Category Archives: Custom fit

Hands-free breast pumping

Catchy title, eh? Actually, I tried to come up with the most obvious search terms because I want every breastfeeding mom who is wondering how to combine working and pumping to find this little post.

When I went back to work full time, I knew I wanted to keep Meredith exclusively on breast milk until she was at least 6 months old. I am extremely fortunate to have a large personal office with a lockable door and the opportunity to pump whenever I want. But pumping itself is a drag – you have to hold the horns up to your breasts for 10 to 15 minutes while the machine milks you (see here [possibly NSFW?] for the visual – I call it the “chicken wing position”). During this time, you can DO NOTHING. Can’t dial a phone. Can’t type. Can’t read anything that requires you to turn pages. It is uncomfortable and lame.

Pumping generally has to occur every few hours to ensure that Baby will have enough milk for the next day – for me, that meant pumping 3 times during the course of the workday. You do not know the eternal hell of time ill spent until you have been tethered to 1 spot (the cord on the pump is only so long), holding your hands to your breasts for 45 minutes while staring dully into space. Yes, you can put down a bottle, but it is all too easy to spill a few drops of milk every time (sour milk office smell, anyone?), plus everything needs to be readjusted to get centered and vacuum sealed again. Generally, it’s a nuisance to stop and start pumping multiple times per session.

What to do? Teh Internets to the rescue! Check this out! The method worked with any hairband I had laying around the house, and it worked with any bra (with or without clips). I wiggled and waggled and was pleased to see that it all stayed put. However, in practice, when the bottles were nearing full, gravity intervened, and I couldn’t reliably maintain a good seal. Also, I worried about the bottles falling, so I was afraid to move, afraid to have a good laugh or cough.

Better solutions? This requires you to wear the same bra every day, day in, day out. Eh, no thanks. This is onto something… but it’s not adjustable (zipper closure). What about this velcro-and-elastic band? Hmm…

I already had 4″ wide waistband elastic (from my maternity pants of epic fail), purchased here. I had Aplix Touch Tape (like Velcro, only much softer, commonly used in cloth diapers), purchased here. I knew how to make buttonholes. Surely…?

I measured myself at the widest point, cut the elastic slightly longer, folded the edges, and covered them with zigzag stitches. I applied the Touch Tape to both ends, making a wide overlapping area in case I shrank over time (I was optimistic about getting skinny with breastfeeding! Ha ha ha – the rest of my body [except tummy] is smaller, but my chest only got bigger!). I clipped the corners of each piece of Touch Tape to avoid being jabbed by sharp points.

I put the band on and marked dots where the horns would be. I measured the size of the horn neck and added appropriately sized buttonholes.

Actually, I fudged the buttonhole size a little – my sewing machine has a mind of its own and appeared to independently program itself to make a certain-size buttonhole based on the size of the first one sewn. It does this even if your first buttonhole is a test one because you’ve never made buttonholes on this machine before. And it doesn’t know that you were just making the largest buttonhole ever because you were kind of reading the manual while the machine was running. Hm. Reboot! But I figured that as long as they were large enough for the neck to get through and small enough that the wide end of the horn would not get through, the size was fine.

And now – hands free, baby! I “strap on” and continue to work while I pump. It’s very secure (no neck strap needed), and I can read, move between my computer and writing desks, type freely, etc. It cost me next to nothing (or, more accurately, it cost me no new money) because I used supplies in the stash. Total project time – I think 30 minutes, not counting the time I spent investigating how to make buttonholes. If you are a breastfeeding, working mama who can sew even a little bit, I strongly recommend that you make yourself one of these.


For the past month and a half, I worked every weekend on sewing a pair of pants. I was revising a commercial pants pattern to make a pair of custom-fit pants with plenty of room for the baby. (My belly circumference – 38 inches right now!) I started with Vogue 8157 as the base.

I used a flexible ruler to copy my crotch curve. It’s wildly asymmetric because I stopped measuring where my belly started expanding (on the left side).

I traced the pants pattern onto butcher paper and adjusted the front and back pattern pieces to my curve.

See, it matched fairly well:

I made a mock-up garment out of cheap cotton muslin and pin-fit it following the directions in Pants for Real People. I narrowed the back width by at least an inch and shortened the leg under the knee by 2 inches. I lengthened the upper portion (the hip area) by 2 inches because I was raising the back side.

The pants still showed a lot of bagginess on the back thigh. I followed Ann Rowley’s genius instructions for a “flat seat adjustment” and made a fisheye dart. Here’s the flat pattern piece after I made all of the adjustments:

I cut out the pants from a stretch cotton woven fabric.

I pin-fit the fabric. Because it was stretchy material, I had to make the side seams deeper than what I had done for the muslin. After adjusting the crotch curve a little more, I was fairly pleased with how it seemed to fit.
Over the next few weeks, I slowly assembled the pants. I marked new seam lines, basted and double-checked the fit, trimmed the excess fabric, sewed the seams, established the waistline, added the waistband, and…

I tried the pants on today, and they are distressingly small. One might say that they fit… but every ripple and roll showed prominently through the too-tight areas. The look was, ummm, decidedly unattractive. I was embarrassed to even wear them around the house. I tried to salvage the pair this morning by narrowing the side seams, but it’s no good, a wadder. (“Wadder” = a project that you wad up and throw out.) I don’t know if it was because Baby and I have gotten considerably larger since I test-fit the pants, or if the stretchy material tricked me, or… I don’t know. I just don’t know where I went wrong.


