Needlework Monday: Reuseable Sanitary Napkins How-To

cover photo provided for you gentlemen who CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH (said in Jack Nicholson voice). Scroll on, those who are not squicked out by this topic. ;)


For those who are confused because you see people correctly use male pronouns with me, I'm a trans man. But I haven't had surgery, so all the plumbing still works, and I still have need of these. And I'm not a trans person who won't talk about being trans or my messy, messy vestigal organs ;), though I understand those who do, it's really only an option if you pass, which I don't, because no surgery. So, now you know, if you were wondering why a dude would post about making these.

Now that I've scared off half the audience either because they think "ew, gross, menstruation" or "ew, gross, transgender," welcome to the rest of you! I've been using reuseable pads for years now, and have tried many patterns and winging it and materials in making them, so I thought I would share what came to be my favorite. It's also an upcycle project, because every part of this besides the thread is reused scrap material from old things.

here is a current WIP that is almost finished

My advice as far as pattern sizing goes is: take out one of your favorite disposable pads. Cut the pieces to match. Make the wings the same size as the pad itself, not the wings on your disposable pad, so all the pieces are the same size. If you make the wings too short, it will bunch up in the middle because obviously it needs to wrap around and button, not stick halfway across. You might end up shortening it a bit if you end up with a sagging button, but better to be too long than too short. I promise, because if it's too short, the pad sits under you convex - sloping downward. That's not really what you want in liquid capture. ;)

What You'll Need:


Three pieces of soft, absorbent material that will be what touches your skin. This right here is flannel from an old shirt. This, or old linens is my favorite thing to use. One will be the top piece, one the bottom, and one the crosswise-wing-piece.

Two layers of old towel or washcloth. Mine are all crumply because they got balled up in the net bag when I washed them after cutting, but I promise they're big enough.

One piece of water resistant material - I cut up an old allergy pillow case, the kind you zipper underneath your linen pillowcase to act as a barrier for dust mites. Those are waterproof, which I discovered when washing them and it became a bag of water in the washing machine. In the case of the pillow case, there's a batting kind of layer to it and a presumably plastic layer to it, so I put the batting layer up to be an extra absorbent area, and the plastic side on the bottom.

A button.

layer diagram.png

This is the basic construction of it. I layer it up, making sure if I did the button and buttonhole first, that the button is facing the right way to easily button around underpants, and then pin together. Then I stitch around the edges first, basically closing it all up.

one side open

Then I stitch around the middle area basically where the pins are sitting in the first photo, which I'll show here again, in an interior box, to help hold the layers together properly and to kind of channel flow. I think of it like "quilting" on disposable ones.


Here's what it looks like with the wings folded around and buttoned from the bottom. That's what holds it to your underwear:


And that's it! Simple, eh? You can add more layers of towel for a heavier flow, or use thicker towel or washcloth. Using two layers of thin kitchen towel like in my photos here (plus the flannel top), this is more of a middle-light flow napkin. Your flow actually lightens when you use cloth! All the bloggers I read tutuorials from said so, and it turned out to be true for me, too. Which is glorious, because I have endometriosis and "heavy flow" was an understatement before cloth pads. I recommend plastic buttons over snaps because after soaking in the wash bucket for days, I have found that my snaps got a little rusted! And yes - I do all the stitching by hand on these. It's an easy lap project.

So, how to clean? I've tried a lot of things there, too, and my method is: I keep a bucket (with a lid) next to the toilet. As I take off the used pads, I put them in the bucket with plain water to soak. CHANGE THAT WATER EVERY DAY or it gets smelly. Personally I feed my plants with it. I'm not on pharmaceuticals, and it's full of nutrients that plants like. Blood meal is a common fertilizer, after all. ;) Then once shark week is over, for the final soak I add a generous dose of hydrogen peroxide and a wee splash of liquid laundry detergent and swish it around so it gets sudsy. The hydrogen peroxide will bubble when in contact with blood. Once I soaked them in straight hydrogen peroxide to try and get rid of all smells, and it bubbled up so much it was like a baking soda and vinegar volcano! But if there's water in there, that shouldn't happen. After a day of soaking in that (and that gets flushed away, not given to plants), I wash them in the machine twice, just to be anal about it, on hot, the first time with detergent, and the second time with baking soda in the detergent drawer and vinegar in the fabric softener drawer. Then I hang them up to dry in a window, because sunlight also helps to kill smells.

