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Sewing cloth diapers

Updated on August 19, 2012

Sewing cloth diapers: Simple instructions for DIY diapering your baby!

This is a simple, step-by-step tutorial for sewing a basic all-in-one (AIO) cloth diaper. This diaper uses hidden PUL, so you can have a cute print on the outside. The secret to this diaper not leaking/wicking is in the way the elastic is sewn. :)

Sewing cloth diapers is actually very simple and with these step-by-step instructions, any novice will be sewing like a pro in no time!

Gather supplies

Get everything you need to sew AIO diapers before you begin!

Tools

1. A sewing machine. Your machine doesn't need to be fancy! It only needs basic stitch capabilities. The most IMPORTANT thing about your machine is that you read the manual and familiarize yourself with it.

NOTE: Get size 9 or 11 ballpoint needles! These help ensure the least amount of wicking possible!

2. A washable marker, fabric marker, fabric pencil or chalk.

3. Fabric scissors/shears.

4. A seam ripper (optional but wonderful to have!).

5. Snap pliers if you want to use snaps (I prefer snaps to Velcro).

6. Small binder clips, coated paper clips, bobby pins or similar. This is to hold fabric layers together while making as few holes in the waterproof layer as possible.

7. Ruler.

8. Rotary cutter/self-healing mat (optional but I can't live without mine).

9. A Teflon foot (optional but it is very helpful when sewing on sticky PUL).

Materials

1. Cute outer fabric. This can be almost anything you want: I usually choose a cotton print, polyester print, soft minky or velour, or lightweight denim.

2. Polyester thread. It needs to be 100% polyester to prevent moisture from wicking to the outside of the diaper.

3. PUL (polyurethane laminate) fabric. This is your waterproof layer. You can get plain PUL to be hidden under the cute outer OR you can get PUL with a cute print and skip the decorative outer fabric.

4. An inner fabric. I usually use Alova (yes, this brand) suedecloth, micro fleece, micro chamois, or wicking jersey. ALWAYS pour water onto this fabric to make sure water goes through it and doesn't just sit on top. This is called checking to see whether it has wicking properties, which an INNER fabric needs, so that the messes go through it to the absorbent soaker fabric. Also, please note that on suedecloth/Alova, the shiny side is the "wrong" side and the OTHER side touches Baby.

5. Soaker fabric. I have used several layers of cut up t-shirts, microfiber shop towels, a fabric called Zorb sandwiched inside flannel, or several layers of flannel. You could also cut layers of prefolds or flats. You'll want to water test this, too. I make sure mine absorb a minimum of 8 ounces of water, alone.

6. Plastic snaps, Velcro (or touch tape), or diaper pins. Don't use metal ones, as they'll rust. I recommend KAMsnaps over all others, by far. You can order a combo deal in the amazon links.

7. 1/4-inch braided polyester elastic.

Tools and Materials on Amazon - You can find everything you need on Amazon!

I've compiled a list of literally everything you'll need. You don't have to buy from Amazon, but this at least can help you see what exactly you need to get. I would have loved a vidual list like this when i was getting started. I did search for good prices and items that I use and would recommend.

In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that I would earn royalties if you clicked one of the following links and bought that item. However, that's NOT why I made the list and you are free to buy elsewhere!

Most importantly, remember to shop around for price and use 50% off coupons at craft stores!

Amazon tools/materials continued - 5 more things you'll need

Here are 5 more things you'll need.

Amazon continued - Materials you'll need

Here are the last few things you'll need!

Zwipes Microfiber Cleaning Cloths | All-Purpose | Assorted Colors | 36 Pack
Zwipes Microfiber Cleaning Cloths | All-Purpose | Assorted Colors | 36 Pack

I use these, cut-up cotton tshirts, layers of flannel, or some more expensive zorb or bamboo fabric.

 
Fiskars 3 Piece Rotary Cutting Set
Fiskars 3 Piece Rotary Cutting Set

I have this set and I LOVE it! Highly recommend that you get this! Great price, too.

