Tuesday, February 28, 2012

RearZ Flair Prefold & Couture Cover Review + $20 Giveaway {Fluffy February} (Closed)


My next Fluffy February sponsor is RearZ, a cloth diapering company based in my hometown of Kitchener, Ontario. The president, Laurie Diwakar, is passionate about spreading the word on cloth diapering benefits and has written published articles on the topic, including a recent submission entitled "The Serious Dangers of Disposable Diapers" appearing in the Dec / Jan 2012 issue of Healthy Directions Magazine. (Read it here!)

Laurie recognizes it isn't just babies and toddlers who have the need for diapers. Older children and many adults will wear them at some point as well, for various reasons including loss of bladder control, illness and even occupational demands. As such, her company offers "Gear for Rears" of all ages - baby, youth and adult alike!

RearZ was founded in 2006 under the name EcoBumz, and its name was changed to RearZ in 2009. The company is "Green America Approved" and enforces extremely high standards for its diapers and accessories. All manufacturers are required to offer oeko-tek, organic certified or independently lab tested materials in their construction, and fabric producers overseas are dealt with directly to ensure fair wage, fair trade and anti-child labour practices are in effect. Read more about the company's values and practices on their About page.

Within their Baby Diapering line specifically, RearZ offers the following products:
As a prefold 'n' cover kinda gal at heart, I was particularly intrigued by the concept of the Flair. Why? Well, its patent-pending design combines the simplicity, versatility and affordability of a "standard" prefold with the convenience of a snap-closure fitted. Pretty cool, huh?

Here's a bit more info on the Flair:
  • Made from high end, 100% unlbeached cotton that is independently lab tested for purity and safety.
  • Exceeds organic standards and meets stringent European Oeko-tex standards.
  • Elastic free.
  • Available in the following sizes:
    • Small: 6-13 lbs, measures 11x14" and contains 4-6-4 layers
    • Medium: 14-26 lbs, measures 14x18" and contains 4-8-4 layers
    • Large: 27+ lbs, measures 17x22" and contains 4-8-4 layers
I'm sure it goes without saying that I'm always happy to try out a new cover as well! RearZ PUL Couture Covers come in a variety of attractive patterns such as the appropriately-named "Planet Pleasure". 

One interesting thing about these covers is that in-house designers ensure no more than 50 of a particular design are distributed, and styles are constantly changing. This could be considered both pretty cool in that each cover made is quite unique and also a bit disappointing that only a few are available at one time.

Here are some more Couture Cover specs:
  • Key design features include leg gussets, high-quality wipe clean PUL,  double cross over velcro tabs and fold back laundry tabs to prevent diaper chains.
  • Can be machine washed and dried at any temperature
  • Made in Canada (with PUL sourced in the US).
  • Available in the following sizes:
    • Newborn: 4-10 lbs
    • Small: 8-16 lbs
    • Medium: 15-27 lbs
    • Large: 28-40 lbs
For review purposes, Laurie sent me a medium Flair prefold and a medium Couture Cover.

Well, more accurately, she provided me with two covers. Why? Well, for a couple reasons. First of all, the initial cover revealed itself to have some imperfections after a few uses / laundry cycles; the laundry tab was becoming detached and some loose stitching was evident elsewhere. Turns out that this cover was likely from a rare bad batch. (These things happen, right?) Second, RearZ has very recently made some enhancements to the Couture Cover design, and Laurie wanted me to have the option to review the latest & greatest. I'm super happy that I got this opportunity as, well frankly, my review of the original wouldn't have been as flattering as the overall product deserves...but not so with the new cover!

Here is a close-up of my new floral print Couture Cover; who {hearts} this style as much as I do???

As advertised, the cover has a wipeable inner. It also has front and back pockets under which a prefold or insert can be tucked, however I prefer to rest the diaper / absorbent part on top.

The cover includes generous leg gussets with nice, stretchy elastic. The trim material is also very soft.

The aplix on these covers is extremely strong - definitely the grippiest of any diaper or cover in my stash. Laurie told me that this was a purposeful design choice with the intention of preventing mischievious toddlers from breaking free out of their fluffy "shackles". As adventurous as our little S can be, she strangely enough hasn't taken to this hobby herself (yet....knock on wood), however I can certainly see this being helpful for mamas & papas who are in this boat with their little ones!

The downside of super-strong aplix is that it can make changes a little more challenging, and it can also exacerbate wear & tear on the cover. This possibly contributed to the laundry tab becoming detached on my first cover, however everything appears to be sewn in nice & strong on the new one!

Here you can see the main differences between the old and new design. The aplix tab of the new design is thicker and extends all the way across the front of the diaper, allowing the cover to fit longer and making it easier to secure things in place on a squirmy baby!

Oh, one more thing about the Couture Cover - it's nice & light weight (but still strong!) 

Here is the Flair prefold before and after prepping. (I washed it 3x with my regular CD laundry to prep.) Notice how it's much fluffier in the after pic.You can see the unique snap closures on the right side. Measurement-wise, the Flair started at about 14x18" and ended at 12.5x15.5" after prepping.

The two folds I use for my prefolds are the trifold (this has worked pretty well since our DD started solids) and the angel wing. Obviously the trifold wouldn't allow us to test the "Flairness" of this diaper so I angel wing'd our DD up, and things snapped into place nicely!

The Flair's snaps certainly step up the "ease of use" factor vs. using a Snappi. While we don't always see eye to eye on my review items, my husband definitely agrees with me on this one! Once a single snap is in place, there's no worry it'll become unsecured as you work on the other one.

The medium Couture Cover fits nicely over the Flair, using both the angel wing and the trifold method. Using the angel wing, you just need to ensure any excess material is tucked back in under the leg gusset.

