In our humble home, t-shirts are stockpiled from years of fraternity parties, sports teams and military functions. The majority of these shirts were worn for the party, game or event and then shoved into the nether regions of the dresser not to be seen or thought of again until the drawer is stuffed so full that it won’t close. Thankfully, there’s a use for these t-shirts that will save cloth diapering families a bundle of money as long as they have a sewing machine handy. (Scratch that. Even families without a sewing machine can put old t-shirts to use. They just need to watch this video to see how.)
Here are the instructions on how to sew a t-shirt into a pocket style cloth diaper. Before I started, I watched this video on how to cut and sew the diaper. I’m a visual learner, so this helped greatly. After attempting my own diapers based on the video’s instructions, I made a few tweaks of my own to fit my own personal (and aesthetic) needs.
Here’s what you’ll need in order to sew your own cloth diaper out of a t-shirt:
- A t-shirt (size large or greater)
- A spool of thread in a matching color (or not if you don’t really care)
- Size 3/8″ elastic (you’ll need about 22 in for one diaper)
- A cut out of the diaper pattern (choose 0-6mo or 6-18mo)
- A sewing machine
- A couple of safety pins
And now, the instructions:
- Wash and dry the t-shirt, especially if you purchased it from a thrift store. Iron it nice and flat, then fold it length wise and iron along the seam to ensure that there aren’t any ripples in the fabric. Place your ironed shirt onto the table or workspace.
- Place your pattern along the seam of your t-shirt ensuring that the design on the shirt (if there is one that you like) will be covered by the largest part of the pattern. This will ensure that the design is on the rear of the diaper.
- Pin the pattern into place and then use your scissors to cut the material around the pattern.
- Remove the pattern from the material, open up the pieces, and turn them so that the design doesn’t show. Match up the two pieces and pin them together leaving an 8 inch opening along the top of the diaper (the longest edge). By putting the design on the inside so you can’t see it, you will ensure that it will show when you turn the material right-side out after sewing.
- Sew a straight stitch along the seam of your diaper, removing pins as you come to them. I like to leave a 1/4 inch seam. Remember to back-stitch at the beginning and end of your piece. Do not sew across the top of the diaper if you want it to be a pocket diaper!
- Your diaper should now be sewn together with the top left open. If you don’t want your diaper to be stuffable, you can stitch across the top and close it off. If you do want it to be stuffable, you will need to leave it open. I like my seams to be nice and finished, so this is where my instructions vary from those in the video. Look inside of the diaper and note which piece has the design. You will attach a piece of elastic to this piece of fabric. Fold down that piece of material about 1/2 inch and pin. Be sure that you are folding and pinning to the wrong side of the material rather than on the side with your design. Pin the other side of the diaper down so that it doesn’t get sewn to your elastic piece.
- Sew along the edge of the length of the piece creating a tube through which the elastic can be pulled. Be sure not to close off the ends of the tube. If you do this, you can’t slip the elastic through.
- Now take the other piece of fabric and pin down about 1/2 inch on that side (don’t pin towards the inside of the diaper because you don’t want the hem to show). Pin the other piece of fabric (the one with the design that you will slip the elastic through) down and away from the piece you are about to sew. You don’t want it to accidentally be sewn to your current piece. Now sew along the seam that you pinned to create a nice, finished edge. Remember to back-stitch at the beginning and end of each sewn seam.
- Now that each piece of material at the top of the diaper has a finished edge, you can sew the two pieces together about two inches in length from the outside in. Match the edges of the top of your diaper and pin them together. Place a pin at about 2 inches in from the outer edges of the diaper (the part that will function as the tabs).
- Sew from the end of the tab towards the last pin. Be sure to back-stitch when you reach that pin. Cut the thread and repeat from the other side. After this has been completed, you will still have an opening at the top of the diaper, but it will have finished edges.
- Now you need to sew the elastic into the leg gussets. The elastic will help keep blow-outs from happening. You will sew the elastic on the piece of fabric that does not have the design. Be sure that you are sewing the elastic on this piece of material or the elastic will not fit correctly. Cut two 7 inch pieces of elastic. Using your sewing machine’s back-stitch function, tack one end of elastic at the top of the leg on one side of the diaper. You can accomplish this by sewing back and forth with your back-stitch function.
In order to sew the elastic for the leg gusset, you will need to stretch it out as far as it will go as you sew. Use one hand to stretch the fabric/elastic that has already been stitched, and the other hand to stretch the elastic that you are currently sewing and to guide the fabric. If you are unsure how to proceed, watch the video again for a visual aid.
When you reach the other end of the leg gussett, use the back-stitch function on your sewing machine to tack it into place. Repeat on the other leg.
- Cut a 7.5 inch piece of elastic to thread through the tube at the top of the diaper. This will ensure a tight fit at the back of the diaper. Pin a safety pin to one end of your elastic. Using the safety pin as your guide, thread the elastic through the tube, making sure that the unpinned end of the elastic doesn’t go into the tube. If you want, you can use the second safety pin to pin that end outside of the tube.
- Once the elastic is threaded through the tube, use your machine’s back-stitch function to tack the elastic to the diaper. (Be sure you aren’t sewing the elastic to the other piece of fabric). Cut the thread and use the machine’s back-stitch function to tack the remaining end of the elastic to the back of the diaper. I choose to tack the elastic at the openings of the tube. If you want more stretch, you can tack it closer to the tabs of the diaper. Cut off the excess elastic.
- Use your scissors to cut away any loose threads. Then reach inside of the diaper and pull it right-side out. Once each corner has been pulled out, you will see your finished product!
- You can create your own diaper inserts to stuff into the pocket diaper by cutting the remaining t-shirt fabric into a rectangle that will fit into the diaper and sewing the pieces together. You can also sew bits of flannel or old towels together to create a thicker insert to use as an over night soaker. I chose to sew along the edges of the rectangle leaving a 1/4 inch seam. This ensured that every piece was sewn together.
- Your diaper is ready to be stuffed and worn! Remember that it isn’t waterproof, so it needs a cover to keep your baby’s clothes (and your lap) dry. Enjoy!