Nursing shirts that don't break the budget!

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Nursing shirt with vertical overlay
Nursing shirt with horizontal overlay

No doubt you've walked past the "Motherhood Maternity" stores and looked at their nursing clothes. I have, and realized early on that they didn't make anything in my size. Same deal with the majority of nursing clothes makers whose catalogs I've seen... not to mention how expensive they usually are! I've seen nursing t-shirts go for anywhere between $16 to $30 -- maybe some people can afford that, but it seemed ludicrous to me, given that normal t-shirts are between $4 and maybe $15 if you get something fancy. Of course, some women can nurse by just lifting up their shirts, but I never felt comfortable doing that.

Anyway, I got a few shirt patterns from Elizabeth Lee Designs, and I recommend them very highly. They come in a nice range of sizes, and there are several different designs. But if you want something quick and dirty, there's nothing like cutting up ready-made shirts and putting them back together; I think it took me about an hour and a half to make three this way. If you're good, you could even make a matching outfit for your baby with the leftover pieces!

Materials Needed:

For two or three nursing t-shirts:

Preparing the shirts:

Directions for sewing the shirts:

  1. Finish the edges of the overlays. If you have an overlock machine and don't mind the look, just do an overlock stitch on all the unfinished (cut) edges. Otherwise, fold the cut edge under by about 1/2 inch and do a zig-zag stitch on the edge, being careful not to stretch the fabric. Of course, if your machine has special stitches for stretchy fabrics like knits, use whatever one you like best. For the vertical overlay, you'll need to finish the left and right sides -- don't do the neckline yet. For the horizontal overlay, just do the bottom edge and the armhole edges.
  2. There are two ways to do the shoulders. You can finish them beforehand, and topstitch them to the shoulder seamlines on the base shirt, or you can sew the overlay to the base shirt with the right side of the overlay against the right side of the back, like you're making sort of a facing. Then you flip the overlay to the right side, and you have nicely finished shoulders with no visible seams.
  3. Necklines: Note: If you are doing a horizontal overlay, read through section 4.b before stitching the neckline!
    1. If you have removed the ribbing from the neckline, you can use the overlay to make a finished neckline. Just to pin necklines of the overlay to the shirt, right sides up (the way they'll be when worn), and fold both edges under together. Continue this seam around the back as well. I have also done this using the overlay as sort of a backwards facing, but it takes longer and is easier to mess up, so I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader.
    2. If you haven't removed the ribbing, just finish the neckline on the overlay -- you may not want to sew it to the base shirt neckline.
  4. Now the fun part -- sewing the overlay to the shirt itself. This is different for the horizontal and vertical overlays.
    1. Vertical overlay:
      1. Having sewn the shoulders and neckline, next match the bottom edges. You should have a mark at the foldline of the overlay. Find the same point on the base shirt, to make sure you're matching the overlay and the shirt -- if they are not lined up, you'll get some weird lines happening when it's sewn together. When you're sure you've matched centers to centers, sew the bottom edges together -- I use the existing seamlines.
      2. The tricky part is making sure you leave nursing openings in the right place when sewing the overlay to the shirt. At this point, I usually try on the shirt, and use safety pins to mark the top and bottom parts of the opening. Sew the overlay to the shirt from the shoulder to the top pin, and from the bottom pin to the bottom edge, sewing over the stitches you made when finishing the overlay edges. Again, be careful that the overlay is flat against the shirt; if it's not, you'll have some weird puckers.
      3. Now all you need to do is cut the opening in the base shirt. I usually use the center foldline as a guide, and cut from just below the neckline (assuming the necklines are stitched together) to about belly-button level. You can do this ahead of time and finish the edges, but since knits don't tend to fray and this is a quick-and-dirty project, I don't usually bother.
    2. Horizontal overlay:
      1. I think the easiest way to do this is to put the overlay, right side down, against the right-side back of the base shirt. Sew the shoulder seams as above, but without turning the overlay to the front, find the center point under the arms, where you made the cut to separate the two overlay pieces.
      2. Stitch a seam from the armpit down to the bottom edge of the overlay, so that when you turn the overlay to the right side, you have hidden seams on the shoulders and the sides. Make sure the overlay is the same width as the front of the shirt between the two seams, so that the overlay isn't too tight or loose against the shirt.
      3. Turn the overlay to the front, and stitch the neckline.
      4. To cut the nursing openings, try the shirt on, lift the overlay, and take note of where your nipples are. Mark above and below the nipples, leaving enough room for the baby to latch on through the opening. Cut away. It's best to cut a small slit first, see if it's large enough, and enlarge accordingly, rather than making too big an opening first.
  5. You're done! Have fun nursing with this practical, easy shirt!

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