Be a question. Be an answer.

Kotex Ad from 1971.
Is that Susan Dey Cybill Shepherd? And what’s that oddly eroticized blur in the foreground?

Okay, time to wrest the blog out of Erik’s hands. He’s gone crazy with the geek-boy subject matter of late. I’m going to bring this baby down to earth with a resounding thud. Let’s talk menstruation.

We’re writing a new book, as we may have mentioned. It’s a project book focused on making some of the basic necessities of life yourself, whether that be a compost pile, a bar of soap, or a breath mint. It’s almost done (thank mercy), but at this late date I’ve realized one subject we haven’t covered is The Ladies Only Subject. Periods do necessitate accouterments, and you can easily make cloth pads. I’ve made them and used them on and off for years. I think I sort of pulled a mental block on the subject for this book because I’ve had a number of “Ewwww, gross! That’s totally medieval!” conversations with other women about reusable pads. But our readers aren’t wusses like that, are you?

So I wanted to ask, do you think a cloth pad project should be in our book? Would it be useful? Or is it sort of done already, making it a ho-hum idea? Eco-minded women probably already know they have the option and are doing it, or not, according to their choice. Is it more obscure than I think? Is this something you’d like to see? Give me some feedback.

For those of you who haven’t thought of them, cloth pads are a great way to minimize your landfill contributions. If you make them yourself, you can save a lot of money, too. They also minimize the exposure of your delicate parts to plastics, bleach and those insidious gel crystals in the high tech pads. Cloth pads are surprisingly comfy and effective–at least I find them so.

Here’s a nice link to Ask Pauline with a pattern and instructions for making your own. As Pauline says, “Sometimes a lady finds herself a little short on cash. Better to spend what you have on good bread and good books.”

By the by, I’ve also discovered two charities which give cloth pads to African schoolgirls. It seems that some girls in Africa miss school for a few days every month because their families can’t afford to buy them disposable pads. Obviously this puts them behind in their studies and leads to high drop out rates, low self-esteem, and even sexual harassment. This a basic example of how simple things pile up into a big case of oppression. The aforementioned charities, Sister Hope and Huru, give girls a kit which includes a set of re-useable pads, panties and hygiene items and brochures on HIV-AIDS and other sex ed stuff. Huru is more slick and corporate sponsored, Sister Hope more home-spun. Huru supports pad manufacturing as a village industry in Africa, while Sister Hope collects donations here, and ships them over. Both will donate a kit to a girl in your name for small fee. I’ve not done lots of diligence on these charities, or given to either, yet, so proceed with all ordinary caution.

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44 Comments

  1. Stoked about the new book! Yay!

    I totally think including a bit about DIY pads would be useful. You’d be surprised how many people still believe Tampax is the end-all-be-all. I’d also like a tutorial for more comfy pads–the ones I’ve got are a bit on the bulky side, or like to slide around.

  2. I think it certainly opens up the conversation and including such a constant seems more natural than leaving it out.
    That said, I think a lot of eco-minded women (or maybe it’s just me?) prefer the cups (diva cup, moon cup, there are others). Of course you can’t make those yourself, so I guess they don’t fit in your book so well. hmm.

  3. Yes, I’d say include it. People go gaga over cloth diapers, sell/give them at baby events, brag about using them, share patterns, but at least in my community, no one does the same thing for women’s pads. Still too taboo? Or radical?

    I was initially grossed out by the idea in college, but eventually was won over, and now can’t imagine using just disposables. But I still don’t make my own or talk to my friends about them very much. It needs to be more “out there!

  4. I think a general overview with an adaptable master pattern, like the pad equivalent of a sloper, would be useful for most readers interested in making their own cloth pads.

    That said, I’ve used a reusable menstrual cup for the better part of a decade now and would only use a pad again if I had to (e.g., a medical condition that contraindicates inserting anything into the vagina).

