Menstrual pads have been mentioned in history as early as the 10th century in Ancient Greece, where a woman is said to have thrown one of her used menstrual rags at an admirer in an attempt to get rid of him.
Before the disposable pad was invented, most women used rags, cotton, or sheep’s wool in their underwear to stem the flow of menstrual blood. Knitted pads, rabbit fur, even grass were all used by women to handle their periods.
The first disposable pads were available for purchase as early as 1888 but only about 50 years later they became accessible by a majority of women.
These days a lot due to ecological reasons but also economical and self-empowered, a lot of women are looking back to the past to inspire a revolution and start making their own pads.
This guide will show you some ways to make yours too!
Pad on string/belt
Inspired by the first ever menstruation pads, this model can be used without pants. Did you know Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner invented the sanitary belt? Read more about The Forgotten Black Woman Inventor Who Revolutionized Menstrual Pads
See also how to make a belted pad holder from a bra.
Snap On Style
Made to be used with underwear, they include a button to hold to the pants. Many different models available as you can see below:
All in One
AIO stands for All-In-One, the simplest cloth pad design. AIO pads are one piece without any inserts or liners, so in this respect, they resemble a disposable pad.
Because all the layers are sewn together, absorbency cannot be customized, but AIOs are available in many different specialized absorbencies. They consist of a core of absorbent fabric between a top and bottom layer. They usually have wings to fasten around underwear with snaps or hook & loop. They are often backed in a waterproof or water-resistant material.
Base + Liner / Insert
A Base and Liner or Insert pad has a base pad that wraps around the underwear and interchangeable liners/inserts that can be changed without changing the base.
The absorbency can be customised, as in a Pocket and Insert pad, by using more absorbent liners over the base. Some women find this convenient, as they only need to carry a few liners with them during the day, however, women with very heavy flow often find that the base gets soaked as well, so they need to change both pieces at once.
Advantages in relation to the All In One pads:
Quicker to dry than an AIO as the inserts are removable;
Can change the inserts while leaving the base on, so you can change more regularly to have a fresh pad on;
Inserts take up slightly less room than a whole pad does, so can be good for traveling;
Can be an economical use of waterproofed fabric, as the one base can be used through the day with several inserts.
Advantages in relation to the Wingless pads:
Less likely to move around in your underpants (though they can slip forward or back);
Wings give extra leak protection for those who leak off the sides of pads;
Wings can help keep the pad from bunching sideways.
Disadvantages in relation to the Wingless pads:
Can feel bulky in the crotch due to the extra layers of fabric;
Leakage onto the wings can travel onto clothing;
The wing position will generally find the smallest point of the crotch of your underpants, and that may not be the best position for where you need coverage (A wingless pad might be able to be brought forward or back as needed because there are no wings to keep it in position)
You can use elastic, ribbon, strips of jersey (or anything you like). Treat the ends of the straps to stop it fraying if you need to, especially if your pad will be overlocked/serged. When making strap ended B&I pads I have the ribbon placement marked on my (clear plastic) template so I get the right placement each time. I then use sticky-tape to hold the ribbons on while sewing. If making a Turned & Topstitched pad, you will be placing the ribbon straps between your backing and topper layers. Remember that the ribbon will then be flipped over once the pad is made, so use double-sided ribbon or put your ribbon printed side down.
All you need to do is copy the end shape of the pad for about 1.5-2 inches. Or you can simply make the pocket end a square/rectangle and trim the excess when you’ve sewn it up. You can have the straight edge as a fold or edge it. Making the pocket ends out of something stretchy like jersey makes putting the inserts in easier. There is a bit of a trick for getting extra room in your pockets which I’ll show you with the sewing guide below.
Envelope + Inserts
A Pocket + Insert (also known as an “Envelope” or “Pocket”) Style pad has a base pad that has a one piece top section, with a back that is made from 2 halves with an opening into which a variable number of inserts can be placed to customize absorbency. The label is used on this site for any multi-part pad in which the entire pad is changed, rather than changing one part and continuing to wear another part, as in a Base + Liner style pad.
There are 2 main types of insert: Fold-up (“trifold” or “bifold”) and Shaped (which is the shape you need, with no folding).