 
My newborn pattern is free for home use.
My newborn pattern is free for home use.

Make or choose a diaper pattern

How to make your own pattern or find a good free one!

First, a simple Google search for "free diaper pattern" will yield many awesome, free patterns out there. My rule of thumb is to never pay for a pattern: They are all too similar and frankly, you're paying for in-depth instructions like the ones that you're getting right here, for free. Spend your money on some more cute fabric, instead! ;)

Most patterns will say whether they are "newborn" size or what weight range they fit. Most people try several different patterns before they get it right. I tried several and ended up making my own. I tend to use sized patterns because they are less bulky. When I was pregnant, I started making one-size diapers because I thought they would save me money in the long run, but they didn't even fit my newborn. Most one-size diapers don't fit babies until at LEAST 10 pounds.

You can also trace a diaper that you really like, trace a disposable diaper, or even eyeball one. You need to do two very important things: the first is to stretch the wings out to check how long they are. The second is to stretch the whole diaper out along its length to see how long THAT is. Remember that you'll be putting elastic into your diaper so that it isn't as long as the pattern is, when it is all put together. Also, make sure that you leave room for a seam allowance.

Please contact me if you have pattern questions. I will be doing a more in-depth lens at a future date on finding patterns or designing your own.

Cut out all three layers.
Cut out all three layers.

Prepare your fabric

First, you need to wash all of your fabric so that it it is preshrunk and ready to go. You can wash it just like you'll wash your diapers: Toss it into a hot wash and then dry on high heat. Remove it quickly so that it doesn't get wrinkles and make your life difficult!

Next, trace your diaper pattern onto your cute outer fabric, the PUL, and the inner fabric, using your washable marker.

Finally, use your sewing shears to cut your pattern pieces out.

Be sure to check whether or not your pattern has a seam allowance. It it doesn't, make sure that you leave an extra 1/2" or so along the outside of the diaper. Otherwise your diaper will end up much smaller than you intended!

Elastic is marked in 3 places.
Elastic is marked in 3 places.

Mark for elastic

Mark for your elastic on the PUL's shiny side. I mark about 1/2" below the inside end of the wings above the leg holes, about 1/2 inch under the corner for the front of the diapers, and mark for about 5" on elastic on the back. Please see the picture for marking placements!

Stack soaker layers and binder clip them together.
Stack soaker layers and binder clip them together.

Cut out the soaker

For this tutorial, I used 8 layers of an old t-shirt. You can also use 2 folded up microfiber towels (Zwipes), 8 layers of flannel, or 2 layers of Zorb or Zorb II (from wazoodle.com).

First, smooth out a couple layers of t-shirt on the mat. Use your ruler to measure the size that you want your soaker to be and use your marker to draw the outlines. Pressing your ruler down along the lines where you want to cut, use your rotary cutter to cut out your soaker.

I cut out 4 sets of 2 layers of the t-shirt to make 8 total layers.

Use your binder clips to hold the layers together.

Place the soaker's edge under the presser foot.
Place the soaker's edge under the presser foot.

Sew the soaker

If you have a serger, serge around the outside edge of the soaker.

If you're like the rest of us, set your machine to a wide/long zig-zag stitch. Not the 3-step zig-zag (which looks like dashed lines), just the 2-step zig-zag will do (it is the "Z" marking that looks just like a "Z".)

Set your tension a little bit higher on your thread and presser foot (and bobbin, if your machine allows). This will prevent knots from forming on the underside of your fabric.

Put the soaker's edge under the presser foot, so the needle will go right next to the edge.

Don't forget to hold your ends when you start sewing!

Stitch forward a few, backstitch a few, and then do the whole soaker.

To turn corners, stop with the needle DOWN in the soaker fabric, lift up the presser foot, turn so it's facing the direction you want to sew, and then place the presser foot back down.