  5. Good feedback, sistahs! Thanks. Cups do make a a ton of good sense, but yep, you can’t make your own. And they don’t work for everyone. I have a cup, but….ouch! I never could get the hang of it. It was mighty, uh, springy.

    I don’t sew. I should! I know!!! So I’m trying to figure out a really simple design for the sewing challenged. But maybe a sloper (new word! had to look that up) would be a good idea for those who aren’t as intimidated as I am by sewing machines.

  6. I’m another cupper, but it’s not 100% effective for me. I’ve been supplementing it with preemie-size cloth diapers (left over from my first baby), but I’d love some kind of consensus on what cloth menstrual pad design is most convenient. It’s a sewing project I have been putting off (along with pretty much all of my sewing projects for a while now).

  7. Yes. Include it. Why? Because the women who do use them or use cups need a book to give to their friends who are squeemish and don’t even want to listen to a friend but would rather read.

    Then the squeemish ones can come back and read that section again in privacy and think it over.

    Mention cups, mention that they’re not make your own but they’re the daytime option for women like me who are heavy flow-ers. I’ve been on the cup for 12 or 15 years now! with pads at night. I bought, didn’t make, my stuff but STILL save money, piles of money using this system for me. (also it’s THE best thing for any woman traveling overseas to a country or location where things are different, not as available, etc.) I get the purpose/point of your book but you would be remiss to discuss pads without mentioning the availability of cups as the other part of a system for women who want to get away from shoving toxic stuff into their bodies.

  8. When I first bought my cup, it still took me a few more monthly cycles before I was brave enough to use it. Now, I find the prospect of emptying it actually less gross than having a traditional plastic pad next to my skin. I also use cloth pads as backup or on lighter days. The adjustment was easier than I thought it would be, and when my daughter is old enough I hope she never even has to know about traditional menstrual products.

    Oh, by the way, the picture totally looks more like Cybill Shepherd to me.

  9. I would definitely include it…I think it’s really important for women and girls to learn that there are more options than disposable…

    Although I’ve used the cup for over 3 years now, it took well over a year and a half to get used to it, so reusable pads were a great in between…also, sponges and pads together worked well for me.

    Can’t wait for the new book to come out! The first one is a well-worn bible around my house. :)

  10. i use cloth pads, and i love them. no more emergency purchases, and a lot less waste. i think it should definitely be in the book! i think a lot of women don’t know about cloth pads, and it always helps to have more info on it — and a DIY project as well. thanks.

  11. Hell yes on including cloth pads! And as a non-sewer you’re probably the perfect person to provide a really simple, clear how-to for other people who aren’t necessarily sewing-competant.

    I think that awareness of non-disposable menstrual products is nowhere near the levels it should be at- I think putting cloth pads/references to cups in a book about pragmatic basics like making compost & growing herbs is an excellent thing to elevate them up the scale of ‘totally normal, sensible things’.

  12. You’re promoting an autonomous home economics in writing the book, why leave such a big topic out? Our cycles are (in theory) a regularly occurring process our bodies go through, so we should be able to discuss (or at least read!) freely about how we deal with what our bodies are doing. Sometimes people calculate the number of disposable diapers saved when using cloth diapers, and the number is astounding, but what are the numbers on something that happens about 12 times a year for almost 40 years? Not every woman is going to have kids, but most every woman ovulates.

  13. I think you should definitely include the info!

    Personally, I would be hard-pressed to go back to pads after so many years of applicator-free tampons with a really great design. However, I can’t seem to get that company to A- go organic for the cotton, B- stop wrapping in plastic, and C- stop using a polyester string. I also have not found another company who makes a similar design in organic. With that, I’d prefer to have the homemade pad option available than not.

    Also, don’t forget to mention that old cotton pads can be composted when too worn for continued use.

