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nursing tops and dresses

Trio of nursing tops

I’ve just sewn a lovely trio of nursing / breastfeeding tops using Christine Jonson’s Base Wear Two tee as a base. I’ll share here the instructions for doing this yourself.

A trio of Christine Jonson BaseWear Two tees

You can start with any basic tee shirt pattern. Though when you see the photos of the finished tee, I think you’ll understand why I love this one. It’s very shapely and fits like a dream. It’s hands down the very best fitting tee shirt pattern I’ve ever used.I go back to it again and again.

I made no alterations to this tee (other than the breastfeeding over lay and openings.) My nursing bustline is about a 34 C.

Trace the pattern pieces, make an overlay and cut out the underlay

First, I traced a copy of the front of the tee. Measuring down from my shoulder, over my bust points (yes those!) and under my bra band I took a measurement and added about 1- 1/2″ (this was 14″ on me). I drew a line across the tee at this same measurement on the pattern. This is the empire overlay before hem allowances. Hold it up to yourself to see if you like the positioning of this nursing overlay before you do the next step.

The underlay on top of the overlay shows the entire full pattern piece as it will be sewn to the back and sleeves

Next, I traced THAT pattern piece adding 1″ for hem allowances (1/2″ folded). Then, I laid the full piece over the short piece and drew curved low armholes on that top full piece, stopping 1″ from the armseye opening at the shoulder seam and 1″ from the empire finished hem line (you’ll be using the line you first drew as this finished hemline.) This long low armhole is the nursing opening on the underlay. If you have any RTW nursing tops with empire seams this is mainly how it’s done.You can use a french curve to draw this opening smoothly, or draw it freehand if you wish.

The nursing overlay hem

Then, onto construction. I finished the bottom of the nursing empire opening by folding, pressing and stitching with a stretch straight stitch (a twin needle would also work here). I finished the open edge of the nursing opening with a serger edge. It’s not necessary to finish this if you’re using a knit, I just like the stability of this if I have a slightly less snappy recovery knit, a softer knit.

I then laid the empire overlay right side to wrong side of the tee. Yes, this sounds wrong. But go ahead, pin the front neckline and flip the overlay over the top of the tee and see what I mean. You should have both right sides facing out when you flip. This completely seals in the neckline seam so it’s finished.

The overlay overlaps the underlay by about an inch at the sideseam

Then I basted the empire edges down over the tee at the sideseams (it overlaps about an inch). Now, I’m basically starting at this point to construct the tee exactly as it’s supposed to in whatever pattern you’ve selected. With one small variation. When you sew the shoulder seams line up the shoulder / armseye opening edges. You will have the inner neckline edge sticking out about 5/8″. This is CORRECT! You will fold this edge, press and topstitch later in construction.

Construct the tee as shown in your instructions for the tee pattern. When you get to that back neckline, carefully fold over the neckline (I use a seam a steam strip to hold my pressed back neckline in place before sewing the hem) enclosing the raw edge of the top shoulder seam left over from sewing the front. Voila! You can topstitch the front if you desire, but it’s not necessary.

Hem the edges of the sleeves and bottom hem. Done! A simple nursing / breastfeeding friendly tee shirt. And even more important for you mamas that babywear – this one’s sling and carrier compatible. No yanking up the tail of your tee through the sling to nurse. The dress form photo shows the nursing opening in action.

I made these all in black and white knits so I could keep the same thread in my machine and serger and production-line sewed them with my son on my back in my Ergo carrier. He’s 8 months old.

I also whipped up a straight skirt from the same pattern in a black and red print (it does not match the tees, but I have other tops that are solid colors). And I whipped up a nursing friendly strapless top/skirt that I’ll post about after this one that is loosely based on this skirt – it’s a big rectangle that wraps that has curved hems.

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nursing tops and dresses Sew Paradise

Vogue Cardiwrap and Megan Nielsen nursing top

Vogue Cardiwrap

I finally got to this Vogue Pattern #V8463, which I believe is now out of print. The pattern comes with this wrap top, a tulip-shaped skirt with pleating at the waist, and straight leg pants with elastic waist facing. I plan to make the other two parts of this too. The fabric is a knit, very strong recovery that is sheer with raised stripes, almost like pleating. I bought it in Toronto at Designer Discount Fabrics on Queen St. West about three years ago on a trip to the Toronto Grand Prix (it was my very favorite auto race ever. An entire day shopping for fabric and notions while hubby watched qualifying, and then we went to the race together the next day).

