Maternity Sewing With Heather
When Kate of the Haystack Pack first put out an invite for blog posts on Instagram, I replied with a suggestion that I could write a post about maternity sewing. She very kindly agreed and here we are. It is, for many of us, an interesting subject, not least because pregnancy is one example of a time in our lives that our body changes in previously unknown ways.
Firstly, an introduction: I am Heather, and I can be found at www.heatherymakes.wordpress.com and on instagram @heatherymakes. I am currently 39 weeks pregnant, due to give birth at the end of October. Prior to pregnancy, my body stats were 93:80:98 and I am 182cm tall. Now, at 36 weeks I am 100:113:102. For my current measurements, I took my bump measurement at the widest part rather than my true waist which doesn’t really mean anything right now.
I know that pregnancy means many things to different people, however if the pregnancy is wanted and overall a positive, there are still significant mental and physical changes that take a lot of getting used to. As I talk about changing bodies, it is strictly with pregnancy in mind – I am going through this, after all, and it’s a personal commentary. Your experiences and your findings might be different, or some of what I say might be relatable to different bodily changes.
When I became pregnant, I thought I knew what would happen. It would be a magical time where I grew a baby, and the side effects would be having a bump and larger breasts. Well, this happens – it is amazing, and yes, you do develop a bump and your breasts do grow, but also so much more than this happens that it can be quite a shock to the senses. However, just because the bodily changes aren’t simple, does not mean pregnancy isn’t, overall, a positive. It really is. It’s an adventure. But, as with all adventures, it’s not a constant state of wonder: there are plenty of moments of dullness, or frustration, or discomfort. Or learning and unlearning.
For myself, I have been a pretty regular shape since I was 15. My body has been fitter and less fit, and shown slight variations in weight, but nothing drastic. I have always been able to rely on my body and have never experienced the situation where clothes don’t fit.
I envisioned, when I first discovered I was pregnant, that I would spend the next eight months sewing and creating and nesting. Which was, of course, completely unlikely and didn’t come true at all. Instead, I spent the first three months feeling overwhelmingly tired and uninspired. During this time, I did start sewing my wedding dress and plan our wedding, but really sewing for pleasure was not something I did.
Then, once I started to feel better, life happened and we got busy. First there was the wedding, then the wonderful honeymoon and then work was crazy, as summers always are, and I didn’t understand my changing body so couldn’t find the inspiration to sew (as soon as high waisted trousers were an absolute no-no, that was all I wanted to sew).
During this time, however, I did make a pair of maternity trousers, finished a UFO as a present to someone else, make a jumper for Joey, and finish knitting my wedding shawl. But that really was it. I longed for inspiration, to be able to dive into a project, but it just wasn’t happening. The things I wanted to make weren’t pregnancy friendly and I still didn’t understand my changing body. In a fit of despair, I made, for the first time in several years, some purchases as I outgrew almost all of my existing clothes, and panicked at the thought of further belly growth. And then, as I continued to grow, I made some more purchases but this time second hand as I had more head space to accommodate the search and find.
But time passed and I did now, in the third trimester, start to come to terms with what was happening. Of course, through the pregnancy I had been happy and excited for what was to come. But it didn’t feel real. But then something shifted and suddenly it did. Perhaps it was being told by the midwife that the baby was in position (head down). Or perhaps it was that s/he (we don’t know the sex) became more and more baby-like in their movements (a wee foot in the rib, while unpleasant is also very, very real – it’s definitely a baby in there), or perhaps it was the arrival of the baby box, or bringing home a carload of baby paraphernalia, or organising my maternity cover, or talking about names casually over breakfast, but suddenly this wasn’t happening to someone else: it was happening to us.
And I started to dream.
What could, at this time, be the most useful item of clothing for me? I had read advice online about the need for button down pyjamas, but I don’t really see myself as a pyjama in the daytime person (just because it always makes me feel a bit gross, no judgement on anyone that enjoys it!). And I would need access for breastfeeding for, as I am nearing the end of my pregnancy, I don’t want to make something pregnancy specific. Longevity in clothing is the best way of being environmentally friendly.