  14. i think you should include them just BECAUSE some people will say ‘ew, gross.’ DIY is about facing the reality of your life and impact right? besides, if you’re covering compost making, i bet far more of your readership will already be doing that than washing out their bloody pads. with books like yours, aren’t you pretty much mostly preaching to the choir? (i know i’ll read it, even tho i probably already know how to do most of it, i sure enjoyed your first for pure pleasure of reading!) just hoping that a few new people will come into the subject and be inspired? and that’s worth it.
    another factor, taking charge of your own lifeblood clears the path for dealing with your baby’s own shit (ie: cloth diapering), and if you helped anyone in that direction, you’d save an incredible landfill space.

  15. Definitely, definitely include this topic in the book, preferably with a pattern. Yes, the information is out there for others who already want it or are open to it. Still, it bears repeating. You can contribute to the mainstreaming of the return to cloth pads. And since you’re working on an appropriate platform for doing so, you should.

  16. I think it’s Cybill Shepherd in the photo. // I agree with the others: include the cloth pad info. I think there is a cummulative influence when the info appear in sources of all sorts from a wide range of women, so it becomes perceived as “normal”. Lots of eco-minded females still don’t use them or consider them. By providing the info, you will certainly influence a few converts, which is an excellent impact in itself. I also think it’s good to show the value of cloth pads for urinary incontinence, since it is a daily occurrence. That’s a lot of disposable pads!

  17. I haven’t used cloth pads myself, but I don’t think any type of pad can compare to a cup.

    I have my regular cup, and I also have an extra I’ve stashed in our grab-n-go bag for the zombie apocalypse. Cups are less icky (I think) than pads, never wear out, and don’t require a lot of resources for cleaning. And since there’s nothing to throw away (ever), I think they’re just as eco-friendly or more than even cloth pads.

    It might be helpful to have a shout-out in the book letting people know that cups are an option, as I think they’re still relatively unknown.

  18. Absolutely include it! And while you’re at it, make sure you mention what great garden fertilizer “moonwater” makes! Are you including any mention of using reusable cloth wipes instead of toilet paper?

  19. a few comments here… i’ll try to organize them..
    firstly, YES include this info in your book! it’s so important (pending zombie apocalypse notwithstanding) and the more women that at least are aware of their options, the better!

    for Jenna – have you thought about alternative tampons? some are reusable, such as the sea sponge ones (i’ve only seen them, not tried them myself)

    i’m currently in the process of sewing my own pads, actually! the patterns i’m using are serger-friendly and found here: http://www.diapersewing.com/clothpads.htm and here : http://www.labyrinth.net.au/~obsidian/clothpads/DIYpads/foldup.html
    i’m trying not to use a lot of PUL, so my pieces are bulkier than a store-bought, but if i was willing to hang dry all the plastic, i would definitely have pads similar to a conventional ‘maxi’ in thickness.
    there are a lot of variant patterns out there on the web… it’s just a matter of finding ones you like and can use, with the sewing style your prefer
    good luck on getting that book finished!

  20. 1) Okay, decision made. I’m going to try to squeeze the project in, last minute. Gotta work up a pattern and sweet talk the editors.

    2) You’re right, I think that is Cybil Shepherd!

    Thanks everyone!

  21. It is Cybil Shepherd.

    Include it. After looking at the links and reading all about it, it makes sense to me to do it, and I think it’ll be the first project I tackle on my new sewing machine (my 32 year old Singer finally bit the dust past repair). At the very least, if you include the information it will get women thinking about it.

    I’m 50 and still having periods, but don’t know for how long. Wish I’d thought about this a long time ago though. And, I have four sisters, a sister-in-law (who is Philipino- if you think washing your own sanitary napkins is weird, you should try going to the bathroom in the Philipines- they don’t use toilet paper) and four nieces. Think of the land-fill savings in my family alone!

    Plus- someone made a salient point about traveling earlier. I remember having to buy sanitary supplies in Germany, and my poor husband who reads and speaks German was trying to help me. Finally I settled on something that seemed like what I was used to. Oh no- this thing kept unfolding until it was huge! It covered most of my underwear and was weird and uncomfortable. I’m not sure bringing fabric reusables is the answer for traveling, but I learned to bring something, just in case.