I digress. The fabric was so bumpy with the stitched pleats that I had to consider carefully the type of pattern to sew. I opted to sew this cardiwrap, and use a serger rolled hem for all the hem finishes.  When I first tried this on, I realized this Vogue pattern like most of them, is designed for a 5’8″ woman, not a 5’3″ woman (I think it’s actually 5’6″), because the tails of the cardiwrap dragged on the floor several inches. I ended up cutting off about 9″ from the bottoms before serging the edges.

I can’t quite tie the top like the example photo for the skirt ensemble, which is to cross one side, then the other, wrap around the back and tie at the side like a wrap top. I end up with one that’s really long and one that’s really short, but it’s doable if you do a slip knot. The twist cardigan shape is something I found at Victoria’s Secret, in a how-to-tie example of their soft and sexy wrap.

The second pattern I cut a while back is a Megan Nielsen.com nursing and maternity top. I sewed this one in a long sleeve, in a stretch velvet. This is another one of those that uses elastic neckline and underbust seam, so you get really good at stretching and serging elastic on in one step. It’s actually the same construction as a swimsuit, so if you sew this yourself, pick up some swimwear, because that’s just as easy as this is.

Megan Nielsen.com nursing top and SewBaby Twirly Dress
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nursing tops and dresses Sew Paradise

Megan Nielsen Nursing/Maternity dress and top

I sewed this version of the Megan Nielsen nursing dress (below)  MN1002 from a silky rayon jersey in light blue. The dress features an elasticized neckline and underbust empire seam with elasticated sleeves (which I omitted).

I sewed a size M from the sizing chart on the pattern. It looks great on my dress form. On me, the dress pooches out a bit in the belly (it would look fabulous with a bump, but my sad postpartum pooch, yuk. I wore a stretchy cami under it and liked the fit better.) The bust fit however is super spectacular with a nursing bust. Very va va va voom! My dress form is not nearly so endowed. I made a matching bandeau tube top to wear to, say, work, which covers all that sexy stuff and makes it nursing in public friendly. But going to an evening (La Leche League) meeting, I slid the bandeau down under my bust and got the usual “nice nursing rack” compliments from my fellow mothers. Needless to say that’s one of the many benefits of breastfeeding! For a short while of your life you look like a starlet.

There’s a lot of stretching elastic while sewing, so if you’ve not done that with some accuracy before, practice on a scrap first. It’s tricky to hold elastic, line it up with the edge of my serger (without cutting the elastic), stretch it like mad AND bounce your other foot on a baby’s bouncer to keep him quiet. I will say I cut and sewed most of this with my 7-week old son in a baby wrap carrier.

This dress in the jersey I chose is so soft and comfortable I am absolutely certain that I could wear it to bed (with a sleep bra), get up, put on a necklace and sandals and head out the door without changing. I might have to try that sometime! That being said it doesn’t look like a nightgown but it could be worn as one. I think one of the pricier Majamas line has a Sleepy Dress that is just that – a dress that was a nightie but moms wore it as a dress so they market it that way now.

Megan Nielsen.com nursing top and SewBaby Twirly Dress

The dress pattern can be worn as a top, with 3/4 sleeves, or as a tunic with long sleeves as well, depending upon the length you choose for the body and sleeve. I used a lettuce edge hem on the dress and the sleeves because I wanted to keep all the length of the dress (it’s mid-knee on me) and wanted sleeves that were open, not gathered.  I’m definitely making a top and a tunic version as well, for fall through spring.

Megan Nielsen Nursing/Maternity Dress
Megan Nielsen Nursing/Maternity Dress
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nursing tops and dresses

It’s all about the dresses

My mom had a great suggestion to just wear nursing dresses this summer. Great job mom! She’s right. I also have two wrap dresses, that, with a nursing cami or cropped cami, can easily work.  They dress up well for work (under a jacket for a meeting), are casual enough to wear with flip flops. And I don’t have to worry about sewing too much. I think a couple of fast yoga-waist skirts would be easy, too, and I have some cute cotton prints that’ll work.

I really need to draft and sew that purse organizer too. That’s the next free craft tute. And yes, handbags. Mama would like a new fancy diaper bag this summer from my new “Laura” bag pattern.

