homeschooling, homemaking, homesteading...home.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Emotional Rollercoaster of...Maternity Sewing

There's nothing like an immediate need (pregnant and growing) paired with a fortuitous event (new sewing machine) to really get the creative, and productive, impulses fired up.

There's also nothing like trial and error, and deflated expectations, to inspire one to Do It Better.

But after a while, those setbacks can kind of start wearing on you.

I'm learning a lot about the do's and don'ts of maternity sewing and pattern drafting. I'm learning that despite years of experience and a staff of professional designers, the major pattern companies are woefully BAD at this. I'm learning how to fix problems on my own, and how to design from the ground up to avoid similar problems.

But it occurred to me this weekend...not only have I failed to keep an accurate and current reporting of my trials (seriously, I have pictures from over a month ago that were intended for a great tutorial but I just never got around to it), but of the five maternity tops I've made so far, only one of them gets regular use. True, a second I've worn twice...but I hate the fit (wonky on bust) and one I just completed yesterday, so the jury is still out. But seems like my effort-to-success ratio is woefully unbalanced. I'm trying to just think of how much I've learned...but at the moment I'm a little bummed that I've put in so much work and have so little in the form of final product that is useful.

Enough self-flagellation. On to the gallery!

First shirt: totally from pattern. Butterick 4201, View D.

What I like: I'm partial to the earthy neutral tones of the fabric; a simple tan background with delicate blue flowers. Also, despite the cliche, I do like empire-waist, full-skirt maternity tops. They at least give a nod to not just being a muumuu.

What I don't like: Hello, boobs! Um, you didn't need any room in there, did ya?

Lessons learned: Never, EVER trust the bust layout on a purchased pattern. I've been burned on this before. In fact, when I was a VERY new beginner I had to teach myself how to redraft with bust darts, to make a maternity sundress fit right.

Next up, my favorite oops...which merited a post all its own. The Big Pink Shirt.
also known as McCall's 3940, out of print
What I like: Despite my relative experience level, I'm still woefully bad at accurately naming fabric types...but I love the fabric. It's a waffly knit with lots of breathability but very little stretch. The color speaks for itself; bold and bright. I like the classic Polo Shirt design elements (side hem vents, crisp collar) and the open V-neck.

What I don't like: Too. Much. Ease. Seriously, I know I'm going to grow upstairs as well as down, but do I need eight inches of bust ease? Do the armpits need to reach nearly to my elbows? Also, while a trapeze-style shirt works very well on the pregnant figure, the shape of this pattern is very nearly *box*, which is only flattering on, well, a box.

Lessons learned: Again: check, double-check, make a muslin, and then redraft the bust yourself. I honestly believe that pattern designers are still making slopers for a small figure and then scaling up evenly for all parts of the pattern. People do not always add girth evenly. You can have a big belly and a small bust. A large bust and a small belly. A large bust but narrow shoulders. The list goes on and on. Experiences (and revelations) like this can really convince one of the superiority of custom drafting and design. Which is where I went on my next project.

This would be my anti-"Big Pink Shirt" pose. OMG so much better!
This is my go-to casual top. Self-designed. As mentioned above, I photo-documented the process and who knows, maybe someday I will tute it up.

Basically, I copied a pattern from a T-shirt (nonmaternity) that I liked the fit of, then made alterations to the front piece only. I referred to two existing online tutes, but came up with my own twist that I feel works even better.

What I like: My instincts were right! Maternity patterns frequently size up the front and the back pieces, and often to the same degree. While this does make the seams easier to match and help the hemline hang a little nicer, you often end up with so much unnecessary bulk. That's why so many maternity tops have those schoolgirl ties for the gather up all of that extra fabric. I'm not growing a baby back there...just up front. I cut the front to be both wider and longer; and managed to do so without compromising the fit at the bust (no tent!).

What I don't like: The jury is still out on the length. 

