Maternity Sewing: An Introduction.

It’s taken until the third trimester of my pregnancy to sit down and write about it.
There were many practical reasons for the delay. There were the actual symptoms of pregnancy. Notably, the incomparable fatigue and nausea left little time for hobbies, let alone writing about hobbies (especially considering my day job is writing academically). Then there was the next phase of our transatlantic move which included getting my husband and three cats over an ocean and packing up my Montreal sewing space until a to-be-determined date (whenever that shipment arrives!).

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Merchant and Mills Trapeze Dress

Preparing for life in the UK as a family, instead of as the lone travelling researcher I was during much of last year, made for an all the more draining first trimester. Once we arrived all together, I finally had the time and will to sew. And, since my body was noticeably changed then at the onset of the second trimester, I needed to sew, too. Thankfully, I already had a simple set up, and two great new machines, in England. But my hesitation to sew was guided by reasons that were more than just practical.

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Named Clothing Ruska Dress

Throughout the first trimester and into the second, I learned that sewing for pregnancy was not as simple as setting my machine on a table, selecting a ready made maternity pattern, and whipping out the measuring tape. It meant accepting sewing for a body in physical transformation. It also meant publicly and tangibly embracing my pregnancy—I needed to openly acknowledge it if I intended to continue blogging about sewing. As it turns out, I needed to openly acknowledge it if I wanted to even continue sewing. It’s not that my pregnancy was a secret or uncelebrated among friends and family, rather what held me back in sharing my feelings was the sense that I should have a coherent, unwaveringly confident narrative about my experience of pregnancy as soon as I hit the much awaited month 4 and not a moment sooner. I didn’t.

I found the expected move from a tight lipped first trimester to full on baby glow to be so burdensome that it is one I’ve never fully completed. Stoicism has never really been my thing, emotionally or aesthetically. But after having experienced an early miscarriage in 2017, the invitation to choose silence until my 12 week scan didn’t feel like a mere suggestion, it felt like a curse. The warning states that its best not to discuss pregnancy at “early” stages as to avoid having to discuss a possible loss, but this logic is pervasive and flawed. It is isolating. Once I reached a stage where others seemed to want (or were finally ready for) an outward demonstration of elation, I had failed to catch up. Even as my happiness for the pregnancy grew with each day, a happiness which was there from the start, each public acknowledgement came with a spike of anxiety, a reminder that others would not want to know if something went (or goes because I’ve a trimester left) wrong. Any new garment sewn was a material reminder of how invested I’ve become. If I hesitated in “real life,” I hardly knew how to display my new state on Instagram among the algorithmic floods of picturesque baby bumps and glossy maternal joy. Sewing, specifically talking about my current sewing and the focus it placed on my changing body, made me nervous.

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Deer and Doe Maternity Givre and Orageuse Londres Trench

Now that I am in the third trimester, this logic is not as oppressing as it once was. Because I am now so visibly pregnant and well (but certainly not comfortable!), I’ve settled in in my own way. Still, some sense of it remains and from here, I can now see how deeply these paradoxical cultures of misplaced reserve and mom-to-be ecstasy have penetrated my creative sewing practice.

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Deer and Doe Maternity Givre

I can also see how the etiquette of pregnancy has swirled with the etiquette of the sewing world. Perhaps, its better if I refer to these etiquettes more simply as “noise.” Here, I am not only referring to the “shoulds” and “musts” of pregnancy, but how they mix with the expectations of self-expression in the sewing world. We have all heard them. Far more than the ideas which may be exchanged in a debate on how to improve the collective ethos of home sewing, these are the ways through which judgement-laced ideas about sewing are meant to polish the boundaries of our personal identities.

