The summary: for those like me who are, shall we say, extremely thrifty, cloth "muslin" diapers/nappies can be made from any thin-ish cloth, so long as it is a plant fibre (cotton, linen, etc). I suggest maybe an old cotton sheet? Maybe even some old cotton t shirts would work (and might be easier to tie on). Wool wraps can be made from any thick-ish felt, so long as it is an animal fibre (wool, angora, cashmere, etc); lanolin is optional. The nappies are folded and tied onto baby, and the wool covers are wrapped around the nappy and secured with pins or a Snappi. Change when baby's bum feels warm!
Now for the details:
I did a little research on cheap cloth nappies and learned about muslins. They are cheap to buy, easy to fold and use as nappies, and very quick drying. However, as the self-reliant person I am, and somewhat of a fabric hoarder, I made my own "muslins" out of materials I had in my stash. None of these were purchased: they were all given to me over the years, so these nappies were free! I also made these nappies all by hand: a sewing machine is optional.
I used: two cotton tablecloths, one linen tablecloth and three cotton flannel receiving blankets and made 15 nappies total from them, each measuring around 60 cm square. I only just got around to hemming them, six weeks into using them daily, ahem. I got four nappies from each tablecloth and one from each receiving blanket. To use: we fold into the Origami Fold (search for instructions, it's very easy), and simply tie it on our baby, as shown. We do a wash every day, as 15 is probably the absolute minimum for us (I originally just had the 12 made from tablecloths, and that was cutting it very fine indeed--sometimes two washes a day were required).
As a cloth nappy needs some kind of cover to keep the wet from leaking out, I made six wool wraps out of pieces of old felted sweaters, also from my stash. All of these I originally bought secondhand, from charity shops--and all of them have been in the stash for a while because they're no longer wearable (moth eaten, shrunk, etc). I cut them up to make rough trapezoid shapes, as shown--the best ones have the back length 40-50 cm which is about twice the length of the front (the pink one shown is not quite this optimal ratio); some are from sleeves (just cut them open at the underarm seam) and some body pieces. I whip stitched stretchy ribbing (again from stash) onto two of these wool wraps, but the rest are just unfinished pieces with no ribbing or indeed any sewing. I experimented with the T shape (cut from the body of a sweater) and it works too but not as efficiently as the trapezoid shape.
Now, just to mention, the internet insists that wool nappy covers are great but they must be lanonlinized (lanolised?) before they are used, otherwise they'll just leak like crazy. Ok, this is not my experience at all. I have used thick wool covers and thin wool covers (and actually two of these are cashmere!) and none of mine have lanolin, which is expensive and to my mind just a faff. Too much effort. The wraps get wet, but mine don't leak. The felted wool will soak up the liquid (they are called soakers after all), but will only start to seep out the other side if baby is left wet for too long. That's what makes cloth nappies so much fun, right? Lots of nappy changes! Unlike the nappies, the wool wraps don't need washing unless they have poo on them. If they are damp, I hang them up for a few hours to dry. If they have poo on them, I quickly swirl them in the bathroom sink to wash (takes about 30 seconds tops), squeeze out the water, and hang up for a few hours to dry.
Securing it all
Next, the wool covers need to be secured. For this I have what is sold here as a Nappy Nippa, but is also called a Snappi. I love this little device, bought on ebay when our oldest was in nappies. We first had pins with him, but I really didn't like them, not trusting myself to use them during night time changes. But pins are absolutely fine for these wool wraps, as you are only pinning the wrap to itself, and the pin should not go through the nappy, or near baby's skin at all. Note: the nappies themselves also can be pinned if preferred; we found the Snappi doesn't work well on the smooth cotton or linen of our handmade nappies (I understand it works fine on actual muslin). Hence, the nappies are tied and the covers are wrapped around, which secures them well.
Finally, we need a stack of washable wipes, right? Because I'm as cheap as possible, I delved into the stash once more and came up with some old worn out pairs of boys and mens cotton briefs. Using two layers of the fabric, I marked out small squares and rectangles (anywhere between 7-10 cm) and sewed around the markings with my sewing machine using a zig zag stitch. Once again, I actually sewed some of these by hand, using a whip stitch around the edges; however, since I wanted about 30 of these, it was kind of impractical to do them all by hand! But for a person who has the time (and no sewing machine handy), why not? Do it while watching tv or something. We use almost all 30 of these wipes every day--they go in the nappy bucket too.
