There are lots of ways to make cloth diapers — fabric choices, pattern choices, styles, closures — but here's what works for me. My diapers have been through two children and are still going strong.
Diaper style and pattern
My preference is for pocket diapers with snaps. They're slim and trim, go on as easily as a disposable, and the inside soaker fabric comes out for quicker drying. I use the Chloe Toes pattern. I bought it back when she sold hand-traced copies for $5. It's significantly more costly now, but I think it's still worth the cost. The diapers fit great, are sized right, and her instructions are good.
I have been sewing all my life, but I'm pretty sure a novice sewer could make these diapers with no problem. You only need a machine with a zigzag stitch.
Buy the pattern first, then read the directions to see how much of what materials you will need.
Waterproof outer fabrics
I use knit PUL (polyurethane laminated) fabric for the outer layer to make the diaper waterproof. The thickness — 1 or 2mil — doesn't matter as both perform just as well and both are supple.
I have never heard of PUL being available at a local store, only online. I have price shopped all over the Internet and always end up at SewShoppe, Cradled in Cloth, DiaperFabric.com or Wazoodle.
An alternative to PUL is ProCare from Wazoodle, but my husband has some odd aversion to the texture. Since he does most of the diaper washing and much of the changing, I'm glad to cater to this.
Once I was lucky to find some Ultrex outdoor fabric on clearance at a local store so I bought yards and yards. Gore-tex would also work. I've scoured the Internet and retailers that sell fabric for marine and outdoor gear, and unless you find an unbeatable clearance deal, you can't beat the cost of PUL or ProCare.
You can buy other kinds of fabric with the PUL applied, but I only like the knit PUL sold for diaper-making. Many diaper fabric shops sell cute woven cotton prints with PUL applied, but I find that the urine wicks to the outside of the fabric. The cuteness isn't worth the wetness to me. Knit PUL comes in fun colors anyway.
Inner fabrics next to the baby's bum
I prefer either microfleece or a sportswear fabric like Malden Mills Power Dry.
Microfleece isn't the same as the polarfleece you might use to make a blanket or poncho. It's thinner and wicks the moisture away. Some polarfleece blocks the moisture, so it wouldn't work. I found my best buy at a local Jo-Ann fabric store on sale. You can also buy it from one of the web stores above or directly from Malden Mills by the yard (look for those labeled lightweight micro).
Power Dry is available on the Malden Mills site and sometimes on the others. Cradled in Cloth has an unbelievable bargain on a moon and stars print and has had it for a few years now. She must have bought many, many bolts and I assume it was so cheap because it's a little gaudy.
I strongly prefer snaps for my diapers. Hook-and-loop tape can be stiff, and even the better choices for diapers can get clogged with lint and stuck together after many washings.
I invested in this professional snap setter and use the 20mm resin (like plastic) snaps. They last and last. Once you have a nice snap setter, you find all kinds of uses for snaps. It's also possible to hire someone else to put in your snaps so you can avoid the cost of a press. Contact me for details.
Before I bought the professional snap setter, I used this SnapSource hand tool that's cheaper, but still good. Use their long-prong, metal snaps. Just know that you may have to replace some after a year or more of use. And if you need enough snaps to make a couple dozen Chloe Toes diapers, you're actually better off buying the professional snap setter since the resin snaps are much, much cheaper. Don't bother with the Dritz snap tool available in fabric stores. It doesn't work well.
Absorbent fabric for inside the diapers
If you use pocket diapers as we do, you need something absorbent to stuff inside to soak up the urine. I have tried lots and lots of options, but our absolute favorite is also the cheapest and most readily available. We use microfiber cloths intended for washing car windshields. I hate Wal-mart, but there and Sam's Club are where we have found the cheapest packages. Be sure to buy it in the auto aisle. It's the same microfiber cloth as you would buy for dusting or drying yourself off or anything else, but it's more expensive per square foot if you buy it outside the auto aisle. Seriously. Make sure you get the one that is about as thick as a washcloth with the loops, not something completely flat like you would use to clean your eyeglasses.
Microfiber is thin, yet holds in more urine per square inch than other choices. It also dries on the line super fast. The only reason to avoid it might be if you want to use only natural fibers such as cotton or hemp.
We just take a square microfiber towel (ours are anywhere from 10 to 14 inches square) and fold it in thirds to stuff in the diaper. If we need more absorbency, we use two.
My only warning is that they over-dye these towels big time and they often come in neon colors. Just wash them separately from your other diaper materials after the first few wearings until all the color has bled out.
The final specialty notion you'll need is fold-over elastic, also available from any of the diaper fabric shops. I have only found it at a local retail shop once. It was designed for finishing off the edges of fleece jackets and was super expensive when sold for that purpose.
It does make a difference. Cotton thread will absorb the urine and wick it to the outside of the diaper. I use a polyester thread.
With all this said, I do have another favorite diaper option. Someday I'll post more about how I convert old wool sweaters into diaper covers or pants (called wool soakers or longies). We only use these in the winter months, not because they're too hot for summer, but because they pick up debris from the playground in the summertime!