the world’s best hot water bottle :: Okan Arts
the world’s best hot water bottle

the world’s best hot water bottle

By Patricia Belyea

Last January I visited Bryan Whitehead in the small town of Fujino, Japan, on a clear day. The weather made for a spectacular view of Mount Fuji on the drive from the village train station to Bryan’s silk farmhouse. It also made for bitterly cold temperatures.

Bryan, Canadian by birth, has spent more than twenty years immersing himself in the traditions of Japanese textiles. His home, the size of a small motel, brims with spinning machines, looms, an indigo vat, dyeing screens and more—which he shares with lucky folks who can secure spaces in his coveted Japanese Textile Workshops.

With all of its wonderful delights, Bryan’s 150-year-old home has no central heating. For my one-night stay, Bryan sent me upstairs with two Japanese hot water bottles (yutanpo) filled with boiling water and encased in folksy wool covers. The hot water bottles looked like oversized, galvanized steel canteens. The covers, patchwork in style, were made with two layers of wool.

In the morning, I raved to Bryan about how much I loved his hot water bottles! Oh, he said, you slept with Brad Pitt and George Clooney. Haha!

Back in Tokyo I walked over a mile to find a hardware store in my hotel’s neighborhood. None of my pantomiming helped the shop staff understand that I wanted hot water bottles. As soon I drew a little picture, a trip to the storage room upstairs produced an armload of my heart’s desire.

Once home in Seattle, I headed to my local Goodwill store and bought five men’s merino sweaters. I washed the sweaters twice with very hot water and felted them more using the hottest setting on my dryer. Then I deconstructed the clothing into fabric and made a lined wool patchwork bag for each of my four darlings.

Why is a Japanese hot water bottle so fantastic? Because it’s still hot in the morning! A far cry from a rubber hot water bottle than seems to cool in less than an hour.

A WORD OF WARNING: Do not use a Japanese hot water bottle without a cover. If you do, you or your loved one could be easily burned by the transfer of heat through the metal sides. So please, be careful.

To Make Your Own Bag for a Japanese Hot Water Bottle

Draw around the ovoid shape of the hot water bottle—using freezer paper or other pattern paper

Add 1” all around your drawing

Make the sides of the pattern go straight up from the widest point

Make the top of the pattern go straight across, 2 3/4″ above the top height of the bottle

Cut out your paper pattern

Collect four to five merino wool sweaters for the outer bag

Felt the sweaters by washing in hot water and drying in a hot dryer

To up-cycle the sweaters, turn them inside-out and cut out the seams, cuffs and collars

Cut the felted wool into random squares and sew together with 1/4″ seams until you have two patchwork pieces that are larger than the pattern

Using the paper pattern twice, cut out the patchwork for the two sides of the outer bag

With right sides together, sew the sides and curved bottom of the outer bag using a 1/4″ seam allowance. Keep the top open

Use the same paper pattern, cut out the two sides of an inner bag using a medium-weight wool—this time making the inner bag sides 2 1/2″ taller than the outer bag sides

Zig zag stitch all around the two fabric pieces for the inner bag

With right sides together, sew the sides and curved bottom of the inner bag using a 1/4″ seam allowance—stopping 2 1/2″ from the top. Keep the top open

Turn the inner bag inside-out and slip into the outer bag

Turn down the top edge of the inner bag by 1/4″ and roll over to front of the outer bag

Sew around the top of the double bag, 1 5/8″ down from the top edge to form a channel for the pull cords. Also stop stitching twice, at the side seams, to leave openings for the pull cords.

Make two pull cords out strips of the medium-weight wool that are 19” long and 2″ wide

For each pull cord, press the wool strips in half lengthwise, fold the two long edges into the center of the strip, and stitch together the open edges and along the ends.

Snap a safety pin through one end of a pull cord and work it through the fabric channel from one side to the other, leaving ends hanging out on both sides

Repeat, working the second pull cord through the fabric channel on the second side. Tie the ends of the two pull cords together on each side, using square knots

Tada! You just made a cover for a Japanese hot water bottle. Stay warm, my friend!

I bought my four hot water bottles in Tokyo for the equivalent of $16.50 USD each and gave up precious space in my luggage to bring them home. The same Japanese hot water bottles are available on Amazon for $19 with free shipping. Save on airfare!

Here is the link to +buy on Amazon

The painting of Seattle’s Magnolia Park on the headboard of my bed is by American artist Gary Faigin.

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11 comments to “the world’s best hot water bottle”

  1. LeeAnn says:

    Great idea! I actually love my rubber hot water bottle, but I’ve put it an old flannel pillow case. It needs a felted wool cover. Let’s see, I think I’ve got about one month before I need to use it. Thanks!

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      LeeAnn, I’ve never felted wool before so that was fun. Men’s sweaters don’t come in very exciting colors so I really liked that one of them was light pea green. Maybe you can get a better color selection with women’s sweaters. PB

  2. Edna Warkentine says:

    What makes these water bottles keep warm all night versus the ordinary bottles that we use here?

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Edna, I think it might be the weight of the metal and the fact that the surface has big ridges. The metal hot water bottles weigh 1.5 pounds before water is added. Also, the covers hold the heat. That’s all I can think of. PB

  3. Johanna HS says:

    Must be the volume. More water more heat, simply. And the cover makes the heat release slowly.

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Johanna—I agree that the Japanese water bottles hold more water. The other difference, I just realized, is that we fill rubber hot water bottles from a tap. A metal hot water bottle can hold boiling water, so the starting temperature of the contents is much higher. PB

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Johanna—I discovered the difference. We only add hot tap water to rubber hot water bottles. With the metal ones, we can add boiling water! PB

  4. Pat Davies says:

    I would like to sign up to receive info on the Japanese trip you ars planning with your daughter Victoria! Congratulations on your new business party, what a joy it must be to work with your daughter! So happy for you! Our daughter lives a 12 hour drive from us which is really that bad considering our son lives about 16 away and he has our grandchildren! So you are truly blessed! Wishing you all the best, love your facebook page and realky enjoy following you! Wish I was going to Houston so I could meet you and several other fabulous quilters as I really admire how you are such great achiever, so artistic, with fabulous business sense! Wish you and your daughter much success!

  5. Sheryl says:

    My Japanese water bottle arrive today and I have made the paper pattern. I have lots of felted sweaters stored in the basement for at least 20 years waiting for the perfect project. This will consume some of the material easily. Thank you for the information and tutorial.

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Sheryl—Yeah! So glad you are trying this project. I promise you will LOVE your Japanese hot water bottle. Please send pics when you are finished. PB

  6. Patricia Belyea says:

    Johanna—I discovered the difference. We only add hot tap water to rubber hot water bottles. With the metal ones, we can add boiling water! PB