    Speaking of husbands, how many of you have sent the poor guy out because you’re out and can’t leave the house? This would fix that problem.

    Include it- I think it’s a good idea.

  22. Speaking of put-upon men, I thought I’d let you all know that I’ve been harassing Erik all morning, holding up the laptop screen and saying, “Now this style has wings with integrated padding, but this style has wings and liner pockets, but I’m wondering if we need wings at all, because they add bulk and the snaps might hurt on a bike, and did you know hemp velour is three times more absorbent than cotton…”

    On and on I’ve been nattering, despite the fact his eyes are fogged over and I know he’s thinking about obscene garden statuary while pretending to listen to me. But you see, I’m going to need him to help me with the sewing, because he’s better with the machine than me, so this nattering is actually a subtle form of brainwashing. He’ll be so eager for me to stop talking he’ll put down whatever he’s doing and *man* the machine with gusto.

  23. I definitely think that they would be appropriate, especially if coupled in a chapter with cloth diapers. I’m frequently appalled by the sheer number of baby diapers in landfills… granted, pads aren’t as large or likely as numerous, but they still have the effect of being not biodegradable. I wouldn’t put the picture on the cover of the book, but I’d definitely put it in the chapter on “natural ways to cover your and your baby’s bum.” :)

  24. Food-grade silicone (which cups are made of) is very easy to work with. I think instructions on making your own might be a good companion to the cloth pad instructions.

    One way to make one would be to carve a form out of soap, apply the silicone, allow it to cure, trim any excess, peel & wash. After test-fitting, the form can be changed as needed for a better fit. It might be necessary to dissolve the soap away in order to remove the cup, but probably not.

  25. If you can, throw in some instructions for sea sponge tampons! There’s not much changing anyone’s opinion on whether they want their period gear internal or external, and sea sponge tampons are the only thing DIY insertable I know of. They’re comfortable and pretty long-lasting. I used them on and off for years, before my period stopped.

    Basically, you go to the arts-n-crafts store and buy a few smallish sponges. Go home, wash and boil them (for a minute or two) and then spend some quality time in the bathroom trimming them to your desired size and shape–this calls for some trial and error, but mostly your looking for a thickish oval somewhere between the size of a baby carrot and an egg. Scissors and exacto knives both work, and it’s a good idea to try ‘em on as you go. Store & carry them in a reusable cloth teabag, or something like it.

    To use ‘em, you generally want to boil them for a minute or two between uses to sterilize them. They always need to be wetted and squeezed out before use; the sponge gets damn hard when it dries out. You can take them out, give them a good squeeze, and rinse ‘em or wash with NON-IRRITATING soap (and be sure to get all the soap out!) and put them back in when you’re out and about.

    There are some drawbacks–you can’t go as long without changing them as you can with a cup or tampon, and when they fill up…try not to sneeze. And, of course, keeping them clean and sterile is a hassle. It helps some that a package of raw sponge is often enough to make several for just a few bucks, so it pays to have spares.

    And I don’t know what all the infection risks are. I was only kind of fastidious, and I never had any trouble (despite being moderately yeast infection prone), but I’m just one person. Lastly, if you have a cat or dog, you should keep them in a drawer or something between uses. My cat never got tired of trying to chew on my menstrual sponges, he ruined a bunch of them, and honestly his enthusiasm for my blood creeped me out.

  26. Another vote on the YES bandwagon! Menstruation is a topic often ignored because it is considered icky or weird, and I remember a few embarrassing moments as an adolescent because I was too shy to ask how to use a tampon. Let’s open the discussion!

    I’m actually a fan of the cup myself since I feel much more liberated not having to constantly wash out or change a pad. Once you get the hang of it they can be quite comfortable (I can do yoga or ride a bike in mine, and I’m extremely petite.)

