Posts Tagged ‘cloth pads’

DIY: Sew Your Own Cloth Pantiliners

Cloth pantiliners from scrap fabric

Cloth pantiliners from scrap fabric

If you were to look at my academic record, you might suspect that I went after the least practical degrees on purpose. I didn’t: I just have impractical interests. Along with having a degree or two in English, I have a minor in theater arts — costume design. I used to make fairly elaborate Renaissance costumes. Now I hem, mend, and sew cloth pads. How far the mighty have fallen!

I mostly now use menstrual cups, which are less messy and lower maintenance than cloth pads, but I still like my mini cloth pantiliners from Mimi’s Dreams and don’t regret jumping off the disposable pantiliner bandwagon. I wanted a few more and have lots of fabric scraps kicking around, so I decided to make some for myself. I tried out a few different patterns, and came up with my favorite.

So, here’s a little tutorial on making your own cloth pantiliners.  They’re fairly quick and easy to make. These are tiny, thin, unobtrusive daily liners or light cup backup. You can make wider, thicker versions for cloth menstrual pads.

You will need:

  • Smallish amounts of fabric (OK to use old towels, the ugly flannel shirt you were going to get rid of, other things you have lying around the home). More detail later.
  • Thread. I like matching it to the fabric, but to be green, I should say: use whatever you already have.
  • Pins. Not the safety pin type.
  • Some type of closure. I like sew on snaps. There are also ones you can hammer in, buttons, and (if you really must) Velcro dots.
  • A sewing machine. The thicker the pad, the stronger your sewing machine should be. Lightweight is fine for these pantiliners.
  • An iron, preferably with good steam power. Ironing is not optional when it comes to sewing. Sorry.
  • Bandaids if you’re new to sewing and prone to klutziness. Pins are sharp and irons are hot. But I hope you won’t need those.

Step 1. Find or make your pattern.

cloth pantiliner pattern

There are lots of free patterns out there. You can also trace a disposable pad or make your own pattern. I knew I wanted something a little narrower and thinner than my Mimi’s Dreams minis, so I used graph paper to draw a pad that was 7″ long and 2″ wide, with 1.5″ wings (they need to be long enough to overlap by 1/2″ – 1″). This is tiny, by the way — most pads are 2.5″ across and often much longer. Then I added seam allowance to all sides, folded it in quarters so it would be symmetrical, and cut it out. If you make a pattern like this, be sure to have a 2″ straight edge that you can leave open to turn the pad inside out later. I’m using the side of one wing.

The insert pattern is just the pad without the wings or seam allowance (2″ x 7″, in my case). Depending on what fabric you use and how much absorbency you want, you may want more than one layer of the insert.

Step 2: Get your fabrics together.

cactus fabric

Cactus print cloth pantiliners!

Cloth pads usually have three layers:

  • a top layer of something soft and absorbent, like a cotton flannel or quilter’s cotton
  • an absorbent core  (cotton flannel, terry, natural fleece)
  • a moisture resistant or moisture proof backing, like polar fleece.

You don’t need very much fabric. About 1/4 yard of each will yield 5+ liners. I’m using a quilter’s cotton on top that was scrap from a friend’s project. (I realized only after cutting that a cactus print might not be entirely appropriate for its intended purpose.) The core is from a 1/4 yard cut of cotton flannel sheeting. The back is a black synthetic suede that is thinner than fleece yet offers some moisture resistance.

Wash, dry, and iron all your fabrics on the highest / hottest settings you are likely to ever use on your cloth pads. Even though I line dry 90% of the time, there are days on which I want (or need) clean liners now and send them through the dryer. Do not skip this step! Your cloth pads will warp.

Step 3. Cut out your fabrics.

If you’re testing out a new pattern, I would just make one, but it saves time to cut multiples out. Make sure your pattern is parallel with the selvage (the finished edges of the fabric), pin, and cut carefully around your pattern. You can also trace it and cut on your tracing lines instead.

For a thin, everyday pantiliner, I use two layers of flannel for the core, so cut two of the inserts for every one of the top and bottom layers.

Step 4. Sew the insert to the top layer.

Cloth pantiliner insert

Be lazy: sew straight lines!

Pin and sew the insert to the wrong side of the top layer. Some people sew ovals or squigglies. Sewing tight curves is a pain, so I just stitch two lines on the edges of the insert. Tip: if you sew in the same direction for both lines, you’re less likely to get wrinkles in your insert.


Step 5. Sew the top and bottom layers together.

cloth pad project 006

More pins.

