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Watch your back

Here's a simple way to keep warm this winter - and it's easy to make yourself

chauffe-reinOn Monday I bought myself a 'kidney warmer'. It sounds better in French - a 'chauffe-reins', but all it basically is, is a deep, tightish thermal band that fits around your body from your waist to quite low on your hips. It's proving to be an absolute godsend - like sitting with a heating pad at your back.

Women's fashions are so often cut skimpy - jeans are low on your hips while t-shirts are usually too short to tuck in - and the gap between top and bottom is something I often fill with a long camisole or a body. But in winter, this flesh gap becomes an irritating a cold gap, and the chauffe-reins fills it admirably. 

I should obviously point out that it looks very grannyish - I was put off it for a long time because of its unglamourous connotations. And it also does add a layer to your hips, so you'll need to accept that your beam end is going to look a tad bigger over winter. However, once placed under your clothes, it's quite invisible and does an amazing job of keeping you warm. Let's face it, only you need know it's even there - and you do get a slight corseting effect because of the stretch.

Mine is from Lidl, cost 7 euros, and is made of angora and wool with lycra. But having had a close look at it, it occurred to me that it would be very easy to make one from an old sweater or t-shirt. 

A good sweater isn't something you should waste, and for years I've cut off the sleeves to make arm or ankle-warmers, and used the remaining fabric to make things like pocket linings. But I now realise the body is also useful in its own right. The best candidate is an old sweater in a thin knit such as lambswool or cashmere, which is irretrievably gone under the arms etc, or preferably even a bit felted.

The best place to cut is under the armpits, straight across, which gives you some room to play with, though you will probably end up cutting more from the top edge eventually - the chauffe-reins only needs to be about 8 inches deep, but if you're long-bodied you might prefer 12.

Try the chauffe-reins on. It might need taking in slightly, which you should be able to do down one seam only. Basically, the shape is that of a deep belt that is slightly wider at the bottom than at the top. You want it really quite snug, almost 'too' snug, so that it won't loosen and walk up your body as it warms up.  

You may also need to hem the top edge if it looks like it might unravel. If you make one out of on old t-shirt, this shouldn't be an issue, as the jersey fabric should self-seal. 

I am planning to pension off a few old sweaters in this way this winter, and perhaps run up another one out of polar fleece, which should have all the right elements of stretch and insulation.