Here we go - much better!

Speaking of the gusset, it does fit a bit loosely, which you may notice in the pic above. Our daughter has skinny thighs so this could be a contributing factor, however I've noticed that gussets from other covers / diapers in a similar size range (or OS) do fit pretty snug on her. So I think these gussets just might not be quite as stretchy as others I've tried. I'd be more concerned about this with an EBF baby, but our daughter's poops are quite solid so messes tend to stay in one place.

Have I mentioned that I love this print???

S seems to {heart} it as well! It's not too often these days that she's grinning away during a bum change!

One more pic of the cover from the back. Notice that elastic does fit nice & snug (but not too tight) around the waist.

S has worn her Flair & Couture Cover several times now. The majority of testing has been done during the day, and I've found the combination to perform very well for "standard" usage. When we tried the combo overnight, there was a small leak so I concluded that more absorbency is needed when used in this capacity. Laurie confirmed that she uses a small prefold or insert inside the Flair which works on her end for night diapering. This is something I still need to try out. I'll report back!

Finally, I like giving S bare bum time periodically, especially when she's a li'l tender down there. However, it's never all that pleasant (nor relaxing) to run around after her brandishing a Norwex cloth. :) As such, I've taken to putting her in prefolds without covers as a "middle of the road" air time solution. This works decently with a Snappi, but then the diaper is somewhat prone to coming apart and I'm not a big fan of the Snappi's prickly "claws" being right out in the open like that. The Flair prefold is a much better option! Although the wings do tend to droop down following a lot of movement (presumably due to only a single snap on each side), things definitely stay in place better and there's nothing sharp for our daughter to grab.

As for care & maintenance, nothing is simpler to care for than a prefold, and the Flair is no exception. Couture Covers are also easy to launder, however although the specs claim you can machine wash and dry them at any temperature, I prefer to hang them to dry. Our newer Couture Cover has been laundered 3 or 4 times now and there is no sign so far of the aplix (or anything else) degrading, and the trim appears to be much more resistant to pilling than the first cover I received.

Alright, let's get to the official eval of the Flair prefold and Couture Cover, used together as a 2-part diapering system!

+ Cute & unique pattern options available for the Couture Covers; I looooove the floral print I reviewed in particular!
+ Cover has an attractive construction
+/- Complete diaper (prefold + cover) is middle-of-the-road trim - not super-bulky but not among the trimmer diapers in our stash either. The low weight of the Couture Cover helps cut down on bulk.
- Only a few styles are available at a time, and pictures are unavailable on the retail site.
Score: 3.5/5

+ Combination works very well for day diapering; no leaks experienced so far.
+ Cover achieves a snug (but not pinching) tummy fit. 
+ Aplix on the cover is extremely strong, making it difficult for mischievous little hands to rip it loose!
+/- No problems for us containing solid messes, however the looseness of the leg gussets could potentially be an issue for EBF babies (especially those with skinny thighs like our daughter).
- System appears to need an absorbency boost (e.g. another small prefold or insert) for effective night diapering.
Score: 3.5/5

Comfort & Health:
+ Cover trim is soft & stretchy; no marks left behind when diaper comes off.
+ Prefold is made of 100% cotton so it is breathable. We like using it alone, snapped in place with an angel wing fold, to help our daughter get some air circulation, especially when she's a bit rashy.
+ Combination does not appear to cause/exacerbate diaper rash.
- The prefold does not (on its own) wick away moisture from baby's skin, so you might want to use microfleece liners to help with this (and/or be sure to do very frequent changes).
- Cover is made from PUL which is synthetic, so this may not be ideal for babies with very sensitive skin.
Score: 4/5

Ease of Use:
+ Waist snaps on the Flair are definitely easier to use than a Snappi; the snaps themselves are solid but not too tight. 
+ Both prefold and cover are very easy to care for - easy spray-down, machine wash, machine dry or hang.
+/- It takes some time to learn the angel wing and other folds in the first place, but once you've got the hang of things it's pretty simple. Also, prefolds allow you some flexibility to use folds that work best for you and your little one(s).
- The strong aplix, while helpful in keeping the diaper on, can be a bit tough to pull free from the laundry tabs or readjust as necessary.
Score: 4/5

Quality & Durability:
(Note: I am reviewing the newer cover here exclusively, under the assumption that the original, which had significant issues in this category, was a rare exception and that RearZ would replace products with such issues.) 
+ Construction of cover looks and feels very high quality. (No loose seams, improper stitching, etc. are evident.)
+ Both front and laundry tabs are holding strong over multiple uses / washes (especially important for these to be sewn properly considering the strong aplix).
+ Elastics are tight & solid
+ Despite the softness of the trim, it is remaining completely pill-free following several washes! Not sure how RearZ has managed this, but kudos to them!
+ Prefolds in general are known for their incredible durability and the Flair appears to be no exception here.
+ The snaps on the Flair are sewn in nice & tight.
Score: 5/5 
(Note - given I have only been using this combo for a few weeks, I plan to update this section a few months down the road to get a true durability picture!)


Total "Diaper Awesomeness" Score: 20 / 25 (Great diaper. Highly recommended.)
Overall Comments: The RearZ flair + Couture Cover combination is definitely an effective 2-piece diapering system! In addition to all the standard benefits of prefolds, the patent-pending Flair contains snaps to make it easier (and safer) to keep the diaper secured in place. The Couture Cover is a nice PUL cover, with soft yet durable trim, leg gussets and super-strong aplix to keep mischievous hands from pulling it off. It comes in some funky, unique patterns as well, though only a few are available at a time. Note that using this system, you might need to add inserts (to bump up absorbency for night diapering), and/or liners (to help wick away moisture).