A “trifold” insert is one that is folded into 3 to be used. This is 3 times as wide as you want the crotch width to be, and the same length (or just a bit shorter if you’re using pocket ends) than the pad is long.
You can combine several inserts to make up the absorbency you need, but as a guide making n insert from 2 layers flannel/flannelette becomes 6 layers when folded and would be suitable for regular flow.
A “Bifold” is folded in half, so would be twice the width you need. This could be useful if you don’t need the thickness of 3 layers of fabric.
To make the ends of your inserts thinner (easier to stuff into the pocket ends), cut one layer a little shorter than the other, then sew that smaller piece onto the larger one – then overlock/serge the edges.
This type of pad can be any shape that has no wings. They usually rely on a contoured or hourglass shape (where the crotch is narrower than the ends) as well as snug fitting underpants to keep the pad from moving about. Sometimes these use fleece or other slip-resistant backing.
More comfortable when riding a bike/horse etc. as there are no snaps to add bulk to the crotch;
When making them yourself you don’t need to attach fasteners (buttons, velcro, snaps);
Contoured shape can mean more coverage at front/back without being too wide in crotch. This contoured shape is harder to achieve with a winged pad.
Can shift about in your underpants more than winged pads;
Can slip out into the toilet if you are not careful!
May leak off the sides if you’re prone to that, as there are no wings to catch the flow;
May bunch sideways and shift about;
Need to wear snug fitting underpants!
Wingless with Detached Wings
Bringing the best of all together! Also note the buttons used here can be used instead of the metalic/plastic ones.
Draw your own or check templates for menstrual pads. Also learn to resize and get them ready to print using Word.
Things to think about:
- Softness (feeling nice against your skin)
- Absorbency (how absorbent is it – some fabrics add extra absorbency)
- Colour (dark colours to hide stains, light colours so you can see how much you flow)
- Pattern (Do you want patterns for hiding stains and being fun)
- Durability (How easily will it wear, some fabrics wear better than others)
- Stain-ability (Will it stain, or can it hide stains)
- Dryness (Some fabrics wick moisture away, and some can feel more dry when worn than others)
These are the fabrics that go against your skin. You have a choice of synthetics (minky, suedecloth, wicking jersey etc.) and naturals (“woven” cottons, flannel, cotton jersey, bamboo velour etc.). Some fabrics are soft and some are smooth. It’s best to try out some different fabrics to see how they work for you and see which ones you like best. You want something that feels nice against your skin, doesn’t make you feel sweaty, absorbs and/or wicks the blood away to the core – and you may want something that looks nice too! Some tips:
- Some people find synthetic toppers to be more “sweaty” feeling in hot weather/climates
- Synthetic fabrics generally don’t stain
- Synthetics wick the blood down into the core and can look and feel dry on top, whereas natural fabrics are absorbent and will hold some blood on the surface of the pad
- The wicking ability of synthetics works better for a regular or heavy flow. Light flow may just stay on the top of the pad and not wick through.
- Smoother fabrics (like “woven” cotton and standard dressmaking cottons) can feel cooler to wear but may also feel “wetter”
- Textured fabrics (like velour and minky) can work best for heavy/gushy flow because they grab the flow and trap it in their greater surface area
- Natural fabric toppers can add some absorbency to the pad. Thicker toppers like bamboo velour and cotton sherpa add more absorbency.
- Flannel fabric can get worn looking sooner than other topper options, especially when using stain removers.
Jersey fabric can feel softer than a flat/woven cotton.
- (Cotton fabric commonly used as pad toppers and backings can be called “woven”, “flat”, “quilters”, “printed” as well as other names, and this refers to the standard cotton fabrics that you’d find in things like dresses, quilts and such. Which is different to a “knit” or “jersey” that is commonly used for making tshirts)
These are fabrics that provide the main absorbency of the pad. Generally these are a strip of highly absorbent fabric down the center of the pad. There are natural and synthetic choices here too, and you may prefer one over the other for environmental reasons.
- Cotton, Bamboo and Hemp are used in a “terry” (loopy fabric) or “fleece” (fluffy) fabric as a natural pad core.
- “Zorb” and microfibre/microterry are synthetic core options (Zorb is a synthetic/cellulose blend)
- “Bamboo” and “hemp” fleece or terry fabrics are actually a blend, commonly with cotton. So a “bamboo fleece” is usually about 75% bamboo and 15% cotton.
