Maternity clothes. Just reading those two words sends me into a tailspin of horror, envisioning ill-fitting polyester dresses in drab, matronly prints. While ready-to-wear maternity has improved in recent years, the number of stores that actually offer plus sizes is pitifully low. Curvy women have an even narrower pool to choose from when dressing during a pregnancy than we do normally. Between Loft, Old Navy, and Pink Blush, I’ve found some nice pieces, but as a size 16, I’m near the top of all three size ranges. Thank heavens for sewing!
If you have the time and energy (a gigantic if, admittedly), sewing is one of the best ways to guide your wardrobe through pregnancy. During the first twenty weeks, you probably won’t need many new items, but that quickly changes as things progress. Practically overnight, I went from wearing regular jeans to needing stretchy panels in every garment. Luckily, my energy levels spiked around the same time and I’ve steadily produced a small, but thoughtful wardrobe of maternity staples. While some of these came from maternity-specific patterns, my favorites are actually just pattern hacks of tried-and-true patterns. Today, I’m sharing my favorite tricks for turning the patterns you already love into patterns that grow with your changing body.
Tip #1: Look at Ready-To-Wear
I know, I know. Didn’t we just recount the horrors of manufactured maternity clothing? I’m not suggesting that you place a gigantic order from Motherhood, but it is helpful to try on maternity clothes in your size, if you can find them. Not only does this give you an idea of what styles you like, but it provides a peek into construction methods, as well. Pay attention to what designers are doing to make room for baby. Rows of gathering, ruching at the side seams, and stretchy panels are only some of the secrets to maternity clothes. After my own bout of dressing room roulette, I added maxi dresses to my must-make list, experimented with pleated front panels, and even bought one tank dress, just to trace it off as a pattern.
Tip #2: Raise the Waistline
If there’s one thing you can do to make a pattern more functional for maternity, it’s raising the waistline. This might seem obvious, but it’s absolutely essential. You’d be amazed how many patterns suddenly work for a baby bump, when there’s no longer a waist seam in the way. Even woven patterns, like your favorite shirtdress, become more wearable when given an empire waistline. There were a few weeks in my second trimester when I didn’t look visibly pregnant, but wearing anything constricting around my waist was killer. I took off a few inches from the lower bodices of the Cashmerette Turner and Colette Myrtle dress patterns, then the problem was solved. Now, at almost eight months pregnant, those same dresses easily fit over my rapidly expanding middle.
Every body is different, especially plus size or pregnant bodies, so start with taking one inch off the lower bodice of your favorite dress pattern. Baste the garment together, try it on, and see if you like where it’s falling. Take off a half-inch at a time, until you find the perfect maternity waist point for your body.
Tip #3: Lower the Hemline
Another golden rule of maternity pattern hacking is to lower the center front hemline. Once your belly starts growing to melon-sized proportions, it’s impossible to keep your hems from raising up in the front. Not only does this drive my perfectionist heart crazy, but it also makes clothes a bit, well, breezier than you’d like. When you make that favorite swing tee or empire-waisted dress, add at least two inches to the center front pattern piece, tapering the extra length away as you move to the side seam. This may seem too low in your second trimester, but you will love that extra length as your body changes. Once you’re not pregnant anymore? Take the extra length off and re-hem the garment to a normal length! Personally, I played a lot with shirttail-style hems, dipping in both the front and the back for a more symmetrical look at the beginning.
Tip #4: Play With Style Lines
Once you’ve turned your favorite TNT pattern into a maternity pattern, keep making it! No one cares if you use the same pattern eight times anyway, but it’s also easy to vary a style for many different looks. Experiment with changing the shape of the neckline or adding playful sleeve styles, like bell or cap sleeves. Maternity dressing can become kind of a drag, especially when you’re reaching for the same styles over and over again for months, so introducing small variations into your wardrobe keeps it fun. Cold shoulders are super trendy this season, as they were last, and I’ve added them to a few dresses just for the joy of wearing something unique. Play with trends, take inspiration from designer clothes, and let your pattern hacking whims run wild. Maternity clothes don’t necessarily have a long shelf life anyway, so being too “on trend” shouldn’t be a concern. Your body is going through some remarkable changes, so why not have fun dressing it, while you can?
Tip #5: Plan for the Future
Pay attention to how well clothes will work after pregnancy, however. You’ll still be wearing quite a few of these garments in the postpartum months, as your body recovers from birth, so think about styles that work both now and later. (AKA: Don’t ruche everything!) Swing tops, knit dresses, kaftans, and flowy silhouettes can see you safely through all the changes about to happen. If you plan on nursing, also adjust patterns with an eye toward easy access. Cross-over bodices, wrap styles, and hidden shoulder snaps may not matter much during pregnancy, but will be lifesavers for breast-feeding. I feel less wasteful sewing maternity clothes, knowing they’ll function long after these few months.
Over the next few months, I’ll share specific maternity pattern hacks that worked on my favorite TNT patterns, as well as other tips for creating a plus size maternity wardrobe. In the meantime, do you have any beloved patterns or silhouettes that helped you get through pregnancy? Are there any pattern adjustment tricks that turned your favorite patterns into maternity garments? I’d love to hear more ideas!