After posting her story, Kelly was inundated with requests on how to help her with her project. Many of you asked us both how you could start up your own project serving local organizations.
I asked Kelly to show us how she went about deciding what and how to sew cloth diapers.
How I Began Sewing Diapers for Charity.
First, I needed to decide on a style of diaper to sew. There are many many patterns available, free or for sale, (see end of post for links) and many different materials to use.
It can be a little overwhelming at first. So you need to ask yourself some questions.
- do I want to make diapers that fasten on their own?
- have elastic?
- have a waterproof back?
- require a cover?
- fit most sizes, or just a small range but with a very secure fit?
- And finally, what suits my sewing skill level?
You might think I put the most important question last, but honestly, learning to sew diapers is not like learning to sew a dress. There are a only few easily learned skills involved in making the most difficult diapers.
First question – fasteners. If you’re not going to attach Aplix (Velcro) or snaps, the diaper will need to be fastened by pins or a Snappi. There are some very awesome diapers sewn with no fasteners, and they can be very comfy and adjustable.
Since my diapers are being donated to needy families, I like to make it easy on them. I use plastic snaps applied with snap pliers (from KAMsnaps – they’re awesome people!) for both the waistband fasteners and the rise fasteners, mainly because when I had Velcro diapers they would always come out of the dryer in one long chain. Velcro does offer a quick fasten and easy adjust-ability, though, so use your own judgment.
Second question – a waterproof back? – This is a big one. This separates the girls from the women. (Not really!)
Diapers with a waterproof layer built in are not that much harder to sew, but it is an added expense that some people might not be able to pay when sewing bulk items for charity. The most common fabric used for the waterproof part is PUL (polyurethane laminate), and has recently become available at Joann’s Fabrics. It varies in price anywhere from $6 – $15 a yard, depending on where you buy it, and I can get 10 diaper cuts out of a 1 1/3 yard length.
One of the concerns in sewing an AIO is making sure the diaper dries quickly enough, and this is compounded when you have waterproof material blocking the evaporation from one side.
Therefore, many AIOs are all-in-twos, since they have added layers to be stuffed or snapped into place. In my version, I sew the bulk of the absorbent fabric into an attached, sewn-on doubler flap. The pattern instructions said to make it a snap-in doubler, but I like the simplicity of having all the parts connected, while still allowing for air flow when they need to dry. Making it easy for the people!
Third – requires a cover? This question and the last are really related. Obviously, if you’ve put a waterproof backing in the diaper you won’t need a separate cover.
But, remember what I said about cost? That added waterproof layer can drive the cost per diaper up anywhere from $.80 – $2.00 each – just for that layer! If you’re sewing on a shoestring for charity, that can really put a crimp in the budget!
So, let’s say you decide you would rather sew simple t-shirt diapers, either basic prefolds or more complex contoured diapers. You’ll need either 4 – 6 waterproof covers in each size, or 4 – 6 very good one-size covers. There are a few options when it comes to material for covers – you could buy them, but we’re talking about sewing for charity, right?
PUL is, once again, a popular material for those covers, but you can also sew “soakers” out of polar fleece or old wool sweaters. My husband is in construction, and he surprised me by explaining why polar fleece and wool are good materials for soaker covers – they can absorb more than 90% of their weight in moisture and still feel dry to the touch (and keep you warm when working in wet weather, he added).
So, you can cut your costs considerably by sewing basic t-shirt diapers and soaker covers out of donated fleece or wool materials. Wool has the added benefit of inhibiting bacterial growth, which in turn prevents ammonia smells from building. Wool can also aggravate allergies, though, so I recommend only sewing a portion of covers for charitable purposes out of wool.
Fourth – fit a range of sizes, or small, medium, large? This is assuming you’re sewing something other than prefolds. One-sized diapers have become very popular lately, and it’s easy to see why when you do the math. Rather than needing 2 dozen small diapers (which baby grew out of at 3 months), 2 dozen mediums, 2 dozen larges, etc… you just need 2 dozen.
Period! A no-brainer from a consumers point of view!
But, from the seamstresses point of view, a one-size diaper could be intimidating! You virtually HAVE to have snaps when making a one size so you can change the height of the rise (unless you add an adjustable leg elastic). Some people (ME!) find that a little unnerving the first time, especially if they’ve only made Velcro diapers in the past.
The other problem with one-size diapers is… they’re one-size fits MOST. Most one-size patterns won’t fit until the baby is at least 6 – 8 weeks old. If a parent new to cloth diapering tries them before the baby is big enough and they leak, they may get too discouraged to try again when the baby is the right size. We want these parents to win!
So, if you want to do sized diapers, you have to sew at least twice, sometimes three times as many diapers as one-sized, but you’ll have an assured fit. This isn’t an all-or-nothing game, though – you can sew a batch of newborn/small diapers and the rest one-sized.
You just have to figure out what’s best for your big hearted sewers and the families you’re helping. I’ve been sewing nothing but one-sizes, since the pregnancy center I work with always gets size 1 and 2 disposable diapers donated to them, but the larger sizes run out fast.
Last – what suits my skill level? Really, this isn’t so bad. Don’t let this dictate what pattern you’re willing to try! Start small, build your confidence, and don’t worry if your first few diapers look lousy. Mine looked like they were sewn by chimps!
Just think – it’s nice if they’re cute, but overall you’re sewing something for a tiny human to pee and poop in. Aesthetics are nice, but absorbency wins every time.
Links to patterns both inexpensive and free:
For further reading on how to make cloth diapers revisit some older posts: Make Your Own Cloth Diapers Really!, How to Sew a Cloth Diaper Cover, How to Make Cloth Diapers, How to Sew In The Elastic For Cloth Diapers.