If you’re anything like me, your weight probably goes up and down quite a bit. Over the years I’ve come to accept it as a natural process, affected by different things going on in my life and body. That said, one thing that can still make it frustrating is sewing: no-one wants to spend countless hours sewing beautiful things only for them not to fit over time! Thankfully, I’ve learned a few tricks that help me sew garments that will fit whether I gain or lose a few inches, so I thought I’d share them with you today. These approaches for what to sew when your weight fluctuates work for when you change around 1 – 3 clothes sizes; much beyond that, and you may well need some new garments (which, looking on the bright side, means fabric shopping, yay!).
1. Sewing with knits
This is perhaps the most obvious tip, but: sew with knits! Because they stretch, knits are inherently much more accommodating to changes in body size and shape, not to mention super-comfortable to wear. In fact, I’ve found there are knit garments I made when I was 3 or 4 sizes different that still fit me now.
If you haven’t sewn with knits before, don’t worry: they’re actually very straightforward to sew on a sewing machine (simply use a zigzag stitch and a ballpoint needle), and if you do have the luck of owning a serger, they’re super fast to sew, too. They’re widely available online: if you want to be sure of quality, either buy from high-end stores like EmmaOneSock, or choose branded ranges like Art Gallery Knits or Robert Kaufmann.
Knits are often associated with casual garments like t-shirts, but you can also make very professional or even fancy clothes with knits – my sheer overlay polka dot Turner Dress is a great example of an incredibly comfortable dressy knit garment that would fit me over at least 3 sizes.
2. Go for a wrap
If your torso changes size and shape a lot, then buttons and zips are going to be uncomfortable and constricting. But, if you wear a garment that wraps around your body, you simply wrap to fit whatever size you are right now. The most obvious example of this is a wrap dress like the Appleton Dress – I’ve found that women across 3 – 4 sizes can all fit in the same dress (assuming their shoulders are the same size). But there are also other wrap garments, like the Tilly & The Buttons Miette wrap skirt, the Papercut Patterns Coppelia wrap top, and my free pattern hack of the Appleton Top. To add extra “insurance” to your wrap, you can add a little bit of extra length around the body – in the case of the Appleton Dress, simply cut two pieces of the wider side.
Left to right: Cashmerette Appleton Dress, Tilly & The Buttons Miette Skirt, Papercut Patterns Coppelia
3. Add elastic
If you don’t want to wear knits all the time, a great approach with woven garments is to incorporate elastic or shirring. I tend to lose or gain around my waist, so a waistband with some stretch is essential; my free flat-front, elastic-back skirt pattern saves the day on this front, as it has about 5 inches of extra stretch for when I’m a bit bigger (get the free download here). Another really popular pattern with an elastic waistband is the StyleArc Barb Pant; in fact, it’s pretty easy to give any stretch pants an elastic waist – even jeans! – as demonstrated in this tutorial by Gillian. Shirring with elastic thread also gives a lovely amount of “give” in a woven pattern – one classic example is the Washi Dress by Made By Rae which is woven but has elastic shirring at the back.
Left to right: free Cashmerette skirt pattern, StyleArc Barb Pant, Washi Dress
4. Increase your seam allowances
Finally, an approach which involves alterations later on, but can work for many garments: increase your seam allowances. Most patterns have a seam allowance from 3/8″ – 5/8″, which is economical on fabric and fairly easy to sew. However, that means there’s very little wiggle room for making the garment bigger later.
Instead, if you sew with a larger seam allowance (such as 1″), you give yourself the option at a later date to unpick and resew some seams and make the garment bigger. This technique is often used in couture sewing (if a garment is worth thousands of dollars you want it to be alterable!) and in costume departments at theaters who have to adapt the same costume to different bodies. It works best on simple garments without too many seams – ideally, you’ll just be adding at the side seams of the garment.
So there are four tips on how to what to sew when your weight fluctuates, and how to make sure your hand-sewn garments get as much wear as possible over the years. Have you used any of these success fully? And do you have any more to add? I’d love to hear your ideas!