…then we should definitely be friends.
People choose cloth diapers for a lot of different reasons. For many of us, economics has a lot to do with it. Cloth is definitely cheaper in the long run, but the $20+ price tag on many cloth diapers still hurts if you’re trying to build a full stash quickly!
I hadn’t been cloth diapering long before I thought about resurrecting my hopelessly terrible sewing skills and making my own diapers. The process seems a little daunting, but thankfully, the internet is full of great resources to help you on your journey! The possibilities are virtually endless as far as diaper styles, but here are the basic things you will need to start, and where to find them.
You could hand-sew these babies if you wanted, but trust me, a sewing machine will be your friend! You don’t need anything fancy. Any basic machine with forward, reverse, and zig-zag stitch will do the trick!
Sewing with polyurethane laminate (PUL) can really be a booger because the laminate tends to be “sticky” when fed through the machine. A non-stick foot makes it a bazillion times easier, giving you a much nicer-looking end product. Alternatively, you can also use a regular walking foot with wax paper to allow the PUL to glide more freely (while still allowing you to see what you’re doing).
PUL is the most popular material for making your own cloth diapers – it serves as the waterproof outer fabric for pocket diapers, all-in-ones, and covers. You can find PUL at Joann Fabrics, Hobby Lobby, or lots of places online (Diaper Sewing Supplies has drool-worthy prints).
For fitted diapers, the outer fabric is absorbent, not waterproof. Yes, it’s going to be hidden beneath a cover, but there’s really no reason you can’t pick something cute… or use that wicked-awesome Pink Floyd t-shirt so your baby can be completely rad.
The possibilities are endless. If you’re sewing cloth diapers on a tiny budget, just raid your own closets: towels, receiving blankets, or t-shirts will all work perfectly well. Cotton velour, hemp, and bamboo fleece are all extremely popular choices among diaper makers, and can be found online through diaper sewing material suppliers, or through co-op buys on Facebook (Five Things You Need to Know About Co-Ops).
Thread choice is crucial! All types of cotton thread will wick moisture, so make sure you get polyester. It would be a bummer if you sewed your beautiful PUL diaper with cotton thread, only to have a wet baby (and bed) in the middle of the night!
Some people claim that sewing with a ballpoint needle helps to prevent wicking. It is wise to sew with a ballpoint needle when sewing with any knit fabric, so as to protect the integrity of your fabric.
Hook & Loop and/or Snaps & Snap Pliers
Ah, the old snaps versus hook & loop debate.
There are lots of ways to do elastic, and lots of opinions about what is best. For starting out, you can use whatever appropriately sized polybraid you find in the store. If you really want your diaper to last, you probably want to find a source for durable elastic, because they are not all created equal! Swimwear elastic is great, as it lasts through the stress of being wet a lot. Fold-over elastic (FOE) is also a popular choice, but can be tricky for beginner sewers. Not all patterns require FOE. Be sure to check yours! (Related: How to replace elastic in a GroVia cloth diaper.)
Here is where it gets crazy! There are TONS of places to find patterns! Some are free, some are not. It can get a little overwhelming when you begin searching for the perfect diaper pattern. Just like researching cloth diapering for the first time, it may cause a desire to crawl into a hole and hide. I recommend either buying a reputable pattern with really great photo instructions, (Rocket Bottoms patterns have WONDERFUL instructions and pattern support), or finding a free pattern and lurking on YouTube for an afternoon. There are people who break it down and make you feel like you can do it! (And you absolutely can!)
Don’t be discouraged if your first 1-2, (or 4-5) diapers are wonky. There is a learning curve, and most of those flaws are cosmetic – the diaper will still work just fine. They don’t have to be blue ribbon worthy in the county fair! (Wait, what? Who still enters things in the county fair??) My kids are diapered in a stash that is sewn entirely by me. When I started out sewing as a preteen, my sister banned me from using her machine, because I was terrible. (As in, I was hazardous to her Bernina’s health). So if I can do it, YOU can do it!
I even ended up with a brand new sewing machine after it was all said and done, which is, in the words of my husband, was “the best investment we’ve ever made.” (Yep… He’s a keeper!)
