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Diaper Sewing for Beginners
By Angelique Mullen
Fall 2005

This past August, RDA Circle Leader, Maya Keithly, held a special diaper-sewing meeting in Everett, Washington. Since many women in her Circle had expressed an interest in learning to sew diapers, it seemed like a natural topic for an entire meeting. An experienced diaper seamstress, Maya has been sewing diapers for many years. She was eager to share her knowledge with her Circle.

There were six mothers who attended the meeting, each with varying experience in sewing. One mother in her group had almost no sewing experience, while another was so excited that she brought her serger (an overlocking sewing machine). Maya taught them how to sew a fleece cover, and also showed them how to attach snaps on fitted diapers using her snap press. She provided some materials and shared some of her homemade diaper patterns. Everyone had a great time at the meeting and they made plans to meet again for further instruction and practice. “We had a great time playing around on the sewing machine,” Maya told me.

In the dizzying array of diapering choices, new parents often overlook diaper sewing as an option. Making baby diapers has probably been around as long as people have been sewing baby clothes, but the Internet has made diaper-sewing instruction and supplies widely available in the past decade.

I was first introduced to the concept of sewing my daughter’s diapers a few years ago when I was looking for a less expensive option for diaper covers. Because we preferred to use prefold diapers with cover wraps, we found that buying covers in various sizes was often expensive. Each time our daughter grew into another size, we needed to stock at least four wraps in that size. Because some of the wraps we liked were anywhere from 10 to 20 dollars each, I found that purchasing supplies to make covers was a lot less costly. I enjoyed the experience of sewing the covers, although I never did make more than just a few of them. Still, I liked that my
daughter had a few unique covers that were unlike any others, and I got several compliments. Given the right amount of time and dedication, diaper sewing could have easily become a very addictive hobby.

Scores of people seem to agree that sewing one’s own diapers is a great option, as mothers (and some fathers) take the time to sew diapers for their babies. Many RDA members are so experienced at diaper sewing that they own online diaper businesses, and many who are not business owners are still very experienced seamstresses. However, there are members, like myself, who do not own diaper businesses and are not experienced at sewing diapers. Diaper sewing is not limited to those who are entrepreneurial or crafty. If you have just a little bit of sewing skill and can forgive your mistakes, you can also sew diapers for your baby. It is very simple, even for those like me, who consider their sewing talents to be mediocre at best. It’s important to remember that your baby will not care if your seams aren’t straight.

Diaper Sewing is Cost Effective

Why sew your baby’s diapers when perfectly tailored diapers can be purchased so easily, you might ask. Home diaper sewing can be cost effective. Using recycled materials, you could pay next to nothing for your diapers. I have heard of diapers being made from old flannel sheets, flannel shirts, t-shirts, denim jeans, and terry-cloth towels. I have heard of covers being made from old tent fabric, fleece jackets, and wool sweaters. When my daughter was a newborn, I made baby wipes by cutting an old flannel sheet into squares. Reusing materials is not only cheap, but it is healthy for the planet also. Take a look around your house and get your creative juices flowing.

One RDA member makes all of her diapers from reused fabrics because it has been the most financially feasible option for her family. “I think one of the biggest deterrents to getting started with cloth diapering is startup cost. Making your own diapers definitely brings the cost down somewhat, but if you're using new, premium materials, you sometimes find yourself spending almost as much as buying ready-made. This is why recycled fabrics are so awesome, because you can put together a complete stash for about the price of 2-3 ready-made fitted diapers,” she says.

One option for creating recycled diapers is to use old cotton and denim clothing for fitted diapers or old wool sweaters for sewn wool soakers. There are websites that include tips and instructions for sewing these kinds of diapers. Using recycled materials can be a good first step when you are new to diaper sewing.

Sewing your own cloth diapers is a good way to promote cloth diapering. Nothing works better as an advertisement for cloth diapers than a smiling baby wearing a homemade diaper. When you make the diapers, you can choose the fabric. If you like animals, make some diapers with colorful giraffes or monkeys. If you want to get festive at Halloween, make a diaper with pumpkins on it. In fact, every holiday and special event can have its own special diaper if you are so inclined. Since you are the creator, you can choose any type of print you please. As more people admire your baby in his or her unique diapers, the more intrigued they will be by cloth diapering.

Getting Started

To get started sewing diapers, you will need a sewing machine and fabric. It also helps to have some way to close the diaper like hook and loop tape or snaps. Elastic is optional, but it does help keep the baby dry. It’s also useful to have a pattern, but there are many ways to create a homemade pattern. There are websites that give instructions for making your own pattern, like the “Sew Your Own Diapers” website, which has step-by-step instructions and photos as well as a lot of other useful information. I used this website to create my own homemade pattern.

If you are concerned about proper fit and you know you will make a lot of diapers, a commercial pattern is a good investment. It is reusable and usually includes various sizes, so you can always have diapers that fit your growing baby. Many online stores have diaper patterns for sale.

When choosing fabric and materials, you can also buy fabric and materials. Your local fabric store is a good starting place. It is always worth checking out, even if it might not have some of the specialty fabrics that are often used for diaper sewing, like waterproofed fabric or diaper flannel. If you can’t get materials locally, there are many online stores and vendors that cater to the diaper-sewing crowd. Besides fabric, if you are making fitted diapers you may want some way to close the diaper, like snaps, hook and loop tape, or buttons. People who sew a lot of fitted diapers often find it helpful to invest in a snap press, although it is not necessary if you are a novice and just want to experiment. For beginners, it might be easiest to use hook and loop tape if you don’t want to spend a lot of money. It depends on what you prefer and how creative you want to be. I have never used a snap press, although many people find them easy to use. Look to the diapers you like for ideas on the kind you want to make, and spend only the amount of money you are willing.

Get Support

One of the goals of Real Diaper Association is to bring cloth diapering support back to the local level. That is why I am thrilled that local cloth diaper advocates like Maya Keithly are starting diaper sewing circles. Especially if you are new to sewing, it can be very helpful to share your diaper sewing experiences. If you cannot find local support, there are online groups that can be helpful, too. Mothering.com has a diaper-making forum where people can share sewing triumphs and frustrations or just ask questions to those with greater experience. There are also two Yahoo groups for diaper sewers, “Diaper Sewing N More” and “Sew Your Own Diapers.”

Practice, Practice, Practice

Maya Keithly is enthusiastic about teaching parents to sew baby diapers. Always the activist, Maya thought showing her Circle members how to sew would further their interest in cloth diapers. When asked what advice she would give to those new to diaper sewing, she said to keep sewing and not worry what the diapers look like. “Practice”, she said.

If you are not a veteran seamstress, take heart. Remember that no one has to see your creations if you don’t want them to. Your first diaper might be misshapen, but your work will get better with experience. The first time I made a diaper cover, I was so lazy that I used sticky-backed Velcro from an office supply store. It took weeks before I finally got around to replacing it with sewn hook and loop tape. I also didn’t sew the binding correctly on that cover, and it came apart at the seams after a few months. That first cover was a mess, but it did keep my daughter’s clothes dry. With each diaper or cover I make, my skills will improve and so will yours.

Sources
Sew Your Own Diapers
Mothering.com Diaper Making Forum
Diaper Sewing Yahoo Groups - Sew Your Own Diapers and Diaper Sewing 'n More


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