Monday, August 29, 2011

Frugal Fluff

I think it's really ironic that out of all the cloth diapers I've tried these past 16 or so months the ones I prefer to use are the most inexpensive, and also didn't start out life as diapers. I'm talking, of course, about my no-sew T-shirt diapers. Second to that are my cotton flannel receiving blankets that I got as hand-me-downs from various sources, and they make the BEST flats - nice and big, very absorbent, and they wash up great.

And my NEW favourite ultra-cheap alternative to actual diapers are - flour sack towels. I bought a 5-pack of them at WalMart last week and I can't stop singing their praises.

A bit of history - rewind a century or so to when families used to buy their flour in cotton sacks. When they finished all the flour they either re-used the bag to get more flour (if they were getting it straight from the mill) or, more commonly, they re-purposed the bag into towels (and probably cloth diapers, too). Why? Well most people at the time didn't have a lot of money so they had to reuse and recycle everything they had. 

Modern flour sack towels don't come from actual flour sacks, of course, but it's the same type of cotton and the same weave as the old ones (although I suspect that historic flour sacks were a tad thicker). They make good kitchen towels because they're extra absorbent, and they dry fast because they're quite thin. These two qualities make them good as cloth diapers as well! Plus they're super cheap - the ones I got were 5 for $7, and while I usually have to use two folded together for my supersoaker toddler that's still either on par or cheaper than many actual flat diapers that are sold today. I did use just one stuffed into a pocket diaper and it performed much better than I expected (no leaks even though it was pretty well saturated), so they can also make inexpensive and absorbent (and natural!) inserts. 

I had wanted to try flour sack towels as diapers for quite a long while but could never find any. I had read a few forums saying that people purchased them at Walmart, but I'm pretty sure those were all American (since they talked about Target and Meijers, which we don't have in Canada... yet - I hear Zellers was bought out by Target), and I could never find any at the Walmart closest to my house.

Recently, however, I joined a Canadian cloth diaper chat group on Facebook and a few of the ladies were talking about flour sack towels, and said they'd just gotten some at Walmart (and one of them said the towels were marked New! so that would explain why I'd never seen them before). I went the next day and was able to pick up a pack no problem.

I washed them 3 times (I'd had a few loads of laundry to do anyway) and tested them out using my favourite fold, Diaperbag. Right away I suspected that one towel wouldn't be enough for my daughter, who pees Niagara Falls every time, but I decided to try it alone the first time. I put a bummis Super Lite cover on and waited. Almost right away my daughter had a poop and even though I'd had a fleece liner on it the poop soaked through to the diaper, so after that load was washed I got to see how well stains came out of the towels (very well, it was completely gone). She'd only had a teeny pee so I put another one on her but decided to play it safe and put a sherpa doubler in with it, and then put on a trusty bummis Super Whisper Wrap. This time she had a big pee and it was almost too much for the lone towel, even with the doubler. The middle was soaked and it was even wet all the way up the back to her waist (which I've never experienced with a flannel flat unless it was completely saturated), and the wrap was soaked on the inside (no leaks, thank you bummis!). This told me two things. One - the towel transfers wetness very quickly (which is a good thing) and two, I needed to double up next time.

I was skeptical about folding two together since I'd never been able to do that with either flannel or birdseye flats (always too bulky) but I was pleasantly surprised. The doubled flat was similar in bulkiness to a prefold but much much softer. And much more absorbent - I had her in a wool soaker this time and again no leaks, even though the diaper was pretty darn heavy.

My next experiment was pad folding a towel and putting it in one of my new OS Done With Disposables pocket diapers. Yeah, I hate stuffing, but I decided to try a couple of these because they were a) cheap ($8.99 regularly but I got them for $8/each during a flash facebook sale) and b) local (they're China-made, but the WAHM who sells them lives in Milton and I get free home delivery) and c) just so darn cute! Great patterns and minky ones, too, which is new for me.

