Sewing organic diapers, diaper covers, nursing pads, and cloth pads
My "baby" turned seven last month (and yes, we did go camping), so I'm fairly detached from the world of cloth diapering. Luckily I have many friends who are in the thick of it, as it were, and they keep me very up-to-date with the latest changes. Aren't I lucky? It amazes me how much cloth diapering has changed since my kids were babies, though -- and in saying so I sound like my mother, who used to wash my diapers in the stream near the house she and my dad were building and many years later marveled at the innovations her grandkids benefitted from!
Some of the best new concepts in organic diapering are directly attributable to fabrics that are now available organically that did not exist previously or were simply far too expensive to be used for anything but couture garments. Fine knit organic wool is a prime example of this. When my kids were little, diaper wraps were almost exclusively made of vinyl, PUL, polyester fleece, or a thick knit wool (often hand-knit, like the splendid patterns we have in our Diapered People section). The organic wool jerseys and interlocks available now, once washed to remove shrinkage (you don't want to go through all the work of making a cover only to have it end up fitting a field mouse), make splendid diaper covers that I only dreamed of with my little ones! And with wool you only need a few covers per size. They don't need to be washed after each use -- just air them out when damp and the lanolin will generally take care of any smell. Wash them only when soiled or if they really need it. (When you do wash, though, make sure to use a wool wash that contains lanolin or you'll lose the water-repellent properties!) Wool's an amazing fabric in so many ways, and it's splendid for diaper covers. See? Other people think so too!
The shape of the diaper wrap is completely dependent on your desire and your baby's needs, of course. Many of my friends swear by soaker-style wraps for nighttime wear, and you can see a glorious example of one on etsy.com. Others prefer a soaker sack, either hand-knit or sewn from a wool fabric. That would have been my choice, had I known about it when I had littles! Instead we often had a little one with just a diaper, no wrap, on a wool puddle pad to facilitate quick middle-of-the-night changes. During the day, many people choose snap- or hook-and-loop-closing covers (which aren't all that hard to make, either). There are so many different options -- these are just a few, and of course if you purchase a pattern you'll generally find it much more detailed than if you choose to work from online instructions.
As far as organic diapers themselves, your choices are numerous! Flats are the traditional diaper that our grandparents used; they're a single layer of fabric (though some truly innovative flats use double layers, ooooh!) that are folded to fit the baby's body and generally either pinned or fastened with a snappi. Flats are easy to make, easy to wash, and quick to dry; they're often made of birdseye, flannel, or even a hemp/cotton jersey. Measurements generally vary from 21" square to 27" square, and you can use the same diapers for the whole of your baby's diapering career, though you may eventually have to start doubling or even tripling up for added thickness. These are the diapers that my mom washed in a stream for my brother and me, and that she was diapered in, and her mom, and ... Flats are useful not only for diapering, by the way, but also as multipurpose cloths: they make great bibs, washcloths, changing pads, and all-purpose wipes. We're still using some seven-year-old flats that are french terry on one side and flannel on the other as our dust cloths.
Prefolds are the next step up on the diaper complication continuum; they're much like flats but with extra padding down the middle. You thus end up with thinner outer layers and a thicker inner layer -- often you'll see prefolds described as "4x8", meaning there are 8 layers of fabric in the middle and 4 layers on the outsides. (That is, of course, when they actually are 4x8; sometimes they're 4x6 or other thicknesses.) Like flats, they're quick and easy to wash and dry, and you fold them to fit your baby. They last a long time and once you're done diapering make exceptionally wonderful rags and dust cloths. Prefolds vary in size depending on the size of your baby, often from around 12x16" for newborns to 18x23" for toddlers, so you'll need multiple sets of prefolds to get through. Because they're so easy to make, though, it's not hard to fulfill that need. The newborn sizes work well as diaper doublers/soakers later on, and can be repurposed as menstrual pads and other things too should you choose to do so. The classic fabrics for prefolds are birdseye, flannel, jerseys, and the like, but some splendid ones are made using french terry, velour, and other more luxurious materials.
