Sewing Tips for Gaining Weight

Welcome to a the first in a series of posts about sewing for changing bodies! A few months back, someone suggested we write about sewing for a changing body shape. That could mean gaining or losing weight, fluctuating body size because of health, or pregnancy. Today, we are going to focus on tips for sewing when you are gaining weight, because that is my own personal expertise. I’ve gotten fatter and happier over the 8 years I’ve been sewing my wardrobe, and learned some things in the process!

Gillian stands on her porch wearing navy shorts and a floral tee.

Caveats: My body is mine and I chose to use the words fat and curvy. You can use whatever words you are comfortable with. Please remember that size is not a measure of worth, health, or anything else. It is numbers, and numbers are neutral. Stay nice, as you Sewcialists always do!

I’m a “small fat” person, which means that I can buy clothes in most stores and sew most patterns, but I’m always on the cusp of too big, and sometimes I’m sized out of things I’d like to have. Let me tell you, that feeling sucks, and it is why I was an Editor of the Curvy Sewing Collective before I restarted Sewcialists! I was a size 14 in indie patterns when I joined CSC, but back when sizes usually ended at 16, I already felt large. Cut to 2020, and I’ve gone from a 40/35/45″ in 2012 to 46/41/52″. I now sew a size 20 in indie patterns, and I feel more confident and happy with my body than ever!

A comparison of images from 2012 and 2020. In 2012, Gillian wore a fitted dress with a belt; in 2020, she used the same fabric to make a looser dress with a gathered skirt.
2012 vs 2020: same fabric, different patterns and sizes

Essentially, I’ve gained about 1″ circumference a year, which my doctor says is extremely common. That means that most semi-fitted woven or stable knit garments will fit me for two or maybe three years. Over time, I’ve developed some strategies for making sure that I get the longest wear out of garments before I outgrow them. That’s what I’m going to share with you today!

Gillian wears a rust orange coatigan, a leopard print tank/cami, and dark leggings, all made herself.
I made this outfit 5 years ago, but I can still wear the double knit coatigan, tank and leggings today because they are all stretchy!

1. Sew Stretch!

Did you know that fat spreads more than muscle when we move? When I asked Instagram for input on this post, almost everyone suggested elastic waistbands, stretch wovens and knits! Stretch means your clothes are comfortable throughout the day, and also allows leeway as your size changes.

A trio of images of Gillian in some bright pink leggings, showing different angles of the same outfit.
https://craftingarainbow.com/2018/01/02/im-back-in-the-game-and-wearing-cashmerette-leggings/

2. Add extra length or width to knit garments when possible.

Have you ever noticed that as you gain weight, your underwear don’t come up as high, your t-shirt seems shorter, or your leggings crop up at the ankles? When you are bigger, the fabric stretches horizontally, making it shorter vertically. (Picture what happens when you pull sideways on a rectangle of knit fabric.) I like to add an inch of extra length for insurance so that I can keep wearing the garment at different sizes.

Gillian models another loose dress with short sleeves and a gathered skirt. The skirt comes to just below her knees.
https://craftingarainbow.com/2020/03/04/sew-something-special-february-2020/

3. Leave large seam allowances and consider your construction order.

One obvious strategy is to leave yourself generous seam allowances so that you can go back and alter the garment later. To make that easier, try this tip from a Brooke, a professional costumer: finish the edges of each pattern piece separately, and sew with the seam allowances open. That makes it easy to go back and refit! Megan suggests adding side seams in the waist band so that you can open up the side seams of the leg and waistband together to adjust.

Gillian wears a woven blouse covered in mutli-ethnic print faces. The back view shows that she made a back yoke with gathers underneath.
My shoulders are the first place things get tight when I gain weight, so I added some gathering under the back yoke to give myself extra ease for the future!

4. Add ease where you gain weight.

Many people I asked suggested sewing boxy shapes and loose fitting clothes. If you do like a more fitted or semi-fitted look, plan ahead! Gathering, pleats or a swingy shape can mean the garments looks sharp now but also fits if you get larger.

In an older photo, Gillian wears a wrap dress. She has re-cut the same pattern in her new size to use now!
I was a pattern tester for the Cashemerette Appleton when I wore size 14… now I’ve reprinted it and many other patterns for my current size!

5. Buy patterns that can grow with you.

Here’s a great tip from Jennifer: Choose patterns where you don’t already fall into the largest size. That means you can reprint or retrace as your size changes!

Gillian wears a sleeveless dress with brass buttons all down the front. It's a fitted style that didn't grow with her when her bust grew.
I felt like a bombshell in this Closet Case Patterns Fiona dress… until my bust grew, and then I chopped it up and made it into a skirt!

5. Sew for the body you have!

Sew your precious fabric because there will always be more fabric in your future. If you really love the fabric, consider buying double the amount so you can remake the garment in a few years!

Make fitted garments if that’s what you want to wear, even if they only fit for a year or two. Old fashion rules about “flattering” or “hiding your body” are out; wearing whatever style you want to is in!

In an older photo, Gillian wears a fitted red-white-and-black plaid dress over leggings and boots.
Loved it, wore it tons, gave it away when it got too small!

6. Pass it on to a good home.

I loved this plaid dress… but as my hips and bust got bigger, the hemline rose up and after a couple of years I passed it on to a friend at a clothing swap. I find it much easier to part with beloved clothes when I think someone else will enjoy them. If I really love a fabric, then I’ll refashion it into something I can enjoy.

Gillian wears a crushed velvet dress with an asymmetrical waist tie.
I love this velvet dress, so I enjoy it now without worrying if I will fit it in 3 years.

7. My final tip is: IT’S JUST CLOTHING!

Wear what makes you happy and gives you a spring in your step. If it isn’t fitting right, you won’t feel good. You also won’t feel good if you punish yourself for your size by wearing uncomfortable clothes or things you don’t like. You deserve nice things.

As I said at the beginning, my own experience is of slowly gaining weight each year. However, we would love to hear from people who have different experience of size changes (pregnancy, fluctuations, losing weight etc), and I hope we get some volunteers to write follow up posts!

Please leave your own tip, strategies, comments and thoughts in the comments! We ask that you stay kind to yourself and others.

Gillian is co-founder of the Sewcialists. She loves colourful clothing and cats! She blogs at https://craftingarainbow.com/, and is @craftingarainbow on Instagram.


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