Anyway, I've been using a pad-folded Kushies flannel flat as an insert (they're just too small now to be Snappi'd on, even with my daughter's teeny bum) and did the same thing with the flour sack towel. I was able to get more layers since the towels are bigger than the Kushies flats, but it was still much much thinner. It did a great job, better than I'd expected actually, but it was so thin that I wasn't able to get the waist tight enough (darn those snaps!) and the insert sagged a lot. No leaks (the DWDs fit uncommonly well) and the towel was pretty saturated, but I'll stick with the Kushies as inserts since they make the cover fit better, and use the towels as snappi'd flats.

The floursack towels combine my favourite attributes of the t-shirts and flannel blankets - they're stretchy like the T-shirts so I can get a really nice fit around the legs (and therefore use wool soakers, which is always my preference) but they're very trim like the blankets and even softer, so even when doubled they smush nicely between my daughter's chubby legs and make it easier for her to walk (and lie on her side). They also take a Snappi better than either the t-shirts or blankets, and they're bigger than standard flats (28x29 unwashed and they don't shrink much).

And to please the historian (and Victorian Age historical interpreter) in me they look like old-fashioned diapers, more so than birdseye flats. They're super white and something about that and the tight, even weave make them look all Ol' Timey. I can easily imagine them being pinned onto a baby or washed in lye soap and then hanged on a line in the Victorian Era.
It would look more historic with pins, but pins just don't work for me.

I also have to admit that as much as I love the flour sack towels in white, I'd really love to tie-dye them after seeing a tie-dyed flat on Facebook that someone had had done.

Anyway, if I had to do it all over again with what I know now, I'd have used the flour sack towels right from the beginning. They're perfect for newborns since they're so soft (even after drying on the clothesline) and you can fold them up nice and small. I'm pretty sure one towel would suffice for the first 3 or 4 months at least, and 2 towels feel about as bulky (or not bulky) as a prefold, but again, much softer. Definitely softer than birdseye flats! I tried those for awhile but hated them. They were way to stiff to double up, and a single birdseye flat wasn't as absorbent as a flannel blanket and didn't fit as well, either.

Friday, August 19, 2011

T-shirt Diaper Love


I turned the rest of my second-hand T-shirts into No-Sew Diapers and I LOVE them. As crazy as it sounds, they are my favourite diapers right now. The jersey is surprisingly absorbent, and I like that they're stretchy, which means I can get a good fit around my daughter's skinny waist and her chubby thighs.

The diaper is surprisingly trim despite all the layers. And because I can get such a good fit around her legs (and the Snappi holds on really well) I can use the pull-on style wool soakers with these diapers, which is a big plus. But really, it fits well under any kind of cover.

My favourite part I think is the rainbow of colours I can get!

There's green:

Royal blue:


This one's a kind of turquoise-y blue, though you can't really see it in the picture:

And of course, basic white:

Oh, and I'd like to amend my earlier comments about the right sized T-shirt - a mens L or XL is NOT too big, in fact I like how it fits much better than the medium.  A large or extra-large is much nicer to fold and it doesn't get too thick between the legs like I thought it would.

Even the XXL was all right:

It's really big, as you can see. I had to zig-zag around the collar because that extra strip of fabric that is usually in T-shirts along the shoulders and collar seams was different in this shirt - it was only along the back of the collar, and it was there in lieu of an actual serged seam. I cut around the front of the collar to remove it, then zigzagged the open seam. Anyway, this particular T-shirt isn't overly thick (about average, I guess) but even with the extra layers it still folded up well and fit nicely.

I believe it would work quite well as an overnight diaper (with the addition of a couple of doublers) which makes me regret my recent purchase of 2 Thirsties hemp jersey prefolds that I'd bought specifically for overnight, and that I unravelled before washing to make flats and almost ruined. The new fabric was so fragile that when I took all the stitching out it created a milling pinholes of various sizes that I had to stitch up by hand to keep the whole damn thing from unravelling. I should have washed them first, but I wasn't thinking.

