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Cloth Pocket Diaper Tutorial

admin March 6, 2015

Not long after I first started blogging, I posted a tutorial for sewing cloth diapers.  That pattern, and that tutorial, were based on a diaper I used for a few months back when my oldest was a baby — so almost 7 years ago.

My pattern has evolved significantly since then, and I found my favorite diapers right before my oldest son was born.  I have made dozens more of this same pattern since then.  Literally, dozens — 3 dozen each in newborn, small, and medium. I lost those diapers (some of which were 5 years old and wearing out anyway) when we moved last summer, and I’m now in the process of sewing 3 dozen more in each size.

I knew that some of you would like to sew diapers like I do.  I’ll be honest and say that I’m not great at sewing clothing, typically.  I mostly stick to blankets.  But despite how complex these diapers appear, they are actually quite simple if you follow this tutorial step by step.  I have taught classes on how to make these in real life, and people have liked the pattern and done just fine sewing them even with limited sewing skills.

This pattern — which will be available soon here — comes in three sizes and is for a pocket diaper with snaps and a sham opening.  It could easily be adapted to hook and loop, if you prefer (and I’ll tell you how in the tutorial).

The sizes are:

  • Newborn (fits 6 – 10 lbs.)
  • Small (fits 10 – 25 lbs.)
  • Medium (fits 18 – 35 lbs.)

I can still easily get a medium on my 3.5 year old, who weighs 32 – 34 lbs. (something close to that).  Small goes on my 2-year-old, who weighs about 28 lbs. but not easily — it’s really a bit too small at this point.

The newborn pattern fits very tightly around their skinny legs, so babies usually outgrow it by 10 lbs. or so when their thighs begin to put on some chunk.  This was between 3 and 10 weeks for my babies.  Very tiny babies (under 6 lbs.) may not fit the newborn size in the early weeks because it will gape around their very skinny thighs…but an average newborn will be fine.  I loaned my newborn diapers to several friends and the only one who had trouble was one whose baby was barely over 5 lbs. at birth.  Mine were 7 lbs. 5 oz. and 8 lbs. 11 oz. and the newborn diapers fit them from birth.

I choose to use prefolds to stuff these diapers.  I buy newborn-sized prefolds to stuff the newborn diapers (it’s a tight fit and you’ll need small hands to stuff — my husband can’t do it easily). I also use the newborn-sized prefolds with the small diapers for the first few months, when they don’t wet as much and need a trimmer fit.

I use an infant sized prefold to stuff the small and medium sizes from the point that they need more absorbency until they are out of diapers.  I have light to heavy wetters and this has not failed me, although there were periods of time when they needed to be changed a bit more frequently.  I also sewed doublers out of birdseye cotton (the same material prefolds are made from) for some of the diapers but didn’t use them often.  A major benefit to this system is that prefolds don’t have compression leaking, don’t hold onto stink in the wash, and you don’t need too many sizes.  Plus, they’ll stand up to 4 – 5 years of daily use.

These diapers are made of two materials: Alova suede cloth and PUL.  Suede cloth wicks moisture away from the skin — they’ll feel it if the diaper’s pretty wet, but not immediately.  PUL is waterproof.  This diaper is as easy to use as a disposable!  I chose plain white suede cloth and solid yellow and blue PUL for mine (I like the perfectly coordinated diapers!) but PUL comes in lots of solids and prints, and suede cloth comes in many different colors too, so you can feel free to choose whatever appeals to you.  You can make some seriously cute diapers!

You’ll also need elastic.  Choose Lastin, which is clear swimsuit elastic.  It has better stretch and is less noticeable in the finished diaper.  It also lasts a long time, but should it ever break — mine did after a few years of daily use — you can replace it.

Cloth Diapers

You will need:

  • 20×20 diaper cut of PUL (this will make 2 diapers in a newborn size)
  • 20×20 diaper cut of suede cloth
  • 2 yds. of 1/4″ elastic — I recommend Lastin (clear)
  • Coordinating thread
  • 10 – 20 snap sets OR 6 – 10″ hook and loop

All right!  Here we go!