How about a dress? One that can be unbuttoned over the bump if the bump becomes too large to fit? And one that can be unbuttoned at the top to allow for breastfeeding? But one that I’ll feel like me, and I’ll enjoy wearing? Well, the search was on!
I had a couple of options and the shortlist became the following: the Maison Fauve Atlas shirtdress, the Pauline Alice Ibi dress, and the Kate’s Sewing Patterns Alice dress. Due to the lovely pin tuck details and the fact that it fully opened, I decided to go with the Alice dress. A new-to-me sewing company and the perfect choice for the beautiful fabric I’d already ordered.
For in actual fact, the first step on the dress journey was this gorgeous cotton percale, which I had found online via Faberwood. I’d never purchased from them before but for this dress I knew that I wanted something special. It is a special project, after all: it commemorates this changing body, the baby it is growing and my new relationship with it.
Being a little harassed, a wee bit short of time and knowing that my current rate of creativity was a gentle soul in need of kind nourishment, I decided to forgo the printing and piecing and order the printed PDF pattern from The Fold Line (the same place I purchased the actual pattern from). They print single sizes and I decided to go with the 40 due to bust size as it’ll either fit the belly or not (and that flexibility has already been discussed), and there’s ample ease designed into the gathered skirt.
Fabric arrived in the most beautiful plastic-free package imaginable. I was having a really sad day (my birth plan was out the window, and there had been many, many tears), and the arrival of the package felt like a message of love – from myself, to myself. Perfectly timely. I popped it in the machine for a pre-wash and while it was drying got the pattern out to do some pregnancy adjustments.
Firstly, I reduced the bodice by 4cm and lengthened the skirt by 20cm. The bodice reduction was so that the seam would fit between my bust and bump. I did have quite an issue cutting out the pattern from the 2.5m of fabric that I had – perhaps my lengthened skirt was just too much! It meant, however, that I had good fun cutting strips out of the remaining fabric to ensure I got the maximum skirt width opportunities possible. This means that the skirt is now pieced out of 6 different sections, of four different widths, but I took my time and flat felled the seams and I really like this unexpected detail.
The pin tucks were great fun to do, and are really, really effective – another favourite detail. For some reason, possibly because I was so short of time, I actually didn’t read the instructions at all, and just put it together how I would expect to put together this simple dress. So, I cannot tell you much about the instructions, but the making of it did fit quite nicely into the small gaps of time I had.
1cm seam allowances meant I overlocked most of the seams, but the collar and button bands are fully enclosed. And, I actually cannot tell you anything about the hems because the dress still isn’t finished.
I became unsure about it when I attached the skirt. In my efforts to make a richly-gathered skirt that would work with my bump, I have ended up with a lot of fabric. More than I really envision myself wearing. And, my 4cm reduction on the bodice isn’t enough and the bodice seam now sits awkwardly at the top of my bump. Probably at the exact spot that is most obvious. So, the dress has reached a stage where I don’t know where to go next.
And yet I think it brings up some interesting points. My pregnancy body, after 8 months, is still a stranger to me. I thought by creating this garment I would be writing a love letter to it, telling it how I accept the changes: the bigness and the slowness it requires. But instead, I haven’t done myself justice. I did not have the headspace or the time to create a toile, and indeed through my life I have had a well-enough understanding of my body to reliably know what suits me and what does not. And sadly my judgement was off with this dress. It isn’t the end of the saga, however: the fabric is too beautiful, the concept too worthy to be completely shelved. And those pin tucks and flat felled skirt pieces deserve more than to be folded on a shelf.
Perhaps I will wear it as a duster until the baby is born and the bump recedes a little. I think this the most likely. And I will continue trying to understand my body for while my creative urges are stronger than ever, I know I cannot at the moment sew for myself. There is nothing more wasteful than unloved end results, so I will keep dreaming and work on other projects until my body and I come to the understanding that we are slowing down, that we are of one mind, and it is again safe enough to put time and effort into creating for me.
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