How to Sew Cloth Diapers For Those in Need

You may recall Kelly’s winning entry in the “Tell Me Your Cloth Diaper Story” contest entitled Kelly’s Cloth Diaper Story Became a Project.

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.

I hope this helps more people who want to sew diapers for charity – my group, Diaper a Day, Sweet Cheeks Diaper Kits, and the nationwide Newborns in Need, could all use your sewing help!


Links to patterns both inexpensive and free:

and for a HUGE list check out Zany Zebra Designs compilation as well as one at Sewing Support!

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.


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About Autumn Beck

Autumn is a wife, mother, homeschool teacher, friend and most important a follower of Christ. She began cloth diapering in 2005 and has experienced many joys and trials throughout the years. You can read more from Autumn over at

View all posts by Autumn Beck

11 Responses to “How to Sew Cloth Diapers For Those in Need”

  1. Dave Says:

    My daughter is 4 months all our cloths one size 2-3 brands are used ruby is the third child to use them. There all working great for now. Payed less than 25% new price.


  2. debora Says:

    Thank you so much for this website. It’s helped a looot. I’m new to making cloth diapers. I was wondering how it’s possible to have minky on the outside of a pocket diaper. Doesnt it need to be waterproof? Whats the difference between PUL and laminated nylon? Should my diaper have 3 layers? Minky, PUL and fleece? Thank you so much, Debora


    • Autumn Beck Says:

      I am NO diaper maker. But, I can say that many diapers have a hidden layer of PUL. Other than that, I’m clueless. Let me see if I can get someone to answer you…


      • Autumn Beck Says:

        Here’s an answer from Adrian of Cutiepoops:
        You can have almost any fabric on the outside of any diaper as long as there is a layer of PUL in-between the outer layer and the layer against the skin. Minky is a polyester fabric so it doesn’t wick. You can have a full print with Minky and not need to worry about wicking. If you are using a cotton print than it’s best to do a half print like I make at :) You still get the non wicking benefit of a polyester fabric in the wetzone but a cute print across the bum and tabs. PUL is a Polyurethane laminate that is put onto polyester knit. PUL is very durable and can last through several children. Laminated nylon will work but it wears out faster. It is thinner so you will get a trimmer diaper. It is basically the same idea but it’s laminted with a different type of waterproofing. I used it in the beginning and found that there were too many different types of “waterproof nylon” being sold that didn’t work the same. PUL really is a better fabric for diapers. Also be careful if you get a PUL that has been put onto a cotton knit or woven print. If you have a heavy wetter you can still get wicking. If you are making a diaper with a minky outer your diaper will need to have three layers for it to be waterproof. Minky on the outside, PUL in the middle and a skin friendly fabric to go against the tush. I hope this answered your questions.


        • debora Says:

          Hi, thank you soooo much for taking the time to answer. I still have one little question though, lol. (sorry) You said :”You can have a full print with Minky and not need to worry about wicking” Does that mean no PUL inside? Thanks a lot! Debora.


  3. Annette Says:

    I also make diapers for diapers for charity, I send them with kids who go on mission trips and use old t-shirts and a pattern that I took from buying a G diaper and that way you don’t have to use as much pul a piece that is 7 by 12 to gather the sides I have used underwear elastic or I have also bought the elastic from dollar stores and even my velcro I by there too. God bless you all


  4. Sheila Says:

    Joann’s PUL doesn’t last! Don’t buy it! It bubbles and comes apart after a few washes.


    • Kelly Sangree Says:

      Hey Sheila! I haven’t found that to be the case with the PUL I’ve bought from Joann’s – I made 3 trainers for my son for night-time use out of different cuts of PUL, so they’ve seen some heavy rotation, and none have started to de-laminate. I have heard other sewers complain about that, though, so I called Joann’s customer service line. They’re restocking the PUL, and apparently they’ve been in discussion with the manufacturer about the quality – the rep wasn’t terribly sure, but she hinted that they were probably trying to improve the quality of the PUL. I think certain batches work better than others – it seems to be a hit-or-miss thing. Still, no one wants a “miss”! Many online diaper shops have good, proven PUL for sale. If you’re worried, go for those first.


  5. judi Says:

    I’m thinking about participating in the hand washing flat diaper challenge so that I can teach people who are really needy (no washing facilities) about the cloth diaper possibilities. I just have to figure out if I can afford some flat diapers. ;)


    • Kelly Sangree Says:

      Judi, try cutting and hemming some old heavy sheets from a thrift store – cheap and quick!


  6. Morgan Says:

    I would love to get in on the sewing for others action. So thankful there are groups out the to coordinate it all :o).


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