Alder (or, A-line shirt dress with gathered skirt and snap closures)

Collar and placket and yoke, oh my! Yes, I sewed a shirtdress and I liked it. And so, coincidentally, did the judge of my local country show’s handicrafts section!

One of the things that’s been tricky in the search for nursing-friendly clothes is finding the right silhouette for me. I’m not sure quite why this has been so hard; with a (pre-baby) wardrobe full of fit-and-flare and fitted sheath dresses I obviously know what I like. But translating this into sewing patterns that open at the front without too much faffing around to adjust has proven difficult.

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If you’re looking for something that opens easily, a shirtdress is the obvious answer. I’ve admired the Grainline Alder for some time but never been quite sure the loose-fitting A-line shape is for me. I’m still not completely convinced by the shape but it sure makes a lovely breezy summer dress.

This is a size 18 based on my bust measurement (while the pattern lists waist and hip measurements, the huge ease in the shape means you can basically ignore them). The only alteration I made was to add three inches to the length since most of the Alders I’ve seen have been a bit on the short side and my life is about to involve a whole lot of crawling on the floor.

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Tip for new players: if you add length to the dress front, skirt front and skirt back, don’t forget to add it to the placket too even though there’s no shorten/lengthen line. Preferably before you cut it out (I caught my mistake *just* in time…).

I like where this hits the knee at the front with the added length. The shirttail hem in the back is a bit longer than I’m used to wearing and it feels a little odd when it brushes against my leg. But that’s something I’m sure you get used to.

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Oh, and I added in-seam pockets too because a dress without pockets just isn’t worth making – although I did I omit the breast pockets for a less fussy front and to not draw attention to the chest more than necessary.

160208alder9 The pocket bags are a floral cotton lawn I used for a Colette Crepe dress shortly after I started sewing that I eventually decided just wasn’t for me. I went looking for scraps of the fabric and found the whole dress in my stash cupboard so I unpicked the pockets and used them instead of having to cut and sew new ones. It was interesting to see how far my sewing’s advanced since then – there was some dodgy work there!

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The main dress fabric is a tencel chambray from Spotlight. It drapes nicely and is fantastically soft to wear but was a bit of a shifty bugger to cut. And I forgot that I should have been thinking about pattern matching (or at least patterns being in a straight line) until after cutting out half the pieces. Nevertheless I’m pleased with how it turned out. For the contrast placket and collar the reverse of the fabric is used.

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Construction-wise I have little to add to the many other blogs I’ve read. Along with the rest of the world (it seems) I used Jen’s burrito method for the yoke (which always confuses me when I read descriptions but somehow just works in reality) and Andrea’s collar construction order. Doing the topstitching convinced me I should get an edge-stitching foot (birthday fairy?) but it turned out ok by going very slowly. I used pearl snaps instead of buttons because 1) easy access, 2) excessive consumption of Nashville and 3) buttonholes still make me nervous.

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So, first item from my sewing plan completed and I think it’s one that will get a lot of wear. I found it interesting when sewing this up that having less time to get in front of the machine actually made me take more care with each part of the dress, instead of rushing to get things done. That patience has paid off with a dress I’m really proud of.

** Adding to the pattern resources for nursing mothers, I have discovered Jalie has a few patterns, including this crossover top which I think I’ll try, and 5 Out Of 4 have a knot-front top or dress with a nursing modification included.

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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

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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?