It looks a little wonky with a smaller bump, but I wanted something that wouldn't leave my 9th-month belly exposed to the breezes. (Trust me, I get really big near the end. "Could use a wheelbarrow" kind of big-out-front. It's lovely.) So this may look, and fit, better as I grow. A minor complaint is that the knit I used is only mildly stretchy, so the sleeves fit rather closely. As I have thick upper arms (thank you heredity), I'm a little self-conscious about that.

Lessons learned: I rock! ;) 

Since I was *meh* on the obvious length on the front of the blue shirt, I quickly drafted a second T-shirt, cutting a few inches off the total length. I figured it would be okay for at least the first few months of showing...
I hate this shirt so much. I am seconds away from pulling a Samson on that hallway, yo.
I was very disappointed. A few things went wrong here. Let's go to the review:

What I like: Um, the fabric print is pretty.

What I don't like: It's too short. Too wide. Too wavy at the hems. It looks like your favorite shirt after it's been washed eleventy billion times and is all misshapen. Only it's like that right now. Part of this was poor planning on my alterations, but most of it had to do with not paying attention to my fabric choice. Ribbed knits can be your friend if you are making something form-fitting. Try some ease and it all just goes to hell.

What I learned: Repeat after me. Ribbed knits require negative ease. Ribbed knits require negative ease. Ribbed knits require negative ease...

And now on to my latest creation. This one I had to work with a bit. There were a few things working against me from the get-go. The pattern (Simplicity 4704, out of print) had bust darts, which experience has taught me not to trust. The pattern also indicated that it is "sized for stretch knits only" and I was determined to make this top out of a cotton-rayon blend, for a more drapey blouse. There was compensating to be done, and I was ready to do it!

It took me over a month to make this shirt...but that was less a matter of frustration and more a matter of me trying to get other, more time-urgent projects completed. I did a full muslin get the fit correct. I finally finished yesterday, and...

Shut up about the messy bed; I made it. The kids had other ideas.
WTH? I hate you, upper arms!
What I like: I am seriously in love with this fabric. 

Thankfully, I still have more and perhaps someday I'll make a real "keeper" item with it in a non-maternity size. As it is, I had made a non-maternity full skirt from this a year or so ago and hated the fit so badly I never wore it. Yup. This top is upcycled. I cannibalized the big skirt and made a big shirt. Frugal win!

What I don't like: Yeah yeah, it's maternity and I'm going to be, not just look, wide. But even so, I think that this looks a mite too "short and fat" and if I make it again, I may add a few inches to the length. That's just aesthetics, though. The fit issue is that I tried to compensate for a gap problem mid-chest and ended up with a tight upper bust but a neckline which is still so wide that it exposes my bra straps. Since I have narrow, sloping shoulders anyway, it's practically necessary for me to wear my straps high up on my collarbones; otherwise they slide off of my shoulders. I have a feeling that I'm going to be doing a lot of tugging and readjusting when I wear this.

Lessons learned: Next time, be braver and redraft the shoulders. That's where the fit problem really lies. 

Next up is a button-down shirt with real live cuffs...which I've managed to not actually learn to do yet. That should be fun. Needless to say, I've already cut the pieces from some junk fabric. I foresee alterations in my future. But that's okay. I'm getting more bold about changing What's Written, and more confident in my ability to do so. After that I plan to design a dress that will be suitable not only for materinty but also for postpartum. We will be attending a wedding a few weeks after this baby is due, so I'll need something roomy for my swollen figure, and nursing-friendly. The bonus I'm looking forward to there is that I should be able to use my muslin as a nursing nightgown.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Good Enough to Eat

This was a fun crafty project for my friend Melissa, who is obsessed with all things Peep. A festive Easter bunting!

I got the idea from the tutorial over at MADE, but modified with the following changes:

1. I drafted the bunnies to be actual size. A mini-banner!
2. I glued the layers together because hey, it's felt and you can do that. Also to avoid the topstitching (both fiddly on tiny curves and less "realistic").
3. I coated each bunny with a nice thick layer of glitter paint.

They. Look. Awesome.