For our oldest, ten years ago, we bought the cheapest nappies we could find, a couple of packs of flat terry cloth nappies along with pins and plastic pull on covers. We got them at Boots (a national pharmacy chain here in Britain). The plastic covers were absolutely useless and didn't fit closely enough to our newborn's legs to stop leakage. The pins, as mentioned above, I was very leary of. I soon replaced both of these: the Snappi as mentioned, and a selection of secondhand PUL nappy wraps bought off ebay. The terry nappies themselves were absolutely fine however, and we're still using them with our new baby, just not wrapped around her bum just yet.
Maybe you can see in one of the photos above she is resting on a white terry cloth. The thing about newborns is they tend to pee (and sometimes poo) when they are naked. I think it must be an instinct not to want to soil themselves. We keep the terry nappy under her at changing time and leave her to have a little bit of bare bum time on it; if she pees or poos on it, we say the same phrase to her "wee wee!" This is in preparation for later pottying. In some cultures, infants are routinely pottied from birth--it can be found on the internet as Elimination Communication. The adult supports the baby over a suitable recepticle and says a keyword or makes a particular sound like sssss.
We did this somewhat with our eldest, though we started a little too late (around 4-5 months old). He didn't need a lot of support to sit on a little potty at that age, but he was used to feeling wet/soiled and was soon far more interested in crawling and then walking. However he was reliably nappy free by 18 months old, which in retrospect I consider a win. Since we started saying the keyword to our youngest at two weeks old, she will sometimes oblige us by peeing on command onto her terry nappy. We don't hold her upright at this point, but let her stay lying down. We try to give her a couple of minutes before putting her nappy back on, and will praise her if she actually does do a pee or poo. And we're starting to learn her own signals: she will wriggle and grunt when she needs to go (her grunt sort of sounds like a little growl). In the morning before she properly wakes up, she will do this for 10 or 20 minutes, and then if we're quick enough, will wait for us to take off her still-dry nappy before a big fountain of pee (and sometimes poo--aren't babies fun?)
So. Elimination communication is the cheapest nappy system there is, and even more fun than nappies! I can't see myself actually doing it without the nappies--so combine them for double the fun :)
We did the cloth diapers and low-grade elimination communication, too!
I used the Flip PUL diaper covers. They wore out after a year or two, especially if dried in the sun. But, I was happy enough to use them on my second child, too. I liked that they adjusted in size, so I only needed a few.
When I was pregant with my first, I purposefully never found out the gender, not just so it'd be a surprise, but also so I'd get useful things, rather than just cute clothes. I can happily use hand-me-down and thrift store clothes--what I needed was diapers and diaper covers and baby carriers, etc!
We did limited elimination communication with both my kids. We did a bit more with my son, just because we only had one kid at the time! I'd sit him on his little potty while I went potty, and had him sit there while I read stories. And, when he peed, we made the pee sound and said "pee." Oddly, the "psssss" sound freaked him out and he'd stop peeing, so we stopped saying that. And, since he was interested in the potty, we potty trained him at around 15 months by doing the 2-day potty training method (basically bare botom the kid and have a special song when they pee. You have them bare bottomed so they are less likely to pee automatically, and also so you can see when they pee. You watch them like a hawk for two days, and then they're pretty much trained. Then you keep them bare bottomed for 2 weeks, to really break the habit of peeing in their diaper.) We probably could have trained him a month or two before, but we had a out of state wedding to go to, and didn't want to have him needing to pee on the 8 hour drive!
My daughter was also trained around 18 or 20 months. We didn't have her sit on the potty nearly as much as my son, just because we were so busy!