And there you have it! Reuseable cloth pads. I really like using them. Admittedly I don't always like washing them, but ya know, such is life. ;)

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I would normally not upvote something like this, but I think I'll give it a go just for all the men who are irrationally uncomfortable with the subject.

I have raised my sons being completely honest about my 'moon pads' and 'period'. Honestly, they don't even care past the first time they asked me about it. They're totally cool with my time of the month, it's nothing.

Thank you for your solidarity vote. LOL
Honestly, I think if society just talked about it more men wouldn't feel all that weird about it. I mean, women hear about prostate exams and ED medicine commercials all the time, and I don't see them making cringing faces like my dad would whenever he realized why I couldn't stand up from pain (it's a little hard to be discreet with endometriosis).

Not only will I buy you a coffee, I will purchase for you a whole pound of coffee. I am sure @lyndsaybowes has your address I will send it. How's that? Beans or fine grind? This is what our fore mothers did. Our Aunties and Grannys and well everyone. are correct about using cloth and less flow. I don't think in those days they flowed like crazy anyways. Better food and other reasons. Since many Athletes dont have heavy flow the simple fact that they worked hard would help attribute to that. Also they were always pregnant, which I do not recommend. lol. However, kudos to you for this informative subject. I am a granny, so not needed for me. However, I managed a Health Food Store and it is something we sold as well. That and a diva cup. Best wishes...rock on :)))

LOL! I like medium roast, ground or not, since I have a grinder. ;) Yeah my grandmother was raised on a farm in New Brunswick and was one of THIRTEEN children. I think my great grandmother had little need for these, too. 😵 I worked in a health food store at one point too, but I never bought one from there. I know a lot of people love their diva cups!

ok. it will happen. I am in Ontario. My parents home has sold. Now I have to empty it all out. Quite the chore. When I get back home I will send something nice.

Aw, thanks! You don't really have to. :)
Good luck with all your work ahead! Take care of yourself.

actually I think it would be fun, doing things like that. You will just have to wait a while and it will be a nice surprise. and thank you so much

Update: I fished the two (the one that was almost done and the one I had the loose pieces to show you):
...I was watching reruns of Downton Abbey. So, a few hours, a pad and a half sewn. Cutting takes probably as long as sewing one when you are piecing out old clothes and doing buttons/buttonholes, so about a few hours work for each, doing it by hand? Not bad!

Ooh and they look sooooooooooo cozy and comfy, well done!!

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I'm not a sewer so I don't know if they would work but my sister uses a lot of plastic snaps when she sews stuff for the home. Or do you think they wouldn't stand the peroxide?

Oh, they might! I was just using what I already had on hand.

I commend you on your braveness to present something along the subject that is so uncomfortable for people to talk about...even to some women. I appreciate this tutorial because I myself believe my insides don’t work as they should because of the use of store bought plastic pads filled with chemicals and harsh products. I have seen many reusable cotton pads and thought about trying them out but wasn’t for sure if I wanted to handle all of the cleaning part. Hey when you have 5 kids you clean up enough lol! Not only is this health conscious but it’s frugal. Thank you for sharing the steps with photos and for explaining the cleaning process as well. 😊 They do look quite comfortable.

Haha, I believe you that you have plenty of cleaning to do! But having five kids probably also makes you not easily grossed out having to clean bodily fluids. ;) Honestly, between avoiding soy (it turns out I'm allergic to it after all, but I started avoiding it before I found that out because I had been reading about its link to breast cancer) and switching to cloth pads, my endometriosis problems have ratcheted way down. I'm still not one of those people in commercials who still goes out and does yoga or whatever, but it's not killing more anymore, either. I'll take it! I wish I had known these two things years ago!

This is one very cool project @phoenixwren! Thanks for sharing!! I have seen organic shops selling reusable pads and they are freakingly expensive! It is good to know we can make our own :) And thank you too for sharing how you wash them. I've always wondered how to keep it clean. And wow.. feeding blood water to plants is a new thing for me too, that would be interesting.. wonder if my plants would enjoy a taste of my blood :)

I feel that humans have isolated ourselves so much from the rest of the world, it's good to remember our symbiotic place in the cycle. I'm glad to think of it as plant food instead of our weird modern sanitized gross out over what is actually beneficial to other life. :)