- The absorbency of common core fabrics can be ranked from highest to lowest as: zorb, bamboo, hemp, cotton.
- Fabrics weights are measured by “gsm”, so the higher the gsm number, the more fibres in that fabric and the more absorbent it will be.
- Pads with cores made of just flannel will need many more layers to achieve the same level of absorbency as pads made with a bamboo core. These extra layers can make washing/drying more difficult and can make the pad thicker.
- “Batting” is a fabric used for making quilts and should never be used as a pad core, as it lacks the durability in frequent washing. Other pad core choices are designed to last through heavy washing routines.
These are the fabrics that touch your underpants. Backing fabrics can be just about anything, but ideally you want something that won’t be slippery in your underpants.
Some pads are made with a patterned fabric as the topper with a plain fleece backing, some pads are made with a plain topper fabric and a pattered fabric backing – it depends on the padmaker and the fabrics they are using.
Some pads can be backed in the waterproof PUL fabric (some people find this slippery, some don’t – it depends on the brand of PUL and the underwear you’re wearing). Some pads have “hidden PUL” where the pul layer is behind a backing of cotton or other fabric. Some pads are backed with synthetic fleece fabric, which provides some leak-resistance as well as a good grippy fabric in the underpants. The thicker fabrics like fleece do add extra thickness to the pads. (See here for more on waterproofing fabrics)
“Light” – This should have a core layer of 1 layer of bamboo fleece/hemp fleece/zorb/cotton terry. Or 2-3 layers flannel
“Regular” – This should have a core layer of 1 layer zorb. Or 2 layers bamboo fleece/hemp fleece/cotton terry. Or 4-6 layers of flannel.
“Heavy” – This should have a core layer of 2 layers zorb. or 3 layers bamboo fleece/hemp fleece/cotton terry. Or 6-8 layers of flannel.
Cloth pads will stain. They just will, and there’s nothing you can do about it short of dyeing them every few months or bleaching the living hell out of them, which is really not good for you or for the Earth. However, you can minimize staining by rinsing them thoroughly and then soaking them in cold water until you can get around to washing them. Just make sure that you change the soaking water at least once a day.
Some people have problems with stains, others don’t… some ideas for avoiding stains or what to do if you get them.
Cold water rinse: If you rinse them out in cold water straight away, they are less likely to stain (Hot water sets a stain). The longer the blood is left to dry before you rinse them will make them more likely to stain for some people.
Cold water Soak: Some find they get less or no staining by keeping the pads soaking until they are washed (eg always wet), Others find they get staining if they do soak, and have better results if they leave them to dry.
Baking soda: You can take your wet pad (rinsed until no more blood comes out) and sprinkle the baking soda on the stains, rub it with your finger (or rub the pad against itself), and then rinse the Baking Soda off and hopefully the stain will often simply disappear.
Think of Colours for your pads: Obviously a white or light coloured pad is going to be more prone to staining than a darker coloured pad. Some say hemp is good for not staining….. Synthetics (eg microfleece, suedecloth) should not stain. So if you are picky about having unstained pads, use a darker colour, dark red (well it’s the obvious colour isn’t it ;)) or a highly patterned fabric.
Sunlight: Hanging your pads out in the sunlight can help fade any stains
Well, keeping used pads around, particularly when soaking, can get smelly if you’re not careful. So some tips for avoiding odour are:
Add something to the soaking water – Adding a little teatree essential oil (or disinfectant) in the bucket you soak them can help kill the bacteria that cause the smell, and mask any smell
Change the soaking water – Change the water frequently (every day). You’ll probably need to change it more in summer than you do in winter or if you live in a hot climate. Remember the water is great for the garden.
Rinsing – Rinsing your pads before you soak them, and/or when you change the water can avoid the water getting smelly.
There are probably other methods for washing and stain removal that people use. Interestingly, what works for one person might not work for another. Also, it seems some people have more trouble with staining than others – so different people’s blood seems to stain more than others.
As you see the possibilities are endless and you can adapt any idea to your body and menstrual flux!
Download all available Tutorials.
Make & give Pads to others in need