Sewing Cloth Diapers in Bulk

How to sew cloth diapers in bulk. This analyzes the cost and time involved for making each diaper and discusses how to save time by sewing them in steps. This specifically addresses the time and cost for snap diapers, but I've found hook and loop diapers are a bit faster. This is something to keep in mind when deciding which you'd like to sew.

How to sew cloth diapers in bulk. This analyzes the cost and time involved for making each diaper and discusses how to save time by sewing them in steps. This specifically addresses the time and cost for snap diapers, but I've found hook and loop diapers are a bit faster. This is something to keep in mind when deciding which you'd like to sew. 

How to sew cloth diapers in bulk: a time and cost analysis.
This is what 11 diapers cut out looks like.

I've had some comments from friends and family who wonder if I'll ever sell cloth diapers. I've considered it. I love making them and at some point, I'll be done making a "stash" for Baby G and need to get my "fix." I think right now I have about 30-40 pocket diapers that I've made, as well as some prefolds/prefitteds with about 6 covers. This would be enough technically, but they do wear out over time with use and laundering so I want enough to rotate out, especially for once we have another child. I anticipate with my next baby, I may not have as much time and energy to sew while pregnant! Chasing Baby G around is serious business now that he's crawling and he's only going to get more mobile. I wanted to analyze how much I spend on sewing cloth diapers, how much time I spend sewing them, and if it's worth sewing as a side job. I wanted to share my results with you because I know others have the same questions, and I'll include tips and tricks to sewing lots of diapers at once. 

Oh- please feel free to correct any math if you see issues. I think I got it right, but mannnnn do I hate math.

Cost Analysis

Part of my consideration was the cost per diaper. One way that I've saved money on making cloth diapers is ordering materials through coops where a bunch of people get together to buy supplies in bulk for a lower cost. A lot of my costs reflect these savings (but don't always account for coop costs and shipping so keep that in mind). I'm leaving out typical sewing costs such as the cost of the machine, needles, thread, and other materials. The cost analysis is for a pocket diaper with a Pul exterior, alova suedecloth inner, 3/8" elastic, and bamboo inserts from Alvababy.

I use the OS Superfit pattern from Baabaababy and this is what my costs (and time analysis) are based on. The pattern allows a small work-at-home-mom business to use the pattern without paying a fee to the owner of the pattern (other patterns may charge and I didn't want to calculate that in). According to other women who sew using this pattern, I might be able to get about 6 diapers of this pattern made from one yard of material, as long as the material is non directional. The waist of a cloth diaper needs to stretch and fabric is made so there's a stretch in one direction, but not in the other. As a result, you need to cut out your pattern to the waist/back of the diaper get the stretch (horizontally). I hope that makes sense.




For the inserts, your standard diaper that you purchase from a big company such as Fuzzibunz or Bumgenius is going to come with a microfiber insert. It absorbs okay, but can't ever be placed against the baby's skin or they'll break out in a rash. I wanted to buy inserts that would be okay for an AI2 (where the insert touches the baby) or a pocket, that has good absorbency, that will dry fast, and that won't have as much of a "stink" factor (microfiber can get stinky). Natural fabrics such as hemp or bamboo are a good option. A coop was running to order bamboo inserts from Alvababy. You need two bamboo inserts (they're thin but absorbent) per diaper for good absorbency. I sewed the top of my two together, then added a couple snaps to use for AI2's. I didn't want to sew them completely together because then it would take longer to dry. Note that I did not calculate the time it took me to sew the inserts together in my time analysis below. I found it to be somewhat negligible. You could make your own inserts and if you upcycled old flannel and other materials, you could save money on the inserts. My thought was that the time commitment would be greater than my savings so I opted to buy the inserts.

