Pattern exploration: sewing for feeding mothers

In thinking about sewing nursing clothes (well, dresses really) I’ve worked out there are three main ways of giving your baby access to food: pulling your clothing up, pulling the neckline down, or an opening down the front. So with this in mind, I’ve pulled together a list of patterns that I know of which will fit in with these or could be modified to do so.

First up: the nursing-specific patterns I’ve discovered.

  • Megan Nielsen has an extensive range of maternity and nursing patterns including the Amber and Alissa (version 3) tops, both of which I expect could be lengthened into a dress relatively easily. She’s also got the Pina dress and a nursing nightie, but neither of these are available for sale right now (darn!).
  • I stumbled over Peek-a-boo Patterns just this week – they sell a specific alteration pack to turn their camisole pattern into a nursing singlet top. They’ve also got quite a few maternity patterns.
  • EYMM has a nursing bra/tank top/dress set that looks like it could be made up as is or altered into a whole range of dresses.
  • I’m told there’s a good nursing top pattern in Anna Maria Horner’s Handmade Beginnings book.

Next, patterns that would give you quick pull-down access.

  • Cowl-neck  dresses. I’ve previously made the fabled V1250 DKNY for Vogue and two versions of Simplicity 2580 view D and both would work fine for feeding if sewn in something nice and stretchy. In fact, a new version of the V1250 is high up on my list of sewing plans, since my old one has had a fight with the washing machine and is a bit holey. Looking at the Simplicity drawings, view C would probably work too since it’s just the cowl neck with a tab to hold it in place at the bust.
  • I’m keen to try Cashmerette’s Appleton wrap dress, which Jenny assured me via Instagram would work fine for feeding. I’ve got a RTW wrap dress I’ve worn a few times recently that has worked well.
  • Lily on Instagram contacted the team at Colette about their new faux-wrap dress Wren, and was told they’d tested it for accessibility during the design process.
  • Speaking of wrap dresses, I also have the Papercut Midsummer Night’s Dream dress pattern, although I’ve yet to sew it. This is designed for a woven fabric but if you sewed it in a knit instead and stabilised the neckline you’d be able to yank it about. Otherwise, Kat has described how she made one up in cotton and modified it for feeding, with snaps on the straps.
  • I’m also planning on giving the Sewaholic Yaletown a try, possibly just the blouse version first to see how it works before I commit the four metres of fabric the dress requires.

Then clothes with fronts that open up (or which could with some modification).

  • The last thing I sewed while pregnant was the True Bias Southport dress, which definitely works well for feeding although I’m not completely convinced the silhouette is for me (I’ll get around to photographing it at some point). I made it with snaps instead of buttons with the thought that it would be easier to do up one-handed.
  • One of my first-made and favourite dresses is Jamie Christina’s Mission Maxi. I’m turning over in my brain at the moment how to give this a button/snaps placket down the front to the waist. It could also be a candidate for turning into a false-front dress (like the one I made earlier) or possibly its neckline would be ok to pull down with some elastic stabilising it.
  • I’ve also got the pattern for the Colette Aster shirt, mainly because I liked the flutter sleeves of version 3. Again, possibly this could be lengthened into a dress or have a pleated or gathered skirt added.
  • Sewaholic’s Davie dress would be pretty easy to make with an invisible zipper down the front centre seam, instead of having the keyhole opening. That said, I’m not sure how unzipping yourself would work in practice…
  • Similarly, I suspect the True Bias Sutton blouse could also have a zipper in the centre front seam, although it would depend a lot on fabric choice. I’d want to make this one up as per the pattern before giving that a try.

There are tons more button-down dress patterns out there; I’ve just highlighted the patterns I already own and am planning to try out.

What patterns have you found that work for breastfeeding? Did you have to modify them or did they work fine as is?

Pretty (hungry) in pink: sewing for feeding mothers


This may come as a shock, dear reader, so brace yourself: I like wearing dresses. Like, I *really* like wearing dresses. However, dress-wearing is not especially compatible with nursing a baby. Oddly enough, my criteria for making or buying clothes hasn’t previously included “how accessible are my boobs?” as a consideration. My Kielo, for instance, is a great dress that gave me much enjoyment to wear in the last stages of my pregnancy. But if I were to try and feed in it, I’d have to get entirely undressed. Not ideal. Unfortunately I realised all this quite late in my pregnancy and didn’t have the time or energy to resolve the problem ahead of it occurring.