Sew right next to the edge of the fabric, getting your zig-zag as close to the edge as possible. This is just to keep it together and so the ends don't curl up, as t-shirt fabric doesn't fray and neither do the already-finished edges of microfiber (Zwipes) towels. However, flannel does fray, so be extra-sure to get to the edge with flannel!

At the end, backstitch and forward stitch a few again, to be sure the thread doesn't come out!!

Sew the top edge of the soaker to the wrong side of the inner.
Sew the top edge of the soaker to the wrong side of the inner.

Attach soaker to inner fabric

You can use binder clips, bobby pins, or even needles to attach the soaker to the fabric. You'll be sewing it to the WRONG SIDE of the inner fabric. I just attach it to the top and bottom, because I sew the top end first. Then, the top end is already anchored down when I do the side so I just have to make sure that the fabric is smoothed out on the bottom.

Straight stitch all around the outside of the soaker, about 1/2 inch or so away from the edge. Don't forget to forward/backstitch at the beginning and ends!

The snap spots are marked in orange and the scrap I chose is shown.
The snap spots are marked in orange and the scrap I chose is shown.

Mark for snap placement

Using your ruler, mark the front of the decorative outer for where you want to place your snaps (the ones that will be on the baby's belly -- you don't need to do the wing snaps until the end).

I make my snaps aboout 1" from each side and 1.5" from the top, so that I have plenty of room to top-stich, later. I keep them about 1" apart both up and down, with 2 rows.

The pattern I'm using here has 16 total snaps for the front of the diaper.

You can use either studs or sockets, it doesn't matter which. I rotate mine, so that I don't run out of one before I run out of the other (because if you use 16 studs on the front, then you only use 4 sockets on the wings, and vice versa).

Line up a scrap piece of fabric behind the spots you marked. You'll need it to reinforce the snaps so that they don't pull through your fabric.

This shows the unsmashed prong inside of the stud piece, ready to be squished by pliers.
This shows the unsmashed prong inside of the stud piece, ready to be squished by pliers.

Apply snaps

For the sake of this tutorial, I'll use STUDS on the front of the diapers and SOCKETS on the wings. The round back of the snaps is the PRONG piece.

Now that you have your scrap lined up behind the snap markings, get your awl out.

Using the awl, poke a hole through both layers of fabric. Making sure that the STUD is on the RIGHT SIDE of your cute outer, put the PRONG through the back from the scrap side and place the STUD over it.

Settle the back of the prong into the dye on your snap pliers while keeping the two pieces together. Firmly squeeze the pliers together so that the prong is smashed. Ta-da! Snap finished! Now do this 15 more times! :-D

PUL shiny side DOWN, Cute print UP, soaker side UP!
PUL shiny side DOWN, Cute print UP, soaker side UP!

Layer fabric and hold with binder clips

Now that your snaps are done, it is time to assemble the diaper. Lay your fabrics as follows:

PUL: Shiny side DOWN.

Cute outer: Print side UP.

Inner: Wrong (soaker) side UP.

Using binder clips/bobby pins/covered paperclips (NOT PINS! DO NOT POKE HOLES!), secure all the layers together.

Shows finished stitching around outside, leaving front open.
Shows finished stitching around outside, leaving front open.

Sew together, leaving front open

Now, with the PUL side up (because it slides better against the Teflon foot than against the sewing machine), you will be straight-stitching (a medium length) around the outside of the diaper, leaving the front (the short side) completely open.

Place the edge under the foot, do your forward-back-forward stitches. Getting right to the edge isn't important. I usually end up with about 1/4 to 1/4 of an inch unsewn. That'll be fixed when you sew the hole up.

Sew around the outside of the whole diaper. Don't forget to backstitch/forward-stitch at the every end (you can do the last forward-stitch right off the end of the diaper).

How to measure and sew the elastic - Easier to explain with a video!

Make sure you sew the elastic into the seam allowance (see video) on the PUL side, so that the finished diaper lays right.