Approximate Stash Cost: $520 to $730
Calculation details: Most people could probably get away with using 3 of the 4 sizes of Couture Cover from birth to potty training. Covers cost $14.99 each ($12.99 for the newborn size), so assuming six are required at any point, the overall cost for covers is between $257.82 and $269.82. Flair prefolds are sold in 6-packs for $29.99 (small), $34.99 (medium) and $39.99 (large), so to have 24 of each size you are looking at $419.88. My personal opinion from using the medium, though, is that it should be big enough to serve our daughter until potty training, as she is small and thin. In this case, a lifetime Flair stash would be just $259.92. Assuming you opt for some inserts and reusable liners, you're looking at another $40 or so.


Buy It:

RearZ products can be purchased directly at nhdcanada.com or from select 3rd party retailers. (Note - click the Retailers option on the top menu to view a list. The Rearz website is build in Flash so URLs to specific sections are not available.)

Win It:

One lucky Manager to Mom reader will win a $20 credit to nhdcanada.com to spend on any Rearz product(s) of their choice!

To enter, please fill out the Rafflecopter form below. Comments do not count as entries, however feel free to add a comment to remind yourself that you entered!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Fun and Easy Ideas for Children's Birthday Parties {Guest Post}

 By: Lisa at ThePartyWorks

Throwing a birthday party for your kiddo can be a lot of fun. Whatever you dread about party planning, get rid of it! Make the party about what you and your child enjoy that is healthy and simple. As a mom of 3, I have learned a few things over the years and now I have birthday party planning down to a science and I'd like to share with you some of the more valuable tips and ticks I've discovered.
  1. Enlist a helper. Your partner may be a great help, but even one more responsible adult on duty can make everything that much more manageable. I don't mean just asking another mom when they get to the party if they don't mind keeping an eye on the kids too. I mean enlist, in advance, another mom or family member to help with everything from setup to cleanup.
  2. Limit the guest list. It's really not important to invite guests out of obligation. They're kids, not adults, so the same rules just don't apply. Keep the guest list to the nearest and dearest. In the end, your child will remember having a great time with the people who were there, and that's what is important.
  3. The Internet is a wonderful thing. From sending out evites to ordering decorations, cake and/or entertainment, most of the party planning can be done from your laptop which can be a real time saver for busy parents.
  4. Keep the kids busy. The hardest part is probably finding a way to keep the kids safely entertained for the duration of the party. Have a movie and/or video game back up plan just in case they need some down time. Scavenger and treasure hunts are a great way to keep them engaged for a while, and craft tables are terrific for having them make their own party favors like painted t-shirts or aprons, snow globes in mason jars, picture frames or painted clay pots (possibly including plants)! If you want to have them decorate their own cupcakes, that works too!
After you throw a few parties, you'll get the hang of it and by the time your second child starts having parties, you'll be a pro! The important thing to remember is that your child can tell when something stresses you out. Throw the best party you can within the boundaries of feasibility without overload and enjoy the moment celebrating the day you brought that child into the world.

Lisa is a guest post blogger who writes about party planning with themes like Super Mario birthday party and anniversary parties.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

AppleCheeks Microterry Little Bundle: Review and Giveaway {Fluffy February} (Closed)

"We didn't invent cloth diapering. We simply perfected it."

A bold statement indeed, but AppleCheeks (my next Fluffy February event sponsor) certainly has reason to be confident. Mamas and papas everywhere are totally smitten with this Canadian cloth diapering brand! Not only do they make adorable, high-quality dipes, but they also have amazing customer service and know how to have FUN! As an example, last year they held a photo giveaway event on their Facebook wall challenging fans to come up with the most creative usage of an AppleCheeks diaper. (Submissions included water wings, a tea pot cozy and a Rastafarian beanie. ) And if all that isn't awesome enough, AppleCheeks has also pledged to donate a portion of its profits to Free the Children, an organization which strives to free children from poverty and exploitation, and empower youth to affect positive change in the world.

The company is co-owned by Ilana Grostern and Amy Appleton Venu, two ecologically-minded business women. Since Day 1, these two ladies have continuously improved the design of the AppleCheeks washable diapering system based on their own personal experiences and customer feedback. In addition to their 2-Size "Envelope Cover" and various insert options (which comprise the core system), AppleCheeks also offers plush bamboo wipes, disposable liners, swim diapers, convenient starter kits and accessories such as diaper storage sacs and waist extenders.

Let's take a closer look at their diapering system.

The envelope cover has the following key features (based on its product description):
  • Super soft micro-fleece lining
  • Super stretchy elastic to contain even the messiest blowouts
  • Extra wide envelope-style opening for easy stuffing
  • Wide tabs prevent wing droop
  • Waterproof shell
  • Two rows of snaps for the perfect fit

The cover comes in two sizes: Size 1 fits from 7-20 lbs, and Size 2 fits from 20-40 lbs. (Both weight ranges are approximate.) It also comes in an array of sweet colours with ultra-funky names! Here are some of 'em:

They have also recently added a black "Lake Echo" colour and two prints - Wild Child and Delicious!

As for inserts, AppleCheeks has your little one's rump more than covered! They offer two main insert types (a One-Size Rayon from Bamboo Insert, and a NEW Stay-Dry Microterry Insert) as well as two types of booster. Inserts can be used alone for day-time diapering or combined with one or more boosters for heavy-duty night time protection.

For review purposes, AppleCheeks sent me a Microterry Little Bundle (an envelope cover + Stay-Dry Microterry Insert) in Size 2 with the Wild Child print.