I start to wind down the pregnancy – not sewing so much maternity, but focusing on nursing (Jalie 2787 in a size up will still work for me right now, and later, too) and baby life, I’m excited about the creative possibilities.

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nursing tops and dresses Sew Paradise

Maternity dress pants conversion tutorial

Maternity dress pants are very expensive. And most women will wear them maybe four or five months of their pregnancy and then never want to see them again. If this is your second or last like mine, or if you’re an, ah, older mom you want stylish, professional clothing but you probably don’t want to invest a lot of money. If you’re bored with your wardrobe, you can make these in about 20 minutes (I did two pair in about 35 minutes), not including the time spent shopping.

This is based in part on a couple of other great maternity pants tutes that show altered jeans and cords. Same principle except in this one, I retain part of the fly front and remove the excess zipper.

1) go to your local goodwill or thrift store or consignment shop.

2) pick up one or two well fitting pairs of dress pants. You should be able to get them on over your hips and thighs, but not button them. You may be able to zip them up an inch or so. That’s OK. Quality varies – I found a pair of gorgeous Ralph Lauren wool glen plaid trousers at my local goodwill for $3. I found some nice poly-wool dress pants for $2.

3) $5.37 later, two pairs of pants are in my hand. It was literally left over from my lunch out that day.

4) Measure your hip level, holding the tape measure under the baby (about where the baby ‘crease’ is) This is the maximum width that you’ll need your lycra/knit fabric to be for the stretchy waistband. Then, measure 12″ (a foldover band for earlier in your pregnancy, a foldup band for later) of length of the folded band (my measurement of the folded band was 17″ x 2 = 38″. Use a stretchy knit fabric with lycra.

5) Serge the short end of the band, right sides together.

6) fold over the band turning it right side out so the serged seam is at center back and inside. Try on the band. It should now be 6″ tall. The folded edge should be at the top. The band should be snug. If it’s even a smidge loose now, it will be too lose once you start wearing the pants. Go tighter if you need to by serging more off the short end you just serged.

7) Once you like the fit of your band, serge the long edges (it’s now a tube) to keep them together. This helps when sewing it to the pants.

7a) There’s a great tute here called Stretch Fabric Waistbands about making banded waists on various sewing patterns, and you can see how they work after pregnancy (but not on a front-only cutaway waist like these). To make those banded waists like in the PDF tute, you would cut away the top pants equally from the top, not just the waistband of the back and a deep scoop in front. The deep scoop makes the ‘baby pocket’ as I show at the end of this tute. This Stretch Fabric Waistband tute is great for making some transitional clothing.

8) Put on your pants. Pin where you are able to zip them up to and take them off.  Lay your pants on a cutting table or your dining room table. Cut off the pants back waistband, but no more. You can save the tag if you want to save your cleaning/laundering instructions as you do this and serge it in the back waistband as you serge on the band. Then, chalk a nice curve from the sideseam down to the pin where you marked the zip point and back up to the other sideseam where you cut off the back waistband. Cut along this line.

8a) If you’re altering pleated pants as show in my example, you will need to sew the pleats down before cutting as shown in the example drawing and photo above. Simply thread your straight stitch machine with coordinating thread, and sew the pleat down from the right side, using a lockstitch on the bottom end to keep the pleat closed. This keeps the fullness of the legs but doesn’t add it to the waistband (where it would distort the fit of the pants under the belly). Pleats are a design feature, NOT a way to accommodate a belly, pregnant or not!

Pants cutline mockup
Pants cutline mockup

9) You will cut through the zipper. You MUST remove the zipper to serge the pants, but at this point it should be only about 1″ long and very easy to remove with a seam ripper. pin and then hand stitch the fly opening closed now.

10) Quarter the band by dividing it into four equal marks – center back, center front, and sideseams. Pin at each point.

Band quartered, pinned and stitched to waistband of pants
Band quartered, pinned and stitched to waistband of pants

Placing band and pants right side together, band seam at center back, pin the band to the pants at the CB, CF and each sideseam of the pants. The band will have to stretch to fit the pants when you sew.

11) Placing the fabric of the pants down against the serger’s feed dogs, start serging just past your CB pin (so you don’t run over your pin) and stretch the top layer like mad, carefully lining up the pants raw edge with the serged edge of the band. You are edge serging, not really taking off too much of either pant or band.