Cost 
  • Pul fabric (assuming a cute print): $10-15/yard....   $1.67-$2.50 per diaper
  • Alova suedecloth: $5-6/yard...   $1 per diaper
  • Snaps: 34 caps, 8 studs, 26 sockets...   $1.30 per diaper
  • 3/8" Elastic: 20" per diaper approximately...   $0.27 per diaper
  • 2 Bamboo Inserts...   $2.40-$4.00 per diaper
Total Cost: $6.64-$9.07 per diaper

Just as another reminder, this doesn't take into account other associated costs with diaper making, such as the cost of your sewing machine and the upkeep involved, the cost of needles, the cost of thread, etc.

A work-at-home mom diaper retails through a company like Etsy or Hyenacart for $15-25 per diaper. They get more for specialty diapers, but those require more time and materials so I'm not considering those. That means I would be paying myself between $5.93 and $18.36 per diaper.

Other factors: Hyenacart or Etsy charge a fee to list the diapers, you also have to pay a fee to get LLC status, you need to buy labels and care instructions, government regulations (don't ask me the details, my head starts to explode when this topic is discussed) require careful monitoring and tracking of all materials used in each diaper, and you may want to also pay to advertise.  There's probably more, but that's what I can think of off the top of my head right now.


Time Analysis

Here's the sick part. Now I am going to evaluate how much my time is worth. I'll be honest... I started this project and I cried a little each time I added another time to my list of times. It adds up fast.

The fastest way to sew a lot of something is like an assembly line. You break it down into small steps so that you can quickly complete each step. For most of the steps, it's a ton faster. Snaps were the only exception to that. They're a pain in the tush no matter how you do them (hook and loop would be faster and probably cheaper, but snaps last longer and it's harder to babies to take off their diapers if you use snaps).

For this analysis, I was completing 10 pocket diapers with a Pul exterior and alova suedecloth inner. I made a welt pocket like the Baabaababy pattern uses.

Using a wood pattern to speed up the process of cutting the diapers.

To cut out each piece, my awesome brother (Thanks Ryan!) made me my BaaBaaBaby pattern out of wood. This allows me to place it down over my fabric and zip around it with a rotary cutter. Ryan put a hinge on the wood so that it can be folded up. Awesome idea! If you don't have such an awesome brother, you can always make one out of cardboard. Some people get it done with plexiglass too. Or you can just use your printed pattern. I find that it's slower because you have to be careful to not cut through your printed pattern and through a section of Pul. It's way too expensive to not be careful.

I paused my timer when I made mistakes. This is the time required if you sew perfectly. I paused my timer when I had to stop to get Baby G, when my needle broke and needed to be replaced, when I had to clean my machine, when I needed to rewind my bobbins, etc.

I used little cut squares for my snaps to reinforce them. My other option is to cut larger strips of Pul and glue it down. I find this more time consuming, but some people find it faster. It does LOOK neater. But it's on the inside of the diaper so I don't care. I prefer using the squares because it makes the best use of my scraps of Pul. Less waste, less cost.

For adding snaps, I timed them all individually (I forgot to time some, oops). Then I averaged them to find out approximately how long it takes per diaper. I watch television while I'm adding snaps (not while I'm marking them, just when adding them) so keep that in mind.

Here we go...
Steps
Cutting PUL using this wood pattern: 3 min per diaper.
  1. Cut your Pul for the outer fabric: 30 minutes...   3 min per diaper
Cutting alove suedecloth using this wood pattern: 2.75 min per diaper.
2. Cut alova suedecloth and pocket rectangles: 27.5 minutes...   2.75 min per diaper

3. Mark Pul for snap placement: 11 minutes...   1.1 min per diaper

Adding snaps: 24.25 min per diaper.
4. Add snaps (26, 23, 21, 27 min per diaper)...   24.25 min per diaper
Adding a welt pocket: 4.55 min per diaper
5. Add welt pocket: 45.5 minutes...   4.55 min per diaper

Break down for adding the welt pocket

Break down on adding the welt pocket: 

Fold pocket and pin in correct place: 9.5 min
Sew on and cut middle:  16 min
Flip through middle and sew: 20 min

UPDATE: Some diaper patterns don't use a welt pocket and instead open along the back. These save a bit of time, but the welt pocket is just gorgeous and very professional looking. 