One of the first things I automatically do with a new diaper is the "feel test". And, boy oh boy, does the cover pass with flying colours! The micro-fleece inner is *ridiculously* soft, and the leg and waist elastic is, indeed, super stretchy. The construction is perfect as well - even stitching throughout and no loose seams.

Four settings of double waist snaps are available on both sides. The snaps are nice & sturdy but not so tight that the cover becomes difficult to put on.

Here is the cover on the smallest and largest settings. Isn't it just precious? I *really* love how it looks, especially on the smallest setting.


The envelope pocket opening is, indeed, a generous size. Your hubby has no excuse not to help stuff these bad boys - even if he's in the NBA!

AppleCheeks diapers are "Made in Canada" which they proudly proclaim right on the label!

Here's a close-up of the Stay-Dry Microterry Insert. Notice how each side is constructed of a different material - an absorbent microterry side (lined in red) and a stay-dry microfleece side.

The insert is meant to be used in two different ways. When placed on the cover (an "All in Two" approach), the microfleece side should be facing up.


When placed inside the pocket, the microterry side should be facing up. The insert's label has a helpful reminder that the microterry side is not designed to sit directly against baby's skin. The insert is, indeed, incredi-easy to stuff and it fits perfectly inside the pocket - snug without bunching at the sides or either end.


Now the fun part - wrapping all that snuggly softness around our daughter's li'l buns!

First of all, I should mention she's at a perfect age to test the diaper, as she is currently right around 20 pounds - the exact threshold between Size 1 and Size 2. When "graduating" to a larger size for the first time, there's always some possibility of leakage due to too much gaping and/or sagging, and of course the diaper may not look too flattering right away. Not so with our AppleCheeks! On the smallest setting, the Size 2 already fits our daughter rather trimly and creates an appreciably snug fit around her waist and thighs.


A couple more views from the back and side:

And here is our li'l "Wild Child" hanging out in her 'Cheeks. (Now that she's starting to really fight us during changes, a solid distraction works wonders! :)

S has worn this diaper about 6 times now - twice overnight and the rest during the day. I'm happy to report no leaks during day-time use with neither the stuffed nor the "All in Two" method. She pooped a couple times and this was easily contained as well. For overnight testing, we used the stuffed method exclusively as we wanted the soft, moisture-wicking microfleece against our daughter's skin for this much longer period. The first time we tried it overnight, she leaked - but we were being very ambitious and only used the single Stay-Dry Microterry insert. So yup, it was definitely oversaturation in this case! The second time we boosted it with an additional microfibre insert inside the pocket. She wet heavily that night but everything stayed in place! Yay - night diapering test = PASS!

As for care & maintenance, this system is a breeze. Both the cover and insert can be machine washed, and either machine or air dried. The insert comes out in the wash on its own, which is always nice, and it is very robust; it doesn't bunch or shrink at all following contact with heat.

Coming up with constructive criticism for this diapering system has been challenging, to say the least. Having said that, let's get to the official evaluation!

+ Flattering fit; super stretchy leg and waist elastics create a nice visual touch (especially on the smallest setting)
+ Colour options are vivid and attractive; with 9 currently available there is something for everyone's taste!
+ Diaper is quite trim, even when baby is at the smallest end of the suggested weight range. 
+/- Prints have recently been introduced as well, however only two will be available at a time.
Score: 4.5/5

+ Insert fits perfectly into pocket so that there is no gaping or bunching on the sides or at the ends, increasing the possibility of leakage.
+ Diaper achieves a snug tummy and leg fit - even at the lowest end of the recommended weight range! 
+ No leaks experienced so far during during the day with single Stay-Dry Microterry Insert used in both ways (all in two and stuffed) - about 6 total uses.
+ No problem containing solid messes. (Note - did not test with EBF poop.)
+ No overnight leakage when used as designed - with an extra insert/doubler for adequate absorbency.
Score: 5/5

Comfort & Health:
+ Inner microfleece is buttery-soft and outer waterproof fabric is smooth and also pleasant to the touch.
+ Waist and thigh elastics are nice & stretchy so that they don't dig uncomfortably into baby's skin; no marks left behind when diaper comes off
+ Waist and thigh material sticks outward rather than inward into baby's skin.
+ Diaper does not appear to cause/exacerbate diaper rash
- Cover and insert *are* made with synthetic materials so the system may not be as breathable as one made with natural materials such as bamboo; while this hasn't seemed to be a problem for our daughter, it may not be ideal for babies with very sensitive skin prone to diaper rash.
Score: 4.5/5

Ease of Use:
+ Diaper is super-easy to stuff via ultra-large pocket opening
+ Snaps are solid but not too tight such that changes become difficult
+ Both cover and insert are very easy to care for - easy spray-down, machine wash, machine dry or hang. (Air dries quickly!)
+ System can be used two ways with Stay-Dry Microterry Insert - stuffed or all in two. Mom and Dad can pick their favourite!
+ Insert comes out in the wash on its own
Score: 5/5

Quality & Durability:
+ Construction of cover looks and feels flawless. (No loose seams, improper stitching, etc. are evident.)
+ Snaps are strong & secure
+ Elastics are tight & solid
+ Inner lining feels almost as soft after several washings.
+ Insert does not shrink nor change shape when exposed to heat 
Score: 5/5 
(Note - given I have only been using this diaper for a few weeks, I plan to update this section a few months down the road to get a true durability picture!)