12) as you get to another pin, remove it before serging. Then stretch top layer, matching up the pants raw edge and continue serging to the next pin before removing it. Once you’re all the way around, fold up the band. If you did get a pucker or fold, remove the serging and about 1-2″ on either side, reserge, stretching to fit the band to the pants.

Stretch the top layer to meet the pants underlayer between pins as you sew.
Stretch the top layer to meet the pants underlayer between pins as you sew.

Waistband front close up
Waistband front close up

13) voila! nice dress pants in about 20 minutes, and for $5.37! (or whatever you paid for the pants)

Finished pants. As you can see, sewing a straight band to a deeply curved seam leaves a nice pocket for the baby belly!
Finished pants. As you can see, sewing a straight band to a deeply curved seam leaves a nice pocket for the baby belly!

Coming soon, an updated tute showing how to enclose the stretchy waistband between the pants and lining, if you’re using lined pants! Very neat look inside, but tricker to sew, since the stretch is the inner part of the sandwich!

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Everyday Paradise nursing tops and dresses

nursing fashionista

Today, I’ve layered a print wrap nursing dress (motherwear) over a black turtleneck, worn with black boots and tights, and long gold chain necklace. It’s a very chic look, and the t-neck is cozy under the dress. It’s good, comfortable outfit, and professional. I’ll be in front of City Council tonight.

Add my crinkled gold leather (pleather) handbag, it’s very chic.

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nursing tops and dresses Sew Paradise

The bandeau tankini is done!

Kwik Sew 3606, Eyrin at beach
Kwik Sew 3606, Eyrin at beach

Eyrin in Florida, Kwik Sew 3606
Eyrin in Florida, Kwik Sew 3606

The new set of bottoms are great. I used the XS sizing for the elastic, and took about 1/2″ more off each and it was the right fit. The tankini is great! I seriously have to get some fun prints and make more swimsuits. There’s a triangle bikini in the summer BWoF issue that I loved too. But my belly isn’t ready for a bikini yet.

So I have two new swimsuits to wear to Florida. My sewing goal is achieved!

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nursing tops and dresses Sew Paradise

Kwik Sew 3608 – converting a tankini swimsuit pattern for nursing

Kwik Sew swimsuit with nursing openings in the shelf bra (can't see em on the outside!)
Kwik Sew swimsuit with nursing openings in the shelf bra (can't see em on the outside!)

I used Kwik Sew 3608  vieweB to make a nursing tankini swimsuit. Here’s a quick tutorial on how to convert a bandeau tankini swimsuit pattern to nursing. If you have never sewn a swimsuit before, here’s a few tips:

Kwik Sew (and another nursing swimsuit I reviewed, the Elizabeth Lee Nursing Classics swimsuit) are fabulously instructed.

Buy natural elastic – it’s cream colored – that is made from rubber, as it won’t break down in chlorine. Do NOT use any other white elastic or you’ll be super sorry later when your suit falls down.

All you need is a zigzag machine. A serger is handy but not required.

1) Trace a copy of your swimwear’s inner shelf bra.

2) Hold it up to your bust and mark your bust points (yes, those!)

3) draw a line from the top edge to the bottom edge of your shelf bra through the bust point. This is the slice line. Add 1/2 Seam allowance to each side for some overlap (you can use 1/4 if you are smaller busted).Mark the spot where you cut the pieces to begin with. Transfer that marking when you cut your fabric.

3b) cut your shelf bra pieces – you now have left, center and right pieces of the pattern.

4) Overlapping the seam allowances at the markings, your shelf bra will now be exactly the same size as the uncut original pattern. You can hold this up to yourself to check the nursing openings now if you want to. Don’t finish the edges, the fabric won’t ravel and you’ll need the stretch to open it up for your baby’s mouth.

5) Baste top and bottom edges where the shelf bra pieces overlap.

6) Sew your shelf bra as directed by your swimsuit pattern. Sew the rest of your swimsuit as directed by your pattern.

7) to nurse, lift the tankini bottom, open the overlapping shelf bra opening and adjust the fabric around your baby’s mouth.