It is important that you follow these instructions exactly.  There are a lot of little steps and it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the full process if you try to skip ahead.  This is far more complicated than when I started sewing diapers, but if you go step by step, it is really easy.

First, you will need to print and cut out your pattern pieces.  Then, lay them on your fabric and cut them one by one.  You will need one outer cut from PUL:

pattern on fabric

If you are making several diapers, you will get between 6 and 12 per yard, depending on size.  Next, cut one inner from suede cloth:

pattern on inner fabric

Then, cut one sham opening from suede cloth.

sham on fabric

Finally, cut two tabs from suede cloth.

tab on fabric

Okay!  You have all your pieces cut out now.  The next step is to hem the top of the inner, and the bottom of the sham.  Fold both of them over (fuzzy side is the “right” side) and sew.

hem sham edge

Sew across.  When finished, it will look like this (this is back side):

hemmed sham

Next, you will need a scrap of fabric to use as a facing on the back of the outer.  This will help to keep the snaps in place and sturdier.  The PUL pulls and comes apart if you don’t do this.  Pin across the front of the outer (the part where the snaps will go, the rounded part) and sew it on.

facing sewed

It does not matter if the facing is not perfect.  You won’t even see this stitching when the diaper is finished if you stick close to the edges like I did.  Trim off any extra material once it’s sewn on (obviously mine was too big to start).

Now we need to place the snaps.  Fold your outer in half, like it was when you were cutting it.  I use a permanent marker or a fading sewing marker to mark the snap placement.  You won’t see these marks when the diaper is done.  Your first mark will be 1/2″ from the fold and 1″ down from the top of the stitching you did for the facing.

first snap placement

Open the diaper up, and mark the first row of snaps.  It should be straight (all 1″ below the stitching) and 1″ apart.

first row snap placements

The second row should be 1″ below the first.

Once all the snaps are marked, it’s time to put them on!  Now — if you’re not using snaps, you will use hook and loop (the loop part) where the snaps are placed.  You need 1″ loop that is 10″ long, placed exactly where these snaps are.  Simply sew it on.

If you are using snaps, put a snap on your press.  You can also use snap pliers if you prefer (they’re much cheaper).

snap on press edit

Put the marked snap placement over the point of the snap, like this:

snap placement on press

Now, push the snap press down hard to put the snap on the fabric.

snap press on outer

Here’s a finished snap!

first snap on outer

Finish all the snaps on the outer the same way.

snaps on outer

Now it’s time to pin the diaper together!  First, lay the sham opening at the top of the diaper.  Then, lay the outer over it.  The snaps should be facing up, and the fuzzy side of the suede cloth should be facing down (right sides together).  It will look like this:

sham and inner on outer

Put some pins in it to hold it in place.  I pin the top, the bottom, and one on each side.

Then we need to pin the tabs on.  Grab the two layers of fabric that overlap (the sham and inner, you can see where they overlap above) and pin them to one side of the tab — you will have to open it.

tab other side pinned

Then, pin the other side of the tab to the PUL.

tab side pinned

Do the same thing to the other tab.  Now the whole diaper is pinned together!

diaper pinned edit

Now it’s time to sew it.  First, we need to sew the tabs on.  Sew the sham/inner/tab part first.

sew tab other side

Then, sew the other side of the tab.

sew tab side

Then, it should be sewn on.

tab side sewn

Do the same to the other tab.  Then it’s time to sew around the outside of the whole diaper.  Start at the top at the edge of the tab (moving across the back of the diaper first — PUL to sham).

sew around diaper

Sew all the way around, making sure to go slowly around curves.  Once you’re done, you can clip any extra bits of fabric that there may be.  Then you have this!

diaper sewn edit

Only three more steps!  The next one is elastic.

First, the top elastic.  It will start at the back of the diaper, and it stretches from the end of the tab (beginning of the PUL/sham) to the other side.  Don’t put any elastic on the tabs.

top elastic start

For this, you will need a zig-zag stitch.  Tack the elastic down by sewing a few stitches forward, then backward to stick it in place.  Then, slowly begin to stretch the elastic.  Pull it pretty tight, but not so tight you think it will snap.  You can pull just a bit more as you go along.  Use the zigzag to sew along it.  If your machine has the option, use a three-step zigzag — this will make it last longer and be sturdier.

