Find out what the heck we are talking about with this ultimate glossary of cloth diapering and sewing terms. It's guide to getting *fluff* savvy.
Birdseye is a woven pique fabric, often called "Diaper Cloth", & commonly confused with Diaper Flannel until you see them side by side. The type of weave makes it slightly textured. Birdseye is 100% cotton and can sometimes be found in organic and unbleached varieties. It will last through multiple children, and continues to soften, fluff, and increase in absorbency through use. Car detail shops use this stuff for polishing, and we even have a Harley Davidson shoppe buy the stuff to shine their special motorcycles because it's so soft and absorbent. When you first get your birdseye, it seems rough and stiff, but softens and fluffs up after washing. Birdseye is commonly used in flat diapers, but works well as a prefold, fitted, or in a soaker pad. If using birdseye in a soaker pad you'll want to use 6-8 layers.
Diaper Flannel is a fabric that is kind of slipping into obscurity. Sometimes you can find it at your local fabric stores, but usually it is only found online. Typically in 27" width, it can sometimes be found in 36" widths. It's incredibly soft, double brushed flannel & usually double napped (brushed on both sides). It is the strongest flannel and diapers made out of this will last into toddlerhood and still be in good enough condition to be used on another child. If using diaper flannel in a soaker pad you'll want to use 6-8 layers.
Similar to diaper flannel, Killington flannel is thick, strong, & durable and has the added bonus of being unbleached - a plus for folks who like to use minimally processed fibers next to baby's sensitive skin. Killington can be used in all areas of a diaper. Killington flannel is lighter weight, not a whole lot heavier than diaper flannel or double napped flannel. If using Killington flannel in a soaker pad, you'll want to use 6-8 layers.
Double Napped Flannel
Flannel that is brushed on both sides so that it's fuzzy on both the front and back. Nice and thick. 5-8 ounces per linear yard is a good weight for diapers. Single napped flannel is fine to use too, just put the fuzzy softer side towards the baby and make sure it is a good weight. Super Flannel is just the name a popular overload-mart has given to their particular brand of double napped flannel. It doesn't weigh any more per yard and isn't any stronger than the double napped flannel you'll find at any fabric store. You can use double napped flannel in all areas of a diaper. If using it for a soaker pad, use 6-8 layers.
PUL - Polyurethane Laminate - Waterproof Fabric
"PUL" is a phrase was coined by a mom who ran the first co-op for polyurethane laminate fabrics. Some say it like the word "pull" some refer to it by saying the letters, "P-U-L". In diapering this fabric is usually a polyester knit, tricot, or a poly/cotton blend that is bonded to the urethane layer making it waterproof. While many remember the rubber pants of yester-year that yellowed, cracked, and retained odor, PUL is a vast improvement. PUL makes soft, leak proof covers and All in One diapers (diapers with the cover sewn right in). PUL can also be used to make bed wetter sheets, training pants, cloth menstrual pads, and nursing pads.
The medical industry uses PUL fabric for their surgical gowns and drapes because they are fluid proof and can be autoclaved at high temperatures to sanitize. Because this fabric is built to withstand high temperatures, it can be washed on hot and dried on hot. Covers and All in One diapers sewn with PUL will last through a child's entire diapering period and often will still be in good enough condition to use on a second or third child.
Polyester fleece comes in many different weights and is made by many different manufacturers. Popular brands within the diapering community include Tonitex and Malden Mills. Heavier weight fleeces such as Windpro made by Malden Mills work well as diaper covers or the outer layer of an All in One diaper. Lighter weight fleeces such as micro-fleece are commonly used next to baby's skin. Wetness seeps through the micro-fleece so baby feels dry and stays rash free.
Polyester fleece is a synthetic, man made fabric. Some babies may be sensitive to synthetics.
Fleece is a plastic, man made cousin to Wool. Both fibers work similarly as far as keeping moisture contained. A wool fabric used as a diaper cover actually absorbs the moisture keeping your sheets and laps dry. Polyester doesn't absorb, but traps the moisture molecules between its fibers.
Some manufacturers apply a DWR (Durable Water Resistance) coating to their heavier weight fleeces. DWR does wash out over time. If you notice your fleece covers or All in One diapers stop working well, you may need to treat the fleece outers with Nikwax waterproofing.
Even with DWR intact, fleece covers to tend to "sweat" a little, and if your baby is left for long periods of time sitting in a fleece AIO or cover (like riding in the car, stroller, etc.) You may find your baby's bottom will feel a little damp.
