Monday, 21 October 2013

The (Absolute Beginners) Burp-cloth tutorial

Before I started volunteering at Baby2Baby I had literally never heard of a burp-cloth, but the name is pretty self explanatory, and I've decided to embrace some of the US traditions as well as sticking to my own British ones. Basically, they use Burp-Cloths instead of Muslins for mopping up baby sick (or 'posset' as the official nursing name for it) so they are just shoulder sized/shaped bits of fabric. They seem to be much more absorbent than Muslins so if you have a reflux-y or just plain sicky baby they are probably better, but only really fulfil one function rather than the magic 'it does everything!' talents Muslins seem to have. With that in mind, I made myself a bundle of five to go along side the Muslin stash I am hoping people will send me (seriously, please send me some.)

I made some as gifts a few months ago, and used this really good Dana Made It tutorial, which she starts with 'There are a million burp-cloth tutorials out there in blogland' but I didn't really find that to be the case, so I'm adding my own. I've adapted it a bit to make it (if you can believe it) clearer for someone who doesn't know anything about sewing* since I think she presumes a fair amount of prior knowledge, but I definitely recommend reading her tutorial as well, since she makes it 6 easy-to-follow single word instructions, whereas I have written an essay with lots of overly obvious information. Also, totally use her tips to make them in to a fancy hand-made gift for a baby shower, since that seems to be something Brits are doing now.

A Quick Summary- 
Time Taken- Each one takes me about 45 minutes start to finish 
Cups of Tea Consumed- A rather poor 2.
Total Cost- I would say probably about $3-4 each, but if you have fabric lying around, maybe $2
Skill level- Beginner sewing. If you can sew a semi-straight line, you can make these.
Baby Shower gift potential- High. They are pretty easy and cheap, you can make them awesomely gender neutral and they are actually useful.

Things you need-
Pre-fold nappies/diapers- That's what I used, other people have made them with chenile or towelling. Something absorbant, basically. I used the really cheap Gerber ones, which cost me $20 for 10.
Fabric- so Dana Made It had the dimensions of 10"x18", but I found that my scrap fabric was all smaller than that, so I think most of mine ended up being about 9"x14" If you are going to make some and don't have a stash of fabric, I would recommend getting a fat quarter bundle from somewhere like John Lewis- it's the least threatening introduction to buying fabric. I just used what I had, so it didn't cost me anything.
Sewing supplies- thread, needle/sewing machine**, scissors, rotary cutter if you have it.

Not needed: Cat to 'help' you. Up side- proof burp cloths are very soft...
So, first of all cut your fabric. I had three fat quarters (bought from John Lewis as a birthday gift from my amazing Granny) which I halved and a couple of large-ish rectangles (about 9" x 14") left over from making other things. I just trimmed those down to make the edges straight. Once I'd cut the fabric (all just cotton) I laid each one on top of a prefold diaper and cut round it. (Each one was a slightly different size.) 

Next, place the fabric right side down onto the cut prefold and pin all round the edges, leaving a gap of about 6 inches (for you to turn it inside out once it's stitched.) One of the other things I've learnt nearly breaking my sewing machine over time is to leave the pins sticking quite far out from the fabric- it's much easier to sew over them with your machine than if the balls at the end are pushed flush to the fabric. 

Forgive my terrible photography. And editing. And explanations.
Once it's pinned, start at the end of the opening and sewing all the way around a 1/4" from the edge to the other side of the opening. (I'm saying this because I didn't do it the first time and it is much easier to do it in one go. It's probably really obvious to everyone else and I'm just an idiot...) I found the kind of gauzy material of the prefolds got caught in the sewing machine, so I had to stitch it with that facing up to stop it getting stuck.

Once you've stitched round it, leaving the 6" gap, then it's time to clip the corners (basically cut at a 45 degree angle) which helps them sit flat once you turn them through. Again, this might sound obvious but make sure you don't actually cut through the thread at the corners, which causes it to unravel. I would never do that, obviously (ahem.) 

Turn the whole thing inside out, so your awesome pattern is now on the outside. Yay! It looks like it might actually be something you can use now! This stage makes my spirits soar. Now you want to pin the opening shut. Fold the rough edges down and pin it as you go. This actually happens a lot more naturally than you might think, as the edges on either side are stitched in already. It now needs a top stitch, which makes it look marvellously professional. Basically you just need to sew all the way round the rectangle, making a sort of seam. If you do this slightly less than 1/4" from the end, you'll catch the rough open edges in and it will be perfectly sealed****. 

Matching thread is MUCH more forgiving. I've just done this one in a dark colour so you can see it.
Finally, fold it into thirds or quarters, depending on your inclination, and sew down these lines. It makes them sit better on your shoulder, helps you fold them more easily and honest to goodness takes thirty seconds. Tie off all your ends*****, trim them down and marvel at your awesome sewing skills. 
Completed stack of burp cloths, looking fancy

In a drawer, looking even fancier...
*Without wanting to junk up the tutorial any more with ridiculous non-important information, I add that I essentially learnt to sew from the internet. Blogs have 'taught' me everything I know that I didn't remember from Home Economics in high school, which I only did age 12-13. This should serve as a massive encouragement if you want to learn to sew but haven't the time/inclination to go to a class (community classes at a local high school in the UK are a good bet if you do) but also a warning that I don't have a clue what I'm talking about...
**I think you could do this without a sewing machine, just using a really simple straight stitch. It definitely goes quicker if you have a machine, but they are a pretty good first project if you just want to have a shot sewing but have never done it before.
***If you are planning on doing any more sewing than this at all, get a self healing mat, ruler and rotary cutter. I think I got a Fiskers set on Amazon for $15, and it was money well spent. I resisted for ages but I really does make cutting way less painful- it was always the most stressful bit of sewing, but now I don't really think about it. 
****A word of warning here, I accidentally bought extra thick prefolds this time, and they were so thick that when I went to do my topstitch, they actually broke the needle on my sewing machine. Ideally, I would buy the thinner ones next time (the ones I used the first time) but if you use the super thick ones, just make sure your topstitch falls underneath the inner fold (this will make sense when you feel it)
***** 'What to do with the ends' is something I really struggled to find out on the internet, for mine I just use a needle to bring both threads on to the one side, then tie them together a few times, then cut them as short as the knot will allow. I have no idea if this is right. If it's not, will someone tell me a better way to do it?!


  1. I made some burp cloths as they are prettier than muslins, I didn't end up with a very sicky baby but used them for lots of things like mini travel changing mats.

    I never tie if ends, instead doing a few backwards stitches and then cutting threads as normal - no idea if this is right either but it is v quick!

    1. Glad to hear they do have other uses! I use that methods for the ends when making quilts, I have no idea which is the right way to do it! As long as they are up to a hot wash cycle I'm not too bothered. Thanks for the tip!

  2. I feel so lucky to be a recipient of your burp cloths :) Once again, I'm impressed because even putting together this post with all of the pictures, etc, is a lot of work! Your little girl is so loved :)

    1. Honestly, none of these things have anything to do with the baby, all purely for my own amusement. Bad mother already... got more to make this week, shall make you a few more. :)


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