This video explains how to measure the elastic for the 2 leg holes and the back elastic, and how to attach them to the diaper.

In short:

Stretch the elastic along the diaper, between the elastic marking pairs. Leave an extra inch on each piece of elastic to hold onto and so the elastic doesn't rip after being sewn down.

Cut pieces.

Set end of elastic on top of elastic marking IN the seam allowance, under the presser foot. Sewing perpendicular to the seam allowance, stitch forward, back, forward, and back again. Cut off extra threads.

Do this on each elastic marking (6 times total).

Make 3 small incisions around the corner so it turns out nicely.
Make 3 small incisions around the corner so it turns out nicely.

Clip corners

To ensure that your corners don't get thick and bumpy when the diaper is right-side-out, you need to make little clips on the seam allowance that go around the corners. I do three, making each go about halfway into the seam allowance. One on the corner and two next to it. See photo!

Turn it right-side-out and poke out the corners.
Turn it right-side-out and poke out the corners.

Turn right side out and poke out corners

Turn the diaper right-side-out and poke out the corners with your CLOSED scissors, being careful not to cut anything. The right side of the inner will be facing out, and the cute outer will be facing out.

It'll look shapeless until you top-stitch. If it looks like the picture, GREAT!

Use binder clips to hold the turned-in fabrics together.
Use binder clips to hold the turned-in fabrics together.

Binder clip shut the front hole

Now, you'll shut the front hole. Starting at a corner, fold one side of the fabrics down and the other fabric on the other side down, so that they're inside. Fold them down about a half-inch (the same as your seam allowance is). Do this for the whole hole, and use binder clips to hold it together.

Topstitching the diaper: video - Sorry about the mess-up and crying baby! It still works, though!

Starting with the hole facing you and on the side of the diaper (right where the snaps start), place the diaper under the presser foot so that the needle will it the fabric about 1/3-1/2" away from the edge. Make sure that your cute outer fabric is UP. You will be doing what is called "topstitching."

Start stitching this short side toward the front hole. Don't forget to backstitch before you stitch the whole thing! When you get to the front hole, stop with your needle down, lift the presser foot, turn so the turned-in hole will be what's sewn next, and put your presser foot back down.

BEING CAREFUL TO CATCH THE TURNED-IN FABRICS ON THE INSIDE, stitch down the front of the diaper, removing the binder clips as you close it up.

When you get to the start of the elastic, stop. Keep your needle down and stretch the elastic out as far as it will go. Make sure that the seam is exactly out and that the elastic is falling right against that outside seam. Hold onto the diaper on both sides of the presser foot (so you don't break the needle!) and very slowly and carefully sew ALONGSIDE the elastic. Be careful NOT to catch the elastic!! When in doubt, sew farther away from the edge so you KNOW you aren't catching it.

When you get to the end of the elastic, you don't have to stretch it out, anymore. Continue topstitching, doing the same thing for the other two pieces of elastic. Topstitch all the way around, and don't forget to backstitch and forward stitch at the very end so your thread doesn't come out!

When doing elastic, be sure to leave ample room so you don't catch the elastic. Stretch elastic out and be sure the edge is straight and the elastic is touching the edge.

Squeeze the pliers firmly to squish the prong
Squeeze the pliers firmly to squish the prong

Mark for and apply wing snaps

On the decorative outer, mark two spots for your wing snaps. I usually do this just inside the topstitching. Make sure they are 1 inch apart, using your ruler.

Get four SOCKETS (if you're following the tutorial snaps exactly) and four STUDS.

Using your awl, poke a hole on one dot. Put the STUD through the hole, with the ROUND BACK OF THE STUD on the cute outer side. Place the SOCKET over the pointy part of the stud. Use your snap pliers to firrmly squeeze these together. Do it 3 more times!

Finished diaper!
Finished diaper!

Put diaper on a cute baby and admire.

You're finished!! See? That wasn't so hard, was it. I'll bet the worst part was topstitching along the elastic. That part is tricky but you WILL get used to it -- ESPECIALLY if you're making a whole stash for your baby!

