Project NICU - Baby Hospital Gown Tutorial.13
By far, the most important sewing I did in 2012 was making NICU gowns for little bubs. I've made scores and scores of them and donated them to the Miracle Babies Foundation in Australia. I was hesitant to blog about why I began making NICU gowns. There was a story, but it wasn't mine to share. I was grieving, but it wasn't my loss. It's still not my story to share, but I think it gives context as to why I am making NICU gowns and why I'm asking you to join me. This brief story is followed by a super easy tutorial that anyone can do, even young sewists. Maybe you can take a few hours this holiday season or set yourself a goal in 2013 to help bring sunshine to families who need it?
You see, I am a lucky girl. I have two very special people in my life who live in San Francisco. I could gush on about them, but simply put they are good people. Earlier this year, they had a pregnancy complication resulting in the loss of their first baby boy. I wanted to do something special to remember him. I wanted to honor the short time that he was with us and I want to continue to honor his memory. I scoured the net and found the Miracle Baby Foundation in Australia who that provide support to families with sick and premature children. They offer solace to those families who precious babies lose their fight.
Sewing was something I could do. Making NICU gowns and memorial quilts was something I enjoyed doing, but more importantly it was something that might bring a tiny ray of sunshine in an otherwise difficult situation. As I've been making them, I've learned just how many lives are touched each year:
Excerpt from the Miracle Babies website: Every year in Australia around 44,000 newborn babies require the help of a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) or Special Care Nursery (SCN). 25,000 of these babies are born premature and up to 1000 babies lose their fight for life. For families, the experience of having a baby come into the world not as expected or planned is life changing. Without support, this overwhelming and traumatic experience can have lifelong effects on the emotional wellbeing of these miracle families.
While I'm not equipped to provide emotional support, I can make NICU gowns which bring a tiny bit of normalcy for families whose babies wait in hospitals and sleep in incubators instead of at home in the cribs and bassinets that were meant for them. The clothes they bought or were gifted at baby shows can't be worn. They are in an unexpected life. Some of the newborns are so fragile that their parents only get to hold them and touch them for moments in a day. These babies have tubes and wires and monitors all about. So something as simple as a nice hospital gown can bring comfort to the parents. For a moment they can look past the wires and see their child in a hospital gown that helps them shine. Not only do they help the parents, but the gowns provide sunshine for the doctors and nurses who spend every day helping out these tiny bubs. My sewing can bring comfort where it's needed, and that's why it's certainly the most important sewing that I did in 2012. I hope this tutorial shows you just how easy it is. I hope you're inspired to make what's needed for your local area. You may want to check with the organizations in your area to see if they have a special need at this time. They might need gowns, hats, memorial quilts or burial sleeves.
Miracle Babies collects sewing and knitting for hospitals all around Australia.
Hospital Baby Gown Tutorial
Note: I use the templates provided by the Miracle Baby foundation, but I have changed the directions slightly to suit my own sewing style. These direction will vary from the directions written on the PDF but the end result will be similar.
Begin by printing two copies of the templates provided by the Miracle Baby Foundation. The PDF contains two pages each for the small, medium and large sizes. When you print them check your size against the measurements listed. If they aren't quite perfect, but close, that is ok. NICU babies come in all shapes and sizes. I'm sure your gown will fit one of them perfectly!
Cut out and join the templates. Decide which size you'd like to make. If you are new to sewing curves (trust me, these are easy curves), I recommend starting with medium or large. My example will demonstrate the small gown. Cutting out the templates is where I diverge from the directions as written.
Join these two templates together at the side seam with tape. They should match up. If they are slightly off, just use your scissors to smooth out the curves along the bottom and armholes.
Repeat with the second copy of the PDF that you printed and then join at the center fold. One side will be reversed as shown.
This is your template for making your gown. It is also exactly the same size and shape of your finished gown.
Select your fabrics. The gowns are reversible and the inside shows slightly when worn, so I'd suggest choosing two coordinating prints. You will need the pieces to be at least a 1/2" larger than your finished template.
A few rules of thumb when selecting fabrics:
- Hospital babies have delicate skin. Avoid scratchy, rough or stiff fabrics.
- Some NICU babies can be jaundiced. Avoid lots of yellow as this amplifies the jaundiced skin color.
- Choose happy prints. No skulls. No germs. No sad raindrops.
