Introduction: Microwaveable Mink Neck Warmer

After reading wrique's excellent instructable  on making mitten warmers, I decided to try making a neck warmer.  I wanted something that could be microwaved and then sit around the neck, to keep someone warm during cold winter walks.  I came up with a design that was very popular with my girlfriend, and my mother asked me to make her one too.  The second time around, I took pictures of the process so that I could make this instructable.  Here is what you'll need to make your own!


* Scissors
* A thin, round-ended dowel
* Paper and tape (optional)
* Some kind of soft fabric (a square yard should be plenty)
* Small scraps of a second fabric for the front of the ears (technically optional, could use same fabric)
* Sewing machine with thread, sewing pins
* Needle, thicker thread for embroidering face
* Two roughly brick-sized packages of red beans (sorry, I forget the exact size)

Step 1: Blank Step

I don't like how instructables puts the first step on the same page as the into, so this is blank.  Go to step 2.

Step 2: Make a Template and Cut Out the Fabric Body Pieces

You don't have to actually make a paper template, but I decided to for accuracy's sake.

Just tape together some pieces of paper until you have a large enough surface, then draw a sort of toilet-seat shape on it.  Mine was around four and a half inches wide, and pretty circular.  The center hole (where the neck will go) was about four inches diameter.

Using the template, cut out one copy from the fabric you will use for the mink's body.  Then FLIP OVER THE TEMPLATE and cut out the second one.  This is important otherwise you may end up with your halves not matching very well. 

Step 3: Pin, Mark and Sew the Pieces Together

First, lay the two pieces on top of each other with the NICE SIDES FACING IN.  If you flipped the template in the last step, they should match up very well.  Pin them together at regular intervals.  Draw out your sewing path.  I used permanent marker for the convenience, but be warned that it might smell faintly like marker for the first few times you microwave it if you do.  If you have a fabric-safe pen or something, by all means use that.

Keep your path an even width (mine was about 2 1/2 to 3 inches wide).  Also, make a neck at one end.  Just bring the lines in towards each other maybe a half inch, leaving a little oval shape pinched off that will become the head.

Now sew them together!  Start at the top of the arch, an inch away from the center off to one side.  Make sure to back stitch, as this will have some stress on it during inversion and stuffing.

Sew all the way around with your machine, and stop one and a half to two inches from your original location so that you leave a gap.  Be sure to back stitch again.

Step 4: Trim and Invert the Form

Remove the pins, and trim the pieces.  Try to leave at least a half inch border just to be safe.  You may want to make small cuts towards the neck, so that the fabric does't pull oddly there when inverted.

Now it's time to invert the pieces.  Use your thumbs to push some of the seam from one side of the hole you left through the hole.  You should be able to push through most of the half you're working with.  Use your dowel to gently push the rest of the fabric through, until one half is completely inverted.

Repeat the process with the other half, so that the entire mink is right-side-out.

Step 5: Stuff It With Beans!

I'm sure that lentils or rice would work pretty well too, but I've heard that red beans hold their heat the best.  They also make for a nice texture.

Get some paper, and make a funnel.  I recommend making the hole smaller than it needs to be, than cutting it until it is large enough.  You want to strike a balance between being too small for the beans to easily fit through, and too large to fit into the hole you left in the seam.

Slip the funnel's tip into the hole in the seam, aiming down one half or the other of the mink.  Pour in as many red beans as you can fit, shaking them down occasionally to make sure that they're well packed.

The beans tend to have trouble going through the neck, so take a few minutes to massage them through until the head is firm enough to your taste.

Once both halves are filled as much as they can be with the funnel, start packing the last bit by hand.  This is pretty annoying, but it's worth the effort to ensure that the mink won't develop an empty spot at the back of your neck when it is worn.

Step 6: Sew the Hole Shut

Once you've got as many beans as you can in there, fold the edges of the fabric inwards so that the ragged edges are inside the seam.

Thread your needle, and pass it through from the inside of the mink.  Make sure that you're at least a stitch or two back past the edge of the seam so that your sewing will overlap with that of the machine.  Going from the inside on the first stitch allows the knot to be hidden inside.

Take a small stitch from the folded edge of the opposite side of the gap, and pull tight.  Repeat this process, alternating small stitches in the folded edges of the seam.  This is a ladder stitch, and should result in an invisible seam as the folded edges pull together to hide the thread.

Sew the entire length of the gap, then take a few 'knot' stitches - that is, make a small stitch close to the current location of the thread, then pass the needle through the loop as you pull tight.  Two should do.

Now poke the needle through the body as close to the knot as you can, and pass it through to somewhere a medium distance away.  Pull all the way through.  You should now have the thread going from the knot, through the inside of the body, and poking out elsewhere.  Pull the thread tight and snip it close to the fabric, then massage the body a bit and it should get pulled back towards the knot and into the mink.  This allows you to hide the ends of the thread.  This procedure will be referred to as 'knotting and hiding the thread' from now on.

Step 7: Make the Ears!

Cut out two small pieces of the main body fabric, and two small pieces of the inner-ear fabric.  All four should be shaped like a gumdrop seen from the side.  Pin them, NICE SIDES FACING IN, and mark your sewing path (should be a little arch).  It helps to make the ears a bit taller than you want them to end up so that you take into account the bottom edge that will be folded in to seal it.

Sew the ears!  Be sure to back stitch sturdily.  These stitches take a lot of strain during inversion.

Remove the pins, and invert them.  You will have to hold them with their openings facing upwards, spread open with your fingers.  Press them down onto the round-ended dowel until they start to invert, then carefully roll them down so that they're completely inside-out.  This step takes some patience and care, so take your time.

Step 8: Seal and Attach the Ears

Thread your needle with at least an arm's length of thread, and seal the bottom edge of one of the ears using the same ladder stitch technique as I described for closing the seam on the mink's body.  Be careful to press the edges inside of the ear as you pull it shut, so that they don't end up stuck outside.

Once the ear is completely sealed (essentially forming a tiny pillow), position the ear where you want it to be on the head of the mink.  Take a small stitch in the head that will start to secure the ear where you want it.  Then, alternate taking small stitches in the bottom of the ear and the head, going all the way around the ear (both behind and in front) to connect it to the head.  Knot and hide the thread.

Repeat on the other ear.

Step 9: Embroider the Face

Thread your needle with the thicker thread.  Push the needle into where the center of the nose will be, and come out at the edge of the nose.  Keep going around, trying to form an inverted triangle with your stitches.  It can be difficult to keep the edge that the needle is coming out of neat, so it may help to take a small stitch on one side and then continue so that you are now inserting the needle on the other side.

When you are satisfied with the nose, take some small stitches to form the line going from the nose to the mouth, and the mouth itself.  Then move to where you want an eye to be, and repeat the process in a small circle.  Do the same for the other eye.  To finish, move to the bottom of the nose and knot and hide the thread there.  This seems to be the best place to make your knots, as they will blend into the nose.

Step 10: Microwave and Enjoy

You're done!  Microwave it for 40 seconds for a medium-long heat.  I haven't gone more than a minute, but I can't imagine that anything too bad would happen if you went longer.

Wear it under your scarf when it's cold outside, or just to relax.  It feels quite comforting!