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Deer and Doe Maternity Givre

For example, when sewing for a pregnant body, the belief that we should all be living in curated 16 piece capsule wardrobes crashes squarely into another pillar of the sewing world, the belief that we should sew for the bodies we have now. When you factor into these moral imperatives a previous experience of pregnancy loss and its reverberating pain, one common justification of sewing, that hopeful promise that we will live the rest of our lives in each new garment we make, turns into a dead end. How do you justify the use of time and material when you are not sure how your body will change? How do you embrace making for your changing body when the changes are temporary and you are unsure as to what your body may be like thereafter? How do you look back at the garments you’ve already custom made, unsure of when or if you’ll wear them again? And another question which may either lighten the mood or dampen it, how do you maintain your style when most maternity patterns, like RTW maternity clothes, are just so unexciting? #sorrynotsorry

These are the many questions that introduced me to the process of maternity sewing.

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Deer and Doe Maternity Givre

My attempt to find responses has led me to view maternity sewing as a tricky thing. More complicated than raising a waist line and lowering the front center hem (those fitting adjustments I plan to write about separately), maternity sewing implicates the whole body and spirit, together, as do many aspects of this practice. It is no joke that #sewingmakesmehappy. That’s also to say not sewing makes me unhappy. So, I’ve tried to find a way to channel the joy and extravagance I like to express through sewing while fitting and loving this bump. I have reached a stage where I feel compelled to spend as much time as possible creating and making these feelings tangible. Experimenting is necessary, and like always, I still want my garments to last. I am not trying to argue for frivolity, but sincerity. And it’s worth saying that although I might have the drive to make nice things right now, I’m not as able to go out, wear them, and justify their existence socially. What remains clear to me is that before my projects can be great garments, they need to satisfy an emotional need first.

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Merchant and Mills Trapeze Dress

Despite what I’ve previously said about the obligation to “love” our bodies, now, even with the increasing third trimester discomfort, may be the first time I actually do. Sewing beautiful maternity clothes, as beautiful as I can currently make them anyway, may be the way I best express the evolution of my pregnancy experience so far.

8 thoughts on “Maternity Sewing: An Introduction.

  1. I struggled too to work out where I fitted in sewing for pregnancy and for afterwards too. It was a little easier this time around because I had a better idea of what might also work with my life post pregnancy too, but I also found it difficult to justify to myself making things that I might not fit or need again soon which seems mad. If making and creating makes you happy then that should be reason enough. I hope your pregnancy continues to go smoothly. I’m now at the next phase of not knowing when I’ll have the time or energy to sew again now my beautiful daughter has arrived (especially with an active toddler to chase around too). Good luck!

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    1. Thank you for you comment, Naomi! Pregnancy is very physically uncomfortable and emotionally trying in many ways. I don’t think “maker’s guilt” is something to add on top of that. I’ve felt so grateful to have the skills to make clothes that suit my pregnant body. Many people who don’t sew have noted on how much of a gift it is that I can make my own clothes especially at this moment. I think we should spend some more time considering this perspective.

      Thank you for you well wishes, too! And, of course, good luck with your two little ones and future sewing endeavors!

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  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts so openly on this subject… Your perspective is quite interesting and makes me think of sewing, social standards and body positivity with a different angle. As someone who has never been pregnant, I had never thought of the publicity of pregnancy like that, although I did find it surprising and concerning how taboo the topic of early miscarriages was, when I realised how common it was for women to experience and how the secrecy of early pregnancy made it incredibly difficult for women to talk about their loss and connect with others at times where it would be much needed.
    your post also makes me think of how, although it seems in recent years it has become more normal, at least on social media, to portray different versions of femininity, it seems that the performance of maternity is still very formalised and standardised. it seems like it is hard to move away from an “essentialist” image of a mother. It seems that more people discuss physical symptoms, and sometimes issues of perinatal depression, but still, I have the impression that the overall narrative for pregnancy and birth is very constrained and modest and traditional.
    anyway, tldr, i loved your post, and your pregnancy outfits, especially the trapeze dress and the awesome jumpsuit! And I wish you a smooth third trimester and a ot of good times with your husband and upcoming family member 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Cynthia for you thoughtful comment. I am glad to see that my post can help develop an important conversation! I very much agree that pregnancy is still entrenched in a rigid ideal of femininity, and I often think that because pregnancy can be so challenging, that there are even more demands made on women to keep the difficulties hidden. I’m grateful for you feedback and well wishes.

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