Sewing humbles me like nothing else. It seems straightforward, easy to understand, and… I find it nearly impossible to do well. I’m not sure where to go next with this. I know sewing, like any other skill, gets easier with experience, probably every novice sewer has wadders, blah blah blah, but this is so frustrating. It’s been a long time since I ran into something that just seemed beyond my grasp (uh, food engineering problem sets, anyone?), and I’ve forgotten how to deal with total failure. What a waste of fabric, too. At least I didn’t pay a lot for it.

I guess I wanted to talk about this because, in a way, it seemed disingenuous to blog only about successful projects. I don’t pretend that I’m good at everything – I make mistakes, I try to learn from them, I move on. I’m not happy about how this has turned out, though. I’ve put the sewing machine away for now, at least while I ponder the next step.

Maternity clothes

OK, so none of my clothes fit any longer. Time to see how we can address this problem…

1) Revamp existing pants.
I followed the tutorial here and cut the top off a pair of jeans. I used black swimsuit fabric (90% nylon, 10% lycra) and made a doubled-over, wide waistband.




2) Make new pants.
This photographed horribly. What you can’t see is a belly band made of stretch velvet (polyester/lycra, 90/10). Also, you can’t see that there’s a bit of excess fabric in the crotch area.

I followed KwikSew 3156 and used acetate/lycra (92/8) “slinky” knit fabric from here. I abandoned the pattern waist and tied a drawstring around where I wanted the stretchy belly band to lie, drew a chalk line, cut the excess fabric, and attached the stretch fabric.

This material was horrible to work with, but I suspect that was attributable mostly to user inexperience. The fabric crawled all over the damn place while I was cutting it (despite keeping everything flat and using a rotary cutter). It is remarkably fluid fabric, and the first few attempts to draw the waist line were exercises in frustration (the fabric would slide down no matter how tightly the string was tied, resulting in lopsided lines and triangular sections). I seriously considered taping it to my body to keep it in place while we established the new waistline.

Although the pattern’s crotch curve and I don’t quite match (I later read that this is a common problem in Kwik Sew patterns), the fabric is drapey enough that these pants look acceptable in person. Also, black hides numerous errors. It’s good enough to wear to work!

3) Attempt to draft my own pattern.
Now this is where things get interesting. I used the book Sew What! Skirts after it was recommended so highly by Earthchick. I bought some cheap fabric (embroidered cotton twill) and dutifully followed the directions, making mods to add a stretchy belly panel as I went along.

I planned an A-line skirt, fitted waist with facing, stretch panel in the front (polyester/lycra stretch velvet), below-the-knee length. I measured myself and laid out the basic pattern.

Front piece

The front is bigger than the back from the waist to the hip to account for expanding girth.

I cut the front piece to make a yoke and added seam allowances.

I cut the the back and lower front pieces in half vertically and added seam allowances to make a 4-gore skirt. I basted it together, and it was too big. I trimmed 1″ from each side seam (altogether, decreased circumference by 4″), sewed the seams, and contemplated the skirt. I’d made a classic beginner mistake – picked incompatible fabric for the pattern (or vice versa). The fabric was waaay too heavy for a A-line skirt because the hem stood away from me as if I were wearing a hoop underneath. (I should have taken a picture – it would have made you laugh or cringe.) I recut the sides to make a straight skirt and added walking vents on each side. I followed Sandra Betzina’s instructions on making a mitered slit with walking ease as she describes in Power Sewing.

The walking ease means that the edges of the slit overlap when the wearer stands still and just barely open when moving about – I won’t be flashing anyone with a view of my upper thighs!

The back has 2 darts from the waist to match the shape of my backside, and the inside back has a curved facing made of fashion fabric. The front has a facing made of stretch fabric (the same black swimsuit fabric that I used to alter the jeans) and a 1″ elastic band sewn into the seam allowance and zigzagged to the facing to prevent the facing from sliding to the public side. It’s not particularly elegant, but it works.

You can probably see the edge of the elastic and the edge of the facing through the yoke fabric on the front view above. However, I’ll be wearing tops that end below that area, so odd lines and bumps will be hidden and therefore forgiven. ๐Ÿ™‚

4. Stop the pants from falling down.
I don’t have an hourglass figure. If anything, I have a totem-pole shape with more front-to-back variation than side-to-side. Just like socks without calf shaping sag around the ankles, my pants were falling down in a most uncomfortable and embarrassing way. I figured I wasn’t the only person to have this problem, and a brief bit of googling led me to an interesting (but spendy!) product called Belly Ups. Essentially, these “maternity suspenders” are clips that you hook to the edge of your bra and the edge of your pants and have elastic between them.