Polar Fleece / Nordic Fleece
Polar Fleece /Nordic Fleece can be purchased in chain or local fabric stores. It may be produced overseas or in the states. It often has a fuzzier, less dense appearance and can even feel waxy. This fleece sometimes pills badly in the wash. It can work as a diaper cover or All in One outer fabric, but you might want to double up and use two layers.
It is virtually impossible to find a super-store or chain fabric employee who can tell you whether or not the polar fleeces have been treated with anti-pill or a water resistant treatment, steer clear of polar fleeces that feel waxy or look really hairy. The hairy-er the fleeces look, the more likely they will pill up terribly.
I've heard that the micro-fleece some chain stores carry works well as a wicking / stay-dry layer, however.
Burley Knit Terry
Burley knit terry is a long looped terry cloth. A rather chunky looking knit on the back, and long, thick loops on the front. Usually available in 20 - 22 ounces per linear yard, and is very absorbent. Quite popular for use in soaker pads and doublers. You can make your entire diaper out of Burley knit terry, but decrease the number of layers in the soaker pad or you'll have a very bulky diaper that will take forever to dry. 3 layers is plenty for a soaker pad, any more than that and your diaper will have to spend all day in the dryer or on the line.
Stretch Knit Terry
Hooded little baby bath towels are often made of this. It's knitted and usually thinner than towel material, though you can get it in heavier weights. Make the entire diaper out of it or just use it right next to the baby's skin, or just in a soaker pad. It doesn't form the "diaper rocks", and won't get stiff. If you want to use a Snappi Fastener instead of snaps or hook and loop on a diaper, a Snappi will grip to stretch terry nicely. You'll usually need 4 layers of stretch terry in a soaker pad.
Sherpa Knit Terry
Sherpa is essentially a heavier weight Stretch Knit Terry with one side brushed to be very soft and fleece like. Trimmer than Burley Knit terry, but a bit thicker than Stretch Knit Terry alone, you can use Sherpa to make an entire diaper. Wonderfully soft next to baby's skin, or a great soaker pad fabric. I'd recommend 3 - 4 layers for a soaker pad.
Hemp is a popular fabric for diaper making made from the cannabis plant. Yes, that's the same plant you can get marijuana from, but don't worry, the fabric doesn't contain any oTHC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the drug that occurs naturally in the leaves of the plant.
Hemp fabrics come in many different varieties, the most popular for diaper making are French Terry, Fleece (not to be confused with polyester fleece), and a Jersey knit, like a t-shirt material.
Use 3 - 4 layers of Hemp Terry, Hemp French Terry, & Hemp Fleece in a soaker pad.
Use 5 - 6 layers of Hemp Jersey or Hemp Stretch Terry in a soaker pad.
Entire diapers can be made out of any of these fabrics. The hemp fleece is very soft right next to baby's skin. All hemp fabrics stiffen up a bit with first use, then soften over time with continued use. You can combine hemp fabrics to customize a hemp diaper to your heart's desire.
For the purist in us all, 100% Certified Organic Cottons are wonderful for baby diapers. Many styles are available. Interlocks, absorbent French Terry, and French Terry Fleeces, knit terries and more. Great for clothing and diapers for that all natural beauty we all love.
Organic Cotton is produced without chemical fertilizers, nor is the plant modified genetically. Organic farmers focus on growing and raising cotton in a natural, environment-friendly atmosphere.
Yes! This is the same soft pile fabric your favorite jump suit that you wore in the 3rd grade was made out of. Well, yours was probably all polyester. Velour feels similar to velvet, in that it is a pile fabric. Soft and thick, velour is a luxurious fabric for diapers. Just be sure the velour you are using has a high cotton content. No lower than 70% cotton. Velour can be used next to baby's skin, or any area of the diaper, though I think it's a bit of a waste to use it in the soaker pad since part of the fabric's appeal is it's plush feel. It is absorbent and does not have wicking properties like 100% polyester fleece.
Interlock & Jersey Knits
Knit fabrics are popular in diapers, they are soft and come in a variety of colors and cute prints. Some people prefer to have 100% cotton next to their baby's skin. Some people prefer a bit of poly for durability. Remember that knits are considered a delicate fabric! They are cute and soft but are NOT very durable. Knits should not be pinned. Plastic snaps should be applied with care through multiple layers and stabilized with a stronger fabric or interfacing or you'll run the risk of the "button hole effect" where your snap will wear a hole through the knit and pop off. This can pose a choking hazard for small children. Metal, multi-pronged snaps are ideal for knit fabrics. When using hook and loop closures on a diaper that has knit parts, sew fold back laundry tabs on, or the hook part will wear out the knit in the wash.