For more resources on how to sew your own diapers, here are some places to start:
Ahhh, the old hook and loop versus snap debate. While hook and loop cloth diaper closures are quick and easy to use, they do wear out more quickly. Recently I was given a cute Thirsties cover with good laminate and elastic, but the hook and loop was barely sticky and had become brittle and curly on the ends.
I don’t have a working sewing machine right now so I had to figure out a way to perform a quick and easy refresh on this diaper cover. Instead of struggling along with some not-so-good hand stitching to replace the hook and loop closures, I decided to convert the hook and loop to snaps. With a few supplies it’s an easy project for any beginner.
For this project, I used only a handful of inexpensive supplies.
The first step in your project to convert the hook and loop to snaps is to use your seam ripper to pull out the stitches of the existing hook and loop. On my diaper, the binding on the edges was actually sewn over the hook and loop, so I needed to pull up the binding over the “loop strip” on both ends before I could fully get the strip off.
Tip: Be very careful when seam ripping. You don’t want to poke extra holes in PUL. It is not a very forgiving fabric in the sense that it doesn’t close up on its own and is very easy to rip or tear with a seam ripper.
Next you want to mark where you are going to put your new snaps. I already had another cover with snaps so I decided to use that as a makeshift template. If you don’t have one you could always measure the top edge of your diaper and put as many or as few snaps as you want in that space, spaced evenly.
I chose to measure my existing diaper. I knew I wanted to do a single row of snaps so I would need two on each wing. So I measured my diaper with the snaps already on from the edge to the middle of the first snap. The first was about 5/8″ in from the edge and the second snap was about 2 1/2″ in. I then made the corresponding marks on the wings of my cover.
For the row across the diaper my existing snap diaper had 10 but was also about a half inch larger. I decided to make mine using 9. After measuring I found that they snaps started about 1″ from the edge of the diaper and went on a downward swoop. The snaps closest to the edges were 1 1/2″ from the top while the center ones were 2″ from the top. I kind of eyeballed the rest because the best part of this project is that it doesn’t have to be perfect. You know you’re in the right area long as you stay within the area where the hook & loop previously was.
Tip: The male snaps are called “studs” and these go on the wings of the diaper; the female snaps are referred to as “sockets” and go across the diaper. Every stud and socket needs a cap. For additional information on how snaps work, visit the “Snaps 101″ page of the KAM website.
After you have everything marked, use your awl and press to put the snaps on. The studs are placed on the wings and the sockets are placed across the waist.
I started by placing the studs on the wings. The process is:
Once all the studs are placed on the wings, do the same thing across the front of diaper with sockets rather than studs.
Tip: Always double and triple check that your studs are facing inwards and your sockets are facing outwards. Can you tell I’ve made that mistake before?
The last step is to sew closed any binding(s) you had to open to get your hook & loop off. I used a needle and thread to close the space by hand, but you can use a sewing machine.
Tip: Avoid using pins because they will add unnecessary holes to the PUL.
I like to put any new or altered covers into the dryer on high for 10 to 15 minutes. This may help to close any holes made during the sewing process and prevent leaks which could occur where holes were made.
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One of the entries in my recent SoftBums giveaway (open to new entries until May 27!) gave me insight into how many of my readers are expectant mamas, and wow, there are a lot of you! That, of course, got me thinking about pregnancy and tiny new babies and all the fun that comes with that time of life. Which leads me to introducing you to the…
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As cloth diapering moms, we’ve all been there at one time or another… We gleefully order cloth diapers online and anxiously await their arrival in the mailbox only to hear, “What? Another diaper!?” from a distressed husband who just doesn’t understand that we’re actually saving money. In response to the cries of “too many diapers” and the dreaded “budget”, here are some creative ways you can add to your fluff stuff on the sly.
First things first: Do you shop online? Get your own PayPal. Stat. We are being sneaky here, yes we are. Do you shop locally? Cash is your fast friend. Let’s get started.
Are you crafty? Got some extra time on your hands? Dust off that sewing machine. Wet those paintbrushes. Un-box your bedazzler. Take all your crafty junk you just made and open an Etsy store. While it does cost a small fee to list items, this could be your avenue to a supplemented income. Hey, you could even make some diaper doublers to sell!