Total "Diaper Awesomeness" Score: 24 / 25 (Pretty much a perfect diaper. Go out there and buy some NOW! :) )
Overall Comments: From what I can tell so far (3 weeks usage), this is One Amazing Diaper. High quality construction, great performance (day and night), soft and comfy for baby, simple to use and care for and ridiculously cute! Aside from the fact that print options are (currently) limited and the diaper/insert combo is constructed from synthetic materials (which may be an issue from highly sensitive babies), I have literally nothing negative to report!

Approximate Stash Cost: $440 to $1080
Calculation details: Depending on your approach / preferences, you can build an AppleCheeks stash fairly economically or you can splurge a bit more. AppleCheeks suggests that three envelope covers can be used for approximately nine changes (each with a separate insert, of course). Based on this, you would need to purchase a minimum of 8 covers in each size (or 16 total), 24 One-Size Microterry Inserts (which cover daytime use) and, say, 6 bamboo boosters (for night diapering) to have a lifetime stash. There are slight pricing differences between retailers, however on average covers cost $20, One-Size Microterry Inserts cost $8 CAD per 2-pack and bamboo boosters cost $4 (all in CAD). This adds up to a stash cost of $440. That said, some people (myself include) may prefer not to reuse a "soft" cover like this between changes, even if the cover isn't soiled. So on the other end of the spectrum, if you opt to purchase a full set of 24 covers in each size, you're looking at a stash cost of $1080.


Buy It:

AppleCheeks sells its products exclusively via 3rd party retailers. Visit their Find a Store page to find retailers in your area.

Win It:

One lucky Manager to Mom reader will win an AppleCheeks Little Bundle (envelope cover + insert) of their own! Winner chooses style, size and insert type.

To enter, please fill out the Rafflecopter form below. Comments do not count as entries, however feel free to add a comment to remind yourself that you entered!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: iPad-orable

Three generations apart, both equally fascinated (perplexed?) by today's technology.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Wool Dryer Balls from The Willow Store: Review and Giveaway {FluffyFebruary} (Closed)

I know I've kept y'all waiting for my second Fluffy February feature, but this one is worth the wait - I promise! :)

The Willow Store is a company based in Verona, Wisconsin which offers reusable alternatives to many personal care and household products which are most commonly available today in disposable forms - for example nursing pads, wipes, feminine care products and, of course, cloth diapers! Catherine Bolden, founder and mom behind The Willow Store, recognized that recent generations have been treating the Earth as "single use", thus disrupting its natural cycle and putting its future at risk. As such, she created The Willow Store in 2005 out of a desire to help care for and preserve our planet for future generations.

All Willow Store products are ethically manufactured in the United States. In addition, the company strongly supports small business and living wages, and selects top-quality materials which are organic and sourced in the US whenever possible.

That's a strong set of core values and business practices, don't you think?

So let's take a closer look at one of the particular products offered by The Willow Store. And nope, despite the fact that it's Fluffy February, I'm not going to be reviewing a diaper this time around. But don't be disappointed - the item I am going to tell you about can definitely play a key role in the overall practice of cloth diapering!

** Drumroll please! **

Enter the Wool Dryer Ball!

For those of you raising your eyebrows in uncertainty, wool dryer balls are used in place of disposable dryer sheets to reduce static, soften laundry and reduce drying time. Most importantly, they are free from the harsh chemicals which are rampant in disposable sheets. (These chemicals are bad news in general but particularly damaging when it comes to cloth diapers, as they leave residue behind which reduces absorbency and can cause irritation to sensitive little bums, not to mention potential longer term health risks.) Finally, since wool is naturally antibacterial, these balls can be used for weeks (if not months) before they're due for a cleaning.

I've been using wool dryer balls for about 8 months now and I love them - they totally work! Not just for dipes, but all different types of laundry. The balls I have owned the longest were made by a fellow mama blogger who used to sell them online. I wrote about her laundry balls, as well as how I first discovered this wonderful natural laundry concept in general, last September.

Let's look at The Willow Store's wool dryer balls in more detail. In addition to the general benefits I mentioned above, these balls are:
  • Natural wool felted; they won't unravel in the laundry or in your little one's hands!
  • Safe from color bleeding, as the dye used is fiber-reactive
  • Soft and malleable, so they tumble quietly in the dryer
  • Hand-made in the US
In addition, they come in a wide array of vivid colours! To me, brighter is better when it comes to locating the li'l guys quickly from your clean laundry pile. However, a "natural" option is available as well for those of you who prefer to go dye-free.

For review purposes, Catherine sent me a 3-pack of their wool dryer balls in yellow, green and blue. They came packaged in a cute li'l recyclable cardboard box:

Each one is approximately the size of a tennis ball, but as you can see there is some variation in both size and shape. This is expected since each ball is hand-made!

Here's a close-up of the biggest ball. This one's closer in size to a baseball, I'd say. Also notice how the surface is uniform and "fuzzy"; this is because the balls are made with wool roving, a piece of wool that has been combed, clumped and twisted. (A more common style you'll see on the market today is made with wool yarn and has a corresponding "wrapped" appearance.)

The balls are, indeed, very soft and almost "squishy", and true to description are extremely quiet in the dryer.

In terms of performance, the three balls used together are quite effective at keeping the static at bay, and I'd estimate they cut down drying time by 20-25%. For my cloth diapers in particular, without using any balls I need to run a full dry cycle (on low heat) and then turn the dryer back on for about 25 minutes longer to finish the job. And then everything's stuck together, of course. With three balls, I only need an extra 10 minutes or so, and static is minimal to nonexistent.

My daughter is quite fond of these balls herself. A few times now, one of them went missing for a day or two, and then I'd find it hiding under her crib or in her toy box. (Eventually I realized her intentions weren't exactly honourable when she'd saunter over to "help" with the laundry! ;) In any case, these situations allowed forced me to test performance with just two of the balls, and I found that these loads did require slightly longer drying times and resulted in a bit more static.