Pin the top and bottom layers together, wrong sides facing. (Lots of pins. Fabric likes to shift on you when you’re sewing.) Now sew the sides together, leaving at least a 2″ gap on a straight edge somewhere for turning.

Iron and then clip the curves (both concave and convex). Otherwise they won’t look nice or lie flat when you turn everything inside out.

cloth pad project 007

Clip those curves. The right wing has been left open for turning.

Step 6. Turn everything inside out.

This is the most miserable part of the process, because you’ll end up with something limp and misshapen and begin to think that paying $4 for a cloth pantiliner is a good deal. Plus it’s easy to not leave quite enough space to turn and have to wrestle with it. (2″ is the absolute minimum — the thicker the pad, the more you’ll need.)

Use your fingers or a tool to press the seams open, and then iron with lots of steam until it looks presentable.

Step 7. Topstitch around the whole thing.

cloth pad project 009

If you want the finished product to look nice, go slowly on this step. I manually adjust the foot around the curves because my current sewing machine has only two speeds: 0 and a whole lot faster than I want to be going. Be sure to tuck in and sew over the seam that you left open to turn the thing inside out.

Lines a little crooked? Oh well. It’s only underwear.

Step 8. Attach some sort of fastening.

I like sew on snaps, but you could also do buttons or some kind of tab closure. All done!

You can read about my earlier adventures in cloth pads here. I think having some basic sewing skills is quite green if you want to be able to mend old clothes or make new things out of scrap fabrics.

Do you use cloth pads or liners? Have you tried making your own?

Everything you wanted to know about cloth pads (and then some)

Custom Mimi's Dreams Starter Package "The Mini"In high school, I didn’t daydream about being smarter or more popular. I daydreamed about being completely asexual: physical androgyny of the tall, elegant, sculpted variety. In short, I wanted to be an elf — with none of the inconveniences and embarrassments of being merely human and female. Let’s just say that I’m still not on good terms with my uterus, an utterly pointless expenditure of resources as far as I’m concerned. But if being physically insubstantial is the greenest way to go, it’s not one that’s available to me or to anyone else I know.

I’ve noticed that a lot of women who are otherwise interested in going green draw the line at reusable menstrual products, which seem to provoke a knee-jerk ‘eeew’ reaction. I get it.  It’s one thing to roll up a used pad and throw it away, and quite another to rinse it out and reuse it. Cloth pads require a certain lack of squeamishness. (It’s one of my theories that our alienation from our own bodies and resulting squeamishness are bad for the environment.) But speaking as someone who is still recovering from a serious case of squeam, I can also say that they’re better in a lot of ways than disposable pads. I wanted to address some of the common questions that come up about cloth pads in case you’ve been hesitating about trying them. These are my personal opinions; there are no affiliate links of any kind below.

Why quit disposable pads and tampons?
Take your pick: there are environmental, health, and financial reasons to choose reusable pads or menstrual cups. One source estimates that the average woman throws away 250-300 pounds of used menstrual products in her lifetime. Unless you buy organic cotton pads and tampons, they can contain pesticides, petrochemical products, and/or irritating synthetic chemicals. Tampons can cause toxic shock syndrome, which I was surprised to learn can be deadly even if you use tampons according to the instructions. (Learn more about TSS at And finally, there’s the cost factor. Even if you only spend $5 a month on pads or tampons, that’s $60 a year for approximately 35 years — $2,100 is a low estimate.

Which works better, cups or cloth pads?
I don’t know, since I haven’t tried the most popular cup, the Diva Cup. I find tampons uncomfortable, and disposable Instead cups give me mild cramps and a feeling of continuous pressure, so I opted for cloth pads. Cups are probably a better choice for athletes and anyone unwilling to rinse out cloth pads.

How many do I need?
It depends on how often you’re willing to do laundry. I’d say the minimum is probably three — one to wear, one in the wash, and one clean one to change into. Since cloth pads can take a while to dry, especially in a bathroom, having a few more is convenient. You can fold up one for your purse; no one will recognize that those small rectangles of fabric are pads.

Don’t cloth pads leak?
They can, but it takes some doing. Some companies offer cloth pads lined with waterproof fabric, but mine are just backed with water resistant polar fleece. I haven’t had significant leakage issues, and I rarely use anything heavier than the pantiliner.