Anyway, I love love LOVE these T-shirt diapers. Goodwill is having a 50%-off sale today and I almost went to pick up some more T-shirts... but I didn't find out until 2 in the afternoon and I didn't feel like fighting the crowd that I know would be there... plus I don't really need any more diapers right now, even one-dollar diapers. Though I'd really like to completely replace my flats with the T-shirt flats.

I wonder when they'll have another sale...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The No-Sew T-shirt Diaper

Awhile back I read a few articles/blog posts about creating an ultra-cheap diaper stash from things you got at the second-hand store. These articles inspired me to start making my own diapers out of second-hand T-shirts, and if you've been following my blog you'd know that I've made 5 fitted diapers from various colours of T-shirts. While I do like the diapers there are a few things about the process that's recently discouraged me from making more (see 'Diaper Discouraged').

One of the discouraging factors is that I'm a flat and prefold girl. I have yet to find a fitted diaper that fits my daughter the way I want it to, and I much prefer the modularity (if you will) of prefold and especially flat diapers. Since I still had a number of untouched used T-shirts left, I decided to try my hand at making some flat diapers out of them.

I pulled out all the T-shirts and I realised one thing off the bat - I didn't want to make anything that was only one layer of jersey. I have one T-shirt that's a men's XXL that measures about 24" x 29" (!!) that would be a good candidate for two flats, but after working with jersey for a few weeks now I've come to realise that even the thickest jersey is troublesome in only one layer. If you overlock or even just zigzag the edges the needle has the tendency to chew up the fabric (even though I'm using a ball-point needle), making it weaker.

All right, I said to myself, it will have to be 2 layers. I did some more measuring and calculating and decided that any 2-layer 'flat' jersey diaper would have to be at least 15" wide - that's a comfortable width for pinning/Snappi-ing something around my 2-year-old's waist. It could be a few inches wider, but not too many, because then you'd get something way too bulky when folded up. It would also have to be at least 24" long - that would give enough overlap so that you could fold the bottom part up about 3/4 of the way or so (I'm using the Diaperbag Fold as my folding guide).

I measured the T-shirts again and figured that the XL and XXL ones were too wide to make a 2-layer flat without cutting some off, but they were too narrow to cut perfectly in half. I hesitate to cut just a portion because it would waste too much fabric, although I suppose I could make a patchwork diaper from all the cut pieces.

I settled on the one men's size medium I had and decided that would be the one to start with. It was too small to make one entire fitted diaper out of so it could be sacrificed to the cause. The shirt was almost 20" in width and about 26" in length. I could have cut off the excess inches from the width, but I did a test fold and figured I could just fold the two sides in a bit, and more fabric = more absorbency so I decided to keep it.

The next step was to remove the sleeves. I tried to fold the diaper up with the sleeves but there was just too much extra fabric and it made the diaper too bulky at the front. I was deciding exactly how to remove the sleeves when I had a thought - instead of cutting the sleeves off and zigzagging the raw edge, why don't I just keep the serged seam that's already there? I, like many people, am inherently lazy and the less I needed to use my sewing machine the better. Plus, cutting the sleeve off in this way has the added benefit of allowing anyone without a sewing machine or sewing skills to make this diaper.

I then had another thought - I was going to make a diaper that required no sewing skills whatsoever - an easy-peasy inexpensive diaper that anyone on a really tight budget could make in less than half an hour.

I took the sleeves off, cutting as close to the serged seam as possible:

There's a little bit of sleeve fabric left, but it'll just fray away in the wash.

I tried folding the diaper up as it was, sans sleeves, but it was still a bit bulky around the shoulder area. If you've ever looked inside a T-shirt you'll notice that there's a strip of fabric sewn over the seams of the shoulders and the back of the neck. This is put in a better-quality T-shirt to make it more comfortable (a bare seam can be a bit scratchy) and also to make those seams lay flat. From all my T-shirt unravelling experience I know that this strip of fabric can be easily removed to reveal the seam underneath:

The ends of the little strip of fabric was serged to the sleeves so I cut it off close to the stitching:

You don't really need to do this step but in my opinion the strip makes a little bulge in the diaper when you fold it up.