So I’ve been coping through wearing lots of separates plus a couple of special nursing dresses, and I discovered that two of the three maternity frocks I bought are also feeding friendly. Plus test-yanking the necklines of everything I own to see what else works. Clearly the answer to a long-term solution that doesn’t involve buying a whole new wardrobe lay in sewing.


Thus my first post-baby foray into dress sewing. I examined one of the dresses I’d bought from Milk Nursingwear and figured it would be fairly easy to replicate. It’s a basic t-shirt dress with two front bodices – the outside one is the regular bodice cut off about halfway between bust and waist, and the inside one has cutaways that you can pull aside for feeding bub. The inside front bodice is all one piece, while the back has an elasticated waist seam.

The Milk Nursingwear dress, inside out
The Milk Nursingwear dress, inside out

I’d been tossing up how easy it would be to trace off this dress when I saw someone on instagram recommend McCall’s M6886 as a good stretchy dress pattern (thank you, grammer whose identity has slipped my mind). They were suggesting it to replicate a sequinned party frock, but on looking it up I realised it was perfect for what I wanted to do. And the local Lincraft even had it in stock!

I always have trouble with measurements in the Big Four patterns and the amount of ease they include, so this time I chose a size based partly on my measurements compared to the finished garment measurements on the packet, and partly on holding the RTW dress against the front bodice pattern piece and guessing. Of course, the knit fabric I had in the stash was slightly thicker and less stretchy than whatever the stripy dress was made from, so the first version I sewed in a straight size 16 was a bit tight. I added 2cm to the side seams of the front bodice and left the back untouched, which seems to have worked out ok in the second (pictured) attempt. The fit is still a touch tight in this fabric, but I’ve sewn a third version in a slightly more stable knit and that looks better.

Instead of making separate pattern pieces for the outside and inside bodices I cut them both from this one but you may find it easier to have two.

So, modifications. I traced the inside bodice cut-out edge from the RTW dress and used a French curve to make it a sensible shape (the black line inside the armhole on the pattern piece above). For me, it starts about halfway along the shoulder seam (closer to the neck than the armhole by about 0.5cm) and ends 7cm (2.75″) below the armhole. The curve cuts around the bust about a third of the way over its dome.


For the outside bodice, the length was a bit of trial and error. The first one was too short and wound up looking like the kind of underboob-flashing crop top Paris Hilton might wear. the second version (that’s this pink dress) is maybe a touch long, which just makes it a little more awkward to pull up. The third (unphotographed) is just right, Goldilocks-like. I ended up with it being 17cm (6.5″) below the armhole. The hem is simply a straight line at right angles to the grain/centre front.

I also lowered the neckline from the original pattern, but that had nothing to do with breastfeeding and everything to do with personal preference.


For construction, the first thing is to overlock the cut-out edge of the inside bodice, attaching some clear elastic. There’s been some discussion about clear elastic over on my instagram because the one I used is very sticky and does tend to stretch out while sewing, thus creating un-needed gathers. For this reason I didn’t use it on the shoulder seams as well, although ideally you’d stabilise them too.


Secondly, hem the bottom edge of the outside bodice. I found it worked best to stay-stitch 1cm (3/8″) from the edge, fold the hem up along this line and zig-zag stitch, then fold a second time and straight stitch it from the outside 0.5cm (1/4″) from the edge.

After that, it’s fairly straightforward dress construction as per the instructions, except with two front bodice pieces. Stitch the shoulder seams right sides together with the outer bodice piece sandwiched between the back and inside bodice. Line up the side seam notches on all three pieces and stitch the side seams. Attach the neckband. Hem the sleeves then attach them. Hem the bottom of the dress. Voila!


I road-tested (meal-tested?) the dress shortly after taking these photos and it definitely works. It would be easy enough to draft something similar from any basic stretch dress pattern or a lengthened t-shirt pattern (maybe my beloved Kirsten kimono tee). What pattern would you recommend?



Every year in high school I competed in Tournament of Minds, a team problem-solving challenge. You might think that for someone who’s made a career of words, I’d have entered the English or social sciences section but in fact I joined the maths and engineering stream every time. You’re given a puzzle, a set list of materials and a strict budget and your team has to create a contraption that solves the puzzle while telling a story through a play about how it came to be. One year we had to build something largely out of cardboard and masking tape that you put a marble in the top of and it wouldn’t come out the bottom until a set amount of time (60 seconds, I think). All of which is a fairly long-winded way of saying I’ve long enjoyed the challenge of having an idea and trying to work out the engineering to make it happen.


