Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Breastfeeding in a Victorian Corset

Over the years I have often been asked about breastfeeding my babies while wearing a corset. I have been very blessed to have been able to breastfeed my six babies for at least the first six months of their lives and as we have always had some kind of historical event or another to go to while they were still nursing, I quickly had to learn how to deal with the differences of feeding in a corset vs. feeding in a bra.

This is just my experience and as every mama (and baby!) is different what worked and works for me may not work for you. Size of breast, fit of corset, style of chemise and dress and preferences of Baby must all be taken into consideration. But in my experience: YES! It is possible to breastfeed in a corset and, what’s more important, to breastfeed in a way that is comfortable for both you and Baby.

Historically, women wore corsets while breastfeeding. Special nursing corsets did exist. These had openings at the bust that could be used to allow Baby better access to the breast. I have never used one. For me, a regular corset has sufficed just fine. Other ladies I know have made and enjoyed specific nursing corsets. Please visit the great post about a Victorian Corset for Nursing Mothers at Yesterday's Thimble for a fabulous look at some nursing-corset options for the later Victorian period.
1890's Nursing Corset from Augusta Auctions
The other historically accurate option is to go without bust support entirely. (although I would fairly confidently say that MOST women DID wear a corset, even while breastfeeding.) For the reenacting mama whose baby just won’t nurse in a corset, you can skip that undergarment and wear a looser garment, such as a sacque or wrapper or loosely-fitted dress over the chemise. (And if that isn’t a great option for you, there’s no shame in wearing a good supportive bra that you can nurse in underneath your historical dress. The most important thing is to be able to feed that baby!)
Judah's first event in 2007 when he was a week old - I wore a bra!
It was what worked for us at the time before I had the chance to make a new corset (boobs undergo a dramatic increase in size after a baby is born, it seems) and at least it got us to the event and able to participate. For me, wearing a modern bra was a better option than going without support entirely.
An important thing to note is the difference in shape between a corseted vs. non corseted figure.
A non corseted figure usually has a lower, more rounded bustline. The abdomen is softer.

A corseted figure lifts the bustline and firms the torso. These differences in shape may cause some initial problems when first attempting to nurse in a corset. For a baby that is accustomed to and comforted by the warmth and softness of his mothers breasts and abdomen while nursing, the rigid torso that results from wearing a corset and the higher position of the breast may be frustrating at first. (Anne was one of these babies. She was not enthusiastic about nursing at the first event I took her to after she was born!)
In my corset, I find that the nipple level is higher than it is when wearing a modern bra. The 1860's bustline was lower and more rounded than it had been in earlier periods but is still higher than the average "t shirt bra" line of today.
The top of a corset edge should fall at nipple level. If a chemise is made with a drawstring neckline or the ability to be unfastened in the front, it is fairly easy to loosen the chemise and to be able to push down the edge of the corset at the nipple so the baby can latch.

If the corset cannot be pushed down, the breast can be lifted up out of the corset and allowed to fall over the edge so the baby can latch.

For me this took a bit of time to get comfortable with. Nearly ten years (!) now after my first attempts at nursing in a corset it has become very second nature. But it was certainly awkward at first.
There are quite a few nursing positions that can be achieved in both corseted and non-corseted nursing. These are a few of my favorites.

1. Cradle hold. This is a classic nursing position that is great for most newborns and small babies. At 13 months now, Rose is not a great fan of this position unless she is very sleepy. In a corset, I have found that this position is made a lot more comfortable if I put a pillow or some kind of padding on my lap, to help the baby reach the higher position of the breast. A folded up blanket works just as well, too.
Here, I am using a pillow that has been folded in half underneath Rose's
bottom to help support her and lift her to the elevated nipple level.
2. Side Lying Position. This is also a position that my newborn babies greatly loved, and Rose still prefers this position. This is actually one of the easiest ways to nurse in a corset, I have found! If you are wearing a cage this can be tricky but pulling up the rungs underneath you makes the skirts lay flat. When the boys were little and fussy at events and wouldn’t nap on their own, this position was great to get them to lay still, nurse, and fall asleep.
Forgive the glare - it was very bright outside! I didn't know the pictures came out
so bright until after we were done. Here Rose is nestled next to me and can comfortably nurse
while lying down. This is good for a baby who is sleepy or one that is very small. 
3. Front hold. This works with a baby who can sit up on her own. My last three especially used this position all the time and this is another of Rose’s favorites. This is a good position for discreet nursing in public since the head covers up most of the exposed breast, if you aren’t completely comfortable with public breastfeeding.