I think it's really important if your kid is interested in going pee in the potty, to seize that moment! They tend to do this sometime around 1.5 years old, and if you can catch them and potty train them then, than you don't have to deal with toddler potty tantrums. When kids are 2 and 3, it's often a lot harder to potty train them because it become something for them to exert their toddler independence on. If you can catch them before those toddler years, you'll hopefully have a lot less battles! (I used to work in
a preschool before I had my own kids, and I remember what kind of battles it can be to potty train a 2 or 3 year old. Some are easy, but others it is NO FUN, and can take a long time!)
Another thing about potty training, is if your child is waking during the night to go pee, try to put them on the potty. I didn't do this with my son because I was SO SLEEP-DEPRIVED, and I just wanted sleep. So, he finally learned to sleep through the night, and then slept so soundly that he continued to pee in his sleep for many more years. We couldn't even wake him up to go pee, he was so sound asleep! It's hard finding cloth diapers that can hold the night-time pee of a 4 year old! (We ended up going with Antsy Pants because they were both pull-up and snap type diapers. I could easily put them on, and he could pull them up and down by himself--except the snaps often came undone when he pulled them up and down. It probably didn't help that we would literally stuff 4 large cloth diapers in there, just to keep it from leaking! EDIT: I just found Antsy Pantsfacebook page, and it looks like they stopped shipping orders not long after I made mine. So, don't order from their website!)
With my daughter, though, I wasn't as sleep deprived, so I'd wake up and put her on the potty when she needed to go. And she was night trained like a month or two after she potty trained during the day. I wish I'd done the same with my son!
Good point about toddlers (and older babies), Nicole. This set up will not be ideal for them: too much volume of pee!
In our case we will move our daughter onto the terry cloth nappies and PUL covers we still have, once the muslins and wool wraps are no longer sufficient. I'm thinking that the wraps with the ribbing, like the pink one pictured, can be altered to be a pull up cover by sewing the arms to the fronts. Thus the terry nappy can be secured with the Snappi and a wool cover pulled up over it snugly.
I hope to have her out of nappies altogether by 18 months at the latest. I'm actually aiming for 12 months (though this might be optimistic, particularly for night time).
Six month update on the homemade nappies and covers:
Well, some of the nappies are showing some serious wear around the edges and two have a smallish hole each in the middle, but we're still using them daily. Our daughter has outgrown some of the wool covers but I have made a couple bigger ones by sewing together smaller ones and by adding ribbing onto an existing smaller one. Wool covers have also been darned several times, though these are not being washed daily like the nappies (more like weekly or less) so are still in pretty good condition.
The single muslin nappy and wool cover is still sufficient for daytime use, possibly because we are also doing EC as outlined above. We now use the "pad" fold (nappy folded into a long narrow rectangle) during the day, to make it quick to take off for pottying. Daughter is now mostly pottying over a bucket while indoors or straight onto the ground while outdoors: I sit with the bucket between my feet and hold her over it, partially resting on my legs and against my back (images of this kind of position can be found online). Because of EC, we are usually washing between 4-7 nappies per day instead of 12+. I also trust myself to read her signals now and she has a lot more nappy-free time during the day, either resting on a terry cloth nappy or just on my lap with the bucket nearby--this saves on nappies. Note: she does sometimes pee on me. I don't mind much--she's got a small bladder still so it's only a little trickle. I can generally tell when a poo is coming and have so far managed to avoid getting pooed on (and nearly all poos get caught in the bucket now, rather than in the nappy).
For nighttimes, we are using a terrycloth nappy in an origami fold, and a PUL wrap. As she has gotten bigger, the single muslin and wool cover wasn't sufficient to keep from leaking through in the mornings when we weren't quick enough to catch that first pee. However, the muslin/wool combo has been fine for naps, even when she wakes up wet.
Oh and I thought I might add: this week I have been washing our nappies by hand because our washing machine died. And the new one isn't getting fitted for at least another four days--thank you pandemic. So yeah. Washing nappies by hand is a thing I have now done. I put them in the bathtub to soak for at least an hour (in the water I've used to bathe myself and daughter), then start swishing them around with an old curtain pole. Drain, add new water and some soap, swish. Drain, add rinse water and swish. Repeat the rinse "cycle" until water remains clear after swishing, then wring out and hang to dry. Fun times.