By Contributing Editor Kristina Strain
As every eco-mom and eco-dad knows, it’s a lot better for the environment to pad a baby’s bum with cloth diapers. Breaking the cycle of disposable disposal is the biggest green factor, but add organic unbleached cotton or hemp diapers to the mix, and the sustainable quotient skyrockets. Greenest of the green, however, is the humble homemade cloth diaper.
Sewing a diaper involves four main components. First of all, there’s the fabric used for the diaper body and lining. For the project shown here, I chose to use recycled fabric in the form of flannel pajama pants. Flannel is an excellent choice for its absorptive nature, and repurposing fabric instead of buying new makes it extra eco-friendly. If you to go this route, make sure you choose pajama pants with no outer seam; that is, no seam down the outside of the pants, from the hip to the ankle. Seams down the insides of the legs are fine. Also, make sure the pants are flannel. The fabric should be fuzzy and soft, with very little stretch. Flannel makes a great diaper, and is easy to work with. Flannel sheets, blankets, and nightgowns are also fair game for diaper-making.
The next component, naturally, is the pad. For this project, I used a piece of cotton quilt batting because it’s what I had on hand. I’ve seen other projects out there using everything from a washcloth to flannel scraps to microfiber towels. The key is to pick something super-absorptive.
Elastic is a necessary part of fitted diapers like I’m going to show you here. If you’ve never worked with elastic before, don’t worry. It’s surprisingly easy. Before sewing a diaper, you might want to practice sewing elastic on a scrap of fabric, to get a feel for it.
The final component is velcro, or some other sort of fastener. Snaps would work, as would buttons, but for easy off and on diapering, velcro is king. There’s also products out there (Snappi, anyone?) specifically designed for cloth-diaper fastening. If you’re familiar with those, this tutorial can easily be customized to work with different systems.
With that introduction out of the way, let’s get started.
Fabric: approximately one yard of flannel per diaper. Two pairs of flannel pajama pants yielded enough fabric for the diaper I sewed.
Pad: 12 x 12″ square of cotton quilt batting, microfiber, heavy flannel, or terrycloth.
Elastic: 3/8″ or 1/2″ elastic, less than 1 yard per diaper.
Velcro: About ten inches of stitch-able velcro per diaper.
Scissors, sewing machine with straight and zig-zag stitches, something to mark your fabric, paper for pattern-making, pins.
Step one: Make your Pattern
This part isn’t as hard as it looks. Your basic diaper is a modified “T” shape, with size modifications depending on the age of your baby. My “T” is 21.5″ wide by 18 inches long. The straight-across part of the “T” is 3.5″ wide; the up-and-down part of the “T” is 6.5″ wide. This size will fit a baby between 10-25 lbs. Draw your “T” shape on your pattern paper (I used newspaper, yay, recycling!)
Round out the corners and edges of the “T”, as I’ve done. To my mind, it sort of looks like an airplane. Anyone else see that? No? Oh well…
Cut it out!
If you’re using pajama pants for your diapers, cut off the waistband and cut apart any seams. (For help doing this, see our Repurpose Clothing tutorial.) Trace your pattern, and cut two out of one pair of pants…
…and trace and cut two more out of the other pair of pants. As you can see, I had one really ugly pair of pants, so I decided to use that for the inside of the diaper.
Now, make the pad. Cut a 12 x 12″ square from your pad material.
Fold it into thirds, and pin it securely to one of your inside-the-diaper pieces of fabric.
Zig-zag all the way around the pad. I found it helpful to sew down the two longer sides, before sewing the short edges.
Now, make a diaper sandwich. Arrange the layers as follows:
One piece of inside-the-diaper fabric, face up.
One piece of outside-the-diaper fabric, face up.
One piece of outside-the-diaper fabric, face down.
One piece of inside-the-diaper fabric, face down.
Pin all the way around the outside.
Sew around the outside, about 1/2″ from the edge. Make sure to leave the bottom, narrower edge of the diaper open.
Turn right-side out, and ensure you caught all four layers in the seam. As you can see, there were quite a few places where I needed to go back over a part with my machine. Take you time doing this, then turn wrong-side out and trim any excess fabric from the edges. Don’t cut too close!
Now, mark where your elastic is going to go. You can see the red dots where I marked for the waist elastic (top edge) and two leg elastics (sides).
Set your machine to zig-zag, and sew the elastic down between the dots you marked. If you’ve never sewed elastic before, it’s pretty easy. Just tack down the beginning of the piece of elastic with a few machine stitches, then feed the fabric along with your left hand as you pull the elastic with your right. Make sure and pull the elastic taut as you sew it; this makes it stretchy when you’re done.
Here’s the diaper with all the elastic sewn in place.
Turn the diaper right-side out. Now it’s starting to look like something!
At the unfinished end of the diaper, fold the two raw edges towards each other. Pin them together.
Sew along this line, close to the edge.
Now you want to make some casings for the elastic. Sew along the inside edge of the elastic, about 1″ away from the edge of the diaper. Pull the fabric taut as you do this. This step ensures a neat and finished-looking final product.
Now for the velcro. Velcro consists of two sides, a rough and scratchy “hook” side, and a softer “loop” side. Cut a longer piece of hook for the front waist of the diaper, and two shorter pieces of hook for the tabs. Lay your diaper and velcro out the way I’ve done in the photo, to ensure you sew the velcro in the right place.
Zig-zag all the way around the edges of the velcro, clip your threads, and you’re done.
Now go find a bare-bottomed babe, and pop that sucker on!
Note: This is but one incarnation of homemade diaper. There are many: stuffables, soakers, pre-folds, etc. The type of diaper shown here, the cloth fitted, is intended for use with a diaper cover. Being cotton, this diaper will wick when wet, so it should be used with a water-proof (or at least non-wicking) diaper cover. Wool is a good and eco-friendly option for a cover.
Another note: I have seen many diaper tutorials that involve using recycled t-shirts. Full disclosure: this is the method I tried with my first home-sewn diaper project, and it did not work out. It sounds terrific, but t-shirt material is neither the easiest to work with nor the most absorbent material out there. If you want to use recycled fabric, you’re best-off doing what I did, and tearing up some pajama bottoms!