Pinning and sewing right sides together: 8 minutes per diaper.

6. Pin, sew right sides together, trim edges, flip right sides out: 1 hr 20 min...   8 min per diaper

7. Top stitch: 35 minutes... 3.5 minutes per diaper

8. Mark and sew casings... 4 minutes per diaper 

Adding elastic: 8-9 minutes per diaper.
9. Add elastic... 8-9 min per diaper

10. Add last snaps: 40 minutes... 4 minutes per diaper

Adding the tab snaps: 4 minutes per diaper.


And here's what I get for all my hard work (plus an extra diaper that I sewed off timer):

How to sew cloth diapers in bulk: a time and cost analysis.
All of them together!
How to sew cloth diapers in bulk: a time and cost analysis.
How to sew cloth diapers in bulk: a time and cost analysis.


How to sew cloth diapers in bulk.

How to sew cloth diapers in bulk.

How to sew cloth diapers in bulk.

How to sew a lot of cloth diapers at once- and save time!

How to sew a lot of cloth diapers at once- and save time!

How to sew a lot of cloth diapers at once- and save time!
One more closer up because I love this print.


[Grand] Total time per diaper: 63.65 minutes


If you want to call it an hour, with the balance from materials cost being between $5.93 and $18.36, you're probably earning roughly $10/hour (estimated- I'm guessing low seeing I didn't calculate in some other costs).


Update, January 29, 2016: I wanted to take a few minutes to update this post. These diapers lasted us through two children and around three years. They're still in pretty good shape, for the most part. The pattern didn't work perfectly for my sons so if I could do it again I would try several patterns, see which worked best, and then make more of the pattern that worked well.

I've found hook and loop diapers are MUCH faster to sew- I find snaps very time consuming to put on. However, you may find that hook and loop wears out more over time. I've tried adding snap on hook tabs which works well for wear from the washer- but I don't love how they work when they're on my child. So I think I'd rather just worry about replacing the hook and loop on the sewn in tabs instead.

Because I've sewn them and seen how time consuming they are, I tend to wonder about what the environmental and labor costs are of $5 diapers made in China. I can see where a cloth diaper, particularly one sewn by a work at home mom, should be selling for $25+. It's just something I appreciate more now that I've seen the work involved.

The nice thing about sewing them yourself is that you can save a bit of money (at the expense of your time) and pick out EXACTLY the right fabrics. For those of you who sew, I'm sure you "get it"... we LOVE pretty fabrics. If I had a girl, I'd be sewing a ton of these ruffle butt cloth diapers. I've also embroidered cloth diapers, serged cloth diapers, and setup these great baskets to organize them all.


Please feel free to comment if you've ever timed yourself... I'd love to see how my timing compares. I know I'm a little OCD about how I do my diapers.


Are you considering switching to cloth products? Do you love cloth diapering? Curious about cloth products such as cloth menstrual pads, wet bags, and unpaper towels? I just released a fantastic book that is ALL about using, laundering, and sewing reusable cloth products. It even includes instructions on this project! Pick up "The Complete Guide to Using, Laundering, and Sewing Reusable Cloth" today and get started saving money and the environment!



Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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DIY Danielle: Sewing Cloth Diapers in Bulk
Sewing Cloth Diapers in Bulk
How to sew cloth diapers in bulk. This analyzes the cost and time involved for making each diaper and discusses how to save time by sewing them in steps. This specifically addresses the time and cost for snap diapers, but I've found hook and loop diapers are a bit faster. This is something to keep in mind when deciding which you'd like to sew.
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DIY Danielle
http://www.diydanielle.com/2012/05/sewing-cloth-diapers-in-bulk.html
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