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.

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