There are many places available on the internet to purchase pre-fold cloth diapers. They come in a variety of materials and thicknesses. Cloth diapers can be re-used, over and over again, though they do require a pair of plastic pants over the top to contain moisture. Costs on cloth diapers and plastic pants vary, and for those who have some minor experience in sewing and are looking for a fairly thick cloth diaper, there are some ideas on the internet, another is presented here. Cloth diapers have very good wicking properties to help spread moisture through the diaper, so there can be plenty of upsides to cloth.
Pre-fold versus Fitted
Fitted diapers are available and are very close to the commercial disposable diapers in the way they look and attach. They are basically an hourglass shape, often with velcro tabs and front landing area that is close in utility to disposable diapers. They will often have elastic in the legs (much like a disposable) to help maintain the fit, and can be made with the waterproof cover in place (often known as an all-in-one, or AIO diaper).
One drawback of having the waterproof cover attached to the diaper is in washing and drying of the diaper. The waterproof cover often will not hold up as well as the rest of the diaper through repeated wash cycles and will often be the first point of failure.
Many patterns are available for free on the internet, a quick sample is available here: Cloth Diaper Patterns. As this is an external website I have no control over, I cannot vouch for how up-to-date any of the links are or how good the information is.
Pre-fold diapers are basically flat pieces of cloth with thicker areas for more absorbency that are folded in any of a number of fashions and then pinned in place. Various folds are shown here for reference. One benefit to pre-fold diapers as opposed to fitted or AIO diapers is that there ends up being extra material that gets bunched up in the crotch, the place where absorbency tends to be most critical (this goes for both guys and gals, gravity tends to pull the moisture there).
Plastic or Rubber Pants
Pre-folds will require a waterproof covering pant of some sort. There are a number of available suppliers on the internet for waterproof pants. Gary Manufacturing, Babykins, and Fetware are three major manufacturers that can be searched for on Google. All three of these companies seem to be AB aware, so offerings are available both in plain colors and prints that are more "little" in nature.
I have not seen any recommendations for making your own waterproof pants that I consider worthwhile; seams and potential leaks are an issue, as is leg and waist elastic to ensure a good seal. Given the cost that most of these companies offer their products at, my personal recommendation is to bite the bullet and buy rather than try to make your own.
Making Your Own Pre-fold
My wife and I came up with this design for a pre-fold diaper after having several pre-folds from online sources fall apart after about one year of use. The nice thing about making your own pre-fold is that you can purchase the material you like, both in pattern and material weave, for making your diapers. I have even heard of some people using cloth cut from old T-shirts to make diapers from.
The pre-fold design I have makes a single 36" X 36" diaper that has a twelve inch wide center section that is ten layers thick, and two twelve inch wide side sections that are four layers thick. Be warned, this design takes a total of six (6) yards of fabric to create. If you are paying $3.00 per yard, that calculates to a cost per diaper of $18.00. Given the thickness and absorbency, it is not a bad cost. When coupled with the ability to choose your own fabric, you can get a fabric that will hold up better after multiple washings as well as one that will last through all the pinning and stretching that can occur in the corners.
I started with three pieces of fabric, each 36" X 72". This utilizes the entire width of a standard fabric roll that one would purchase from most fabric stores, and gives the added bonus that the long edges have a border that requires no hem. The first piece is folded in half, and then the inside folded back to double the thickness across the center twelve inches. The second piece starts inside the twelve inch fold, goes back to the outside, folds back on itself, and again is used to double the thickness in the center. The last piece is a mirror image of the first.
Attached is a picture showing the folding pattern for the three pieces of fabric, together with the sewing locations (dashed lines on entire diaper).
The only places where hems may be required is on the left side where single cut edges of fabric could potentially unravel. As shown, this creates a thick cloth diaper that is capable of absorbing quite a bit (depending on your fabric choice).
Fabric Choices and Care
I used diaper fabric available from Jo-Ann fabrics, but the cost was approximately $5.00/yard. This meant I spent more than $30 per diaper when thread and time was factored in, but I have found that these diapers are more than equivalent to being double-diapered with a pair of gauze pre-folds that cost $20 each. In addition, these diapers have outlasted the thin gauze diapers by more than a factor of two, meaning that a choice for a tougher fabric gave longer diaper lifetime.
Cotton is considered to be the best fabric from most every place I have researched. It absorbs well, launders well, and lasts. Synthetic fabrics are not recommended as they do not typically absorb moisture as much as repel it. Wool is also a poor choice as natural oils in the fiber will keep the diaper from having maximum absorbency.
The diaper fabric from Jo-Ann fabrics is a heavier weave, but it holds up well from the minor holes put in it from pinning diapers on, stretching as you move around, etc. There are other options, such as terry, twill, and T-shirt material. Choices are up to the individual, and diapers do not need to be limited to white.
In terms of care for the diaper, it is recommended to rinse them out when changing out of a soiled (either wet or messy) diaper. Shake any fecal matter into the toilet and flush it away before rinsing. Wringing out the diaper allows them to be placed into a pail for a day or two until one can wash them. Washing with hot water is recommended to sanitize the diaper as well as possible. Bleach must be used very sparingly as it can attack the fabric and shorten the lifetime of the diaper.
Above all, DO NOT USE FABRIC SOFTENER. Fabric softener creates a thin wax layer on the cloth to make it feel softer and avoid static. This waxy layer prevents the fabric from being able to absorb like it should. Brand new diapers will often have a 'sizing' agent on them as well that will prevent them from having maximum absorbency. A few washes will leave the fabric soft and absorbent.
Diapers will shrink slightly depending on the fabric, but these diapers can fit 32" to 42" waists.
There are several articles already available on ADISC regarding different types of cloth diapers, sewing, and caring for cloth diapers. Please consider this only one more way of creating a good cloth pre-fold diaper that can serve those of us with some of the more demanding needs from our diapers. While the upfront costs may be slightly higher, the diapers can be rather economical in the long term, I have less than half a dozen of these (I wear one every night for bed) and they have lasted me longer than two years at this point. When you look at the price I paid per diaper, I have gotten 120+ uses per diaper (less than $0.25 per use compared to $1+ for disposables), and these diapers are not showing wear and tear to the point I would consider replacing them.