It doesn’t matter if you have been sewing for years, or if you’ve yet to sew a stitch; learning to sew cloth diapers for the baby in your life is an easy process once you know the pros tips and secrets! Sewing cloth diapers yourself has many benefits including: custom fit and design (after all, when you do it yourself you can do it just the way you like), the ability to choose the exact materials you want, and the all important money saving factor!
The most frequently asked questions about sewing diapers generally revolve around what type of machine(s) to use, what pattern to use, which fabrics and notions are best, how diapers are constructed, and where to purchase diaper making supplies.
In order to sew diapers that will hold up to all the wear and tear they will receive once they are put into use you need a sewing machine that can efficiently and neatly sew through several layers of fabric and perform both a zigzag and straight stitch. A fancy, expensive machine is not necessary!
Many diaper sewers also find a serger (or overlock machine) indispensable. Diapers can be sewn with just a traditional sewing machine, however, a serger provides several key benefits including: the ability to finish the edges of a diaper by serging which is much faster than the traditional turned and topstitched method necessary with a traditional sewing machine, the ability to serge internal soaker pads which ensures that they will not fray, and the ability to serge doublers, pocket inserts, and fold out soakers (all of which are done more efficiently with a serger).
Regardless of the type of machines you have, you need to make sure they are in good working order. If you machine is skipping stitches, creating loose or uneven stitches, or in any other way not performing correctly you should have it services before you begin sewing diapers.
Always make sure that you are sewing with a sharp needle, and that you machine is well oiled (if it requires oiling) and free from excess lint and dust.
There are many ready for purchase diaper sewing pattern available. Most are available only online (search the web for ‘diaper sewing pattern’), however a few traditional pattern manufactures have diaper patterns that are available at sewing stores. There are also numerous free diaper patterns available online (search the web for ‘free diaper pattern’).
Which diaper pattern is best is purely a matter of opinion! There are as many preferences as there are cloth diapering parents. If you have used cloth diapers in the past choose a pattern that closely resembles the style of diapers you prefer.
If you are completely new to cloth diapering it is generally recommended that you join an online cloth diapering discussion list, do extensive research online, and ‘window’ shop online stores in an effort to discern which style of cloth diapering you prefer.
Doing your research ahead of time will ensure that you don’t waste time and money on diapers you won’t like! If you have cloth diapering and sewing experience it is a fairly simple process to create your own pattern. A disposable or favorite cloth diaper can be traced as an initial pattern. Use inexpensive fabric to sew up a ‘test’ diaper, and then alter your original pattern as needed until you have created a diaper you are happy with. Cut notches on your diaper pattern where the elastic will stop and start, and then cut corresponding notches on your fabric when cutting it out.
That way you’ll always know exactly where to sew your elastic on! Many diaper sewing websites offer basic diaper measurements for various sized diapers that are very helpful when creating your own pattern from scratch. Home made patterns can be traced onto felt, cardboard, poster board, etc to preserve them.
There are many, many fabrics that are excellent for diapers. For beginning sewers 100% cotton flannel is probably the best choice. Flannel is easy to sew with, soft and absorbent. It can also be found inexpensively at fabric stores and large chain discount stores.
All fabrics should be washed before they are cut and sewn! Washing shrinks the fibers of the fabric, and removes any remaining dyes and chemicals from manufacturing. When you are ready to move beyond flannel, keep in mind that first and foremost diapers need to be absorbent!
Natural fibers such as hemp, cotton, wool and silk are absorbent. Synthetic fibers such as polyester, nylon, spandex, etc are not absorbent. When you are selecting fabrics for your diapers it is generally best to select those that contain 100% natural fibers. Synthetic fiber fabrics do have their place in diaper sewing, and whether or not to use them is personal preference. Fabrics like poly fleece, micro fleece and suede cloth are often used as the inner layer of diapers because they have a ‘stay dry’ effect.
Common natural fiber fabrics used in cloth diapering include: flannel, terry, stretch/French terry, sweatshirt fleece, sherpa (which is generally a high percentage cotton blend that includes some polyester), hemp fleece, hemp jersey, hemp terry, velour, and birdseye.
Diaper sewing fabrics can be found at sewing stores, and online (search the web for ‘diaper sewing fabric’). Notions are equally important as fabric when making diapers. Basic diaper sewing notions include: thread, elastic, and diaper closures (hook & loop tape, snaps, buttons or pins).
Using a good quality thread is important to the life span of the diaper. When it comes to thread, you generally get what you pay for. Fiber contents may be the same, but higher quality threads are spun better and perform better.
There are many types and widths of elastic available. Simple braided elastic works very well in diaper. Most sewers prefer ¼ inch wide elastic, though slightly wider (3/8 inch) elastic is used as well. Diaper closures are yet another matter of personal preference.
Hook and look tape (such as Velcro, aplix, touch tape, etc) is readily available and doesn’t require any special tools to apply. Hook & loop tape should be sewn onto the diaper with a zigzag stitch around its outer edges.
Plastic snaps are preferred by many diaper sewers because they are easy to apply, look nice, don’t rub on baby legs like hook & loop can, and after the initial investment of a snap press the snaps are very inexpensive. A special industrial hand press is required for the application of plastic snaps. The presses are expensive, and are only available online (search the web for ‘diaper snap press’). There are other less expensive snap setters and pliers; however, the quality and ease of use are questionable.
Buttons and buttonholes are cute and functional closures for diapers, however it is time consuming to sew them on and the buttons present a potential choking hazard if they fall off.
Diapers can also be left without sewn on closures, and then pinned closed with traditional safety pins. Diaper construction is fairly simple.
A diaper consists of at least 2 body layers (the inside and outside of the diaper) and a soaker (the multilayered absorbent core of the diaper). On a sewing machine the soaker is sewn to one of the body layers of the diaper, and then the two body layers are placed right sides together and a seam is sewn around the edges of the diaper (a ¼ to ½ inch seam allowance is acceptable) with an opening being left to turn the diaper right sides out.
For a fitted diaper, elastic is sewn in the seam allowance at the legs and back of the diaper. The ends of the elastic should be tacked down with a zigzag stitch at their stop and start points. Then the diaper is turned right sides out, the opening is sewn closed and the diaper is topstitched paying close attention around the elastic to ensure that it is not sewn over!
The topstitching will create a casing for the elastic so that it does not shift around the inside of the diaper. After the diaper is sewn, closures are applied. If the diaper is being serged the soaker is again sewn to one of the body layers. The elastic is then sewn to the body of the diaper as well. The elastic should be sewn in place ½- 1 inch from the edge of the diaper (this will place it well inside of the edge that will be serged). The elastic can be tacked down at each end with a zigzag stitch, or it can be stretched tight and sewn down its entire length with a 3 step zigzag stitch).
The body layers of the diaper are then placed together right sides out, and the edges are serged. Topstitching can be done in the areas with elastic if a casing is needed. It is a good idea to pin the layers of your diaper so they don’t shift around while sewing. Be sure to remove all the pins!
Diaper sewing supplies can be purchases at fabric stores, chain discount stores and online. Creative sewers can find materials at yard sales and thrift stores. Many things can be used for sewing diapers, just keep in mind that diapers have to be comfortable, absorbent and sturdy and you can’t go wrong!
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