So here's the top of the shirt, sans strip:

You could also cut the collar off in the same way I cut the sleeves off (i.e. close to the serged seam) but I don't think it's necessary. I did another test fold and the collar didn't give the diaper any odd bulges so I left it in.

Like I said earlier, I'm using the Diaperbag Fold (the best flat diaper fold EVER). I folded the two sides in just a bit, then folded up the bottom. I guess it's folded about 2/3 of the way:

Fold the two sides in again, splaying out the edges:

As you can see I left the bottom hem of the shirt intact. Now fold the bottom up and the corners in and voila, a diaper!

Here's what it looks like on my 2-year-old daughter:

Not too bulky, it's nice and soft, and the Snappi holds on quite well. I slapped a bummis SWW on her and off she went. I'm also partial to wool covers so I'd use a wool soaker over this diaper as well.

So there you have it! The No-Sew T-Shirt Diaper that anyone can make. All you need is a pair of scissors and a seam ripper (which can be found at any fabric store or even WalMart). I didn't time myself but I think it took less than 30 minutes to make it, the longest bit being removing the strip of fabric at the shoulders. And the shirt cost me all of $1 - I got it during a Goodwill 50%-off sale, which they hold periodically through the year (so really it was $2).

This was a mens medium-sized shirt; like I said I chose it because it had the length I wanted, even if it was a little too wide. This could be considered a One-Size diaper, but in my opinion it would be too bulky on a newborn or small infant. I'd use a ladies small for newborns and a ladies medium for infants.


After I made the Discouraging Diaper I thought I'd try my hand at making some doublers out of the sleeves and other T-shirt scraps I'd saved. Up until this point I'd been using preemie prefolds or a folded up piece of cotton flannel baby blanket as doublers for the T-shirt diapers, but I'd always intended on making jersey doublers so I finally sat down and did it.

It really started with these:

These are some double-layer sherpa doublers I made from some sherpa inserts I'd gotten a long time ago. I originally just cut an insert in thirds and sewed one side, but even that was too long and a bit too wide so the other day I said 'that's it!' and I made them all pretty. I used a purchased doubler/insert as a guide, cut the sherpa ones and zigzagged the edges. They're a bit curled in the photo since this is right after I sewed them. They straightened out a bit after washing.

On to the jersey doublers. I thought at first I'd make them a simple elongated oval like the sherpa ones, but anything with straight sides always gets bunched up between the legs so I settled on drafting a bone-shaped doubler instead.

I had a pattern already drafted for one of the first diapers I made, but it was for a size small, so i just made it a bit longer and copied the scoop in the middle. I surveyed the amount of fabric I had left and saw that I could get 6-full layers, and split that into two doublers of 3-layers each since 6 would be too thick to sew and I'm pretty sure it wouldn't wash out well in the laundry.

It took rather a long time to cut the forms out, and I had to substitute some tan jersey in for the yellow and blue doublers since i didn't have enough of those colours, but I managed to get 8 doublers in two days:

The topmost layer of the doublers was also stretching as I zigzagged them, so that didn't help to ease my frustration with this fabric, but they turned out all right in the end. And the jersey is more absorbent than I'd originally thought - under a PUL cover I just need the fitted with two jersey doublers. I add a sherpa doubler  if I'm putting a wool cover on my girl.

It was quite a learning experience and if I had to do it over again, I would do a few things differently. Firstly, I don't really like bone-shaped doublers. Yes the straight ones do bunch up more between the legs, but they also have more fabric and therefore (slightly) more absorbency, plus straight ones are easier to cut. Secondly, these doublers are a tad too short; I'd lengthen them by at least 2 inches. Thirdly, if I had enough fabric I'd instead make large, square/rectangular 2-layer doublers (or inserts, I guess) that you would fold into thirds - in the end it's easier to sew and gives you more fabric, thus more absorbency.

