There are times when you want localized heat. Your feet may be cold. You may have a stiff neck. The heating in a room where you are working may be inadequate. The answer is a wheatie.

Left: a 3-section wheatie without its cosy. Right: a 3-section wheatie with a cosy. The patterns are because they're photographed on a linen chest with the light coming through lace curtains.

Wheaties are dead simple, and unlike hot water bottles they don't leak water; aren't dangerously hot when freshly filled or heated; and don't go horribly clammy when they're cold. They consist of a cotton bag, filled literally with wheat, and sewn at both ends. Any reasonably substantial cotton or soft linen will do: the same sort of fabric as a decent quality bed-sheet. In fact, you can recycle old bed-sheets, but beware of too-old fabric or it may simply wear through. Use the sort of wheat that's sold for chicken feed. 

Literally, chicken feed. The difficulty lies in finding small enough sacks of wheat. We bough a 20 kg (44 lb) sack and it's lasted several years.

Don't make them too small, or they'll not hold enough heat. You want one that's at least 5 inches or 12 cm wide and maybe 50-100% longer than it is wide. A piece of fabric 10 inches (25cm) square, sewn into a tube, will be fine. 

Fill a 5x10 inch (13x25cm) wheatie with about a pound (half a kilo) of wheat. Take care with the stitching: ideally fold the seam over in order to avoid leaks. Escaped grains of wheat in a bed are like very hard, very annoying crumbs, but are still better than extensively wet sheets. On a floor, they're good rat or mouse food and surprisingly easy to find when you're walking barefoot. 

Blé: French for "wheat"

If you're stitching by machine, keep the wheat grains out of the way of the needle or it will bend or shatter. A useful trick is to sew two sides completely, and the third partially, leaving a small gap at the corner. Fill the wheatie through the corner, using a funnel, then sew up the corner by hand. 

Heat the finished wheatie in a microwave oven for two or three minutes, and it's ready to use. Wheaties hold the heat for a ridiculously long time. And even when they cool down, they're still not cold and clammy. 

If you're feeling fancy, or hygienic, you can put a little washable cover or cosy over them, open at one end like a pillow-case. You can heat them with the cosy on. Use something fairly soft: denim, for example, is too heavy and coarse unless it's recycled from very soft, very well-worn jeans. A good source of material is the sound parts of worn-out pillowcases or anything made of brushed cotton. 

Another refinement is to segment them. Make a wheatie maybe 5-6 inches (12-13cm) wide and 20-24 inches (50-60 cm) long, and run two lines of stitching across the tube to divide it into three (or fill each segment in turn before sewing the division and starting to fill the next segment). This makes it much easier to handle than a single long compartment, where all the wheat runs to one end. Yet another refinement is to add dried lavender to the wheat but I've never tried it. Or "essential oils" but I've never tried that either.Be alive to the possibility that with repeated heating and cooling, the smell may change, and probably not for the better. 

One segment of a 3-compartment wheatie with the corner repaired where it had started leaking.

Wheaties slowly lose efficacy with age, as the wheat dries out, but you can always unpick the seams and re-fill them. Or just make new ones if you're recycling old material and have plenty of it, such as an old linen sheet. You can compost the contents of the old one, though it may take a while. 

An old wheatie heats up slower and doesn't hold as much heat as a new one. Ideally you need to replace the wheat every year or two but we have five year old wheaties that are still working. Fresh wheaties, when they're hot, have a lovely fresh-bread smell, which again declines with age. They also quite moist, as the water in the wheat is driven off. A lot of it is however re-absorbed by the wheat if you leave it for a few hours.

Of course there are electric heating pads, but wheaties are cheap, easy, rechargeable and have no power cords. So why not make yourself one? Or several? If you can't sew, learn. It ain't difficult.

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Words and pictures copyright (c) 2016 Roger Hicks