So naturally when I got inspired to make a baby play mat, it was never going to be the basic one pictured in the Made For Baby book a friend gave me a couple of years ago. For starters, I decided that one (at 64cm diameter) was going to be too small. The petal shape pattern had to be photocopied at 200 per cent anyway, so I did that than enlarged it another 130 per cent to get an overall centre size of 84cm diameter. Then I decided it really needed to have hoops over the top for hanging toys and things from. I had a look at a friend’s play mat and some in shops to see how they were attached and then pretty much made it up from there.


Inside the hoops is soft, flexible clear plastic hose from the hardware shop. The hose is about 25mm diameter and the plastic itself is about 3mm thick. I picked it because it felt soft enough that it wouldn’t hurt too much if the whole thing came crashing down in case of some vigorous baby chin-ups or something (babies totally do chin-ups, right?). It’s encased in simple fabric tubes with 6cm tabs on each end that attached with velcro onto matching tabs sewn into the mat. I had hoped the tabs might end up between the petals so they were a bit more hidden, or on the underside, but the maths of one at each quarter circle and 14 petals (not divisible by four) obviously didn’t work out that way.


The hoops were dangerously skewiff initially so my dad suggested attaching a brace to hold them together. This is just a square of fabric (well, two squares sewn together inside out then turned, so the edges are strong and neat) that I sewed to the middle of one of the fabric tubes and attached by press studs to the other, as you can see above. This way the hoops still separate from each other for easy storing but they seem to be much more sturdy when standing up.

Of course, any self-respecting play mat makes noises. All I could find at Spotlight were regular squeakers which are okay but they all make the same noise. Then I remembered there’s a build-a-bear shop nearby so I went and explained what I wanted and the woman said, “Oh, you mean Sounds!” They’ve got a whole range of animal noises plus various song snippets (I was seriously tempted by the Imperial March but thought it might drive us crazy pretty quickly) for about $5-6 each. The dog certainly thinks they’re interesting sounds… I also got a piece of florist’s cellophane to make the crinkle noise in one petal, in the hope it won’t dissolve in the wash.


Speaking of washability, in the interests of making the sounds last as long as possible (I forgot to ask if they’re washable but suspect not because they’re electronic) I made a bamboo terry-backed false top to attach to one side of the mat. It attaches with press studs in between every second petal, with a double snap at one point because my circle isn’t exactly symmetrical and I could foresee some rather frustrating future times trying to reattach the blanket the right way round. (Have I mentioned my new favourite sewing gadget, the press stud machine, yet? It seriously has me wondering how many things I can add press studs to now!)


The fabrics are mostly cotton duck (with some scraps of blue neoprene), with synthetic toy stuffing and some bits of poly-wool quilt batting scraps in the petals. I read somewhere that babies like high-contrast patterns, hence the crazy fabric selection (though there has been some suggestion it may just be headache or hallucination inducing…). My niece gave the whole, possibly over-engineered shebang a trial run the other week (above) so it’s already baby-approved!


The other spot of engineering that’s happened on the sewing table in recent months is this rabbit, made for my niece. It’s a pattern from a Burda magazine (can’t find it online) that’s about 50cm tall. All made from stash scraps (wool from a bag, corduroy from a Red Riding Hood cape and some heavy duty floral Ikea cotton that was meant to be a dress before I worked out the weight was all wrong) and miraculously semi-pattern matched although I didn’t think about it too hard. The instructions on this need a serious overhaul, however – it kept having you stuff parts then unstuff them to attach limbs and there seemed to be a lot of unnecessary double-handling of seams. Plus I initially sewed the facial features onto the back of the head… The next attempt will involved very little instruction following, methinks.

Finding Named shapes


I’ve been making a concerted effort to churn through some of the many half-finished projects taking up space on my sewing table (if only because at some point I guess the sewing machine should return from the dining table to its rightful place…). One of the makes that should have been a simple, super-quick sew was this Named Kielo wrap dress. Should have, but it’s sat there for about three months with just the shoulders and half a side seam sewn up.


