Few commercial cloth diapers stand on their own through potty training without a booster of some sort. Out of the box, some diapers don’t even include any sort of absorbency – pockets and covers often come with nothing. All-in-ones are well known for babies outgrowing their absorbency long before their size. Even if they make it through the day, overnight has been the downfall of many a diaper. I know too many parents that use disposables at night so they don’t have to deal with a soaking wet toddler at 2 AM.
I got into cloth diapering because I’m cheap and my son has sensitive skin. However, I had sticker shock before I even saw my first pair of Crankypants being auctioned off for triple digits on hyenacart.
Decent hemp inserts are expensive and you might find yourself in need of a lot of them to cloth diaper while only washing every 2-3 days. I ordered a few and found them to be nothing fancier than a few layers of fabric with some nice stitching around the sides. My inner cheapskate started plotting.
I found a place to buy hemp and bamboo fleece by the yard online, purchased a couple of yards of each, chopped it into pieces and had a friend with a machine help me sew it, and viola – I had my own cheap stash of inserts. In the end, I used them heavily with gDiaper covers and to boost my bumGenius Elemental organics for a couple of years and then gave them away to a friend that wanted to cloth diaper, along with most of my diapers.
Which bring us here, now. Cheap inserts are getting more prevalent, layering microfiber with hemp or bamboo fleece, but I was never a fan of microfiber and I’m not sold on the odd charcoal bamboo fleece coming from overseas. I also have my own sewing machine now, so I have no excuses.
I work in IT, and we have a saying – “Cheap, fast, and right. Pick two.” Sewing your own cloth diaper inserts follows the same principles. This method will give you cheap inserts, as fast as they can be sewn, but they will not be neat and tidy and serged like purchased inserts. Does it make them any less absorbent? Hell no! Will your kid know the difference? Absolutely not. Will you earn extra crunchy points for having made your own inserts? Of course!
How to Make Your Own Diaper Doublers
So what do you need?
- A sewing machine that can sew a zig zag stitch and basic sewing machine knowledge.
- A ruler. The longer the better.
- Sharp scissors.
- A marker of some sort (such as a disappearing ink pen).
- Thread. Lots of thread! Have at least 250-500 yards on hand. If you hate stopping to wind bobbins, pre-wind a bunch in advance if you can.
- Your fabric of choice. (I ordered two yards of hemp/bamboo fleece online – 40% hemp, 30% bamboo, 30% organic cotton. It’s a good mix. Bamboo fleece isn’t quite as absorbent as hemp, but it’s softer, so a mix of the two should make for comfortable inserts without compromising much on the absorbency.)
My setup is a tad more elaborate – I’ve got a giant cutting mat, a wide clear plastic ruler to use with it and my rotary cutter. It’s a lot easier to cut straight lines with a rotary cutter, large mat, and ruler, so if you’ve got one you use for quilting or other projects, by all means, bust that bad boy out.
To start I pre-washed my fleece with hot water and dried it on high. That’ll take care of the initial bout of shrinkage, though they will continue to shrink slightly for a few washes afterwards. You want to prewash – if you don’t, that shrinkage will happen to your freshly sewn inserts, which depending on how accurate your cutting job was, may cause your inserts to twist or bunch or do any number of unsightly things. A little shrinkage won’t be too bad, but a lot (especially if your lines aren’t very straight) can be pretty awful.
Lay out your fabric on your cutting surface, taking care to shake it out good, fluff it, and pat it down gently. I folded mine in half so it’d all fit on my table at once. Depending on the size of your fabric cut, you may or may not need to do this. Folding your fabric does have advantages – you’ll make fewer cuts, and it’s overall easier to work with the fabric when it’s not stretching beyond the edges of your work space. But the more layers there are, the harder it is to cut.
Knit is an evil mistress. Don’t tug it in different directions to get it to lay evenly. Any stretch you put into the fabric will bounce back once it’s washed and dried, so try to keep it as flat and straight as possible. Look closely at the flat knit side. The rows and columns of knit can be used as a guide to try to keep your edges straight. The inserts won’t be perfect regardless of what you do, but the less fidgeting you do with the fabric the more likely the inserts will lay flat after washing.