This is awesome design, Phe! Thank goodness I no longer have a need for these items (enforced surgical menopause). But we had four sons and we talked about it and then they promptly ignored it until I had PMS and then they would buy me a box of chocolates! LOL

Dear phoenixwren, fellow steemian blogger man woman earthling. I love your blog it Will set people straight and give them something to think about. I think its Nice that you Made a menstruale project. I would have never thought off making one. I am more the upcycle one in the needleworkmonday family. But its Nice to meet you and love the honesty.
C U soon
Love from Holland

Thanks very much! Yay to fellow upcyclers! :)

YES upclycling give me great satisfaction, and even more When people ask me after a New project : oh Where did you buy this 🤨😉

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This is an awesome post and we hope to contact you someday so that you can mentor young girls about the financial and environmental benefits of making resusable sanitary napkins. Great post and this is one of the things we are making at our hub at a small scale. Next year, we want to go around schools and teach young girls how to make these. Menstrual hygiene is a a very big big problem among young girls in Cameroon and i must say if you listen to the menstrual stories of girls from rural communities, you will definitely want to do something. Thanks for putting us this great post @phoenixwren.

I would be happy to help if I can. Disposable ones are SO EXPENSIVE. I couldn't afford them all the time either.
I've heard about how bad it is in some places, where girls miss school because they don't have products. I've seen a couple groups that work to send cloth pads, and a lot of westerners say, "ew, send them disposables" but that wouldn't help as much since they would run out and in some places there isn't trash collection, either.
In one such discussion, someone said then they wouldn't have washing machines either, but they could be washed by hand and boiled water used to sanitize them or however they would clean a cloth diaper for babies. I use a machine because it's convenient and one is included in my apartment, but if I had to go to the laundromat, I'd probably do it by hand, too! :)

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Wow! This is amazing. Very educational. I didn't know I could use that as fertilizer. I've been using my daughter's pee as fertilizer for the longest time. But now my plants could have something else. Lol. I admire your courage in sharing this. I have been using cloth pads too. I buy them online. And because of this, I'll also be making my own cloth pads one of these days. You inspired me. More powers to you!

I give diluted pee to my tomatoes, and sometimes if there's leftover I'll give it to other plants, but do most plants like it? I didn't realize! I hope you like the homemade ones, too. You're already ahead of the game if you have ones from the store so you know what you like!

Lots of opportunities for recycling textiles, @phoenixwren, for a recurring need avoiding unnecessary plastics. Thank you !

What a great #diy project @phoenixwren personally i am into my diva cup. Just needed to modify it by trimming that nubbin end and flipping it inside out on advise of my sis. Awesome ideas and explanations though. Glad to know i am 'one of the rest of you's' 😂

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I would like to completly blend out my menstrual cycle as I am "gifted" with these sh********** migraines... but yeah, not possible. I have never used fabric pads, although I have a fiber friend who sews and sell them. I normally buy ecological ones, which are without plastic (or so they claim), but nevertheless your solution is much better.
Thank you for describing how you clean them... but I am not sure if hydrogen peroxide is free to buy here (have to google)

I use hydrogen peroxide a lot - mostly because it also cleans cat pee out of the carpet. Hahahahaha. That's how you know it's good at getting rid of smells! It can bleach things too, but I haven't noticed it (and wouldn't care anyway) on these.

I'm going to guess that you remove pins before use! ;)
I actually got materials for making more of these, then only got around to making one. I'm now not sure where I've put the materials and pattern...Sighs... I'm afraid I've been a bit lazy and taken the route of getting some of the period knickers in. They're not cheap, bit hopefully worth it. I've yet to use them, so wish me luck! Maybe it will give me a bit more time to figure out what I did with the materials and make done more reusable before I wear these out.

How long do you find your towels/napkins usually last for?

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Actually I probably have been using them longer than I should have. I've been using some of mine for years. XD I totally understand the losing track. That's why many of mine are so old!
Let me know how the knickers are, I've wondered if those are decent or not!
And yes, haha, no piercing yourself down under with pins!

That's so bloody awesome Phe!! I use reusable ones as well, though not as fancy as yours. I am SO happy to also here that you don't waste the nutrients either!!! YASSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You are a STAR!!!!!

Wakka wakka wakka! You're bloody punny! XD
I don't know if mine are fancy or not, but I like them! :)

Well this may sound super creepy and gross, though I feel you will be comfortable with it LOL, I want to gives them little huggies!!! BWA HAHAHAAAA!!! *before use of course


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