When talking about diaper fabrics, you probably hear the same names over and over again. Bamboo, hemp, birdseye, cotton twill (commonly known as “prefold fabric”); less commonly you may hear about minky, fleece, and velor. These fabrics all have their pros and cons when it comes to diapers in terms of absorbency and softness. However, there is one fabric occasionally used in cloth diapers that I don’t hear about often and I think it deserves some recognition: cotton sherpa.
“Sherpa” is kind of a catch-all phrase for man made fabric made to resemble sheep’s wool (as opposed to coming from the sheep itself). “Man made” doesn’t mean it’s made from synthetic material, though; it’s often made from cotton, although there are some synthetic varieties out there. Of course the common use of the word “sherpa” is to refer to the Himalayan men who are expert mountaineers; how this word came to be used to refer to fabric I have no idea (but if you do, let me know! I’m always up for learning new things).
The first time I came across sherpa as a diaper fabric I was going a little overboard on buying different cloth wipes and ended up with about three dozen cotton sherpa wipes (in addition to the couple dozen I already had). They weren’t overly thick, but to my surprise were fairly absorbent. Where I might need to use two cotton flannel wipes, I found I only needed to use one sherpa wipe. Most cloth wipes are made from flannel, and of course flannel comes in a billion cute prints (and some super ugly ones) so to combine sherpa’s absorbency with flannel’s cuteness I sewed a piece of sherpa and a piece of flannel together into a two-sided wipe and voila! I had the perfect cloth wipe. Seriously, if I could only pick one cloth wipe style for the rest of my cloth diapering years, this would be it. The sherpa is textured enough to get some good scrubbing action in for…certain situations (you know what types of horrible poop incidents I am talking about), and the flannel is softer for when things require a more delicate touch.
I have a few different combinations of cloth wipe fabrics, such as minky/bamboo terry, flannel/velor, and so on. I have issues with all of these types and sherpa has the one-up on them in nearly every way. For instance, unlike knit fabric wipes, sherpa ones don’t shrink and get wrinkly over time if you chuck them in the dryer. You can buy your own sherpa and it’s fairly cheap, around $8.00 per yard. If you do buy some, you can immediately make no-sew wipes by simply cutting the sherpa into the sizes and shapes that you want. Sherpa doesn’t really fray, so no need to serge or finish the edges—just cut and you’re done! Think rectangles are boring? Feel free to experiment making those hexagonal wipes you always secretly wished for.
Sherpa has become my fabric of choice when it comes to cotton doublers and inserts. Again, like wipes, cotton knits warp very easily in the wash. The other common type of cotton doubler is made from prefold fabric, cotton twill. I used these often with my first child, but since they are made from prefold fabric they act like prefolds…they quilt up in the wash. It’s fine for a prefold, but the side effect of this happening on a skinnier doubler or insert is that the whole piece gets twisted around and you have to stretch it out flat before using it with a diaper. I have found that cotton sherpa inserts and doublers fulfill my needs of being cotton, are just as absorbent as cotton twill, and stay flat after washing.
I’m quite sad I didn’t discover cotton sherpa much earlier in my cloth diapering journey, and that few big companies make use of this fabric. Do you use cotton sherpa? What are your thoughts on it compared to other cloth diapering fabrics?