Now go put that new diaper on your baby and admire your handiwork! Congratulations on being a master diaper maker!

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    • profile image

      CDNEWBIE 2 years ago

      Also sorrynif this is a repeat question..... could you post the pattern you usd.

    • profile image

      CDNEWBIE 2 years ago

      Love this... im brand new to cloth diapers and want to tackle making thwm instead of buying them.. with all the info out there im starting to get overwelmed... i have tons and tons of baby blankets i eas thinki nv about repurposing to CD... do u know of that will work for the inner layer ??

    • profile image

      Ariel 2 years ago

      THANK YOU! I've been searching for a Ai2 cloth diaper tutorial that wasn't terrible and thorough! And this is pretty close! If it is possible maybe you could make one that is Ai2? I know i can just follow this one and not stitch on the soaker but it'd be nice, thanks! Live this tutorial by the way!!

    • SewingMama profile image
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      SewingMama 3 years ago

      @vernigal: I hope it works! Be sure your needle is size 9 or 11 and for knits/rounded tip (not sharp). This will ensure you don't poke holes but simply move the threads aside, which will close up in the dryer, later. :)

    • profile image

      vernigal 3 years ago

      I have the worst time with wicking around the leg holes when I sew with hidden pul. I'm hoping this will help me! Can't wait to try.

    • SewingMama profile image
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      SewingMama 3 years ago

      @gloria-t-96: The PUL is not going to touch the skin. You've got 3 layers here... Your PUL is completely hidden and the inner layer touches the skin.

      Even if you were to choose decorative PUL instead of plain PUL + decorative fabric (eliminating the outside layer and making the PUL the outside layer), even in the leg holes, the liner will be the only thing touching baby.

      Does that make sense?

      Additionally, PUL will not cause irritation and is perfectly okay to touch baby (though not the most comfortable fabric). It is MICROFIBER (commonly used as inserts) that should never ever touch skin directly, as it is drying. PUL is breathable and wipeable. In addition to AIOs, I make shells that have the shiny side of the PUL toward the baby and then just lay in a prefold. That's the cheapest option. To do this, simply eliminate your liner layer and sew with decorative side of outer fabric on one finished side and so that the shiny side is out on the other finished side (wipeable).

      I hope that helps!

    • profile image

      gloria-t-96 3 years ago

      I had a question! I have been looking into cloth diapers for my third child (that I am currently working on) and after putting two through disposables I do not want to repeat that cost. I know that I want to use the AIO cloth diapers, but I thought that they recommended to not put the PUL against the babies skin? Is this actually okay? Or have I gotten something mixed up here?

    • SewingMama profile image
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      SewingMama 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Yay! I'm so glad I could help!

    • SewingMama profile image
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      SewingMama 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Hi Janet! I'm sorry that I'm so late on this. I hope you found a good solution. She actually is talking about either pocket diapers with inserts that are removable, or AIO diapers that are designed like pocket diapers, but have the insert sewn to them.

      So, you'd want to sew the insert onto the inside like in the tutorial. But then you'd want to look for free pocket diaper sewing instructions and follow those. They won't show you the sewn-on insert,but you'll sew it just like a pocket. That way, they can be flipped inside-out to dry more quickly!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Thanks for all the great tips!! it helped me make a better diaper (this was my third try, and my best diaper!)

    • SewingMama profile image
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      SewingMama 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you! Using a zipper foot is a great idea. I sometimes use it to sew closer to the edge while still having the fabric held down well. :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      You are so right about the elastic being an annoyance. I must have caught it five or six times on my first diaper. After taking out all the stitches--since there was quite a lot, I had plenty of time to think--it occurred to me that using the zipper foot might be a solution. Changed to the zipper one and never had a problem after that. Thank you for you very good instructions.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      My daughter-in-law changed from flip diapers to AIO. I had just learned how to make the first kind. She says the AIO needs a pocket for the water to drain out when washing. (the commercial diaper she bought has a pocket.) I can't find any instructions on how to do this. Help, please!

