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How to Make a Sugar Skull Rice Bag

The best way to thaw out a sugar skull fan is to use a colorful, practical, sugar skull rice bag!

What is a rice bag, you may ask? First, it’s an indispensable hot bag of rice that soothes sore muscles, warms cold toes and relaxes stressed shoulders. When sitting in a chair a rice bag can snuggle down onto your lower back and make you purr! Since rice bags are found piled up between your microwave, living room & bedroom, it’s nice that they are made from colorful interesting skull fabrics that reflect the personality of it’s user.

You can make 3 large rice bags from 1 yard of sugar skull fabric, thus making it not only an economical gift but also a gift from the heart!

They’re easy & take about an hour to make - you save time if you make 3 at a time.

Rice bags are not an exact science, so feel free to adapt the instructions and make a variety of sizes – just remember the basics:

  • Use high quality, plump, non-pointy dry rice
  • Chambers of 4 inches wide or less will be the most comfortable
  • Don’t fill any chamber more than 60% full of rice
  • Double stitch all seams to ensure durability

 

Sugar skull rice bag with another fabric rice bag on a black soapstone counter.

A yard of sugar skull cloth in black on a table.

A cut yard of sugar skull cloth in black with a wooden yardstick for measuring.
First, select a yard of sugar skull fabric. Our high quality, Japanese printed 100% cotton fabrics are perfect for rice bags. No need to pre-wash. You will get 3 rice bags out of one yard. Cut a piece of fabric 36" long x 9" wide
(choose to remove any blank selvage)

An iron pressing the top edge of a sugar skull rice bag being made.

View of a sewing machine stitching the top edge of a rice bag being made.
Fold over inch on the long side and iron. This is going to be the top edge of the rice bag, so it needs to look nice. Use sewing machine to stitch this top edge down.
Making a rice bag - guide for pinning and seaming the bottom and one short side of the rice bag.

Fold right sides together and you’ll see the size of your rice bag – 9” x 18”. One short side will be the folded fabric and won’t require a seam. Pin and seam the bottom and one short side with1/2” seams.

Making a sugar skull rice bag step showing the wrong side of the bags turned inside. Turn the bag wrong sides inside and you now have a very wide bag with an open finished top edge. Mine measures 18” wide.
Making a sugar skull rice bag step that shows the seam guide.

I decided that a rice bag this size will be the most comfortable if it had 5 chambers. Remember, a chamber should measure less than 4 inches wide.

Using a seam guide and calculator, divide the width of your bag by 5 chambers. (18 ÷ 5 = 3.6”). Set the seam gage to 3.6” and double stitch 5 chambers of equal width.

At this moment, you can see how beautiful your rice bag is going to be.

Fill all five chambers 60% full of rice so there's space for it to spread out. Even though the width & volume of each chamber might vary a little, try to get the chambers filled to the same height. This is because you don't want one chamber to feel lumpy and out of porportion to the others when you're laying on it. Try hard to keep the rice in the bag until you wrangle it to your sewing machine. Use a small cup and wide mouth funnel to make filling the chambers easy. If you put more than 60% full, the rice bag will be stiff and won’t conform to the contour of your body part.

Make your final seam across the top of the rice bag, closing all 5 chambers.

If you have trouble keeping the rice in the bag while you make the final seam, you can try using a long pin, masking tape or paper clips to keep the chambers closed. Alternatively, you could hand baste the edge closed and then machine stitch the bag closed.

Double stitch for durability.

Heat up your virgin rice bag in your microwave.

Start with 3 minutes on High and then see if it’s as hot as you’d like it. Add increments of 30 seconds until you learn what you like.

Be careful not to burn yourself, as new rice bags will emit some steam until the rice loses it’s trace moisture. Don’t ever put a hot rice bag on wood furniture or it might damage the finish.

Enjoy!

Every American needs a rice bag... so make someone happy!

I like to put hot rice bags between my cold covers 20 minutes before going to bed. Frequently, I’ll find my cat, Tacuba, curled up on top of the warm spot - amazing how she just knows where to find it.

If you’re concerned about keeping your rice bag clean, you can put your hot bag into a small pillow case – it works just as well.

On cold morning commute, take a hot rice bag with you and slide it between your back and your car seat.

Which sugar skull fabric works for you?

Note on rice

Buy the expensive Japanese or Chinese rice - sweet rice, sushi rice or any plump kernel of rice that doesn't have sharp pointed ends or the cheap rice that has broken rice kernels. Ouch! Plump rice will hold more heat for a longer time than skinny rice like Basmati. Don’t even consider wild rice or Uncle Ben’s converted rice. Some people like to put lavender, cinnamon and other fragrant additives into the rice. I think they become annoying and much prefer a non-smelly rice bag.

Materials needed

  • Sewing machine
  • Fabric piece 36” x 9” - 100% cotton
  • Approx 6 cups of rice per rice bag. Plump, uncooked, high quality Chinese rice is best!
  • Measuring tape
  • Seam gage (optional)
  • Wide mouth funnel (or micky-mouse something that works like rolled construction paper)
  • Small 2 oz cup to measure rice
 

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