everyday life

Making your own cloth diapers

So you have a sewing machine that your Great Aunt Elda gave to you when you got married (or you stumbled on a great deal on craigslist). You could be just starting out; only ever using it to fix some seams on some old shirts, or maybe you have lots of sewing hours in, making dresses for your daughter or even yourself. You find yourself saying; “It doesn’t look that hard.” when you look at a cloth diaper. Well, the truth is, it’s not… If you know the right terminology, that is.

Being a pattern designer, my email is filled with questions daily: “How do I T&T?”; “Does this come with an insert pattern, as well as the pattern for a cover?”; “What’s the difference between inner fabric, outer fabric, hidden inner fabric, soaker fabric? How many of each do I need and where do they all go?” All of those are questions I actually just replied to from my inbox, and I will address them here along with a few others.

How do I T&T?
Simply put the first T stands for turning and the second T is topstitching. Basically you sew the diaper right sides together, leaving an opening somewhere described in the pattern; turn it right side out, pin together the opening so it matches the rest of the edge and topstitch around. A turning tool (I use a bone folder, but a plain old chopstick works great) will really help the wings stay even when turning, so I highly recommend that.

The Tighty Whitey Hipster pattern is a freebie T&T pattern, you can see some pictures of how to here: http://makingitlittlebylittle.wordpress.com/2008/11/20/oldies-are-goodies-but-freebies-are-oh-so-sweet/

Does this come with an insert pattern, as well as the pattern for a cover?
Mostly these questions come from folks that aren’t familiar with cloth diapering in general. Most of my diaper patterns include instructions for making All-in-One diapers (like a disposable), Fitteds (absorbent only, requires a cover of some sort), Covers (waterproof only, needs an absorbent inside. Can be a fitted, or even prefolds). For greater detail in descriptions of types of cloth diapers and add-ons (like inserts) check out http://www.zany-zebra.com/types-of-cloth-diapers.shtml.

What’s the difference between inner fabric, outer fabric, hidden inner fabric, soaker fabric? How many of each do I need and where do they all go?
Wow, slow down there! That’s actually a bunch of questions! LOL Okay, so from the outside of the diaper towards baby: outer fabric, hidden inner fabric, soaker fabric, then inner fabric. Some recommendations for the ladder are as follows;
All-in-One(AIO)/Pocket outer fabric: PUL or Polyester fleece works great. You can use Alpine, Blizzard or Anti-pill fleece from Joann’s for an inexpensive route (find coupons!) all the way up to Malden Mills 200-300wt Polartec works well. You can’t use wool as the waterproofing fabric, because it requires different care then the absorbant materials.
Fitted outer fabric, AIO & Fitted inner fabric: Cotton, Hemp, Bamboo knits work well here. Fun prints for the outers of the fitteds are always a big hit with the kids. If you are going for the “I can’t feel wet” idea, which works wonders for overnight and outings, get some microfleece. Knits, such as interlock, jersey, velour, etc, will give you the largest range of fit. For frugality, it’s totally fine to go with wovens such as flannels and birdseye for full body layers (if you are using wovens and want the “I can’t feel wet” effect, try suedecloth), and pretty cotton quilting wovens for outers. Heck, while we are on the topic of cheap, search through old clothes, t-shirts work WONDERFULLY, and are found a plenty, look for natural fabrics and make sure you are using fabric with no more the 20% polyester content.
Hidden inner fabric: Remember those cotton t-shirts you found? Use the discolored and stained ones here 😉 No, really, you won’t see them and they are just added to stabilize the soaker fabric. I won’t tell. (or you could use similar fabric to your inner, you know, whatever you are comfortable with. LOL)
Soaker fabric: This is where you get most of your absorbency from. Some folks like microfiber (towels in the car section) and zorb, others like french terrys and fleeces(cotton, bamboo or hemp here, not poly fleece!), and others still like birdseye and warm and natural cotton batting. Try a few out and see what you like best!

As far as numbers of fabric for each layer; there is a balance that you need to find between bulk and absorbency, for a “general average wetter” you should be fine with 3 body layers (outer, hidden inner, and inner) and a 3 layer soaker (microfiber, zorb, french terrys, old towels, lol, you get the idea) for the thicker fabrics or 6 layer for the thinner (birdseye, flannel, jersey) ones. Sew one up and see if you need more or less. For example, french terry is very absorbent and thicker then birdseye, but thinner then terry toweling. Birdseye is absorbent and about similar thickness flannel.

Just a couple last things to remember when sewing your own.
1.) Ballpoint needles are your friend. They don’t pierce the fabric they “push” the fibers away to go through, not causing runs (think those pesky stockings).
2.) When sewing on knits, a stitch length of 4 or greater for a straight stitch is where you want to keep your settings. It will provide enough stretch so that when you pull the fabric, the stitches will move with it and not break.
3.) Remember to relax! Sit down when the kids are in bed with a cup of tea and read the instructions. Reread them. Read them one last time for good measure. Pattern designers sometimes take weeks upon weeks to write these up making sure they are both informative and easy to follow. Don’t ask me how I know. 😉

11 thoughts on “Making your own cloth diapers

  1. What a great post! I have been thinking…and thinking and thinking some more about trying to make a dipe for my little one. Really, he is only in nighttime dipes, and technically we have all we need for that, but still…HAHA.

    What I really want is basically a one-size with no closures that I could pin or lay in a wrap, with just elastic at the legs and back. And I can’t decide which of your patterns would be best. ???

    I am also interested in making my little guy underwear, and can’t decide between the sprightly soaker pattern and the stellar transitions. ???

    Sorry for inundating your blog, maybe this was better suited for an email. 😉 Thanks for any help!

    1. Not a problem, I love questions!! I would go with the little one size, and just leave the elastic out of the front, it’s designed to be a one size fitting diaper, so even without closures, it would work best that way.

      As far as the sprightly vs the stellar, I can’t decide myself! lol… Look out for a future blog titled Stellar Transitions are downright Sprightly without FOE (lol… really; starring these little guys: here)

    1. I started out with an old singer, kept it till it died. Then bought a Huskystar c20 sewing machine and an embroidery machine and a serger. Sold the sewing and the embroidery machine and bought a lovely used combo one off craigslist.

      In my sewing room right now:
      BERNINA artista 170 Quilters Platinum Edition

      Simplicity FRONTIER serger (SL390)

  2. I have read so much about cloth diapering and my head is still spinning a bit trying to figure it all out:) I think I’m going to take the plunge and do it, since I have 3 in diapers now!

    I am still a bit confused when I am looking at the pattern for the Tighty Whiteys and the One Size. The fabric in the pictures does not look like a PUL, but a cotton or flannel? So where is the waterproofing at or do you still need to use a cover with these (I thought that the picture looked like the cover, but now I can’t tell). Or did you use a PUL film?

    I’m so confused!

  3. Ahhh, I think I understand it now! Thanks for the explanation. Have you tried a PUL film before or know if that would be suitable for use in these?

  4. You are wonderful! Thank you so much for your free pattern. I’ve done a lot of research online and your pattern is perfect and your instructions are by far the easiest I’ve come upon. I made a whole batch of these last weekend with material I had on hand. Thanks again for such a great post! 🙂

  5. Thank you so much for posting all of these. I am going to make some newborn diapers for a friend who wants to cloth diaper but really doesn’t have the financial means at the moment. While I’m pretty good at other stuff, I’ve never tried the cloth diapers. I’m not too nervous about it, but I was wondering if velcro will work in the place of the snaps? I don’t have a snap press, and don’t really want to buy one.

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