    • sarasentor lm profile image

      sarasentor lm 5 years ago

      Your lens is really very interesting lens.

    • SewingMama profile image
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      SewingMama 5 years ago

      Thank you!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Great Ideas.

    • SewingMama profile image
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      SewingMama 5 years ago

      @iwantcake lm: Thanks and you're welcome! I hope you get to try making your own!

    • SewingMama profile image
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      SewingMama 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you!

    • iwantcake lm profile image

      iwantcake lm 5 years ago

      Nice cute way to save money on diapers. Thanks.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Wow, you are really creative this is great for anyone wanting to make baby diapers from scratch! Great job!

    • SewingMama profile image
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      SewingMama 5 years ago

      @Rangoon House: Thank you!

    • Netlexis LM profile image

      Netlexis LM 5 years ago

      This is such a great idea. I'm going to have to try this for my granddaughter. Thanks for sharing... and stopping by!

    • SewingMama profile image
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      SewingMama 5 years ago

      @jolou: Great point! My favorite way to dry them is on the line, too (saving electric costs!). The sun bleaches out any discoloring!

    • SewingMama profile image
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      SewingMama 5 years ago

      @InteriorDesignI: Thanks! Yea, we save so much money by using cloth, and even more by making them. Gotta love saving money!

    • SewingMama profile image
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      SewingMama 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you! That's basically the same diaper as my pattern but with rounded wings. :) thanks for stopping by!

    • SewingMama profile image
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      SewingMama 5 years ago

      @BestRatedStuff: Thank you! They're my favorite shower gift to give!

    • SewingMama profile image
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      SewingMama 5 years ago

      @Netlexis LM: Thank you! Be careful; it is addictive! You'll spend your evenings scouring the Web for the cutest fabric! ;)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Anyone wanting to try making their own cloth diapers will feel like they hit a gold mine here with your tutorial. That is one cute diaper you have in your intro picture.

    • InteriorDesignI profile image

      InteriorDesignI 5 years ago

      Cool! great tips. And it is a great money saver idea!

    • jolou profile image

      jolou 5 years ago

      What a great idea this is! You can save a lot of money and it's good for the environment too.

    • BestRatedStuff profile image

      BestRatedStuff 5 years ago

      This is a really great instructional lens. I don't have anyone in diapers, but I think this just might make a great baby shower gift. Love It:)

    • intermarks profile image

      intermarks 5 years ago

      Very cool and creative, I never though one can really make a cloth diapers since all these while I was only using napkins or disposable diapers for my baby.

    • intermarks profile image

      intermarks 5 years ago

      Very cool and creative, I never though one can really make a cloth diapers since all these while I was only using napkins or disposable diapers for my baby.

    • Rangoon House profile image

      AJ 5 years ago from Australia

      Too cute!

    • SewingMama profile image
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      SewingMama 5 years ago

      @WriterJanis2: Thank you very much! I'm still working out the last couple of bugs, but I worked really hard on this! :)

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      Very nicely done.

    • SewingMama profile image
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      SewingMama 5 years ago

      @emily-peel: Thank you! I'll be taking photos of the process over the next few days to post!

    • SewingMama profile image
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      SewingMama 5 years ago

      @cocomoonbeams: Yes, they are sooooo expensive! Have you considered re-selling your non-favorites, though? Most brands have a pretty good resale value. You can sell them on craigslist or diaper swapper boards on yahoo/babycenter. :)

    • cocomoonbeams profile image

      cocomoonbeams 5 years ago

      I wish I would have run across this earlier, before I spent hundreds of dollars on cloth diapers! Oh well, we are almost out of diapers in our house now (hopefully!)

    • profile image

      emily-peel 5 years ago

      Very interesting work in progress! I can't wait to see the finished steps and more pictures! You make this very easy!