Aren’t they bulkier than my ultra thins?
Yep. A little. Most cloth pads have terry cloth or flannel cores for absorbency, and they can be a little thicker than ultra thin disposables. I think mine are between 1/8 and 1/4 of an inch thick. But they don’t crinkle when you move and they don’t feel as hot or sticky as disposables. It’s a tradeoff.

How do I clean cloth pads?
I give mine a quick rinse in the sink and then stick them into a small container of cool water (changed daily, sometimes with soap or some hydrogen peroxide) until laundry day. Surprisingly, they don’t seem to stain much, if at all. If you’re especially non-squeamish, the soaking water — as long as there isn’t too much soap in it — can be used to fertilize your plants.

How high is the ick factor?
It’s really not that bad. I hate the iron-y smell of blood, so rinsing out cloth pads is a little unpleasant. But in the end, blood is just blood. We’re filled with the stuff. Deal with it.

How do I store used pads until I can soak them? 
Most cloth pads have snaps, so you can fold them up into tidy little rectangles (back side facing out!) and stick them in your purse until you get home. They might stain a little if you can’t get them in water for hours, but soap and hydrogen peroxide really do work wonders.

How long do cloth pads last?
Years? I’ve had mine for about a year, and they’ve held up beautifully through multiple washings, wringings, and even a dryer cycle or two when I needed them right away. I expect them to last several years more.

Where can I get them?
Some Whole Foods now carry GladRags (expensive by my standards), but the internet is still probably the best way to get cloth pads. Some other companies include Luna Pads and Party in my Pants. I haven’t tried too many brands because I got lucky with the ones I bought from Mimi’s Dreams on Etsy — they’re affordable, well made, and totally comfortable. Also, you can choose from lots of cute prints, and the shop owner Hope is a wonderful person to deal with. I totally recommend one of her $25 starter packs.

Can I make my own cloth pads instead?
Absolutely. If you’re handy with a sewing machine, they’re not difficult to make using cloth and old towels you have lying around. You can make a pattern using a disposable pad, or check out some of these patterns and ideas. I was going to offer you a tutorial, but my project got derailed by having a foster cat in the room with the sewing machine.

And that’s about it for the whole cloth pad experience. Not that scary, right? Have you tried cloth pads or menstrual cups? What do you think? If you haven’t, what’s holding you back?

Getting Over the Squeamishness

Like many people who spend a lot of time up in their heads, I’m not a huge fan of physical embodiment. I like the taste of food, but I could do without digestion and excretion. I like dreams, but — come on, body, eight hours of sleep a day? As a teenager, my fantasies were mostly about being a brain in a tall, androgynous, bodily-function-less body. (Yup. Says a lot about me.)

So, I get the squeamishness. I’m up there with the squeamishest of squeamishers. And yet, I see that it’s a problem. Our culture is, at least in part, about rejecting ourselves as physical beings. We generate mounds of non-biodegradable rubbish because we’d simply rather not deal with our own messes. Years ago, scraping off and cleaning cloth diapers was part of the deal of having a child. Soaking and washing bloody cloth pads was a necessary component of being a female homo sapiens of reproductive years. Now we have diaper genies, disposable ultra-thins with wings, flush toilets, and automated litter boxes so you don’t have to handle your cat’s [odor absorbing substance covered] waste from the safe distance of a scoop. We’ve got squeamishness down to an art.

And even avid greenies avoid doing environmentally responsible things out of squeamishness. Some people hesitate to line dry because they don’t want other people to see that they secretly wear pirate-print boxers. Others don’t compost because they have no outdoor space and can’t face the thought of vermicomposting in their kitchens. Most people (myself included) would give up their flush toilets over their cold, dead bodies, even though ‘humanure‘ has a long and illustrious history of being an effective fertilizer. (So much for the argument that animal agriculture is a necessary component of healthy soil!) And after death? We want to be embalmed so we can look good for the wake, and to be buried in airtight steel coffins so we won’t go all mushy and smelly. (Sorry — it’s basically unavoidable, short of mummification.)

The problem with our squeamishness is that it’s kind of killing the planet.  Not singlehandedly, but in our plastic-loving disposable attitude, our conviction that we are somehow above having to deal with the messes we make as biological beings — surely enough.

It’s not easy getting over a lifetime of squeamishness, I’ll give you that. If it were, I’d already have worms in my kitchen and be watering my tomatoes with the soaking water from my cloth pads. As a recovering squeamisher, I’ll get there eventually. However, it’s a good first step just to realize that being responsible for our own crap (literally and figuratively) is the price of admission for being alive, and refusing to pay it now means that we’ll pay it tenfold later.

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