If I do say so myself. ;)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Something Old for Someone New

Okay, actually this item itself is new. New yarn, newly knit, just for her. But the pattern is old. 1945 old. Vintage! It's from this booklet:

The pattern photo looks like this:

and the final product looks like this:

or like this, if you remove the neckline ribbon:

There are, as always, a few flaws and "things I would have done differently", but overall I'm still very happy with how this turned out and for once I'm just going to acknowledge that and shut up with the self-criticism. It's a gift for my best friend's second daughter, due to be born sometime within the next three weeks.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


I've started accumulating baby clothes. I prewashed a load of them this week.

I'd forgotten just how charming and wonderful and *squee* tiny little outfits can be. I am typically very sensitive to fragrances, and choose products for my home and body that are unscented. But the whiff of nostalgia from the Dreft detergent...OMG, it smells like *babies*...

The next best laundry moment will come the day my clothesline is filled with tiny footed sleepers and bright, clean rows of cloth diapers.

It's wonderful...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Upcycling and the Mechanically-Skilled Child

C's brain works in a way which baffles and amazes me. He has a talent for manipulating objects and constructing things that seems far beyond his years. He has a wide variety of building toys (Tinkertoys, Lego, magnets, wooden blocks, etc.) with which to realize his ideas (and some of them are freakishly complicated, and have moving parts that work) but also uses found objects to achieve his means. And he has come up with some really creative things.

Today he found an old hamster wheel in the recesses of the basement. He started asking me for parts to make a "barrel wheel". Huh? He described it and I realized he meant wheelbarrow. Okay, I listened up...noted his needs, and helped him find what he wanted. Within minutes, he had this:

Simple. Functional. Win.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Where Babies Come From

T: "Mom, was I planned?"
me: "Yes, honey, you were."
T: "And was C planned?"
me: "Yes..."
T (to C): "See! Mom and Dad made you and me, but the new baby was made by God."

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Journal Entry/Homeschool Snapshot, 3/5/11

It's been a while, how about an update on our learning journey?
The Homeschool Mother's Journal

In my life this week...

What, me personally? Outside of homeschooling? I'm doing a lot of pattern alteration and drafting. I touched on this in a few recent posts but need to catch up on blogging my trials. Trying to sew properly-fitting clothing for oneself is a real ordeal anyway. Add a rapidly changing shape and little opportunity to procrastinate (hello, I need something that fits!!), and it becomes pretty much all one thinks about. I often lie in bed at night, mentally drafting maternity patterns, and cursing the major pattern publishers for the problems I keep finding with theirs. Good thing I *like* sewing!!

I've also been doing a lot of knitting. Just over a week ago we got the news that someone very close to us has been diagnosed with cancer. I've shelved all other projects "on needles" to focus my work on creating a prayer shawl for her. I will post pictures here on my blog once it's finished; hopefully within the next week.

In our homeschool this week...

It's been a mixed bag. We're still trying to get through worksheets so I can see which skills the kids are ready for and which skills require some instruction/practice. For now I'm keeping my focus on basic math and reading. I've only recently moved from a learner-led approach to the determination to introduce certain things on *my* timetable. Both boys continue to crave our nightly "chapter book" readings, and often interrupt to identify words on the page. I've also renewed my whip-cracking with penmanship, much to T's dismay. (I haven't started with C yet.)

Places we're going and people we're seeing...

Since my last snapshot, we've done pretty much our normal "outing" routine: a few nature walks, a few playdates, a few trips to the library. With the exception of yesterday, when we took a field trip to the National Aviary in Pittsburgh.

My husband recently fielded T's curiosity about large birds by sharing some Internet research. For about a day, T was in love with the wandering albatross...until Dad located a few videos on the Andean condor. Thus started a solid week (and counting) of obsessing on the Andean condor. I've mentioned similar obsessions before...not only does he repeat (and request) facts, but he spends a great deal of time in fantasy play, "being" the animal of interest. We did some wishlist shopping online for merchandise (yes it exists), and I struggled to find information through our local library. (Because of the recent status--from nearly extinct to slowly recovering--of the California condor, most available materials seem specific to that species. I had limited success seeking books that generally cover the vulture family, instead.)

