Monday, April 6, 2009

Make your own cloth diapers!

Lil Green Baby is excited to introduce our first guest-blogger, Jennifer Monroe! Jennifer is a doula, childbirth educator, and professional cloth diaperer. (That's not really a title, but she deserves it after cd'ing her own babes!) Here she shares her tips on her favorite cloth diapers, the ones you can make yourself!

Hi, and welcome to another exciting episode of “I can get addicted to anything, including cloth diapering!” That’s right, ladies (I’d say “and gents,” but we all know I’d mostly be kidding) – cloth diapering can be fun, especially for the crafty or the cheap. I happen to be both, so it’s double the pleasure for me. I have a huge stash of cloth diapers, including everything from old-fashioned pre-folds and thrifty tee shirt diapers to fancy pants all in ones (also known as AIO’s). But I’ll tell you a secret: I made a lot of them myself!

Lil Green Mama asked me to pop over and talk about making and using cloth, and I’m happy to oblige. I’ve got skills from using cloth dipes for two of my three children, and herein I will lead you into diapering your tot for almost nothing, or point you in the right direction if you want it to require getting a second mortgage on your home.

The real reason I cloth diaper is simple. No, it’s not an environmental issue, although it does eliminate all that landfill over-filling and the leaching of, um, stuff into our groundwater. And it’s not even really a cost issue, although it does save money. In fact, it can save the average family quite a bit of money. If you use a very conservative five diapers a day (believe me, you will use WAY more than this) then you will likely use around 1800 per year. That’s probably going to mean 3600-4500 diapers used before that tot can use the pot. Even if you took the low end and bought the cheapest diapers possible, that’s like $400-$500 worth of diapers. You can have all the bells and whistles you want in cloth for that much dough, you can use them again for the next kid, and you can even resell them on! Talk about a bargain.

But alas, the real reason I use cloth is this: I don’t have to remember to buy anything. In this house, we routinely run out of napkins, paper towels, and toilet paper. You know – all the disposable things. It’s not too hard to come up with alternatives for those things, but diapers? Forget it. This way, we cover our tushies, if you know what I mean.

Let’s get into some simple ways to make a cloth diaper, and then we’ll talk about some of the extras that can be fun.

The basics are this: absorbency, a fastener, and a wetness barrier. That’s all you need. You can use a pre-fold, which is what most people associate with the term cloth diaper. To fasten it you can use pins or a Snappi (, which is a nifty plastic thing with teeth that grip the fabric to hold it in place. But something much cheaper, and sometimes even fun, is a tee shirt tie diaper. It goes a little something like this:

Go down to your local thrift store, and rifle around in their dollar tee shirt bin until you find something so incredibly cool you just have to have it. Like, say, a tie-dye with the phrase “Herban Legend” on it. Not that I have one like that. I’m just saying. Then you take it home and perform some easy magic with the scissors, and you’ve got yourself a diaper! I have posted a tutorial on my website (, but if you have trouble with the instructions, join the Wool Soaker Group on Yahoo, and there’s a great tutorial in the files, along with other help with making your own cloth diapers and using wool as a diaper cover.

Another pattern I have found invaluable and incredibly flexible is the Rita’s Rump Pocket pattern ( She has it posted for free and puts no restrictions on how you use it, but does ask that credit be given to her. Her pattern is intended to be a pocket diaper, but I have cut it slightly smaller, sewn the edges using a three-step zigzag, and made contour diapers instead. These diapers can be made from almost anything: tee shirts, flannel, or any 100% cotton fabric you have lying around. You can sew a soaker pad of three to four layers the same way and attach it right down the middle, or at one end, so the diaper will dry faster. If used as a pocket diaper, she gives excellent instructions for sewing the elastic. You could also add elastic at the front if desired for a more snug fit. To stuff it, simply use a pre-fold, a microfiber or hemp insert, or a bamboo insert. Bamboo straddles the fence as a sustainable, eco-friendly fiber. While the tree grows quite quickly and abundantly and is easy to replace, making fabric from it is an involved process that uses some chemicals that are not easy on the environment. But the fabric is more absorbent than cotton (I have heard varying reports on this, from 50% more to four times more), is very soft, and it keeps a really wonderful drape wash after wash, unlike cotton terry that grows stiff over time.

As far as options go, some mamas prefer having a “stay-dry” barrier between baby and the absorbent layers. This can be ultrasuede, microfleece, velvet – anything made of polyester, which does not hold moisture. The urine passes through it and into the diaper beneath. Fasteners can be hook and loop tape (like the brand name Velcro), snaps, or even bathing suit hooks. If you don’t want to worry about using a cover, you can make or buy all in ones that have a waterproof barrier, like polyurethane laminate (PUL for short). Or you can just buy adorable covers like wool or fleece, or do what I do and make them yourself from recycled sweaters!

This is barely scratching the surface of cloth diapering, so you can see the possibilities are nearly endless. Use your imagination, and try to stick with cast off clothing as a resource and you’ll be putting a double whammy on your carbon footprint.

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