Sell yourself. Well, sell your skills. Fiverr.com is a site that lets freelancers of all types list and sell tasks (known as “gigs”) for five bucks and up. Most of the available gigs on Fiverr are in the realm of graphic design, marketing, and video production, but you can also find funny ones involving adorable little Ewoks, prank calls, dancing hot dogs, and messages written in shells, Spaghettios, and other food. There are even a handful of entrepreneurial ladies willing to answer all your cloth diaper questions for $5. Browse the site to get some ideas on what sells. If you have an in-demand skill you can complete quickly, those “fivers” could add up for you.
Ibotta (“I bought a…” – get it?) is an app that allows you to earn cash back on all sorts of purchases. You “unlock” offers by clicking on them and learning about a product. After you make your purchase for an unlocked offer, you do two things to verify your purchase: (1) scan the product barcode, and (2) take a picture of your receipt (or you can link your store loyalty cards to your Ibotta account to bypass this step) .The value of your verified offers accumulates in your Ibotta account until you earn at least $10, and then you can transfer the money to PayPal, put it on an Amazon gift card, or other options.
I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t have the time to sit around and answer surveys or watch videos online. Sites like Perk.com boast easy money for little effort, often offering gift cards in exchange for however many points you manage to rack up (Target gift cards are tops in my book- they carry cloth!). If you have a spare laptop or phone, you can run these indefinitely and meet your goals fairly quickly. If you don’t, it takes a bit of time and a lot of battery power from your mobile device, so get your chargers out.
If your house is anything like mine, you have a swear jar. My toddler is repeating everything and anything we say, and well, old habits are hard to break. The concept is this: if someone in your home drops the f-bomb or other similar offences, you put money in the jar. Have a flat rate or price per swear if you like. If your husband swears as much as mine does, he won’t notice when some of that cash goes by the wayside.
If all else fails, you can always just grab an extra Jackson as cash back from your grocery shopping trip. It won’t show up on the bank statement and I won’t tell if you don’t.
And don’t forget to make those laundered dollars count by shopping for cloth diapers on sale!
As parents we’re all looking to make things easier. Come on: tell me you don’t wish that you could snap your fingers and your house would clean itself, dinner would be ready, and you could have five minutes just to pee and maybe pin a bunch of crafts and recipes on Pinterest you say you’re going to make someday.
So imagine how I felt when I had read that there were other parents out there cleaning their cloth diapers in the dishwasher (or on the stove, or in the microwave). Could it be true? Could I skip the trips down into my dingy, dark, cold, spider-ridden basement? Could I get my diaper laundry done in the time it took me to make dinner?
Just do a quick search on Google and you can verify that I’m not making this up. A lot of moms are taking their kitchen appliances to the next level, stripping cloth diapers in the dishwasher or sanitizing them in the microwave using steam (similar to those bags for cleaning breast pump parts).
And of course there’s the old standby: boiling cloth diapers, which was a lot more prevalent back when cloth diapers were just basic flats that could stand up to rough treatment.
Listen, folks. Putting cloth diapers in the dishwasher is a huge fire hazard – if a fabric piece falls through and lands on the heating element, that spells trouble.
And what about boiling? First of all, don’t boil anything with snaps or PUL – you may just cause some melting of parts that are not meant to be melted. And while you can technically boil flats and prefolds without causing harm to the fabric, just think about the last time you tried multi-tasking in your sleep-deprived “mombie” state, got distracted, and completely abandoned whatever you were doing in the first place. Do you really want your sleeping angel woken up from his nap by the blaring beeps of your smoke detector after your prefolds start smoking in a dried-up pot? I didn’t think so.
I blame Pinterest, where everyone celebrates life hacks and anything that’s repurposed. Make ice cream in your food processor! Make hash browns in your waffle iron! Toast nuts in your popcorn popper! Bake bread in your crockpot!
But you know what all the above “hacks” have in common? They use things that are meant for food to make other kids of food.
So I beg you, stick to using your washing machine for cloth diapers and leave your kitchen for its original purpose: cooking food.
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!
So what do you need?
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:
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.
I’ve got good news and bad news for you. The good news is that I’ve recently started working again and I’m really excited about it! The bad news is that I won’t have as much time for blogging as I’d like.
I’m looking for a few talented writers to become regular contributors to this blog. My requirements are that you must be knowledgeable about cloth diapers and have a fun personality that comes across through your writing. If you’re interested, use the form below to apply!