In this post I am going to share the secrets I've learned for sewing these covers SUPER FAST, with the fewest tears, and broken needles.
There is a great free pattern on the web (google Katrina Soaker pattern), but the above soakers are made from the Sweet Baby pattern by Wired Up Designs on hyenacart.com. I'm not affiliated with Wired Up in any way, but I've tried at least two dozen free and bought patterns for wool diaper covers, and this is the only one I use anymore.
So, you'll need a wool sweater, a pattern, and a sewing machine:
Secret #1: Only use REALLY GOOD wool for these. Most thrift stores charge the same for junky wool sweaters and name brand wool. I am using a 100% Italian Merino cardigan for the first soaker here. It is super-soft and pre-shrunk by somebody. I machine washed and dried it prior to cutting to be sure it wasn't going to shrink any more. It is still VERY thin, though fully felted, as many fine merino sweaters will be!
Secret #1.5: Be sure to SNIFF the sweater really well before you buy it. If it smells very perfume-y or you get even a hint of mothballs- pass. I don't care if it's Niemen Marcus. You won't get that smell out.
Cut out your pieces. I consider 2 full body pieces a must. You can use 1 layer if your sweater is super-thick, and you can stitch a second layer only in the wet zone, but for a beginner, just go for 2 layers of a thin or medium-thickness sweater. The cover will be bullet-proof and the finished product will look more polished than a wonky double-wetzone.
|2 body layers, 1 waistband, 2 leg cuffs.|
(Now, you CAN cut a waistband and leg cuffs from the body of your sweater. If you do that, follow the pattern. You will cut a double tall waist band and leg cuffs, fold in half, and stitch the long edges to keep everything from shifting while sewing to the main soaker piece.)
Secret #2: If your sweater has a nice, ribbed waistband, as most sweaters do, use that for both the waistband and the leg cuffs. See how stretchy it is?
Plus, a 1-layer cuff or waist is easier to sew on to the body of the soaker. (Just don't discard the excess ribbing. It is very useful for other upcycled projects. You may find another sweater that doesn't have ribbing.)
Secret #3: Because your ribbing is so stretchy, cut it SHORTER than the pattern calls for, otherwise your waist and leg holes may gap. Like so:
|That pattern piece says "Sweetie Bums," but it is actually the Sweet Baby pattern.|
***Now, if you are a beginner, you may want to sew both your main soaker pieces together so they don't shift while sewing on the legs and waist. I don't ever do this because I am lazy. Make sure both pieces are right side out, and stitch all the way around the outside edges of the pieces with a long straight stitch, gently (GENTLY) stretching the fabric as you sew. This is generally what you do when sewing knits.
After this, pull your soaker pieces on the edges to make sure your stitching is not too tight. It shouldn't decrease the stretchiness of the fabric. If you pull the edges, and find your stitching is stopping you from pulling, and if you stretch the fabric any further, you break the stitching... STOP. You need a longer stitch, OR you need to stretch the fabric more as you sew, OR your machine tension is too tight. Do the first 2, and if things don't improve, you might need to take your machine where you bought it and ask them to show you how to loosen the tension just a bit. I wouldn't rely on your manual or google for this. It is tricky.*** (Now, if you really want to get this done, and your sweater only cost $1, and your baby is due to wake up in 20 minutes, just sew the whole thing with a medium zigzag stitch. It will sidestep your machine's tension issue, but the seams will wear out sooner. That's why a cheap thrifted sweater is so nice. No need for perfectionism!!!)
Sorry I have no pictures of the above, but like I said, I am too lazy to sew my main pieces together into 1 piece. It does make the next steps easier, though.
(The rest of the steps use a 1/4" seam allowance. Don't forget to secure your seams by backstitching at the beginning and end of each seam!)
Most, or all, soaker patterns will instruct you to sew the side seams of your main soaker (BUT DON'T), then sew the side seam of the leg cuffs, (BUT DON'T), and then "set-in" the cuff into the leg opening like you would a sleeve in an arm hole. Lazy sewers will go to great lengths to avoid set-in sleeves because they are tricky and unpleasant.
Here's what we'll do instead, which is Secret #4: Lay your main soaker pieces face up on your work surface and then pin your leg cuff along the leg opening, right sides together. Sew like so:
|Bad pic... but the three layers are going through the machine here.|
Don't forget to stretch your cuff to match the leg opening if you cut it short.
And here's what it looks like from the right side:
Add the other cuff just the same way:
NOW sew ONE side seam, which includes the leg cuff and main soaker:
AND NOW STOP!!! DO NOT SEW THE OTHER SIDE SEAM!!!
Instead, take your waist band, and pin it right sides together with your soaker. Sew, remembering to stretch it to fit if you cut it shorter than the pattern:
OK, see how nicely it is coming together? That step saves you from having to sew the waistband on like the cuffs, set-in.
Line up the second side seam: cuff, body, and waist band:
|I pinned that just to show you... I usually would just go for it :). (Also, ignore that seam across the butt of the soaker. I had to piece the 2nd main soaker layer because my sweater was so small.)|
Isn't that pretty?
This is the seam allowance of the last side seam... trim diagonally at the top (waistband). This will ensure your seam allowance doesn't show from the front. Sorry if that is confusing....
And here you see the angled leg cuff. You don't need to trim the seam allowance because the angle of the cuff hides it:
|On a soaker leg cuff that is cut straight, instead of angles, you'll want to trim the seam allowance here, too, to prevent it from peeking out while being worn.|
I do not finish my seams on the inside because they won't fray if the sweater is felted . Also, when I have overlocked or zigzagged them on the edges, they get somewhat stiff and bulky. And scratchy. So I use really soft sweaters and leave them alone. I think this is most comfy for babies.
Although this pic shows the waistband seam, and it is very obvious, it is much more subtle when it is on a baby.
And another soaker, 2 layers of a thick cashmere with the rest of the merino waistband:
|You may be able to tell that I did not trim as much off the waistband here. The waist doesn't pull in as much as on the soaker above. It should still be enough to prevent gaps.|
The pink cashmere sweater didn't have a stretchy ribbed waist. It had a firm edging like this:
The cuffs were fine for the legs, but I wanted a stretchier waist. So I used the leftover ribbing from the first sweater. Waste not, want not!
Happy sewing. Leave any questions in the comments and I will try to get to them asap.
"If evolution really works, how come mothers only have two hands?" ~Milton Berle