually. One is already washing cloth diapers, so why not wash these as well? Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I'm probably a total renegade, and am post-menopausal now, but... in the day. I used cotton menstrual pads and a moon cup. This was due to sensitivity to commercial products and how chaffed and painful my skin would get. Only cotton helped. I would also go to the garment district and buy metres of unbleached flannel, which I washed on hot a few times without soap, and then tore into strips to add to the cotton pads for the heavy couple of days. The flannel was far cheaper than commercial pads and I usually just threw the inserts out, but did soak the pads, etc. And... for tampons, yes, I did this. I tore the flannel into strips and rolled them and used them. At that point, having given birth twice, I knew quite well how to push these impromptu home-made tampons out. Never had a problem. When the home-rolled tampons were filled, I threw them out. I carried a few in my purse in a small ziploc bag. I well remember the incredible relief of using 100% cotton instead of commercial tampons. Periods were still painful due to the cramping, but no longer painful because of the chafing and burning from commercial products. Not to mention the bundle of money I saved over the years with this unorthodox approach. :)

Techgap said...

Nice creation.

Joomi Lee aka Joo-Mi E said...

Thank you so much for this post. I had veen wanting to make my own reusable menstrual pads due to the fact that I hated all those used Depends diapers that I was contributing to landfill. I am a heavy bleeder due to my fibroid problem. I don't want to buy PUL because it is a synthetic I believe but I may change my mind on this due to practical reasons.

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