Once it’s done, it will look like this:

top elastic sewn

Now it’s time to sew the elastic into the legs.  Start at the very top of the body, right below the tab.

where to start elastic

Same procedure — tack it down, then stretch it and sew with a zigzag (preferably three-step) until you are right above the snaps.

where to end elastic

When finished, it will look like this:

side elastic done

Sew the elastic on the other side, too.  Then your diaper should look like this:

diaper sewed with elastic

Time to turn it right-side out!  Flip it through the sham opening.  Now it looks like this:

diaper sewn inside

Now, you could leave it like this and just add the final snaps on the tabs and be done.  I like a very neat diaper, and I think it helps to have all the parts stay where they should (if the inner touches clothing it could potentially wick and make your kid’s pants wet; that won’t happen if you do this next part), so I top stitch.

Starting at the edge of the tab, just like before, start sewing around the outside of the diaper again.

top stitching

When you get to the elastic, you will have to stretch it out to sew around it very smoothly.  This works best if you do it in small sections at a time.  When you are finished and have gone all the way around the diaper, it looks like this:

diaper sewn outside edit

One more step!  Now it’s time to add the snaps to the wings.  For the front, we used the “female” snaps; for the tabs we will use the “male” snaps.  I mark the first snap’s placement about 1/2″ down from the top and 1/2″ in from the edge.

tab snap placement

Mark the other snaps 1″ away.  It will be a square where all the dots are 1″ apart, like this:

tab snaps marked

Do the same to the other tab.  Then, place the snaps on the tabs, just like you did on the front.

tab snap on

That’s it!  Your diaper is finished!

I recommend washing them before use.  Prefolds must be washed several times before use to improve their absorbency.  I usually wash twice and dry, then repeat, and consider them good to go.  I use a large wet bag that I sew (I’ll teach you how to make one in a week or so — it’s easy) inside of a trash can with a lid for the dirty ones.  This sits in my bathroom and is transferred to the laundry room when it’s time to wash.  I also use cloth wipes with them (and I’ll show you how to make those, too).  My 2-year-old closes his legs and yells “NO!” if I come near him with a disposable wipe…but likes the cloth ones.  It’s a no-brainer!

finished diaper open

That’s the finished diaper, open (inside).

finished diaper snapped

Here it is snapped!

One beautiful, functional diaper.  It will take about 30 – 45 minutes to sew the whole thing.  I like to do them in batches of 6 – 12 so that I can get through them a bit faster.  I choose to make 36 in each size so that I have a large stash and can keep extras in the car and not have to wash more than every 3 days.  You could get by with 18 – 24 though.

Your cost on these is going to be $2 – $3 each (as opposed to $18 – $20 for a purchased diaper), so it’s just a matter of how much time you want to spend sewing.  I started with only 18 or 24 in some sizes and found I really wanted the extras, and it made my life much easier.  But it’s up to you!  I hate laundry, so a bigger stash makes things easier.

If you have any questions about this, feel free to ask!

Have you ever sewn a cloth diaper before?

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5 Comments

  1. Where do you buy your materials? I looked a couple of yrs ago into sewing my own and it seemed with the cost of PUL it wouldn’t be that cheap 🙂 Thanks!

    Reply

  2. Thanks for this fantastic and detailed tutorial! Have you put the pattern up yet? I don’t know for sure if we’ll ever have another baby, but if we do, I love the idea of sewing at least some newborn diapers (we still have all of the “regular” ones from when my son was in diapers, but we used disposables when he was a newborn).

    Reply

  3. Awesome, how can I get the pattern?

    Reply

  4. […] that picture above is my not-so-new little guy, wearing one of the cloth diapers I sewed for him.  He’s the fourth baby to be cloth diapered from birth.  (Our oldest baby started in cloth […]

    Reply

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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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