Choose your fabric. Personally I like a brushed cotton. I think brushed cotton is more absorbent than flat cotton, but isn't as bulky as fleece. Some fleeces are fine but others can leave you feeling a bit like John Wayne if you know what I mean. You don't want people to be asking you where you've left your horse! Some people use fleece or corduroy bottom layer to help it stick to your underwear. I'm not keen on this and prefer poppers but it's something you might want to try.
Wash your fabrics at least once before you start. During the manufacturing process many fabrics have things added to them which interferes with absorbency.
Pretty pastel pads look great - for a month or two. Unless you are a stain removing master I'd suggest you stick with bold and dark colours. Patterns are good for disguising any staining you may get too. If you're using what you have lying around anyway then go for it - but if you are making a special purchase I do suggest bold colours and patterns.
The most popular kinds of pads are the all-in-ones (just one piece) and pads with inserts (a sort of envelope that you put inserts in). Some people like the insert type because you can boost them to depend upon your flow - you have control over how thick you make them. Some people think they are good because they dry quicker than an all-in-one too because you separate them out to dry. Personally I'm not as keen. I find that the inserts can move which can result in leaks - or worse still they may somehow 'drop out,' but thankfully I've never had this happen to me, or heard of it happening to anyone else.
Here's an insert style pad.
Here's an all-in-one.
I was going to try to upload a pattern but since pads, like women, come in all different shapes and sizes I thought perhaps it would be better if you drew around a disposable that you feel comfortable with. Make sure you allow plenty of space for hems and wings.
When I first saw a night time cloth pad I couldn't believe how big it was but I now feel fine about them. Here is a red night time pad, a disposable I have for emergencies and a standard day time cloth pad.
Some people including myself put a waterproof breathable layer in their pad. You can buy this stuff online (it's the second one down called naprap that you would need). If you know anyone who makes cloth nappies they should be able to tell you where to get it too. I've always paid between £7 and £8 per metre and a metre makes a heck of a lot of pads! You could get half a metre if this was possible or still go for the metre and make a handy carrying purse to carry your pads in - one for clean and one for in case you need to carry home a changed pad.
Okay, so you have your outer fabric, you have your PUL layer if you want it and you have drawn around your favourite pad leaving lots of space for hems and wings. Now you need something for your inner core. I always use old flannelet sheets and things like that. Anything past it's best but still very absorbent.
Cut out a long rectangle the full length and width of your pad for your inner core (the cream coloured bit above). It won't be seen if you're making an all-in-one so colour doesn't matter here. Depending upon the thickness of my fabric I usually make this three or four layers thick. Sew the layers together around the outer edge.
Cut out a top and bottom layer in your chosen outer fabric. Cut out a layer in PUL if you're using this.
Put your top layer on the table with the pattern facing down over and place the inner core on top of it where it should go in the centre. Sew the core to the underside of the top layer. Go around the edges first and then up and down the middle two or three times. This helps to stop the core from rucking up. If you look carefully at the made up blue checked one above you will see the sewing lines going up and down.
Place your bottom layer on the table with the pattern facing the table. Then place the PUL layer on top of that. Put the top layer and inner core on top of that and then sew around the outside edge only - so you have the inner core attached firmly to the top layer and then the top, PUL and bottom layers are all firmly sewn together around the very outer edge of the pad. The core is not attached to the PUL or bottom layer.
If you have an overlocker that's great. I don't but know a couple of people who do and have used theirs. If I make some at home I tend to fold a cotton edging binding around the outer edge and sew it on. For lots of people just ordinary stitching around the outer edge would be fine. Give it a try before putting cotton edging on. If the edges feel uncomfortable you can always add an edging then to conceal the stitches afterwards.
Now you just need your fastenings. I hand sew mine on. Some have just one popper, some have two. Some are side by side for added strength and some have two so that you can adjust the gusset width. Some people use velcro but I've not tried this yet. Buy decent sized press studs. Little ones can un pop under the strain!
I have never actually made one of the insert ones although I do have a few and some of those are handmade. I suspect if you've made it this far you will be able to adapt the above. The only thing I have noticed with them is that some have an envelope opening the full length of the pad like this
whereas some have a line stitched an inch or two from each end to make the opening smaller. Smaller openings make them trickier to boost the layers but once in the core pads feel more secure.
I have pads which have been used on an almost monthly basis for the best part of eight years and there is still lots of life in them. As well as all the environmental factors you can save yourself a lot of money too. You're also a lot less likely to get thrush using cloth too.
I hope this all makes sense. Just shout up with any questions.