Wednesday, February 13, 2008

How to make barley hot packs

I think I have posted this information in the past -- but for Nancy, and any others who are interested, here it is again. With a cold snowy winter like we're having up here, these hot packs are invaluable.


These microwavable hot packs have been a great help to my family members over the years. They are great for cramps, aches and pains, labor, or for just warming up on a cold night. Here’s how to make them.

You will need:
• tracing paper or brown paper
• ruler or yardstick
• pencil
• scissors
• pins
• flannel fabric of your choice
• cotton batting
• thread to coordinate with flannel
• sewing machine
• hand sewing needle

Measure and mark a 14-inch square on tracing paper or brown paper. Cut out the square. This is your pattern.

Pin the pattern to the flannel fabric, then cut out the squares. (If you have a large enough piece of flannel, fold it before pinning the pattern on and cut 2 squares at once. If your flannel pieces are smaller, pin and cut one at a time. Or if need be you can cut the squares from two different coordinating prints or colors of flannel. I like to use plaids.)

Pin the same pattern to cotton batting and cut two squares -- again, folding the batting to cut 2 squares at once if possible. You should have 2 squares of flannel and 2 squares of batting.

Pin a square of batting to the wrong side of each square of flannel. Use your sewing machine to quilt the batting to the flannel by making rows of straight stitches about 2 inches apart. Now you have 2 quilted squares.

Place the quilted squares together with the flannel sides facing one another. Pin around the edges. Stitch around all sides of the square, using a 1/2-inch or 5/8 inch seam allowance and leaving a 4-inch opening in the center of one side for turning.

Tie off the thread ends (or backstitch at the beginning and ending) and clip the corners of the square. Turn the bag right side out through the opening you left. Carefully smooth out the seams and poke out the corners so they are nice and square.

Now carefully pour two 1-pound bags of barley into the opening. Fold the raw edges of the opening in so that they line up with the sewed seam. Use a needle and thread to slipstitch the opening closed.

When you need to use your barley bag, place it in a microwave oven and heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Watch carefully, and check the bag often to be sure it does not overheat.

The barley will retain its heating qualities for quite some time; we’ve used some of the same bags for years. Eventually, though, the bag may become stained or the barley may take on a scorched smell. If need be, you can undo the slipstitching, discard the barley, wash and dry the bag if necessary, and fill it with fresh barley. Or simply make a new bag.

Hope others find these hot packs to be as comforting as our family has!


  1. Thank you Mrs.T. These should be very easy to do. I don't see why a little herbal material couldn't be included with the barley. Dried lemon balm, lavender, even rose petals? Have you ever done that?

  2. Hi Nancy!

    No, I haven't tried that, but I believe the original instructions which I found years ago did suggest including lavender. A great idea! Thanks for sharing it.


  3. Anonymous9:16 PM

    I've done this using just a long, clean gym sock with a rubber band on the end. It's a perfect length to wrap around a sore neck, and no sewing! Jasmine rice makes a nice filler as well, with a great smell.

  4. Hi there!

    I've heard of using gym socks for this, but have never tried it. It would work really well for a sore neck, wouldn't it? And the jasmine rice is a great idea. Thanks for sharing and for stopping by my kitchen table!

    God bless,

  5. Anonymous2:29 PM

    Thanks so much for your clear and precise step by step guide to making barley bags. I had been given one as a gift long ago but it wasn't quilted. I live in Edmonton, Canada, where winters are vicious and utilities keep soaring. I turn my heat way down at night but my poor cat still seems to find it cold. I will make a nice cushion for her to warm up on. I tried a hot water bottle but the smell of the rubber turned her away. Thank you.

  6. Joanne,

    I am so glad you found this post helpful! As mentioned, if the barley takes on a scorched smell over time (which I would imagine your cat might not care for anymore than people do), you can empty out the scorched barley, wash and dry the empty bag, refill and sew it up again. I'm just about to do that with mine, and I have barley bags on my Christmas gift list for some folks, too.

    Thanks so much for letting me know how helpful this was to you!

    God bless,

  7. Anonymous9:02 AM

    Thanks for the good instructions! I live in Saskatchewan and we've been having a really cold winter right off the bat. I ride horses all year round and with no heated tack room I wanted to make some for warming bits before putting in horse mouths and backsides on really cold rides lol. Thanks again!

  8. You're welcome! I hope that these work out really well for you.

  9. Janie9:31 AM

    Hi, so glad i discover your blog. I live in Malaysia where it is hot through the year but i will make this heat bag for my sore back and shoulder. I guess i can use thick cotton instead of flannel?

    Thank you.


  10. Welcome, Janie!

    You are visiting from quite a distance, aren't you? It's nice to see you here.

    Yes, thick cotton should work instead of flannel. You might also want to add an extra layer of cotton batting to each side, so that the pack won't get hot enough to burn you.

    Hope this hot pack helps your sore back and shoulder!

  11. Do you use pearl barley or barley seed? Does it make a difference?

    1. Hi Linda,

      I usually buy pearl barley. Not sure if it would make a difference or not, but I have always used the pearl barley.

      Hope the hot packs work out for you if you decide to make some!

      Mrs. T

  12. Do you think pearl barley is better than rice? Have you tried any other fillings? Kay

  13. Welcome, Kay!

    I have only made the hot packs with pearl barley. The original instructions I found called for pearl barley, and that is what I've always used.

    I do think it is denser than rice, so may hold the heat better.

    Many people do make the hot packs with rice, so that must work well too. Certainly try it with rice (or maybe one with rice and one with barley) and see what you think.

    Thanks for visiting ... stop by anytime!
    Mrs. T

  14. Hi, I was looking to see if you could use barley as for years I used wheat. The rational being that since pearl barley is bigger, it will retain the heat longer. I just wanted to make a suggestion. You can make your bags last at least double if not triple the time if you put a cut of water in the microwave when heating them. Thank you for this article!

  15. That is good to know! Now does this tip for using a cup of hot water in the micro when heating the bags, mean it will make bags retain the heat better? Or does it mean the bags themselves will have a longer life?

    My only concern about this method would be that it might make the fabric and barley more susceptible to mold, since it is getting so steamy. Have you noticed anything like that happening after using the cup of water method for a period of time?


Thanks so much for stopping by to visit my kitchen table! I love company here in my kitchen, so be sure to leave a comment so I'll know you've visited! I'll answer your questions and comments here on the blog unless you request otherwise.