On the flip side, more is definitely merrier when it comes to dryer balls - to a certain extent, anyway. (I'm sure the Law of Diminishing Returns applies at some point. :) When I dried a load of dipes with all five balls (three from The Willow Store and the two I had previously) I barely needed any extra time on top of the initial dry cycle.

In terms of longevity, aside from some surface pilling (which doesn't affect performance and is probably inevitable, especially if used with lint-emitting laundry) these balls are extremely hardy! Despite their softness, they maintain their shape well load after load, and the felted wool continues to be fused strongly to each ball's core.

And even the pilling can be "fixed" using a sweater defuzzer, if desired. It took me 2-3 minutes to "beautify" the blue ball below, which was previously as pilly as the green one:

All in all, I wholeheartedly recommend wool dryer balls as a key component of a natural laundry routine, especially for folks who cloth diaper! The Willow Store's dryer balls in particular are a great choice; hand-made, soft and colourfast, they come in a wide variety of bright & cheery shades and I find them to be highly effective (at reducing static, cutting down drying time and softening laundry), quiet and durable.

Buy It: 

Visit The Willow Store to pick up some of their wool dryer balls for yourself! Individual balls cost $6.95 each and 3-packs (natural or assorted colours) go for $19.95. Check out all the other natural, reusable products while you are there! Shipping time averages 2-5 days. The company stands behind their products and demonstrates this by offering a 60-day return policy. Willow Store products are also available at numerous 3rd party retailers (online and across the US).

** Sale Alert! ** Until the end of February, all Natural Feminine Care products are 20% off! Plus, you can get a free Anywhere travel bag with every pad!

Win It:

Catherine has generously offered to give away a set of three wool dryer balls from the Willow Store to one lucky Manager to Mom reader! Winner chooses colours from among available options.

To enter, please fill out the Rafflecopter form below. Comments do not count as entries, however feel free to add a comment to remind yourself that you entered!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

MiniMaestro Diaper + Insert: Review and Giveaway {FluffyFebruary} (Closed)

"For them. For you. For tomorrow."

Fluffy February is finally here! I'm excited to kick things off by telling you all about MiniMaestro, my first event sponsor!

MiniMaestro is based in Ottawa, Ontario and sells its own unique brand of pocket diapers and cloth diapering accessories produced nearby at a facility in Montreal, Quebec. The company has been on my radar for almost a year now, and, in fact, I have blogged about it a few times already! My very first giveaway win (almost a full year ago) was a MiniMaestro wet bag, which I excitedly shared with y'all and then later wrote a review on. I also solicited your help to win some MM fluff in a "Name the Diaper" contest (I came up just short - boo! :)
I've been particularly eager to test out a MiniMaestro diaper as I know that a lot of time, dedication and thought went into its design. Why? Well, it was created by Sophie Gratton, the company's founder and a talented and ambitious "mompreneur". I've been in touch with Sophie periodically over the last year and the one thing I have grown to learn about her is that she's not one to settle for mediocrity. (A mama after my own heart, for sure! :)

When her daughter was 14 months old, Sophie decided to switch from disposable to cloth diapers in order to save money and reduce waste, however upon researching her options, realized that no diaper currently on the market met all of her standards. To Sophie, the perfect diaper had to be trim, leak resistant, easy to use and to clean, made in Canada and affordable. As such, she whipped out her sewing machine and got to work! After much experimenting (with her daughter as a guinea pig), the MiniMaestro pocket diaper was born!

Here are some of the diaper's key features:
  • Extensible and waterproof PUL outer shell
  • Soft microfleece inner to keep baby dry
  • Form-fitting elastics to prevent leaks
  • Wide pocket opening with double elastics, for easy stuffing
  • Long folding aplix tabs
  • Wide front band to adjust the height of the waist

Unlike many (if not most) diapers currently on the market, the MiniMaestro is a sized diaper. In other words, you'll need a few sets of diapers in different sizes to accommodate your baby from birth to potty training. While it's true that a stash of sized diapers is pricier overall than a stash of one-size, the upsides are a) a trimmer fit at each age and b) better resale value and/or life left for your next little bundle of joy, since each diaper will be used for less time.

MiniMaestro diapers come in the following 5 sizes:

My guess is that most/all babies can be effectively diapered from birth to potty training using three of these, depending on the baby's weight and morphology. For example, a small and/or thin baby might be diapered in x-small, medium-slim and large, and a bigger baby might be best suited to small, medium and large. The nice thing is that you can purchase diapers on a "per need" basis, based on how your baby is growing.

MiniMaestro diapers are available in a wide assortment of colour combinations with appropriately descriptive (and in some cases, appetizing) names. Something to suit everyone's "taste" for sure!

MiniMaestro also offers inserts which come in three sizes for maximum absorption without adding bulk to the diaper. According to their website:

MiniMaestroTM inserts are made of a combination of synthetic and natural fibers between two (2) bamboo fleece layers.   They absorb up to ten (10) times their weight very quickly and retain liquids while under moderate compression.

That's a lot of liquid! (Is anyone else envisioning a face-off with [Insert Infamous Brand Name Shammy Product here]? :)

Finally, MiniMaestro takes pride in ensuring quality via stringent manufacturing standards:

We only use new North-American made materials for our diapers, which provide our clients with peace of mind in respect to the quality and durability of our products.

The fabrics used for the inserts are certified to meet Oeko-Tex Standard 100. The PUL used for the outer waterproof shell of our diapers is CPSIA compliant and is manufactured exclusively using proven continuous solvent bond technology which offers the higher duty cycle, and outlasts all other laminating technologies.  It is guaranteed by the manufacturer against delamination providing that the care instructions are followed.

