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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.

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