Until it dawned on me that we have an aviary within driving distance. I crossed my fingers and hoped that they'd perhaps have at least a California. Not quite perfect, but it would be close. But wait! It turns out that they house a mated, breeding pair of Andean condors. Score! I planned the trip, but did not tell T where we were going, other than "an errand in the city". When we drove past the entrance to the building, he saw them. The condor exhibit is an outdoor enclosure near the east entrance to the facility. As I slowed to turn into the parking lot, recognition started to bloom. "Mom? Do you see that? I could have sworn I saw an Andean condor!!"

It was a great parenting moment. Mom FTW!

We spent a long time watching the male, who had positioned himself near the fence.

You really cannot appreciate until you see one live, just how BIG these birds are. He was amazing, and beautiful, and like all of the other animals we saw on exhibit that day, very healthy-looking.

I'm tempted to start spouting cliches like "magnificent specimen", because it is true. What a neat, neat experience.

And yet again, I'm reminded of how very fortunate we are to live in our region. Pittsburgh has a wealth of resources for learning...from local and national history to world-class arts to a variety of museums and animal habitats (zoos, gamelands, etc.). A few years ago, when T became enraptured with Komodo dragons, it was a short drive to show him a real one. Now the condors. Tomorrow, who knows. I'm grateful that we have such easy access to so much, and that our learning need not be limited to books and multimedia, but can be actively engaged in our own community. <3

My favorite things this week were...

  • The trip to the Aviary
  • T's recent improved attitude and cooperation with doing the "work" of practicing writing/reading and math skills
  • C's spontaneous song he performed just for me, which showed both a regular rhyme scheme and a good understanding of meter. Who knew?! My naturally-skilled singer is also apparently a good composer. <3

What's working/not working for us...

As noted above, T and I have been working on the process of the "work" of learning academic skills. He's still not thrilled with the idea (he'd much rather be in the woods than staring down a worksheet), but I suspect that much of his frustration comes from not instantly understanding and excelling. Anything "hard" might as well be "impossible". We've had a lot of talks about some skills taking time and I keep reassuring him that his confidence and performance will improve with practice. I've been stressing not completion or correction so much as keeping his patience, being positive in attitude, and cooperating. I'm happy to say that at least in the short term, it has been working. We're making our way through material much more slowly than I'd prefer, but we've dramatically reduced, well, the drama. I'll take quality over quantity for now.

Homeschool questions/thoughts I have...

Here's the Really Big question that's been weighing on my heart lately. C (nearly 5) wants to go to school. He has always talked about it, and I always blew it off as one of those little-kid curiosities about Things That Big Kids Do. However, he's not dropping it. He will be eligible to start Kindergarten in the fall. And he wants to.

A big part of me is having this emotional battle, between what I want and don't want for his education (and why), and honoring what he desires. This kid honestly seems drawn to school. Not for the reasons I've seen in other preschoolers (I'll get to ride a bus, and play on the playground!) but for real, academic curiosity. I often find myself not having the time or energy to give him enough of what he's asking for, academically, and I realize that part of this is a matter of me getting used to being in this role...but it also gives me the nagging feeling that maybe he might benefit from the all-day structured academics.

And then there's the baby issue. His new sibling will be born literally within a week (perhaps plus or minus a few days) of the start of the fall semester. Although children are resiliant and there's a good chance that he'd be more excited about his own new adventure...I cannot shake the feeling that I'd be literally jettisoning one kid at the arrival of the next. I dread the thought of "losing" my baby at the same time that I welcome another...

I have a lot more soul-searching to do before I come to a conclusion about whether to "allow" him to try this. I've always intended to allow my kids the opportunity to attend school after the elementary level. It would not be the end of the world if I actually put one of my kids into school now. But it does rattle my resolve, makes me question my convictions, and...yes...concerns me deeply with the timing.

A photo, video, link, or quote to share...

This website has a short list of URLs for interactive math activities, mostly for children in the elementary levels. It was shared by my best friend, and T and I tried a few of the sites for a little change in pace. Worksheets are nice and quantitative (and help to fill up that portfolio), but games? Games are way more fun...and much more likely to engage his attention and participation.