Everything You Need to know About Sewing Your Own Cloth Diapers
Parents who choose cloth diapers for their babies, whether exclusively or in addition to disposables, often do so at least in part to save money. Aside from the economic and environmental benefits, another plus is the cute factor, since cloth diapers come in many different colors, patterns and prints that look adorable when bundled around a little baby bottom. All these perks are magnified when you make cloth diapers yourself. Moderate sewing skills, patterns, fabrics, and an assortment of tools and notions are needed as well as an investment of time.
Types of Cloth Diapers to Make
Take some time to research the various types of diapers and decide which you want to make before looking for patterns and fabrics. The major types of cloth diapers are:
Fitted cloth diapers resemble disposable diapers in shape. They have elastic around the legs and, usually, snaps or hook-and-eye tape for fasteners. You can opt to leave off the fasteners and secure the fitted diaper with diaper pins or a plastic Y-shaped fastener. Fitted cloth diapers must be worn under a waterproof diaper cover. Some optional features to consider:
- Some patterns for fitted diapers include “wings” that fold in when the diaper is worn to add more layers of absorbent fabric where it’s needed, then fold out flat for faster drying.
- Other patterns include a pocket along the gusset that allows you to insert soakers (thick, rectangular pads of absorbent fabric) into the diaper for additional absorbency.
- Soakers can also be added to fitted diapers using snaps. Some patterns offer this feature.
All-in-one cloth diapers are just like fitted diapers, but with a waterproof outer layer. This means you don’t need a separate diaper cover.
Pocket diapers have a waterproof outer layer and soft inner layer, with a pocket along the gusset. Their absorbency comes from stuffing soakers, prefold or folded flat cloth diapers inside the pocket.
Flat and prefold cloth diapers are the simplest of all. They can be folded around the baby’s bottom, secured with diaper pins or a fastener and worn under a diaper cover or used in conjunction with pocket diapers. Flat diapers are a large square of fabric in a single layer. Prefolds comprise multiple layers of fabric sewn together and seamed into thirds, with the middle area thicker than the two side areas.
Diaper covers are waterproof but not absorbent. They are designed to be worn over fitted, flat or prefold diapers. The most common type of diaper covers are made from a laminated synthetic fabric, but some are made from lanolized wool.
Materials and Tools
Cloth diaper patterns are widely available online, some for free and others for purchase. Most are in a downloadable pdf format that you can print at home. Multi-size and one-size-fits-all patterns are available. They should come with thorough sewing instructions, lists of required tools and fabric recommendations.
Fabrics required for cloth diapers are divided into two categories: soft and absorbent fabrics and waterproof fabrics needed for the all-in-one and pocket diapers. Absorbent fabrics include knit terry, French terry, fleece, velour, flannel and microfleece. Save cute prints for the outer layer, and consider upcycling old towels, washcloths and T-shirts for inner layers. Waterproof fabrics used for cloth diapers are usually either PUL (polyurethane laminate) or 100 percent wool, which must be treated with lanolin to make it waterproof.
Fasteners used for cloth diapers include hook-and-eye-tape, which is sewn on, and plastic snaps, which require a special setting tool to apply (kits are available).
Elastic is also required for most cloth diapers. Look for narrow swimwear or braided elastic. Some patterns use fold-over elastic instead.
Sewing supplies required include the following:
- a sewing machine capable of sewing through multiple layers of fabric
- sharp fabric scissors
- iron and ironing board
- straight pins or binder clips (for use with PUL)
- tailors’ chalk or a fabric marker
- safety pin (for threading elastic)
- point turner or knitting needle
Sewing Cloth Diapers
Your cloth diaper sewing pattern should come with instructions. Experienced sewers should find the project fairly straightforward, and even beginners should be able to do it. The steps are generally as follows, plus pressing with an iron as needed:
- Trace the pattern piece on fabric, including markings such as snap/elastic placement and elastic channels. Cut out the piece.
- Repeat the steps to make as many fabric layers as needed (no need for markings on inner layers).
- Layer the fabric pieces with the outer layer right-side-up as the base, followed by inside layers, then the innermost layer right-side-down.
- Place pins around the edges and sew the layers together, leaving a gap at the end of the seam for turning. Also sew the elastic channels.
- Add the elastic, following the pattern instructions.
- Turn the diaper right-side-out through the seam opening. Use a point turner or knitting needle to tease all the seam allowances into place.
- Sew the seam gap closed.
- Add the elastic or snaps if you’re using them.
DIY Cloth Diaper Tips
- If you’re new to cloth diapers, you might want to purchase or sew just one or two of each type to try out before investing time and money in a larger diaper stash.
- Experienced sewers might opt to create a pattern by measuring or tracing a purchased cloth diaper.
- Leftover pieces of fabric are ideal for making soakers and reusable wipes.