- Choose "normal" prints. The best prints are the kind that other kids their age might wear.
- Use quality durable fabric. These gowns will be routinely washed and sanitized. Make sure the fabric holds up.
- Avoid the urge to use lace or buttons or raw applique. These things can scratch delicate skin
Trace your template on the fabric. Once you have your fabrics. Lay the together with right sides facing. If you aren't practiced at sewing, iron them first. Using a quality disappearing marker trace around the outside of the template onto your fabric. This will become your stitching line. Remember we cut our template directly on the stitching line.
I like Chaco Ace markers. I have never had a problem with ink sticking around. It hads always disappeared with air or more speedily with water. Tailor's chalk would also work well. Make sure to leave at least 1/2" around for seam allowance.
Sew directly on your marked line. Now we want to sew exactly on our marked sewing line. Beginning the middle edge of one side, sew all the way around exactly on (or quite close to) the line that you've traced. Leave a 1 1/2" gap for turning when you return to the beginning side. Make sure you use durable thread. I like all-purpose polyester thread for these gowns or a very durable cotton.
Tips to make sewing easier:
- if your needle has a 'down needle' setting, use it to make turning corners easier
- slightly reducing your stitch length with make the curves easier
- sew clockwise around the gown. it should be easier to control with your hands.
- if you have a 1/2 speed setting, use it until you are used to following the curved line
Do not forget to leave a gap for turning the gown inside out! If you forgot, use your seam ripper and make a small gap along a straight side edge.
Trim around the gown leaving a 1/2" seam allowance. The PDF calls for a 1/2" seam allowance which will make the gowns more durable. Trim around the outside of your stitched line leaving roughly a 1/2" seam allowance.
Trim into the arm holes as well also with a 3/8" to 1/2" seam allowance.
Trim the corners and clip the curves on the gown. If you refer back to the original Miracle Babies Hospital Gown PDF, it shows you which corners need to be trimmed. Trimming all of the sharp corners will reduce bulk making it easier to turn the gown inside out.
Similarly small clips should be made along the neckline and armholes will which enable the fabric to spread properly when the garment is turned. Clip near to stitching line but not into it.
Turn right side out. Turn the hospital gown right side out. Use your fingers, a turning tool or a chopstick to smooth the curves and make sure all of the points are correctly turned. I like to use a chopstick since it helps with the hard to reach points.
Press with iron and make sure it looks like your original template. The shape should be the same. Did you miss any shoulders when you poked out the corners?
Check that the turning gap lines up evenly and smoothly. Repress this is needed.
And of course, check things from the reverse side too.
Edge stitch all the way around the gown using an edgestitch foot, a 1/4" foot or your regular sewing foot as a guide.
Add press snaps or studs. Referring to the original PDF, you will need to add snaps for closure. My friend Cass loaned me her snap press which I've made great use of, but you can also hand sew snaps on.
After talking to RNs and reading blogger comments, I've confirmed plastic snaps or press studs are definitely the way to go. Plastic snaps mean gowns do not need removed for xrays, I've been told. NICU babies need lots of chest xrays. Plastic snaps won't burn your hands like metal when they come out of the dryer. In Australia, the Miracle Babies Foundation has someone who can attach snaps, if you can't. But if you can, I know it will help them out and get the gowns in use faster!
You will need three pairs of snaps. One pair each at the shoulders and one at the top back of the gown. Put them in place and give them a few solid tugs to make sure they are secure and functioning.
And that's it! It may seem like a lot of steps, but it's really not. I just like to be extra thorough with my directions. Look at this tiny bit of joy. You can see that it's going to help brighten a tough time.
In Australia, finished gowns and knitting can be sent to:
Miracle Babies Foundation
PO Box 95
Moorebank NSW 1875.
I'm certain someone will share address and links to similar organizations worldwide for those wanting to help. I'm putting it out as a personal challenge to my readers to find time this holiday season or in early 2013 to make a gown or two or two dozen. And you can, of course, share your gowns in the Made with Badskirt flickr group or share your blog posts in the comments. Will you give it a try?!
Let me know how it goes and if you have any questions. Thank you for helping. --Amy
**A huge thank you to the fabric collecting community who donated fabrics which enabled me to make scores and scores of these gowns. We received a letter back from Miracle Babies. They are quite appreciated.