This was nothing to do with the pattern or instructions, which are fairly straight forward, and everything to do with my having a tantrum at the overlocker unthreading itself about six times within 10cm of sewing. I just had to put the whole dress aside and come back when we were both, the overlocker and I, in a better mood. Took a while, as it turned out. But really, this is very easy – a couple of darts, two ties, shoulder seams, two side seams and hems.


I was initially hesitant about the Kielo because I wasn’t sure how its shape would suit me. I love the interesting styling and silhouettes of Named’s patterns but so often they feel a bit too fashion-cool for me; not quite my aesthetic. But a bit of blog searching turned up a few versions which pretty much convinced me it would be ok. And the forgivingly adaptable shape does make it a good option for maternity wear.


Instead of the traditional, DVF-style flat wrap-dress shape, Kielo is basically a diamond sack and you wrap the points around to the front or back depending on what you like the look of best. It kind of reminds me of when I’d change my doona cover as a child by climbing right inside it and pretending I was Alfred the water bottle. You can sew this in either a stretch or woven fabric, which makes sense because all the shaping happens in the wrapping (though there are bust darts and back fisheye darts) without needing to stretch things to fit.


This fabric is a cotton jersey knit (*possibly* a Cloud 9 design) from – where else? – Spotlight. I liked the watercolour effect and it’s pretty soft to wear. Definitely a secret pyjamas feel going on here. (You can see above where I used the selvedge when cutting the ties to make them long enough and it’s not holding up well, but I intend to unpick the seam where they’re attached and take them in a little bit.)


There are only two things that annoyed me about this pattern (separately from the overlocker issues). One is having to add seam allowances when tracing. I ordered a printed pattern and it comes with the pieces all printed on a single sheet of paper. Because the front and back are just a single piece each (no waist seam) they’re quite large and Named saves paper by breaking them in half so you have to trace to join the parts together. It’ll make sense when you do it. I usually trace patterns anyway so didn’t mind that, but find it annoying having to remember the seam allowance. The second thing was turning the straps. Those things are long! In fact, if you don’t have quite enough fabric to make the recommended length I wouldn’t be too worried about lopping off as much as 10cm.


This was in fact the second Kielo I made, having sewn one in a much stretchier fabric as a Christmas present for my (then-pregnant) sister-in-law last year. For me, I cut a straight size 46 (based on finished measurements) and made no adjustments other than shortening it substantially to be knee- instead of ankle-length. It doesn’t play terribly nicely with bra straps though, and could benefit from having a couple of bits of ribbon and press studs sewn in at the shoulder seams to hold them in place. Overall I’m glad I gave this shape a go – and came back to it instead of abandoning yet another unfinished object.

Those sewing-time blues

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Who knew growing a person was so tiring? Only every mother and all those baby books that try to warn you but do you listen? No you do not. Suffice to say sewing has been sporadic and somewhat undirected over the past few months. And when things do manage to get complete, do photos manage to happen? No they do not. Except clearly they did in this case, thanks to my mother who offered to take some photos of me while we were doing a shoot for one of her projects.

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This is Sewaholic’s Davie dress, made way back in March. And it still fits! Details of the actual construction are a little hazy this many months after the fact, but I sewed it for my birthday and it was relatively quick. True to type though, I was still finishing off the neckline as the caterer arrived and didn’t actually get the bias tape on in time for that first wear (it’s on there now). To make up for the fact the neckline didn’t have any seam allowance folded over at first, I cut a bit extra around the neckhole so the lines looked nicer. Of course, that meant I cut off all the back-sewing seam finishes and the stitches started to unravel…

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When I got the pattern I had a vision of black ponte with contrast panels in the front to make the most of the flattering princess seams. And because it was a birthday extravaganza frock that contrast should be sparkly. I even went so far as to cut out the two front panels from some silvery stretchy something hanging out in the stash, only to discover that no matter which way I turned the piece of black ponte also in the cupboard, it just wouldn’t fit all the pieces. So I went off to the fabric shop to discover they had no plain black in stock – and came home with this turquoise neoprene instead. Naturally.

150822davie - 7It’s very thick (about 3mm, which I think is the same as my summer-weight wetsuit) and I’d never sewn with neoprene before. Luckily it turns out to be a very forgiving fabric. I think I lengthened the stitches to account for the bulk and otherwise pretty much just went for it. That includes the fitting – having sewn a few Sewaholic patterns before I cut a size 16 based on my measurements and just threw it all together. Possibly I took the side seams in a little after trying it on, but I honestly can’t remember.

