cloth diapers (thanks, Alison!)
EDIT: I am told by Cori that much of the below is wrong. Just goes to show how complicated this nonsense is.
This photo is actually playing triple duty. It's a thank-you to my mother, who made the gorgeous quilt you see. It's my daily picture of Nora. And it's a thank-you to Alison , who graciously gave us a whole host of cloth diaper goodies.
We had started with a small set of BumGenius pocket diapers (intended for night time and babysitter use), a set of Thirsties-brand shells, Thirsties-brand liners, and Flip (child brand of BumGenius) prefolds.
Alison, the wife of my lead at work, someone that I have met only a handful of times at company parties, took it upon herself to give us a large set of cloth diaper goodies that expanded our initial set and gave us the opportunity to explore a larger portion of the cloth diaper world than we would have been able to otherwise.
Some cloth diaper background. Cloth diapers are gadgets for babies. It took Cori a while to get me into this but, yeah, here I am.
There are two major pieces to a diaper: The absorbancy layer and the waterproof layer. Unless you are a madman, you want both.
How these layers are delivered is pretty varied and is made needlessly complex by the advent of billions of terms that serve only to confuse (i.e., they do not greatly reduce complexity in communication even after you are familiar with them).
For cloth diapers, the outer waterproof shell is made out of a special plastic that has basically revolutionized the whole cloth diaper thing. It's PUL, or polyurethane laminate, but you don't even care. All you would care about is that if your diaper isn't made from this stuff, it probably isn't worth your time.
If your diaper has the absorbency layer attached to this outer shell, it's called an "all in one." These diapers are expensive and take forever to dry, but they are as easy to use as disposibles. If your diaper has a liner but also has a piece that is removable, it's probably a Pocket diaper, where you stuff the absorbancy layer inside a pocket. (This is one place the terminology is dumb: Some Pocket diapers are marketed as All In Ones.) If your diaper and liner are separate items, it is called an All In Two (and again, some Pockets are marketed as All In Twos).
Pretty much every other kind of diaper is some variation on the above.
Classic cloth diapers, called "prefolds" usually, are just an All In Two, since they are useful only as liners. "Prefolds" are also mis-named because they are not, in fact, pre-folded: They are just squares of cotton. If you get a pre-fold that's actually pre-folded, you are probably buying a Fitted diaper, which again is a misnomer since they are not fitted like a suit nor fitted like a baseball cap.
The diaper in the picture above is a Thirsties-brand All In Two. The shell is by far the best stand-alone shell we found. There are two main sizes of this shell -- one for infant to 18lb and one for above that.
The absorbancy layers we have available at home are myriad. There are two major aspects that you worry about with an absorbancy layer: Speed of absorbtion and wicking action.
The former is important to prevent spills. Go grab a kitchen towel and just pour a quarter cup of water on it. I'll wager it will absorb less than half of the water before the rest just spills off the side. Wicking action is important because it contributes to the feeling of "dryness," which is important to prevent diaper rash but also because it keeps baby comfortable when wearing a diaper for a long period. In other words, wicking ability allows baby to sleep for longer periods with a change.
I could provide reviews of all the liners and diapers we've used, and maybe I will at some point, but for now I'll leave it at the above. I have this great infographic in my head describing the whole cloth diaper world, but alas I'm sure it is never going to come to light.