Saturday, November 29, 2008

Materials Information for sewing your own cloth diapers or pads

The technology of cloth pads is the same as that of cloth diapers—what works for one will probably work for the other, so the information is applicable to both.

Material options:

Each diaper/pad needs three fabric types (plus a closure, and elastic in the case of diapers): something soft next to the skin, something to serve as a leak barrier on the outside, and something absorbent in the middle.

Here is a list of the fabric options for each part.

  • Outside Barrier (PUL or heavyweight fleece—many diapers use wool covers but I don’t recommend it for an AIO design--see pros/cons list for details)
  • Soft fabric next to skin (stay-dry microfleece or suedecloth, flannel, velour, minkee, or silk)
  • Absorbent Core fabric (microfiber, hemp, cotton, bamboo, etc—natural fibers always absorb, synthetic ones generally do not.) Sometimes this can be the same fabric that is next to the skin, but not always (see pros/cons list for details).
  • Closure (velcro or snap)
  • Elastic (diapers only) (I recommend stretchrite brand, I use ¼” for the legs on all sizes, as well as the waist on smalls. I prefer 5/8” for the waistband on larger sizes, but ¼” works ok too.)

Some things to think about when choosing materials:

What will this diaper/pad be used for? How long will the item be worn between changes (how absorbent does it need to be?) Are sensitive skin/reactions an issue? (Some people react to synthetic fabrics, others react to staying wet). What materials can I afford? (organic bamboo velour retails at $19/yd, whereas cotton flannel is $2/yd)

Here is a brief synopsis of the pros and cons of various fabrics:




1ml PUL*

Slightly more flexible/stretchy/soft than 2ml, cheaper than 2ml; absolutely will not leak.

Potentially not as strong as 2ml. Synthetic fabric doesn’t breathe. Only available online. **Can be sticky in sewing machine.

2ml PUL*

Stronger than 1ml (holds up to abuse such as chlorinated pools or frequent washing). Makes great wetbags. Not so stretchy (easier to sew with). Absolutely will not leak.

Slightly more expensive and potentially stiffer than 1ml. Synthetic fabric doesn’t breathe. Only available online. **Can be sticky in sewing machine.

Heavy Polyester Fleece

Readily available; inexpensive; breathes

Stretchy (can be difficult to sew with); synthetic fabric may cause irritation; may leak under heavy use; may get pilly with washing.


Thirsty; natural fabric breathes; waterproof when properly lanolized; can double as outerwear with diapers; secondhand sweaters are an affordable source.

Wool has to be handwashed, so cannot be used as part of an all-in-one design. Many wools are scratchy, so should be chosen carefully.


Soft. Keeps the skin dry by wicking moisture through. Moderate price

Not usually available in stores; gets a little pilly with repeated washing; stretchy—can be difficult to sew


Keeps the skin dry by wicking moisture through. Usually readily available. Not stretchy. Available in a variety of prints and colors.

Synthetic—some people don’t like the feel (not as soft as microfleece)


Readily available; inexpensive; fun colors and prints; can be used for both top and inner layers

Some flannel has polyester content—be sure to check labels. Some flannel is softer than others, and some is very thin—feel it!

Velour (available in cotton, hemp, and bamboo)

Very soft and stays soft through washings; fuzz gives a ‘feel-dry’ feeling although it doesn’t actually wick moisture away

Somewhat expensive, very stretchy (NOT for beginner sewers), may shed fuzz during cutting and sewing

Terry (available in cotton, hemp, and bamboo)

Very absorbent; readily available; cheap; does not stretch.

Quite bulky; may be harder to sew with

Just think about a wet towel…


Trim (not bulky); very thirsty; dries quickly; does not stretch; very cheap if purchased as ‘auto care cloths’

Synthetic, feels weird (wouldn’t want it touching skin)


Cheap, readily available,

Heavy when wet and slow to dry (think of a wet tee-shirt or towel)

Bamboo (available as fleece, terry, velour, and flannel)

Eco-friendly, VERY soft (truly the softest thing I've ever felt)

Expensive, stretchy (more difficult to sew with)

Hemp (available as fleece, terry, and velour)

Eco-friendly, natural anti-microbial properties, very trim

Expensive, can get stiff with washing,

*PUL (poly-urithane laminate) is a knit fabric with a laminate coating on the back. From one side it looks like regular fabric but because of the coating it is completely waterproof. It was originally developed for use in the medical field but has now become popular for cloth diapering and is available in a rainbow of solid colors. There is “Fabrite PUL” which is the original stuff, and there is also off-brand PUL, which is exactly the same only cheaper and in slightly different colors.

A special note about PUL—many people do “DIY PUL” which is when the PUL backing is applied to fabrics which the customer sends in. These PULs are easily recognized because the PUL company only makes solid colors, so any kind of print is a DIY. I have had mixed results with DIY PULs, and will say this: I will never again use a woven DIY fabric. I might use a knit one if it was really really cute, but in general I have found them in every way inferior to the standard PUL.

**The coated side of the PUL can be sticky, and many sewers are intimidated by it—but you do not need special sewing tools or experience to use it. Visit the resources listed below, or contact other sewers for tips (I put the sticky side down, or if I must have it up, I lay tissue paper between the foot and the fabric as I sew; it allows it to move smoothly, then just tears away afterward). I'm working on a tutorial about sewing with PUL, and will link it here when it's done.

Where to get fabrics:

Some fabrics, such as flannel or cotton terry, can be purchased at the average fabric store. Unless you will be needing more than a few yards, I recommend getting those fabrics there—even without a coupon the savings in shipping will be worth it.

There are two ways to get specialty fabrics such as PUL and microfleece: online retailers and co-ops. Go see this post for information and links.

For lots more info, visit the EtsyClothDiapers Team's "cloth diapering information" series. Additional information and help can be found in the forums at or or by joining the yahoo group “sew your own cloth diapers.” Remember that the technology of pads is the same as that of diapers—what works for one will probably work for the other, so the information is applicable to both.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me by leaving a comment here (I'll respond in the comments), or via

1 comment:

  1. I have recently learned more about minkee/minky. It's a super soft fabric (like velour only fluffier) and makes for a truly plush diaper. It is not a 'stay-dry' fabric, but like velour, the height of the fuzz helps the baby feel drier than they are.


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