Friday, 29 November 2013

Making Lavender Heat Packs with Knitted Covers

First real frosts last weekend.  First time this autumn I have put a match to the woodburner in the kitchen.  Quite relish sitting by the fire, though I hate coming home from work in the dark, particularly as it is still nearly a month til the shortest day.  Which suddenly feels like no time at all when I remember I need to get Christmas presents sorted.

A lavender heat pack is an estimable project.  Apart from making welcome presents for anyone over forty, they are a great way to use small dyed skeins, test out ideas for fair isle patterns or practise new crochet stitches. 

The principle is straightforward. Knit a bag, then cut an old tee shirt up to make a slightly larger inner bag. Buy a bag of pearl barley or other grain from the value range in the supermarket and add your preferred dried herbs.  Fill the inner bag loosely.  If you are making a larger pack, sew  divisions to stop the barley all going to one end . 

Lavender is such a good tempered plant and so heavenly to brush past - I rarely pick the flowers in bud, like you are supposed to.  The scent is ideal for heat packs, soothing and calming.  It costs surprisingly little to buy a whole kilo of dried lavender.  Selotaped shut, my bag has lasted a couple of years and the remainder still smells wonderful.

made a full shoulder and neck heat pack while I was finding out how a Suffolk fleece would knit up in cable.  It turned out to be badly discoloured and too coarse for a jumper, but at least I had a functional item to show for the effort.

Last summer, I entered the following pattern in a competition. The rules said the project had to use less than 30g of alpaca dk yarn.  A small lavender heat pack to put in your pocket on a cold day seemed a cunning plan.  

The pattern below didn't win, but last week, I tried out the end result and it does work. The alpaca is wonderfully soft, not my own spinning, though I dyed half of it with woad.

Winter Pocket Warmer Pattern


23g double knitting alpaca
(11g for each piece and a length for crocheting them together)
4mm knitting needles
2mm crochet hook
Two pieces of fabric 16cm2
Needle and thread to sew them together
One mugful of pearl barley, or pearl barley mixed with dried lavender or other herbs
Optional – essential oil

Main Piece  – knit two

Cast on 27 stitches.
Row 1   K1 *P1 K1* repeat to end
Rows 2 to 4, as Row 1
Row 5   K1 P1 K3 *K2 together, yarn forward, K1* repeat to last 4 stitches K2 P1 K1
Row 6   K1 P1 K1 purl to last 3 stitches K1 P1 K1
Row 7   K1 P1 K3 *yfwd, K1, K2 together* repeat to last 4 stitches K2 P1 K1
Row 8   as Row 6
Repeat rows 5 to 8 seven times.
Repeat rows 1 to 4
Cast off loosely in K1 P1 pattern.
Sew in loose ends.
Wash and pin out to 14cm2  to dry.

Cut the cotton fabric so that it is at least two cm wider than the knitted piece – a margin of over 1cm all the way round.

Hem the two pieces together, leaving half the width of the bag open at the top, and turn inside out.  It is important that the finished bag is slightly larger than the knitted cover so that it fills it completely. 

One mug full of pearl barley will fit easily into the bag, do not overfill or it will not fit in a pocket or be pleasant to squeeze in an adult sized hand.   Some of the pearl barley can be replaced with dried lavender or other dried herbs, so that the bag becomes scented.  If you are using plain pearl barley, you could put it in a bowl beforehand, add a few drops of any essential oil and wait half an hour for this to be absorbed, before filling the bag.  Sew the bag shut.

Lay the two knitted pieces with their right sides facing, top edges adjacent.  Using a 2mm crochet hook, starting about quarter of the width from one corner, push the hook through matching edge stitches on the two pieces and draw up a loop of wool from underneath, leaving a short end to secure later.  Push the hook down through the next two matching stitches and draw up another loop of wool through the first.  Continue in this way, leaving a row of loops on the surface of the seam behind.  Once you get all the way round to the top, continue for quarter of the width, then crochet through one piece only.  When you reach the starting point where the two sides are joined, turn and crochet back along the other side until you reach the centre point.  Chain three crochet loops to make a button loop and continue crocheting through each stitch until you reach the end.  Sew a small button into the centre opposite the button loop.

Put the bag of pearl barley inside.  Before going out on a cold day, put this pocket warmer in the microwave on full power for one minute.  It should keep its heat for quite a while, making your coat pocket a scented haven for a frozen hand.

Had I written this pattern for two pocket warmers, it would have needed more than 30g yarn.  If you can't rely on always having someone to hold your other hand and you happened to have 46g double knitting wool to spare, you could keep both hands warm. 


  1. Thanks for that wonderfull idea :-)

  2. These would be good slipped inside your gloves too . . . or maybe your next design should be a pair of gloves with a pocket on the palm to slip one into!

  3. What kind of material would be best for the inner bag?

    1. A cotton with a close enough weave not to lose any barley, but fine enough to let fragrance through - I have recycled old Tshirt material, which is very soft, or old men's formal shirts. You will see a glimpse of fabric through the holes, so the colour needs to be harmonised with the yarn, or just white.

  4. I love the lavender heat back and would like to knit it for my dad. When you say to simply "knit a bag," what does that mean? Sorry, but I'm not experienced in knitting bags :)

    1. Sorry, that wasn't very clear. Nothing clever, I just meant knit an oblong, fold it in half and sew up the edges to make a bag, then sew the top closed once the heat pack has been put inside.

    2. Great! Thanks for the quick reply.