I did a nice job on the top of 3608 EXCEPT I didn’t actually baste the shelf bra top in place. I zigzagged. Which meant that since I wasn’t entirely straight, it ended up waggling onto the finished side when I was done with the elastic (oops!) So I covered myself by zigzagging a fun wave pattern over the sewn-down elastic on the top, which adds a fun detail and looks like I meant to have that stitching there. Yeah. that’s it.

Seriously, though, it’s a nice detail, the stitching. I like the fit of the suit too, with the new bottoms, it’ll be a good mama belly cover, with the longer tankini top.

The bottoms, however, are too big. Well, the elastic measurements they gave were too large for me, and I did not realize it until I had sewn them on. I guess I could safety pin it on and try them on or something. But anyway, I’ll be making a second bottom. Surprisingly, this suit is somewhat fussier than the Nursing Classics one I just made, or maybe I’m just more cocky with this suit after my success with the last one.

So if that’s the worst of the swimwear project – sewing three seams and some elastic on a tiny pattern piece or two – that’s not so bad! I have enough left to sew Kwik Sew toddler swimsuit. Hubs didn’t like the ruffly bum, but I LOVE it, so I’m making it! She’s a girl! She can wear ruffles on her tush for a while.

I will say this: I may never buy another RTW swimsuit again. I love making them. It’s so easy! Really, I kid you not. I’m not the most detail-oriented sewist ever, but these are coming out so well. Just buy extra fabric if you’re not sure of your size, to make a ‘muslin’ and make adjustments to it.

And I did check out all the groovy patterns at Spandexhouse.com.

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nursing tops and dresses Sew Paradise

Nursing swimsuit – done~

Elizabeth Lee Nursing Classics 201, tank swimsuit
Elizabeth Lee Nursing Classics 201, tank swimsuit

I finished the Elizabeth Lee Nursing Classics 201 swimsuit (made it right out of the envelope, with just a short waist alteration). I will try it on in the water (shower) first, but I think next time I could just do the upper waist alteration, not the hip too, and it would be a smidge longer. I do know the fabric always stretches more when wet, so it’ll stay down over my rear when I’m swimming.

But it’s GREAT, really GREAT! I am so impressed with the instructions – Elizabeth Lee does this so well, she finds things that she knows might trip you up and notes them so they don’t trip YOU up. So I’m super pleased, the suit looks great. I’ll make a sarong to go with it (also in the pattern). Peanut and I tested it out, everything works as it should.

The seat has good coverage, the leg opening isn’t too low, but it’s not too high either (the days of sky high thighs are so 80s anyway), so the suit stays in place. I think it’s worth it to make swimsuits, especially this pattern. I will post a photo soon (having hubs take one of me in sunglasses on my towel, just in the living room, because there is snow on the ground outside).

Next up Kwik Sew 3608, a bandeau tankini. I made the shelf bra in that version to have an overlapping nursing opening, so it’s similar to another swimsuit I already have, that is too big now. The stretch straight stitch worked fantastically, it’s left needle position was the perfect width for the 1/4″ elastic. I serged the elastic into the openings. Pretty easy overall, I’m very pleased with how easy it was to make. Of course, all of the Elizabeth Lee patterns I’ve made have turned out great~

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nursing tops and dresses Sew Paradise

Halfway through the nursing swimsuit

I started with the more complex Nursing Classics tank suit (the bandeau tankini will be simpler, the nursing opening is on the shelf bra, and is a simple overlap). So I tried it on and it fits great! Without the leg, neck and arm elastic, of course, but the short-waist alteration was perfect, and the suit looks good on me. I think I’ll be pleased with the results of my first swimsuit. I will probably make more swimsuits, especially for Peanut as she grows up. Right now, ones with ruffly tushies 😉

I am looking forward to making the bandeau tankini as well. So far so good. I hope to get to a coverup made, but I have several wraps of various sizes/colors that I can take if needed. I have the rest of this weekend, this week and next weekend, and after that, the suits will be pressed into service in an up north pool-equipped hotel weekend with hubby, and then the following week, Florida!

I am also using a stretch straight stitch, one I’ve never used on my machine before and I like it. I folded the ‘hem’ over with the Wonder Tape and then stitched and it looks wonderful. I will use this on other applications where I need a stretch topstitch, but want a straight stitch look.

So far, I’m taking my time, being careful, and it’s working out well. It helps to have well-drafted patterns with good instructions and pictures to follow.