Wednesday, June 10, 2009

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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.

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. ;)


- by Samantha (Creator of Little Comets Patterns)

34 comments:

Kathy said...

Thanks for the great info. Inspires me to give sewing my own diapers a try! :)

winterwrens (at) gmail (dot) com

hosiewosie said...

this is awesome! I couldn't sew to save my life, but it's on my list of things to do, so hopefully I will learn soon.

KayStarGoesGREEN said...

Thank you! I have been really wanting to make some good night time trainers...it doesn't sound as impossible now.

Ashley said...

I am dying to get a sewing machine, JUST SO I can start making my own diapers. I need a new hobby - knitting isn't cutting it anymore! Great info!

Upstatemomof3 said...

Thanks for the heads up - I have considered making my own for fun but have not gotten around to it. :)

Cari C said...

Wow - thanks for such a great tutorial! I'm not sure that I'll get enough courage or free time to sew my own diapers until my LO has grown out of them though! LOL!

Amanda said...

I bought your little One Size Pattern and have yet to try it because I really wanted to find some PUL w/ prints.....any suggestions where I could find it? I feel like I have searched endlessly online to no avail. :(

Valerie aka Mamalovelock said...

What a great post!! As soon as I get my machine I have to my hand at making my own! Thanks for all the handy info!

the monkey's mama said...

ooo! I've heard about Little Comets and am now off to check you guys out! My twin and I just bought a pattern but all of our PUL is just sitting there. Thanks for the encouragement to get started on it!

Fertilized said...

Impressive. I wish I knew how to use a sewing machine!

Hannah said...

I think sewing my own is very satisfying, and also if you use recycled or leftover cloth (like the old towels you mentioned!) it is extra friendly to the environment and saves even more money!

Katie said...

That is so great! I wish I had the patience and the time. I even just sold a lot of diapers that needed to be refurbished.

GwennS said...

As a novice diaper sewer I found this post to be pretty neat. Thank you for taking time to help all of us beginners! :)

Amanda said...

You make it look so easy!!!! I had to come back and reread it, cause when I was up late last night I couldn't comprehend it all! Now I'm ready to try my own! Going to find fabric this weekend!!!!

GwennS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thrifty Mama B said...

Great post! I actually taught myself how to sew by making my son some fitted diapers and fleece covers. I used print outer, microfiber and cotton shirt hidden layer and old fleece blankets for inner. The first 6 I made look funny to me but they serve their purpose. If I can do it anyone can. To anyone who thinks they cant: Dont psych yourself out. You can do it!

dannyscotland said...

I really want to try making some fitteds for my daughter. Thanks for the tips!

Ally said...

Great post! My 1st sewing project was a diaper, I love making them!

Serena said...

Amanda: You can typically find a few co-ops through Yahoo Groups. I know there is one called PUL Purchase Power (or something like that). Try searching for PUL in a yahoo groups. They occasionally offer prints.

Otherwise there are some sellers on Hyena Cart who carry print PUL as well. The only other place that comes to mind is:
http://www.celticclothswholesale.com/

I hope this helps!

Jenney said...

THat seems easy enough. I sew...some, but I think I could do it. Where do you get PUL? I asked at my fabric store and they looked at me like I was nuts. Does PUL stand for something?

Keeping up with the Connors' said...

thanks! just learning and would love to give this a try!

A Psych Mommy said...

I'd love to sew my own diapers! I don't own a sewing machine though, and I have a lot to learn just about the basics, but this is still great info!

Serena said...

Jenney (and anyone else who might also be wondering)...

PUL stands for polyurethane laminate. It's a very thin (usually 1 or 2 mil thick) waterproofing, yet breathable layer that is laminated to fabric (typically polyester).

You will not be able to find PUL locally - and yes, your fabric store will have absolutely no idea. I remember asking and they directed me to the vinyl area. LOL

There are a few places to get it online... I posted a comment earlier about some places but I'll repost again:

1. Co-ops through Yahoo Groups.

I know there is one called PUL Purchase Power (or something like that). Try searching for PUL in a yahoo groups.

2. Hyena Cart

There are a number of sellers who carry cloth diaper making materials and fabrics.

3. Online retailers
Do a google search for "cloth diaper fabric" or "pul fabric"
and you should find some online stores who carry PUL as well.
Here's one store... I haven't ordered anything from them quite yet - but I've certainly been tempted:
http://www.celticclothswholesale.com/

I hope this helps!
-Serena

TheClothDiaperWhisperer said...

What a terrific post. I wish I could get the nerve to sew. I made a Christmas stocking once about 10 years ago and it did not go well. I just love seeing how crafty and talented many of you are.

Suzy said...

Thank you for explaining it all. Makes it sound easier!

Senior Family said...

what a great tut !! i totally should try this .. i have a sewing machine !!

Slee said...

Reading this makes me feel like I could make my own diapers all over again, and for that, i'm sure my husband will be irked that I read this, LOL. the funny part is, I've been sewing for many years and when i first read T&T I thought, "huh?"
Thank you for this information.

Amanda said...

Thanks Serena! I will check those out for sure.

-Amanda G.

srr said...

ok, so heres another question for ya!
i have found some adorable cotton prints that i love and would want on the outside of my diaper. im also very fond of using fleece over pul for the simple fact that i can find it where i live...

is it possible to do a hidden layer of fleece? you said i can use the stuff from joanns, can you use the stuff from walmart, too? (i bought a few yards without researching much, dummy me)

Lauren said...

Samantha is amazing, but I'd rather just buy from lovely ladies who make their own diapers!

Serena said...

srr: When you ask about using a hidden layer of fleece - are you referring to using the fleece as the "waterproof barrier?" If so, it *may* be possible, just not sure if the results would be the same.

The anti-pill fleece at Joann's is superior to the fleece at Walmart (which is not anti-pill in my experience with it). You can still use it - just be aware that over time the fleece is not going to look as nice as the anti-pill fleece.

I hope this helps!
-Serena

ONCE upon a time.... said...

this was such great information at just the right time! I have been considering sewing my own fitted diapers because I can't stand the idea of spending all that money on one diaper, but the fabrics in some fitted diapers tug at my heartstrings! thanks for the informative post!

brightland416 said...

I just got my first sewing machine and haven't sewn since home ec.... I've only tried making cloth wipes, but this post makes me feel a little more comfortable about trying to sew diapers! Now, I just have to get my little comfort nurser to give mama just a little (ok A LOT of) time to try this out! :D

Jenny said...

Thank you for this!!!!!!! I sewed up my first NB fitted and was so confused about all the layers. This cleared that all up for me. Now I'm ready to go attempt dipe #2!