    Sponges tend to make me a little nervous because of the possibility for them to harbor bacterial growth, and boiling them between each and every use seems kind of unrealistic.

    I think you should include as many options on this topic as you discover, and women can decide for themselves which option works best for them.

    Can’t wait for the new book!

  27. Haven’t needed them myself for a couple of years now, but definately think they should be included! Lots of women say ‘yes, but . .’ take them past the ‘but ..’ part. There is a big yuk factor that needs to be overcome. I used to use the soak water for my plants.

    And maybe include the other alternatives like the cup or sponge.

  28. I think it’s worth a mention, because otherwise it’s the glaring omission. You can point to the resources that are already out there, so it won’t take much work to get a lot of good resources into the reader’s hand.

    I’m also voting for mentioning cups and sponges. It’s not DIY (unless you count me trimming my sponge), but if your reader happens to not be a pad-wearer, it leaves them with options.

    Because menstruation is a taboo still, getting someone hooked into trying an alternative is more difficult. However you choose to write, I’d consider that as the biggest point.

  29. @Anonymous: Homemade menstrual cups! Now that is the intrepid DIY spirit. My hat is off to you. You could use an existing cup to make the mold, and distribute cups to all your friends.

    Thanks again to everyone for their comments. I have to stick to what I know, for the integrity of the book, but I’ll definitely mention cups, sponges and diapers.

  30. Sorry – I know you’re already decided, but I just wanted to suggest giving some time to the issue of how people deal with cups/cloth pads at work/while travelling/in other public or awkward situations. Rinsing, carrying bags into the bathroom, etc – might be off-putting to someone considering making the switch (and have been issues with people I’ve tried to convert).

    Also, I’m a cup-user, but have also been known to just use hankies – sort of the same idea as gauze diapers – you can fold them to your exact needs at any given time (longer for nights, doubled up in crucial areas for heavy days – even wings are possible by folding it square and using it on the diagonal) and since they unfold to be plain ordinary hankies, they line dry really quickly. Also, no sewing skills needed. Bonus for me.

  31. I know I’m a little late to the party. This is a really important topic. I think the book would still be good without mentioning menstruation, but it would feel like an oversight in a book about “making the basic necessities of life yourself.” I mean, dealing with your period is like, one of THE basic necessities of life for those of us with uteruses. uterii? I’m glad you’re going to mention it. If one lady stops buying kotex and tampax because of that page, it would be a victory

  32. Ok. So, I know the decision is made to include the topic in the book – hoooooray! I have to admit that I have been VERY interested in making some myself. I am so DIY and green in so many other ways but pads and tampons are my one holdout. Specifically because I am often not home when changing is necessary. It seems so awkward when you’re not in your own private bathroom space. That’s my 2 cents!
    Anyway, I look forward to the book!

  33. Your readers seem to be young women but I think you should listen to what Malissa wrote which may have been overlooked. There is a huge and ever growing use of incontinence pads. Don’t forget that our society is aging fast. We have fast growing numbers of very elderly people, many of whom are using those expensive pads.

    Malissa said “I also think it’s good to show the value of cloth pads for urinary incontinence, since it is a daily occurrence. That’s a lot of disposable pads!”

  34. oh…. one thing to note, for alternative products, particularly for cup users – the only brand of cup available where i am (that’d be Canada) is designed for ONE year use only, as compared to the nice american ones for 10 years. Also, they won’t ship the american ones over here, which is a real downer… and makes having one cup as your only ‘survivalist’ feminine item pretty much a no-go. that’s why i’ve decide to go with cloth (as per my previous comment…)

  35. I think the cups rock, even though you can’t make your own. At least you don’t have to consume all that paper and plastic. My only problem is that I started using the cup before giving birth and had to upsize afterwards. I don’t know how to recycle (or reuse) the old one. Regarding you ideas on cloth pads…what about swimming and other activities when you don’t want the bulk?