4. Hip hold. Another great position for an older baby or toddler. Rose loves this position. I use this one a lot since I this enables me to have one hand free so I can work on another activity while nursing my baby at the same time.

5. Baby Stand. Rose has enjoyed this position since she could stand with support. If I am sitting down with an older child to read a book or help them with something, I am still able to nurse.

6. Sitting Position: A variation of the above position, this has the older baby sitting on my lap while nursing.

These are some of the most common positions that I have used/am currently using. Of course, with a baby, any position that gets the nipple into the mouth is a good position! Ha. ;)

In my experience the older a baby is, the easier it becomes to nurse while wearing a corset. Tiny babies can be quite particular about how they are nursed and the strange differences they feel while being held against a corseted vs. non corseted body may be irritating to them. In that case, a position where they can be held up very close to the breast with a pillow or two may be best, or a position where you can lie down beside them and allow them free access to nurse.

When the baby is done nursing, all that needs to be done is to take a moment to gently place your breast into the corset, much as you would arrange your breast in the cup of your bra. Fasten the chemise and then close your dress. It is more convenient if you do not wear a brooch or pinned on bow at the neckline, but if you do it only takes an additional few seconds to repin the brooch or bow.

There is some primary evidence that some ladies left the neckline of their dress fastened while they nursed, and only undid the dress bodice enough to allow access to the breast. This would only work, of course, if your dress was not very tightly fitted and if your breasts were small enough to fit through this kind of opening. I am able to do this but it is less comfortable for me than to just undo the neckline as well.
Baby Anne and I in 2012
The last thing I have learned while breastfeeding in a corset (and also breastfeeding at historical events!) is that being comfortable with this beautiful function is extremely important. I had less success breastfeeding my oldest son, David, (he only nursed for about six months) because I was very self-conscious about public nursing. I felt like I was offending everyone who saw me nurse. I tried to use a nursing cover but since we did not use one in the privacy of our own home, little David did not like being covered when we were in public. I felt that the process of unfastening my dress, chemise and getting into a good nursing position took too long and I was stressed by the time I was finally ready to put the baby to my breast. David sensed that frustration and that made him tense, too, and less able to nurse adequately.

Breastfeeding does not take too long. I have learned that if I think it is taking too long, I have the wrong attitude about it and need to adjust my priorities. It is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a beautiful process that both Mama and Baby should be able to mutually enjoy. And breastfeeding is also a fantastic historical demonstration! A mama with a breastfeeding infant has a ready-made impression that many spectators, male and female, young and old, can relate to and have questions about!

Happy nursing!


Sunday, May 22, 2016

New Sunbonnets!

Some of the first items done in the new sewing room! I've added two new bonnets to my Etsy shop this weekend and am really happy with the new design.

I made quite a few last summer and had a lot of great feedback. Some of the suggestions included making larger sizes available, making self fabric ties and a longer curtain. So, here are my first two attempts at incorporating those suggestions into a better sunbonnet.

The ones I made last year were extensively machine sewn. It enabled me to construct them more quickly and I was able to sell them for a fairly low price. Still, I always felt somewhat uncomfortable because I knew I could make a better bonnet if I took more time to do the hand finishing I omitted. Namely, seam finishes and hemming. So for these I took my time to do that and am far more happy with the finished result. These should last a very long time.

I also added a drawstring at the back neck. This makes the sizing very flexible but also will make ironing a lot more easy.

And more rows of cording. One cannot have too much cording.

My poor little styrofoam head is too small to properly display these. I need to make my own display head. That might be my next project. Besides, Benjamin has taken a large bite out of nose of our poor Styrofoam Lady and her countenance is unfortunately affected.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Quick and Easy T-Shirt Dress

Anne will be 4 this summer and she has developed quite her own style and preferences when it comes to clothing. She pairs stripes, plaids and polka dots in a single outfit and God forbid I pick out what she wears - she has to do it all and she loudly objects to almost all of my suggestions about attire.