Heavier weight interlocks can be used in soaker pads, or in a soaker pad with other fabrics. 4 layers on its own, or surround a couple layers of knit terry with it for a soft absorbent soaker pad.
Towel Terry / Terry Toweling
Woven towel terry gets a bit of a bad rap in the Diaper Underground here in the United States. Soakers made from old towels can get stiff inside a diaper and even fray to form hard little balls called "diaper rocks". That said, my very first diapers have soaker pads made of old towels and aren't uncomfortably stiff. Many of my first diapers were made by using a cheap washcloth folded into thirds and sewn in as the soaker pad. Washcloths are generally always woven towel terry, but a bit lighter weight, these diapers absorb great and aren't stiff whatsoever. No diaper rocks either... the washcloths come already serged around the edges! So... if you're trying to save some money, don't rule out the underloved towel terry. A very popular diaper in Europe are big fluffy squares of towel terry, absorbent flat folds! 3 layers works well for a soaker pad, 4 layers if it feels pretty thin.
Woven fabrics do not have any "give", they aren't stretchy like knits are. They are often easier to find in cute prints than knit fabrics are, and are far more durable, and therefore are a popular choice for the outside of diapers, covers, and all in ones. I wouldn't use a woven fabric next to the baby's skin unless it was very, very soft. Get a pre washed scrap wet and see how it feels next to the skin - if it's scratchy, don't use it right next to baby. Woven cottons stay looking nice much longer than flannel or knits. If you want diapers to look just as vibrant as the day you made them, use a woven print on the outside instead of a knit or flannel.
There are many types of wool weaves. The most popular wool weaves for breathable cloth diaper covers are wool knits such as wool jersey and wool interlock, or wool doubleknits. Wool flannels and coat weight (melton) wools also work well but may not be as soft. In order for wool to work well as a diaper cover, it sometimes needs to be felted first. In order to felt wool, you will be going against normal "wool rules" by washing it in your washing machine on HOT and drying on HOT. This shrinks your wool fabric nice and tight. NEVER use regular clothing detergents on wool, always use a wool wash or gentle baby shampoo to not only felt your wool for the first time, but to care for the items you make with it afterwards.
Wool contains natural lanolin which helps a wool cover function like it does (keeping moisture where it belongs). Natural lanolin can be stripped during fabric processing or with use. If your wool covers stop working well, you may need to re-lanolize them. You can lanolize your wool by soaking in diluted Eucalan Wool Wash or soaking it in a lanolin bath by dissolving pure lanolin (leftover Lansinoh from early breastfeeding days works well) in a bath of warm water.
Wool can absorb 30% its weight before it starts to feel damp, this not only draws moisture out of the diaper and away from baby's skin but helps keep sheets and laps dry as well making wool an ideal choice for night time or day covers.
Wool covers will last beyond your childbearing years if cared for properly! Wool needs to be cared for differently than your other diapering items. Wool shouldn't be washed with regular detergents as these can strip wool of its natural lanolin and even strip the dye from colored wool. Always use a wool wash or gentle baby shampoo to wash your wool covers - remember, wool is sheep's hair! Wool covers can be aired out between uses for anywhere from 4 - 10 days (sometimes even longer!) before it will require washing & relanolizing. (Unless it gets soiled on). Wash your wool diapering items in a special soap made just for wool, such as Eucalan Wool Wash. If you have enough wool covers to merit a laundry cycle, they can be washed on gentle in cool water with a cap full or two of Eucalan. Hang them up to dry or lay flat to dry.
Suedecloth is a 100% polyester fabric that works similar to microfleece. It does not absorb moisture, but used right next to baby, it wicks moisture away and keeps baby dry. Some feel that it does not keep baby as dry as microfleece does, but it does not pill up like microfleece can and stays looking new even after a few years of use. Some feel that it resists stains better than microfleece as well. I've heard of some customers using suedecloth on the outside of diapers and covers simply because they like the way it feels.
Microfiber terry is a synthetic terry cloth with no natural fibers used. The synthetic fibers do not really absorb, but trap moisture molecules between the plastic fibers. Microfiber terry holds a lot of moisture and is gaining in popularity as a soaker fabric and pocket diaper insert. Microfiber terry feels a little scratchy to the touch, if you choose to use this fabric in a diaper, make sure it is topped with a softer fabric such as a cotton or microfleece.