For review purposes, Sophie sent me a medium diaper in periwinkle and a medium bamboo insert. I love that the diaper comes with minimal packaging, and that what it does include is 100% recyclable.

Here it is sans packaging. In addition to providing durability, the fabric-covered aplix tabs contribute a distinctive and attractive design element which I really like.

The insert is thicker and firmer than many others I own. It is also unique in that one end is wider in the interest of reducing unnecessary bulk. The intent is to place the wider end where your baby needs the most absorbency. We place it at the front for S as her diapers/inserts always get wet here first (plus she's a tummy sleeper/napper).

The inner lining is, indeed, super-soft and fluffy! This, my friends, is true luxur-rump. (See what I did there? My husband would be proud!)

Here's a close-up of the PUL-covered aplix:

And here we have the aplix firmly affixed to the laundry tab. We won't be seeing any diaper chains here, folks.

Check out the contrasting colours & textures. I just love this aspect of MM diapers!

Finally, here you can see the super-stretchy pocket opening with elastic on both sides. Stuffing this diaper is definitely a breeze. (Though I can't shake the feeling that it wants to stuff itself with something other than an insert. Feeeeeeed me Seymour!)

Prepping the diaper was easy; I washed it twice (along with two regular CD loads) and hung it to dry each time. The insert was a bit more challenging, however. I'll touch on this later.

Alright get over here, sweet squirmy toddler of mine!

(Several "Wheels on the Bus" verses later...)

Ain't that one snazzy pair o' britches?

Here are a couple more angles. Notice that the diaper is indeed trim, as advertised, and snug all around. (Apologies as I somehow neglected to snap a close-up thigh shot. However I assure you that snugness abounds there as well - even on my skinny li'l girl.)

Everything stays perfectly in place as our "mini maestro" moves around! No shifting, drooping, etc.

This diaper does sit a little lower than most others in our stash; about an inch below our daughter's belly button. (She's currently mid-range in her size.) This does not appear to affect performance nor comfort, however.

S has now worn her MiniMaestro six times; five during the day and once at night. During the day, she has worn it with the single MM insert and at night doubled up with another bamboo insert from my stash. The first three times she wore the diaper during the day, she managed to poop in it almost immediately! Definitely no issues with containment here. Although S is fully on solids, I can't see there being any issues with an EBF baby either since the elastic is so snug. The fourth time she wore it, we finally got a pee (!!!!) AND a poop! No leaks, and again the mess stayed where it was supposed to.Two thumbs up!

One odd (and mostly good!) thing we've noticed is that there isn't as much of a smell when S poops in her MM compared to other diapers. Again, this could be due to the snugness of the fit.

The fifth time using her diaper was the night time experience. Unfortunately, we did experience moderate leakage during this test. However, it appeared to be due to oversaturation rather than wicking or improper fit. I don't think I've EVER felt a heavier diaper! Perhaps S felt comfier than usual in her MiniMaestro which prompted her to pee more? Who knows? In any case, I plan to try it again overnight following a couple more washes, as the insert does take 6-7 washes to reach full absorbency. I'll report back on this!

Alright, let's talk more about the insert for a moment. Mine shrank by about 10% in length upon initial prep (3x wash and dry on low heat). It also emerged from the dryer all bunched up. Uh oh!!! I asked Sophie about this and she filled me in on a few things:
  • First of all, bamboo fibre is naturally "stretchy", like a favourite pair of blue jeans. Therefore, some shrinkage/compression is expected when you launder it, but it can be stretched back out by pulling in all directions.
  • The current batch of inserts received from their supplier has been pre-"compressed" rather than fully washed/dried. The result of this is that inserts within the current batch (including the one I own) are more susceptible to shrinkage upon prepping. When Sophie realized this, she contacted the supplier to request that future batches are washed/dried before they are cut. This will ensure that they shrink very little (if at all) from their initial size when they are prepped at home. That said, the current batch of inserts are still very usable; they just end up a bit smaller than the ideal. The new batches of inserts should start arriving this Spring.
  • Laying the insert flat to dry is the best approach to ensure it stays smooth and flat prior to stuffing.

A smushed-up insert can indeed be flattened out quickly, I found:

All in all, these inserts do need a little bit of TLC but otherwise they perform quite well!

Note that if you'd prefer to use inserts which don't require any special treatment, MiniMaestro offers the option of purchasing their diapers without the inserts at a reduced cost. The diapers themselves should be able to accommodate most standard insert types. 

*** Apr 1, 2012 Update ***

Sophie sent me an insert from one of the new batches which was fully washed/dried before cut. I'm happy to report that this did not shrink any further upon prepping, and comes out of the dryer perfectly flat! Here is a comparison of the old insert and new one, fresh from the clean laundry (the new one is on the right):

I've updated my official evaluation below to reflect experiences with the "new & improved" insert!

While on the topic of care & maintenance, I also want to point out that the diapers are REALLY easy to spray down when there's a mess. Solids slide off the microfleece quite readily and there are no folds or crevices for the poop to "hide" in. Also, the diapers also come out of the washer completely stink-free and air dry quickly - within a few hours!

Alright, let's get to the official evaluation!