Right now she is going through a dresses-only stage. She clung to her long sleeved winter dresses as long as she could but eventually I had to pack them away and she was left with a few short sleeved dresses hanging in her closet, and a lot of cute, summery t-shirts that her grandma had bought her on various shopping trips.

She won't wear t shirts. So we are making them into dresses! There are a lot of great tutorials online for making this type of dress. Basically sew a skirt onto a t-shirt. For Anne's I used a full width of 45" fabric with a wide ruffle made of two 45" widths of fabric and sewed it to a t shirt I cut to the level of a high waistline.

It's loose, comfy and twirly, all things that Anne wants in a dress. She loves it! The fabric is an adorable print she picked out that depicts little girls from different areas of the world. We had to buy 2 yards of it since it was a closeout sale and there was a minimum cut, so Rose will be getting a similar dress.

Now to tackle the 15+ remaining shirts. . .


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Grassy Run Rendezvous

It's pretty awesome to live in an area where so much recorded history took place. Over half my life was lived in Illinois, otherwise known as The Land of Lincoln. And there, it seemed, popular history certainly began and ended with the great orator, statesman and president. I grew up loving New Salem and the Metamora Courthouse, and felt properly solemn and awed when visiting Lincoln's tomb and his home in Springfield. But there is so much more to the early American frontier story. 

(Originally from the Narragansett area of Rhode Island, I sadly was too little to realize and enjoy the extremely rich history of that area before I moved with my family to the midwest. I gotta go back there someday.)

I love southern Ohio because there is so much history here, too. And it's not Lincoln. It's new and different and so interesting and delightful to me. It's as close as down the road, or across the ravine in a grassy field. It's the thin roads threading through the hills and the little cemeteries with stones too worn to read. It's the river and the huge, old trees along the shore and the crumbled remains of stone foundations. It's the 200 year old buildings that are still standing, still in use, still beautiful and proud and mellowed with time and the lives that have played out within their walls. I live in such a beautiful place. 

There are quite a few pockets of local historians who are actively keeping history alive. It's been a huge enjoyment to meet them and to talk with them and to hear their stories. This past weekend the kiddos went out to the Grassy Run rendezvous and spent a fun time learning about earlier days. Here are some pictures in no particular order. We had such a great time! I can't remember the last time I spent such a happy weekend.

Grassy Run is the name of a so-called battle that occurred near here between white settlers and Native Americans in 1792. It was a small encounter but resulted in deaths on both sides, unfortunately. The history of the Native nations that lived here and were driven out by whites is extremely painful and tense. I am really grateful to these historians who share the history of their culture with others.

The kids enjoyed all sorts of activities. Here, they are making a pattern in tin with a nail and hammer. 

Then they used a two man cross cut saw to cut through a log. It took them a while to get through it!

Then they made rope. I had never seen rope being made before and it was a really interesting process. Three guys were required to operate the machine. Malachi here is waiting to crank it. David held the end of the twine and Judah held the paddle. 

They visited the vendors, of course. They each had a little bit of money they could use to buy something and Anne got a wooden dinosaur with hers. She loves dinosaurs. Benjamin proudly walked around with the gun that Judah bought (he got his own, too, but preferred to use his beloved "Jew-Ah's")

A few days before the event I had been out in the woods with the babies and we had seen pools of wiggly black tadpoles. Anne wanted to see if the tadpoles were still there so we took a little walk to visit the big puddles. 

There weren't very many left, but some were still there. 

Anne and Benjamin decided to wade out in the warm water. Benjamin fell down and got soaked. He was so mad. Poor little dude! 

But back at the Cherokee camp he was consoled with candy. 

And he and Anne found some flowers to pick. 

Here is me and my girlies! I didn't really have an appropriate era dress to wear (except my white Vernet dress, which I didn't want to ruin with all the mud!) so I am not really dressed appropriately at all. For next year I think I will make a 1780's or 1790's dress. Not sure yet. But definitely something 18th century. 

The Boone Frocks worked out great for the littles. Of course they were covered in filth by the end of the day but washed up no problem. 

Malachi and Anne tried their hand at grinding corn. I asked them how long it would take to grind enough for a skillet of cornbread. Malachi said it would take too long. 

We didn't want to leave when it was over but of course all good things come to and end. Only, it's not really an end, but rather a new beginning! We can't wait to go back next year!