Image from Belly Ups

Hm, sez I – these look an awful lot like mitten clips that kids put on their coat sleeves to prevent mittens from getting lost. And I know mitten clips are less than $16/pair (the price of maternity suspenders). Then I learned that Dritz sells the clips alone; with a little elastic, we’d have homemade suspenders. I scurried off to JoAnn’s again and look what was there:

Gee, and look what it cost!

They work like a freaking miracle. No more worrying about my pants falling down while I’m walking!

Sewing a t-shirt, part I

I do have a question about finding the grain of knit fabrics at the very end of this post, so if you are knowledgeable about sewing with knits, please help a girl out!!! Scroll down to the ** if you want to skip the alteration details.

I’ve been cutting out fabric for cloth diapers for the past few weeks (more on that in a later post) and consequently have been in a sewing state of mind lately. Maternity clothes are not particularly fitted, and many are made of stretchy knits, so this seemed to be a fairly forgiving wardrobe for a novice sewer. I figured, why not make my nth attempt at sewing garments?

The pregnancy is not really showing yet, but my shirts and pants are starting to get uncomfortable. Matt and I went window shopping (on Black Friday, at the Mall of America, because it’s fun) to look at maternity clothes. The t-shirts that I saw in the maternity shops seemed pretty straightforward. I saw no bust darts, the body shapes sometimes were A-line and sometimes not, and the front hems were curved and about 1/2 to 1 inch longer than the back hems. Some had ruched side seams with matching ruched sleeves.

I began with a basic t-shirt pattern from Burda. You can download it for free here. Click on “Basic” in the dropdown menu, and the pattern is called “Lydia 3197.” It prints out in a tiled array that you tape together. Here’s the basic pattern schematic:

Although I’ve done very little actual sewing, I’ve had an interest in garment construction for years and years – I own at least 7 books on fitting, have been a Threads subscriber for nearly a decade, and even have a fabric stash that is… Well, let’s say it’s about 1/10th the size of my yarn stash. Conclude from that what you will. ๐Ÿ™‚

I pulled out 2 Sandra Betzina books, Power Sewing and Fast Fit. I don’t have enough experience to know whether these are mediocre, good, or great fitting books… But I have to start somewhere. I began by measuring myself and a shirt that fits well in the upper half of the torso. I picked a pattern size on the basis of the bust measurement and measured the flat pattern pieces to see what needed adjustments. Most of the alterations were made to the front of the t-shirt.

1) The pattern has no bust darts, so I added “contour” by cutting at the bust line, adding 1/2 inch in length, and curving the side for ~5 inches. This curved edge will be ease-stitched and steamed to restore the original length of the side. The results should be very similar to short-row bust increases in knitting. I had some difficulty deciding where the bust line was located. I measured the distance from the middle of my shoulder to the bust point and the distance between bust points and sort of guessed at where these 2 measurements might intersect. I ended up picking a line that was slightly more than 2 inches below the armscye cutting line.

2) I lengthened the entire bodice by 2 1/2 inches. Most maternity tops are tunic style to ensure that you’re not accidentally baring your belly. I cut the pattern at the waist and added the length there.

3) I split the pattern in half vertically (left a tiny bit intact at the shoulder to act as a hinge) and spread it by 1 inch at the bottom hem. This will add up to 2 inches to the front width and allow the hem to curve down in the front. I left the side shaping as it was and did not make it A-line.

4) I changed the front and back neckline. I dislike high crew neck shirts, and I copied the wider and deeper neckline of a t-shirt that I own. I folded the shirt in half, aligned the shoulder seams and the front center of the shirt to the pattern, and traced the line to redraw the curve. I did not add a seam allowance because the edge will be bound (not faced). The neckline is wider than the original, so I placed the front and back pattern pieces together, matching the shoulder seams at the armscye. I marked where the new back neckline began and changed the depth.

Here’s the front after all the alterations:

I used French curves to smooth out the curved areas. I’ve never used them before and am not entirely sure I was applying them correctly, but it seems to be OK.

These are all the pattern pieces:

I’ve had commercial t-shirts with twisted side seams after washing. I assume that is because the pattern was not laid precisely on the grain when the pieces were cut.

** My question **

How do you align pattern pieces on the grain of knit fabric?

The fabric in this project is cotton interlock (double knit), very thin, drapey, and probably prone to stretching. Aligning the selvedges and hoping for the best seemed risky to me. I had difficulty seeing individual columns of knit stitches in the fabric because they were so small, but I tried thread tracing a line of stitches anyway. However, after a foot or so, I realized I had veered off in a curve.

I folded the fabric to roughly the width that I needed and identified a single column of knit stitches. I pushed a pin through at the very edge and caught just the 1 column. I moved down 2 or 3 inches, following the column at the fold, and pinned it again. I repeated this until I had identified enough fabric to accommodate the pattern piece.

I held it up by the folded edge, shook out the fabric, and laid it as flat as possible. I smoothed out the wrinkles in both layers with my hand, trying not to stretch the fabric.

And that’s how I think I found the grain. It was very painstaking and probably still not very precise. Is there a better way?