These all-in-one pads are great for regular or light flow days. The cotton on top is gentle on delicate lady parts, and the layer of terry cloth in the middle adds absorbency without too much thickness, meaning they are comfortable, discreet, and fast to dry when laundering.
For heavy flow days when I want more layers of absorbency I prefer insert-style pads, because taking them apart makes the whole business easier to launder; a tutorial for insert-style pads is coming soon!
For each all-in-one pad, you will need:
1 3.5"x8" piece terry cotton (old towels work great)
1 3.5"x8" pieces top fabric
1 3.5"x8" piece bottom fabric
4 3"x3" pieces fabric for wings
thread of your choice
sew-on snaps or velcro-type fastener
sewing machine (not essential but it makes it a helluva lot easier)
fabric marker (not essential but it helps - a plain old pen or sharpie works, too)
Note on fabric choices: I stick with cotton fabrics which I find comfortable next to the skin, and I like that they breathe and don't stay too moist. For the topping fabric I generally use a plain cotton; pads pictured were made with white cotton muslin because I had a lot on hand, but you could use flannel, jersey, whatever you like. For the bottom fabric and wings I like to use either flannel or jersey (jersey pictured below) but it's really up to you! Don't be afraid to use recycled materials. Flannel from old pyjamas that has been washed a lot is very soft and absorbent, and the same is true of terry cloth from old towels. Pads pictured below are made with cotton muslin scraps and jersey cotton from an old t-shirt of mine.
Step 1: Wings
First, make the wings. line up two 3"x3" squares with right sides together. If the fabric has a direction, make sure the two sides match. Pin.
If you want your wings to be curved, draw in curved sewing lines along the top to make the sewing easier. I like to cut across the two corners which I find gives a gentle curve.
Sew around the three sides of the wings, starting with a straight side, then the 'curved' side, then the other straight side. I like to use a zig zag to finish the ends as I go but you can use a straight stitch if you like.
Trim the 'curved' seams, taking care not to accidentally snip any of your stitches.
Turn your wings inside out, pushing the seams out all the way. Your wings are done! It's ok if they look a little wonky - mine always do!
Step 2: Make the Sandwich
Making the sandwich is the part that is the most nit-picky. Take care to do it in the right order! Start with laying down the terry cloth, smoothing out any wrinkles.
Then add your backing fabric (in my case, jersey cotton) right-side up.
Next, place the wings. This is the trickiest part of the entire operation. Your pad will be sewn inside-out, so the curved ends of the wings must face the centre in your sandwich; that way they'll face the outside when you're done. It's best if the raw edges of the wings stick off a bit so that when you sew your sandwich together you will definitely catch the seams. Make sure that the curved edges of wings overlap a little bit in the centre of the pad, so that you can add a snap or velcro later, but be careful that the edge of the wing DOES NOT overlap the seam on the opposite side!
Finally, lay your top fabric right-side down on top of your wings. Note that the raw edges of the wings can be seen poking out - this is good!
Now, pin all the layers of your sandwich together, to make sure they stay in place as you sew. I like to pin in the corners and on each edge of a wing to make sure they stay put. If you put the pins in perpendicular to the seam, it makes it easier for your sewing machine to sew right over them.
Step 3: Sewing and Turning the Sandwich
Now you need to sew around the edge of your pad. It's best if you use a zig-zag stitch to protect your edges from fraying in the wash. Start at the top of one of the wings, and work your way around. Remember to secure your stitches by backstitching a couple of stitches after you start. I generally leave the corners square but you can sew them in a curve if you prefer. Be careful to stop sewing before you return where you started, leaving 1-1.5" of space open - you need this space to turn your pad right-side out!
Start at the beginning of a wing:
Leave at least an inch on the last side open.
At this point, check to make sure you've caught all three layers all around your pad. Make sure to check the terry cloth. If you've missed a bit, re-sew the seam in that area. Trim the thread ends, the extra fabric where the wings stick out, and any other extra fabric, taking care not to snip any of your zig-zag stitches.
Now, using the 1-1.5" space that you left, turn your pad inside out. Make sure you turn between the bottom and top fabric, so that the terry stays inside and the wings end up on the outside. Be patient - it will turn! Push the corners out fully. Once it's turned, it should look like this:
The top view:
The bottom view:
Step 4: Top-stitching
Now you need to sew up the hole you left for turning. I also like to top-stitch around the top seam, just to make the seam secure and to encourage my pads to last.
Fold in the layers of fabric on the hole towards the middle of the pad, to make sure no raw edges are showing. Pin in place.
Starting at the wing just above the hole, begin top-stitching, using a straight stitch. Keep your stitches close to the seam but on your top fabric. Remember to back stitch a little bit after you start to secure the seam.
Sew right over those pins to the end of the hole!
Keep going, top stitching all the way around the edge of your pad until you end up back where you started. Back stitch a little bit to secure your seam.
Step 5: Finishing!
Almost done! Your pad now looks like this:
It's not essential, but I like to add channels to my pad, for two reasons: they help keep the layers of fabric flat together in the wash and prevent bunching; and they can help keep liquid on the pad and off the wings (and your underwear!). You can sew channels using a straight stitch, zig zag, or a decorative stitch, depending on your preferences. I like to do either two curved lines (pictured below) or a diamond shape (pictured at the beginning of this tutorial). Just remember to backstitch a bit at the beginning and end of your channels to make sure the stitching is secure.
Now you need to add some kind of fastener, to keep the wings wrapped around your underwear. Lots of people like to use velcro-type fastener, but I prefer to use metal snaps for two reasons: velcro can collect lint in the wash and lose it's stickiness, which is a pain; also, I find velcro-type tape has rough edges which rub and irritate my thighs, whereas the snaps have soft edges that don't rub. But you can use whichever type you like!
I find plastic snaps break easily in the laundry, so I tend to use the metal ones. I don't have a snap press so I use the sew-in kind and they work great. Just sew on each side of the snap to one wing, making sure to use opposite sides of the wings so the snaps will like up when you wrap them around your underwear. I find sewing them by hand is the fastest way.
Once the snaps are sewed on, the front and back of your pad will look like this:
Now you have an all-in-one cloth pad! Make a couple at a time and try them out, to see what you like and what you don't, and make changes as you go along. You may want to add more layers of terry cloth if you bleed a lot, or leave out the terry altogether for panty liner level absorbency. I like to stick to 100% cotton, but some folks love other fabrics like water-resistant PUL for the bottom or wicking polar fleece for the top.
I just launder these with like-coloured laundry, nothing special, but I don't mind if they get stained. If stains bother you, pick a dark coloured fabric (like burgundy or navy) for the top and bottom fabric. Soaking the pads in cold water for a day or so after you use them before washing will also prevent most stains. Drying them in the sun will bleach stains out, too. :)