Measure the fabric. Most inserts are sized between 4-5” wide and 10-14” long. When you’re making your own diaper doublers, you have two options for sizing:
- If you already have inserts you like the size of, you can measure those and use them as a model.
- Measure your fabric and figure out how wide to make each insert to maximize the amount of inserts you make.
I went with option #2 to maximize the number of inserts I could make, so mine were about 4″ wide. Folded in half, my fabric was 29” long, so I really had about 58”.
(Remember when I said I bought two yards of fabric? Yes, it shrank a lot. This is why you pre-washed your fabric, right? Right? Go ahead and do it – I’ll wait.)
I made marks at 11.5” and 23” down on each side of my fabric — remember, the bottom part is folded in half. That should put my inserts all between 11 and 12 inches long, which will fit flat in any diaper I have without requiring folding.
You can either trim off the funky cut edge now, or do it later once you’ve matched all your insert layers. It’s your call.
Now, line up your ruler, mark, and cut.
Once all your cuts are made it’s time to start stacking. Despite your best efforts, the pieces are likely to all be slightly different size. Just roll with it. Find three pieces that are as close to the same size as possible and stack them together. Fuzzy or smooth side out? I prefer smooth knit side out over fleece side out because it sheds less in the dryer and looks tidier over time.
Once the fleece is all stacked up, clip or pin the layers together. Remember what I said about knit being an evil mistress? Because of how it stretches, sewing several layers together will result in all sorts of tears and frustration if they’re not fastened. Even better, if you have a walking foot, put it on your machine, it’ll help minimize the stretching.
Thread your machine (I prefer polyester thread, which won’t shrink in the wash) and set your stitch to zig zag. Knit does not unravel the way woven fabric does, so it’s not necessary to encase the ends of the fabric completely as the inserts are sewn. You *can* but it’s not necessary. So why sew it at all? Sewing the edges keeps the fabric from rolling and makes everything lie much flatter. Set your zig zag wide, but the stitches don’t need to be too close together. (Initially I had mine set to 1.2mm long and 6mm wide, and adjusted it to 1.4mm long after a few inserts because the stitches just didn’t need to be that close.)
Lay the unsewn insert down and start sewing. You may need to fiddle the fabric right or left a bit to get the edges sewn exactly the way you want. Resist the temptation to pull the fabric towards you as you sew. Pulling will distort the edge and make the fabric ruffle a lot worse, which will keep it from laying flat. It will wave a bit as you sew it; this is normal and will mostly shrink back out after the inserts are washed and dried again. Because your inserts aren’t cut perfectly, you may have to lift and lower your foot and adjust the fabric as you sew to make sure everything stays flat and the top layer isn’t getting curled under the stitching. You may have to adjust your thread tension as well.
As you get to the end of the first insert you’ll notice the top layer is probably starting to stretch past the bottom layers, making it stick out. As I mentioned, this happens… the walking foot will help prevent it some but only time and practice will work to really minimize it. It won’t affect the performance of the insert at all, the edges just won’t lie perfectly flat. When you’ve reached the end of the insert, lift your foot and needle, turn the fabric 90 degrees, put the foot back down, and keep sewing. Do this all the way around, backstitch at the end, cut your threads and bam – you’ve sewn your first diaper insert!
Okay, it’s not pretty. Probably way not pretty, but your kid’s rear end won’t know the difference. After a few, it’ll get easier. You’ll get a better feel for it, you’ll relax and tug at the fabric less, and overall things will look nicer.
Once all the inserts are sewn, trim the loose threads off and throw them in the washer on hot. Then do the math. In my case, two yards of fabric cost about $30, the thread was maybe about $5, and I made about 24 inserts. That’s about $1.50 an insert for hemp/bamboo fleece inserts, plus my time which would have otherwise been spent sitting on the couch watching my ankles swell.
Using hemp or bamboo fleece isn’t even a requirement – you don’t have to buy fabric to make inserts! You can cut up old receiving blankets, cotton towels, microfiber, whatever you want to make inserts with. The same basic principles (measure, cut, stack, and sew) still apply. As long as you can cut a straight line and sew a zig zag, you’re gold.