Fitted diapers are a fairly new concept; I still remember my mom's face when she saw them. She was so jealous! (Yes, she was jealous over a diaper. What can I say; we're a strange family!) Fitted diapers look a lot like a disposable diaper, but they're made of cloth and you wash them instead of throwing them away. A contoured diaper is like a fitted diaper but doesn't have any snaps or velcro (excuse me; I mean hook-and-loop tape) to hold it close; here's an example of an organic contour diaper, and the PooPockets Diaper is another. The Side-Snapping PooPockets Diaper is an example of a fitted diaper. I was surprised at how easy it is to make even fitted diapers; once you make the first one you really start to get the hang of it. One fun thing about fitted and contour diapers is that you can use a printed or bright fabric on the outermost layer (the part that shows when baby's wearing the diaper) and more functional fabrics inside (fleece, flannel, etc), so the diaper both looks great and works wonderfully!
There are other variants of diaper, of course; there's the pocket diaper (which is included in the Henri & Juliette Diaper and Diaper Cover Pattern), the diaper with attached soaker to facilitate quicker drying, the all-in-one (which has a wrap incorporated into the outside layer ... very convenient, except that you have to wash the whole thing including the cover each time it's used!), and so much more. The above, though, seem to be the most common at the moment.
Chances are pretty good that families in need of diapers will also need nursing pads, and they're incredibly easy to make. That's a good thing, because organic non-disposable nursing pads can cost upwards of $10/pair so making your own is a great way to save money! Just make a circle template, generally between 4-5" in diameter (depending on breast size), and choose your fabric. Many times people will use either two layers of moisture-resisting organic wool jersey for the entire pad or a single layer of organic wool jersey as the back, protective layer with a layer or two of a more absorbent fabric to sit close to the breast. Sometimes people will use four or five layers of a soft fabric (a plain jersey, a brushed sateen, etc) with no backing. It all depends on your needs. On the most basic level, simply serge or sew around the edges and voila -- you have nursing pads. For more comfortable, contoured pads, check out our Personal Things pattern.
And finally, to end this post all about intimate sewing, there's cloth menstrual pads. You've probably seen that we offer two patterns for pads: Personal Things and Kristin's Cloth Pads. Of the two, I personally prefer Kristin's Cloth Pads; I find them more comfortable. That said, it all depends on your body and preferences, and there are so many options out there.
One trend that I've noticed lately, again because of advances in organic fabric, is using a layer of organic wool as the bottom layer, closest to your panties. That layer acts as a moisture blocker; it's not waterproof (or blood-proof), but it's definitely moisture resistant and thus makes cloth pads a bit safer for days when you're expecting a heavy flow. Many people choose to top pads with a layer of the softest fabric they can find (the Fleecy White Knit Velour, for instance), give extra absorbency to the inside with a few layers of another fabric or a piece of batting, and then end with the aforementioned organic wool. I've seen many people hand-dyeing the top fabrics, to add interest (and also hide stains), which can turn out just gorgeous. Rather than go through that work, though, I think I'd probably simply choose a darker top fabric to begin with -- something like our Cranberry Cosmo Fleece would work quite nicely.
I've lately been perusing the web to see what other options are out there for cloth pad users, and here are a few of the finds I've made. These circle pads look intriguing, though of course I'd need to make some modifications to organic-ify them. (Wool instead of PUL and microfleece, etc.) This site has quite a few patterns, as well as discussions of the pros and cons of all the various types of pads you might want to make. This site has good instructions and pictures for a basic pad -- it's a very good option for beginners. And there's an etsy seller who makes reusable tampons, which I'd never seen for sale before. And they're organic, too, though I have major reservations about bamboo's sustainability. (That's why we don't sell any bamboo fabrics at NearSea Naturals.)