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I really like the topstitching detail on all the seams here; it emphasises the pattern lines in a nice way. It did leave me a little perplexed about the best way to finish the seams though but given the neoprene doesn’t really fray I settled for pinking shears. Similarly, I left the hem and armholes unfinished, which seems to have stood up fairly well (though looking at the photo about this one it looks like they could do with a little neatening trim now).

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The fit is really quite remarkable given it was made at nearly three months of pregnancy, with minimal pattern adjustments, and is being worn here at seven months. It was a little roomy to start with, partly because I wasn’t sure about how close-fitting neoprene would feel to wear in a garment (don’t want to get too wetsuity after all!). The thick fabric does add quite a bit of bulk to the silhouette too. In the future I’d be more inclined to use this weight neoprene for separates. But in this case, that early looseness meant it continues to be very comfortable!

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As for future sewing, in an attempt to wrangle my skit-scatty brain into some kind of reasonable order I sat down and wrote lists of maternity, feeding-friendly and baby sewing plans and even dug out patterns that would work with them. It’s just a short list as you can see… I’m certain there’s a lot more on there than will fit into the next couple of months but at least it will give me some direction. And most of the maternity things are sitting half-finished on the sewing table already. Challenge accepted? Let’s see.

Golden gown

150627gown03This year’s Midwinter Ball was winter wonderland themed, so naturally my mind went to creams, whites, silvers, blues and sparkles. Lots of sparkles. Basically, Elsa dresses, right?

There might be no cape and the sparkles are rather subtle, but in the end I am completely thrilled with this gown.

150627gown10(Yes, I always wander around the bush in near-zero temperatures wearing sleeveless ball gowns. Don’t you? My photographer said it all put him in a rather Picnic at Hanging Rock frame of mind. Fortunately, no disappearances occurred.)

150627gown06This is the Simplicity 2580, view D again. It’s such an easy sew! Well, apart from the bit where I sewed the right-side-out bodice to the wrong-side-out skirt. This also happened on the earlier green version so that step must just come at the point where my brain’s had enough of this sewing lark. Plus the doubled over front bodice piece, forming the cowl, makes it confusing to tell which is the right side and which is the wrong side.

150627gown09I made no changes to the pattern apart from adding in back darts. They’re a little lumpy because I did this right at the end, catching in all the overlocking and elastic on the waist seam, but I’ve now added the darts to my traced pattern so they can happen in the proper order next time.  Otherwise, I’ve used clear elastic on the shoulders and waist, overlocked all the exposed inside seams, hand-stitched the neck and armhole facings and machine-sewed a double fold hem (on account of running out of time to hand-stitch).

150627gown08The fabric is a viscose/elastane/lurex knit from Tessuti; cream with gold woven throughout. I was lucky enough to have a friend heading up the highway to fabric shop so I gave him three options from Tessuti’s website and asked him to stretch-test them all. It’s a pretty stable knit, quite like a ponte, and is so comfortable to wear I think this ball gown qualifies as secret pyjamas!
150627gown13Once all sewed up it just needed something extra to lift the plain colour. After visiting four fabric shops one afternoon I found some suitable lace mesh at Spotlight. With the help of my mother I fiddled around with the placement of a few of the flower bunches then hand-sewed them down (in the very pleasant company of Phryne Fisher). I love the subtle embellishment the lace appliqué adds, lifting the dress without being overpowering.

All dolled up for the ball - photo by Mick Tsikas
All dolled up for the ball – photo by Mick Tsikas

I like this pattern so much I’m plotting a few more dresses from it and contemplating drafting a cross-over/faux wrap front bodice to make it baby-feeding-friendly. I’m also debating whether to cut this particular gown off at knee length after attending CBR Frocktails to make it a bit more wearable. There aren’t too many occasions where one can sport a full-length golden gown!


150627gown01The other best part about this gown? There was enough fabric left over to make a birthday present for my one-year-old odd-daughter. The pattern is Brindille and Twig’s t-shirt dress which I hacked to add the colour-blocked skirt band (there wasn’t enough width in the gold scraps to get the full skirt out of) and a Peter Pan collar. I also had to cut the back in two pieces instead of on the fold. The sleeves and skirt band are in black ponte and the collar is a lighter-weight jersey because I thought two layers of the thicker knit might be too bulky. A very quick sew after all the puzzlement of making new pattern pieces for my changes.