Glad rags, moon pads, yoni cushions… Such positive, evocative names. Let us do away with ‘sanitary towels’ and ‘feminine hygiene pads’ for once and for all. I had a French teacher at school who helped to prepare me and other fourteen year old girls for a French Exchange many moons ago in the 1980’s. She said that she supposed us modern girls must all use tampons and that in the olden days she used to have to teach girls how to say in French “I have ‘something’ to burn”. This was the only time a teacher ever brought up the subject of menstruation with me, and she couldn’t even utter the word ‘pad’. Conversely, every single month I was forced to whisper a shameful confession, that I was bleeding to a teacher. I suffered from horrific dysmenorrhea and would faint, vomit, have diarrhoea and hideous cramps that kept me paralysed even on the grimmest of toilet floors throughout my entire teens and twenties.
I healed myself of these traumas long ago (that is another story) but I had never sewn my own pads before last winter. What had I been waiting for? I was very fortunate to have been given some washable pads after my first pregnancy by Rachael Moon-times as a gift and those kept me going a long time. I also bought a few. After eight years though, they were a little worn, although still very usable and I decided to splash out and make some new ones.
I hunted on the internet for patterns but in the end simply drew round one of my old faithfuls. I used some gorgeous blue paisley brushed cotton pyjamas I found in a charity shop for £4.99 as the main fabric. I also bought some cheap fleece fabric to line them with and some poppers to sew on the wings. Some old calico lingering at the back of my fabric stash came in handy for backing the pads and creating an ‘envelope’ in which to put the fleece.
So many delights awaited me in the creation! My sewing box was in such a mess when I started that I decided to give it a proper sort out before I properly got going. My five year old daughter helped me wind cotton back round the spools and put all those renegade pins and needles littering the bottom of the box ready to stab an unsuspecting finger back in their rightful home – an ancient lion pincushion. Some of the reels in my box are possibly 150 years old. If only they could talk, they would tell the story of my personal ancestry, my female lineage. When my grandmother died the only thing I wanted was her blue wicker sewing box. As I child I used to sneak away upstairs, open a creaky cupboard, open the lid and then play with it, tidying it all away immaculately. It was my secret treasure and thrilled me to my core. Sadly the box fell to pieces two years ago and I was forced to buy a new one. Quickly my old reels and needle booklets, some with a very young looking Queen Elizabeth on the front made themselves at home in my new box, also blue, also part wicker. I digress…
I learnt new techniques on my temperamental old sewing machine, swiftly mastering gliding round corners at breakneck speed. I surprised myself to be honest, as I am not the greatest needlewoman in the country. Whilst the needle whizzed away, I slipped into a meditative state and drifted. Did my grandmothers sew their own? Certainly their mothers must have. Did they stitch furtively whilst their menfolk were out? Momentarily I felt their shame flow through me and then away.… They whispered softly in my ears, their pride, their love, their support for me in challenging the status quo and taking on this role as menstrual activist, for being part of this magical red tent zeitgeist.
I decided to give the first 10 glad rags I made away. It felt really important to give other women this chance to connect with their blood in this primal way. Getting blood on your fingers is such a good way to connect with your menstrual blood and cycle. Buying washable pads if you’re not sure feels like a big investment. The friends I gave them to either use disposable organic pads or moon cups and I wanted to give them a different experience. The ultimate gift for your best women friends, readers! Some I gave to women I knew less well, but with whom I honoured our connection. The others were destined as a gift for unknown sisters who may need them whilst away on a Carolyn Hillyer workshop weekend. They have all now marched out and are hopefully being flowed upon by beautiful friends and women who I may never meet.
My five year old has been fascinated by the process and is already talking about what colour her pads will be when her time comes. She also decided my templates were crying out to be coloured in and decorated them with rainbow colours and stickers. Of course, she knows what colour womb-blood really is, its gushes of brilliant scarlet through to very dark, clotted magenta and finally the softer browns. A veritable rainbow.
I am running an evening workshop sewing glad rags on Thursday 5th June at the Red Wisdom Hearth in Skenfrith, Abergavenny. This is a free workshop (although donations are welcome). Spaces are limited, so get in touch with me to book your place.