I also made some overnight doublers last night out of a few bamboo fleece wipes. Why? Mostly because I'm wacky, but really because I have too many wipes. Whenever I'm putting away the diaper laundry I have to really stuff the wipes into their container and usually I can't get the lid closed. Since I made those stretch terry wipes from the leftover baby towel material (see 'Adventures with Stretch Terry') I've got more than I need. Plus I don't really like how the bamboo wipes feel when they're wet. They're super soft while dry, but bamboo tends to get hard and stiff when it's wet (which is one reason I sold off all the bamboo diapers I had) and I don't like that.

Anyway, I figured I could make a couple of doublers for my daughter's overnight diapers and take advantage of the bamboo's super-fast absorbing quality. I took four wipes and unrolled them - oh yeah, that's another thing I don't like about these wipes, they roll up on two sides:

I bought 2 dozen of these wipes from a WAHM her in the GTA and they started off nice and flat, but after the first wash the two ends rolled up and just stayed that way. Even if I unroll them and try to flatten them out again and fold them up a different way, once they go into the wash they roll up again. Sigh.

Okay so I unrolled four wipes and zig-zagged the edges together (just touching, not overlapping) on my sewing machine and got something that looked like this:

My original idea would be to fold it up in thirds or quasi-quarters and get a multi-layer doubler like this:

This all happened at 9 pm last night, and I was all gung-ho about it but didn't really stop to think it through and I realised a few mistakes I'd made after sewing two of these.

Firstly, I shouldn't have used polyester thread. The seams were way too rough and scratchy; I should have used cotton instead. Secondly, they're much too big. My girl really doesn't need all that extra absorbency - she's already got a folded up hemp doubler in her diaper, and the diaper itself is a cotton terry flat which is pretty darned absorbent on it's own.

So just before I went to bed I ripped out two of the seams so I was left with just two wipes sewn together. Then after I was in bed for a few minutes I came upon a better way to make the doublers, but I left it for this morning since I wasn't going to get up again that night.

This morning I ripped out the last of the purple stitching, put cotton thread back in my machine and made a few doublers that look like this:

As you can see, it's just two wipes overlapping in the middle, sewn together with zigzag:

Fold the top and bottom flaps over the middle and ta-da, you've got a doubler with four layers in the 'wetzone':

We'll see how it works out tonight.

Diaper Discouraged

I made another fitted diaper last weekend (all in one day!) and while it turned out nicely:

I've become somewhat discouraged with these T-shirt diapers, only because the jersey is very stretchy and that makes it difficult to sew. Everything is fine up until the last step - serging (or in my case, zigzagging) the diaper while putting the top layer on. The top (or inside) layer of the diaper always stretches out so much while I'm sewing it on that it either makes little pleats here and there or I find I have to stop and cut off a few millimetres from the edge, and it's very frustrating. You can change the pressure on the foot on my sewing machine - if the foot presses down too much on the fabric it stretches it out while it sews - but there are only 3 settings, and the lightest stetting still presses down too much. If and when I make another diaper I'm going to try zigzagging it upside-down (with the top layer on the bottom) and see if that makes a difference, but I'm doubtful it will. 

Something else that adds to the discouragement is that not all jersey is Snappi-friendly. If the weave is too tight the Snappi doesn't bite well and tends to pop off. I don't like using pins because I'm not good at using pins, and I also don't like poking holes in this rather thin fabric all the time. I have used pins on these t-shirt diapers on occasion and if I can get them in the right position they work pretty well, but I'm afraid that they'll just end up destroying the diaper.

Finally, my problem is that I'm more inclined to use prefolds and flat diapers on my daughter, so no matter what fitteds I use (Crunchy-Viking-made or otherwise) they're somewhat sub-standard in my opinion.

So what's next? Making flat diapers from T-shirts, of course!