A complete tutorial showing how to make flaxseed pillows, a popular and welcomed gift, plus WHY flax seed is the best filler for homemade warming pillows.
Check out more DIY gifts on the handmade gifts page.
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NOTE: In addition to the tutorial below, you can also go here to watch a video tutorial to make these homemade heat pads filled with flax AND download a set of printable tags with directions for using!
My entire extended family loves using these easy-to-make flaxseed pillows for everything from sore necks to foot warmers (on cold nights it’s a treat to slide into bed with warm toes!).
They have been one of the most popular handmade gifts I have given, as well as one of the most popular things I sold when I had a craft business. And the fact that they are super easy and inexpensive to make is just a nice bonus!
While you may think that rice or corn would work just as well – and be cheaper – as a filler for DIY warming pads, there are lots of reasons why flax is better.
For a heating pad with lasting quality, using whole flaxseeds is really the only way to go.
Why flaxseed instead of other grains?
- Whole flaxseed provides a gentle, moist heat which promotes healing.
- Flaxseeds are flower seeds, rather than grains, so they contain 30-40% oil which remains inside the seed to be warmed again and again. Other products lose their ability to retain heat as the water cooks out of them over time.
- When heated, flaxseed pillows retain half their heat after an hour. Under covers (think about those toes…) the pillow will still be warm hours later.
- Flax never has that “cooked grain” smell other grain based products have when heated over and over again.
- The weight of flaxseed is gentle and comforting.
- Flaxseed pillows can also be chilled in the freezer to sooth fevers or slight inflammations, though they don’t get cold enough to provide the numbness needed for things like sprains and back injuries.
How to Make Flaxseed Pillows
SECRET TIP: I have been making these rectangular flaxseed pillows for a number of years now, and people are always surprised by how sturdy and professional-looking they are, and my secret is: only use the more heavyweight 100% cotton home decor fabrics. The lighter quilting cottons just don’t hold the heat as well, aren’t as comfortable to use and don’t last as long.
- 100% cotton, heavy-weight fabrics like ticking, florals, home decorating fabrics, and even denim (similar to the the fabrics pictured above). This is a key to making them a step above the run-of-the-mill flea market rice pack.
- Whole flaxseed (brown or gold), about 2 to 2-1/2 pounds for each rectangular warmer. If you can find whole flaxseed in bulk at a local store that will be your best deal. Online these are the best prices I’ve found at around $2 a pound: To make about 10 neck warmers- 25-lbs organic flax seed (even less with Amazon’s Subscribe & Save); OR to make just 2-3: Pack of 4, 24-oz. Whole Brown Flaxseed.
- Sharp Scissors
- Sewing machine
- 100% Cotton Thread
- Large wide-mouth funnel (easier than the regular funnel pictured in tutorial)
- Dried lavender (optional), 1/4 c. for each pillow
- Wide ribbon for packaging
1. Make a pattern. This is optional, but If you’re going to be making a lot of these, it’s helpful. Make it out of brown kraft paper in any size you’d like. I find that a 12″ x 20″ pattern for a finished pillow of 5-1/2″ x 20 is a versatile size for draping around your neck, back or warming toes. It is easiest to cut only one piece that I fold before sewing.
However, if I’ve got a piece of fabric that is close to that size I’ll use it, especially if it’s wider and shorter (like the red plaid pillow in the first picture) because that’s a nice size for using as a foot warmer. That size would be more of a square at about 14″ x 15.” Play around with sizes to find the one you like best- just don’t go too big or it will be too heavy and take too much seed to fill.
2. Sew the end and side seams. The sewing on this is super-simple, with a total of three straight lines.
Fold the fabric with right sides together and start sewing on one of the short ends (folded side farthest from you), keeping the edge of the presser foot at the edge of the fabric, as shown, for the seam allowance.
When you come to the corner, make sure the needle is in the fabric, lift the presser foot, and turn your fabric. Lower the foot and sew all the way to the other short end, keeping the same seam allowance and ending at the open short end.
It’s helpful to go back and forth a time or two (called “bar-tacking”) with the thread to lock in the seam, since we’ll be turning the pillow right-side out.
3. Clip the corners of the seams you’ve just sewn, as pictured, to reduce bulkiness when it’s turned.
4. Turn the pillow right-side out.
5. Fill with flaxseed and optional scent. Fill to between 1/2 and 2/3 full (depending on the fullness you want), about 2 to 2-1/2 pounds of flaxseed. This allows for movement of the seeds when heating in the microwave and for a comfortable pillow to drape (be careful, though, fill it too full and the pillow becomes like a rock…).
Optional for scent: Add about 1/4 cup dried lavender buds. Lavender is a soothing scent that’s not too overpowering, so I find it works for lots of people. I’ve also used dried chamomile flowers.
Alternately, a few drops of lavender essential oil could be rubbed into some of the seeds before adding to the pillow. Just don’t add too much scent, as it can be overpowering when heated.
6. Pin open edge. Fold the open end inward 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch and pin as pictured.
7. Sew the folded end close to the edge. Use the inside of the presser foot as a guide and lock each end by going back-and-forth with the needle and thread. You don’t want any seeds to fall out!
And that’s it! Pretty simple, right?
For gift-giving, it works great to fold the pillow in half and tie with a wide ribbon. Add a tag with these instructions and why flax is so wonderful:
Warm in microwave 45 seconds to 1 minute, shake, and warm another 20 to 30 seconds until desired temperature. Flax retains half its heat after an hour or more under covers and can be warmed again and again unlike grain products.
Update: Go here to print off a set of tags for your pillows (and watch a video how-to if you’d like).
And with flax seeds, a little fabric and lavender (maybe that you grew yourself?), you’ve got a wonderful, inexpensive gift that people really appreciate.
Have you ever made these for gifts?
Update #2: I just had to show you all this incredibly thoughtful take on these popular warming pillows that my friend, Mary, from Front-Porch-Ideas-And-More shared with me:
Mary’s sister’s husband was killed tragically in an auto accident and when she saw the Flaxseed Pillow Tutorial, she was inspired to use the sleeves of her brother-in-law’s shirts to make warming pillows for her sister and her children.
Isn’t that brilliant? And so incredibly appropriate – the sleeves that covered the arms that used to hug them can now warm them. (sniff…are your eyes tearing up, too?) Mary wrote:
My sister and kids love the flaxseed pillows. They were very touched by those. Thank you again for the wonderful idea.
Of course the application of this idea can be wider spread and apply to clothing from anyone special to you, using grandparents, parents and even children’s clothes. Basically anything that was special to someone you love (or even yourself!) can be made into a loving pillow to warm them on chilly nights or help soothe aches and pains.
A couple points to remember when using clothing for Flaxseed Warming Pillows:
- Mary mentioned that when using clothing (often made of thinner material than the heavy cotton I recommend for the pillows) it’s a good idea to double the fabric. She used two sleeves for each pillow and said that this made them a lot more richer feeling.
- Make sure that the clothing fabric is 100% cotton. Any polyester or non-cotton fabric like modal or microfiber will react with the flax when microwaved, causing moisture and even potentially melting. I would assume that 100% linen or wool flannel would be okay, but I’ve never tried it, so I’d suggest testing it first to be sure it’s okay before gifting the pillow.
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NOTE: this tutorial was originally published in 2011 and has been updated with larger photos and clearer formatting and information.