I have been sewing cloth diapers for my daughter for about 8 months now. Some of the fabrics that I’ve used didn’t work so well, but I have found a variety of fabrics that work wonderfully for sewing cloth diapers. Many of the more popular cloth diaper brands can be rather expensive, which is why I turned to sewing my own. With minimal sewing skills, a good pattern, and the right fabrics, you too can sew your own cloth diapers at home, for much less than you’d pay for brand-name cloth diapers.
I have quite a few flannel diapers, and I love them. Cotton flannel is absorbent, soft, sturdy, and inexpensive, making it one of the best choices for cloth diapers. It is also readily available at any fabric store, which is a plus for busy parents. Cute prints and colors add a special flair to flannel diapers. Flannel will need to be layered in order to absorb more wetness, so it can become bulky, especially for use in overnight cloth diapers. For daytime, a few layers is sufficient, and will generally not be too bulky. Diapers made of flannel will require a waterproof cover.
I personally don’t like to work with birdseye fabric, but it does work well for diapers. You may have seen the “burp cloths” in stores made of birdseye cotton. These burp cloths are actually prefold diapers. The open weave makes birdseye breathable and absorbent, although it will need to be layered for better absorbency, and can become bulky. Birdseye cotton is not a good choice for overnight diapers, but will work wonderfully for daytime. Birdseye will wick moisture to the outside of a diaper, and therefore will require a cover.
Hemp is more absorbent than cotton, making it an ideal fabric for cloth diapers, especially for overnight or heavy wetters. More absorbency means that a cloth diaper made of hemp will be less bulky than a cotton diaper of the same absorbency. The added absorbency will translate into longer drying time, so if this is a concern, hemp may not be the best option for you. Hemp diapers will need to be washed a few times in hot water before their first use, to remove the natural oils from the fibers and ensure optimal absorbency. As with cotton, hemp diapers require a waterproof cover to prevent leaks. I tend to use a layer of hemp along with a layer of flannel for most of my daughter’s diapers, and it works great.
Microfiber fleece, or microfleece, is excellent for wicking wetness away from the skin. This can be especially useful if your baby is prone to diaper rash. However, microfleece is not very absorbent, so it is best used as an insert for cloth diapers rather than an entire diaper made of microfleece. (I tend to use a microfleece insert on top of a hemp insert — the hemp is super-absorbent, while the microfleece keeps my baby’s skin dry.) Be sure not to allow the microfiber to lie right next to baby’s skin without another layer in between, though. The microfiber can pull moisture out of baby’s skin, causing excessive dryness and irritation, and possibly leading to infection.
Polyester urethane laminate (PUL)
Polyester urethane laminate, or PUL, is a popular choice for waterproofing cloth diapers. Thin, flexible, and waterproof, it provides leak protection without creating a bulky silhouette. However, PUL is not breathable, so in hotter climates a PUL cover can be hot and uncomfortable. PUL is available in various thicknesses. The thinnest PUL available is .1 mil — while this thickness is the most affordable, it is also the most leak-prone. When stretched, small holes can appear in the laminate, causing seepage. Thicker PUL will last longer and have fewer leaks, although it is more expensive. I have found that it’s best to wait on using PUL until you are sure of your pattern and sewing skills — if a mistake is made, any needle holes left in the fabric will cause leaks.
Polyester fleece is breathable, making it cooler than PUL when used as a diaper cover. My favorite covers are fleece, even though they do add bulk. It is important to ensure that your fleece is made of polyester or another synthetic fiber, as natural fibers will wick moisture to the outside, making the diaper cover useless. Malden Mills fleece has been touted as the best fleece available for cloth diapers, as it is luxuriously thick and resistant to pilling. However, any polyester fleece will work, provided that it is thick enough that moisture cannot seep through to the outside. To test water resistance, simply pour a few drops of water onto the fleece. If the water beads up, the fleece will work for cloth diapers. If the water soaks through, the fleece is too thin. Pill-resistant fleece will look nicer after use, so if appearance is a concern, look for this type of fleece. Keep in mind that pill-resistant fleece may be more expensive.
Cloth diapers are a wonderful way to protect the environment while saving money, and sewing your own cloth diapers is even more cost-efficient than purchasing them. So head to your local fabric store, make your selections, and get started!
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