EDITOR’S NOTE: Today continues a summer series by Daily Journal reporters called “Teach Me Something” where we show how to do a variety of things and how things work.
By Lena Mitchell
Daily Journal Corinth Bureau
A National Weather Service forecast of higher-than-normal temperatures in Tupelo and Northeast Mississippi for July, August and September will have residents looking for ways to stay cool.
An inexpensive individual cooling system – a cooling neck scarf – is one easy way for people like outdoor workers, athletes and hobbyists – farmers, gardeners, roofers, highway workers, construction workers, cyclists, runners and others – to find relief from soaring summer temperatures.
The scarf works by cooling the blood that flows through the carotid artery in the neck. The water absorbed by the crystal gel in the scarf evaporates and provides the cooling effect, and the gel retains moisture without feeling wet.
Local and chain outdoor merchandise retailers sell the readymade scarfs, as does at least one dollar retail chain, but making the neck cooler is also an option.
Sewing the neck cooler yourself allows personalization of fabric color and pattern. The inexpensive supply list also makes it possible to assemble the items in bulk as gifts for family reunions or barbecues, club or company picnics or to include in care packages for people in the military serving in hot climates.
The supply list for making the cooling neck scarf includes:
• Cotton fabric
• Water storing crystals
• Tape measure
• Straight pins
• Sewing machine or serger sewing machine
What to do
Step 1: Wash and dry the chosen fabric to assure there will be no bleeding of dye from the neck cooler onto other clothing when it is worn and also to account for any fabric shrinkage.
Step 2: Cut as many strips of fabric in 4-inch-by-40-inch strips as you want to make neck coolers. The finished scarfs will be two inches wide.
Step 3: Fold the fabric strip lengthwise with wrong side of fabric out. Stitch the length of the fabric with very fine stitches, leaving the ends open. You may want to run another line of stitches over the first to be sure no water-storing crystals will slip out.
Step 4: Turn the fabric tube right side out and press flat along the seam.
Step 5: Fold the strip of fabric in half to find the center of the tube, then sew across the tube along the center line. Make a few anchor stitches at each end of the stitched line to be sure it is secure.
Step 6: Measure 7 inches from the center line on each side and place a straight pin to mark the spot.
Step 7: Sew a straight line along the lengthwise center of the tube from one straight pin to the other. This creates four long tubes stitched closed at the center of the scarf.
Step 8: Remove the straight pin at the end of the stitched line and add one teaspoon of water absorbing crystals, assuring half the crystals fall into each tube. Sew across the width of the scarf to completely close the pockets containing the crystals. Repeat this step at the other end of the scarf. (Important note: Though the crystals are very small, do not overfill because the crystals expand to 200-500 times their dry size when they are wet. Overfilling can cause the polymer gel to ooze through the fabric, giving the scarf a slimy feel and making the scarf useless.)
Step 9: At each unfinished end of the scarf, tuck the raw edge inside and stitch along the outside to finish. The raw edges can be cut at an angle for a different finished look, if you prefer.
Using and maintaining the scarf
To use the scarf, simply soak the portion containing the crystals in water for 15 to 20 minutes until the scarf becomes firm but flexible. It can then be tied around the neck or head. When the scarf reaches body temperature, you can quickly dip it in cool water again, or keep another on hand to change them out. Do not wear the scarf while swimming.
The cooling neck scarf can be used repeatedly, and can be kept in an unsealed plastic bag in the refrigerator if desired. Do not store it in a sealed plastic bag as that could cause mold, and never put it in the freezer because it will no longer work.
You also can clean your cooling neck scarf. While it is firm, put some drops of dishwashing liquid in your hands, work up a lather and lather the cooling scarf for a few minutes. Rinse it under cold tap water and dry it off with a dish towel.
Allow the scarf to dry completely before storing. It can take a week or longer for the crystals to dry out and return to their original size, but the scarf should never be dried in a microwave or clothes dryer.