  36. Regarding snaps: I’ve used snaps on all of my homemade pads and I bike everywhere. I’ve never had a problem with the snaps hurting or irritating. And personally, I like the wings. They keep the darn thing in place.

    Plus, flannel feels SO much nicer than plastic. And it breathes.

    I use a cup mostly. But sometimes I can’t get it to seal right so pads are a vital back-up.

  37. We’ve had considerable success growing topiary moss “Bitch’s Britches” TM in special terra cotta molds. Please visit our website at http://www.chiapants.net

    And that blur is Travis Bickle! May 26th. Four o’clock p.m. I took Betsy to Charles Coffee Shop on Columbus Circle. I had black coffee and apple pie with a slice of melted yellow cheese. I think that was a good selection. Betsy had coffee and a fruit salad dish. She could have had anything she wanted.

  38. I think it’s a great idea to include a simple pattern with information on absorbent material choices.

    This might get too complicated but for me, I’m moving to an off-grid house so I’m trying to find information on grey water impact when washing them and if there is an effect of the cup emptying into a composting toilet.

  39. Yeah, this is absolutely a topic needs to be covered. I don’t make pads myself because I’ve been using a cup for quite a few years, but would pull out the sewing machine in a New York minute if my cup got damaged and I didn’t have time to replace it quickly.

    For one thing, it’s a good way to repurpose clothing scraps. Textiles are remarkably hard to recycle on the west coast, and unless one is going to take up making rag rugs, or quilting, or attempting to compost cotton in the garden compost pile (it takes awhile), reusable pads are a nifty way to go about this.

  40. Yes, do include! It’s funny how easy it is for even green ladies to not realize how much waste they’re creating with disposable pads and tampons. I just started using a cup and cloth pads (things get a little out of control the first couple of days, so the cloth pads are a great back-up)… and I wouldn’t have even considered it had it not come up in a conversation with a friend about eco-friendly products.

    Just making someone THINK about it is helpful to achieve results, I think. It worked for me! (but then again… haha)

  41. I think including information on making your own reusable cloth pads is a great idea!!! Personally, I’ve considered for a long time using cloth pads or the reusable cup others have mentioned, but I just haven’t gotten around to making the switch. I’m stuck on applicator-less organic cotton tampons… and they’re hella expensive!

    I committed to cloth diapers and natural infant hygiene when my daughter was a babe, so what’s it going to take for me to commit to a healthier, more sustainable choice about my own bodily functions? I used cloth wipes on my babe’s bum and washed them in the same load as the diapers. Why, with this experience under my belt, has it never occurred to me that I could be doing the same for myself and saving a lot of paper–trees and money–in the process. A reader commented above that you should not only include info on DIY cloth menstrual pads, but cloth pee wipes as well. By all means, include it all–pads, wipes, diapers, and a convenient and easy system for containing the used items until they can be thrown in the wash (like maybe sewing plans for a drawstring baggie that can be used as a hamper liner and thrown in the wash, contents and all, so that the icky-ness factor of possibly touching the soiled items to launder them is completely eliminated).

    Please include this topic in your book, because I want to be convinced. I bet there are tons of women out there just like me who have heard of and considered these options, but don’t know enough to get started or don’t have friends doing it that they can ask or, for whatever reason, just haven’t been moved to make such a drastic change. Please be the impetus, provide that kick in the pants that so many of us need to start feeling like this is an acceptable, realistic, and easy choice to make.

  42. Hey, just discovered your blog, so I am late to the party on this, but I just wanted to thank you for bringing this up. I have been making and using my own cloth pads for the past 10 years, but I’ve personally stopped trying to talk to other women about it after getting one ‘ew, yuck’ too many. Which is funny, since in practice the reusable one’s seem a lot less yuck to me than the disposables (no plastic against the skin, no bathroom trash full of gross, no worrying about running out, I could go on) But yeah, someone’s got to be putting it out there.

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