+ Super-trim; possibly the most form-fitting dipe in my collection! No bubble butts here. :)
+ Fabric-covered aplix closure provides a unique visual touch
+ Comes in 13 snazzy colour combinations, so lots of choice!
+/- Sits relatively low on baby; about an inch below our daughter's belly button. Does not appear to affect performance or comfort.
- Just two prints are currently offered, and they are available only to retailers.
Score: 4.5/5

+ No leaks so far during during the day, with single bamboo insert (worn 5 times). 
+ Awesome at containing messes, thanks to snug elastic
+ Even poop smell seems to be minimized in this diaper!
- Experienced moderate leakage when worn overnight with bamboo doubler. However, appeared due to oversaturation rather than wicking or improper fit. Will re-test once insert reaches full absorbency and report back! *** Apr 1, 2012 Update *** I tried the diaper overnight again with the new pre-washed insert, doubled with the old one. Again, experienced moderate leakage but again, both inserts were very saturated. My conclusion is that this diaper is best for day use, however other parents may have different experiences.
- There is a bit of space between edges of pocket and insert. Potential for pee to miss the insert when baby on side? (Could also be due to the fact that the current batch of inserts is more prone to shrinkage.) *** Apr 1, 2012 Update *** The new pre-washed insert fits more snuggly in the pocket than the old one.
Score: 4/5

Comfort & Health:
+ Inner microfleece fabric is incredibly plush; outer waterproof fabric is soft and smooth. Both very pleasant to the touch!
+ Diaper achieves a snug tummy and leg fit without pinching 
+ Bamboo materials are breathable, allowing air flow to baby's skin
+ Diaper does not appear to cause/exacerbate diaper rash
+ Waist material is stretchy, so baby is still comfy after pigging out! :)
+/- Almost no marks left on baby's skin - just noticed some *slight* imprintation following overnight usage 
- When baby crouches down, tummy can touch aplix slightly as waist fabric tends to fold inward in this position.
Score: 4.5/5

Ease of Use:
+ Diaper is quick and easy to stuff via wide, stretchy pocket opening
+ Pocket diaper + aplix = super easy change (Grandma said "Leave this one out for me!")
+ Diaper is very easy to care for - laundry tabs, easy spray-down, machine wash, machine dry or hang. (Air dries quickly!)
- Insert requires some TLC (lay flat to dry, or dry on low heat and then stretch/smooth back out) *** Apr 1, 2012 Update *** The new pre-washed insert comes out of the dryer perfectly flat! Adding 0.5 to the score based on this.
- Inserts are not designed to come out in the wash on their own
Score: 4.5/5

Quality & Durability:
+ Diaper crafted with high-quality materials and techniques; finished product looks and feels flawless. (No loose seams, improper stitching, etc. are evident.)
+ Elastics seem very tight & solid
+ Inner lining feels just as soft after several washings.
+ Aplix is strong; firm laundry tabs should continue to work for a long time.
+/- Bamboo insert undergoes some moderate initial shrinkage. (Note that this will be much less evident with future batches of these inserts starting this Spring, as the prepping process will be improved.) *** Apr 1, 2012 Update *** The new pre-washed insert does not shrink at all! Adding 0.5 to the score based on this.
- Slight, superficial stitching imperfections on the insert *** Apr 1, 2012 Update *** Did not notice this on the new pre-washed insert.
Score: 5/5 
(Note - given I have only been using this diaper for three weeks, I plan to update this section a few months down the road to get a true durability picture!)


Total "Diaper Awesomeness" Score: 22.5 / 25 (Great diaper. Highly recommended.)
Overall Comments: Very solid diaper all-around. High quality materials/construction, trim, attractive, breathable, many colour combos available, comfy for baby and easy to use. Most notable drawback so far is that we've had night-time leaks, so we've decided to use it exclusively for daytime diapering.

Approximate Stash Cost: $1000-1200
Calculation details: On the assumption that most/all babies can be diapered from birth to potty training using three of the available five sizes, a full stash can be built by purchasing three complete bundles (full sets of diapers & inserts for a given size, plus accessories including wet bags, disposable liners and laundry soap samples) for a total of $1087.97 CAD + tax. Note that while a stash of sized diapers is pricier overall than a stash of one-size, the upside is a) a trimmer fit at each age and b) better resale value and/or life left for your next baby!


I want to mention just a couple more things before closing out the review.

First of all, Sophie has been *wonderful* to work with while I've tested the diaper & insert. I've bombarded her with many questions and she continuously responds back quickly and thoroughly. She obviously cares deeply about her company and products, and she values both positive and constructive feedback very highly. We're going to continue seeing Great Things from Sophie and MiniMaestro, so keep them on your radar!

Secondly (and along the same note), social responsibility is extremely important to Sophie.

MINIMAESTRO(TM) products are made by Petites-Mains, a non-profit organization that fights exclusion, poverty and violence. The manufacturer is located in Montreal, Quebec (Canada) and prides itself in providing fair work conditions and adequate wages for its workers.

The Petites-Mains' mission is to help people, mostly immigrant women, single, unemployed or living on Welfare. It encourages these women to come out of their isolation, to mingle with others, to learn a job, to integrate into the job market and to live with greater dignity in society.

So when you make a purchase from MiniMaestro, you can not only feel confident that you are getting some wonderful cloth diapering products, but also that you are contributing toward a great cause!

Buy It:

Visit MiniMaestro to purchase some of these sweet diapers yourself! Many options are available including single diapers ($17.99) and three types of value-add bundles which cater to different commitment levels. You can also purchase inserts/doublers, liners and wet bags separately. Shipping is available world-wide via Canada Post, and free for orders over $79.99. Local pickups are available. MiniMaestro products are also available at select retailers.

Win It:

Sophie has generously offered to give away a MiniMaestro pocket diaper + bamboo insert to one lucky Manager to Mom reader! Winner chooses size and colour from among available options.

To enter, please fill out the Rafflecopter form below. Comments do not count as entries, however feel free to add a comment to remind yourself that you entered!