Pretty (hungry) in pink: sewing for feeding mothers

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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?

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3 thoughts on “Pretty (hungry) in pink: sewing for feeding mothers

  1. Lesley King November 16, 2015 / 12:59 am

    I have a few maternity to nursing tops too that i was toying with copying You’ve done a really good job there.

  2. Ernest Flagg November 16, 2015 / 7:58 am

    This is absolutely super! Great post you will make a lot of feeding mums so happy letting them know how they can make this. Great work and you look fab too!

  3. whisperinggums November 16, 2015 / 4:57 pm

    Fascinating “Tina”. I was perfectly happy with pants and a pretty, loose top (as against a pretty loose top) that I could just lift up and pop baby under! But then I’m not a clothes-sewer, and while I like dresses occasionally I’m most happy in pants.

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