Room to Grow: Sewing Maternity Clothes

I’m expecting my first child (a boy!) in December and I recently decided to try my hand at sewing maternity clothes. Truthfully, I haven’t been too interested in sewing for myself lately. For one thing, baby sewing projects have been a whole lot more fun, and they tend to be much faster. Plus, stretch is the name of the game when your belly is getting bigger by the day, and, admittedly, I don’t really love sewing with knits. But I’ve had a hard time finding maternity clothes that I like and that fit me well, so I decided to set aside my feelings for knits and get to work.

Isabelle maternity nursing top on Hanger

I chose Isabelle Maternity/Nursing Reverse Top pattern by Craftsy designer louloujames as my first maternity sewing project. I liked the pattern because it does double duty: it’s both a maternity and a nursing top. It’s worn with the pleats toward the front during pregnancy, and then flipped around with the zipper toward the front for nursing. There’s even a built-in camisole for a bit of modesty.

I don’t own a serger and I was able to sew the top on my sewing machine. I used a ballpoint needle and played around with some scraps before I began sewing. I found that a narrow zigzag stitch worked well for my fabric; my stitch width was set to 1.5.

Here’s how to sew a maternity top:

Step 1: Attach the camisole neckband.

Pinned neckband

Fold the camisole neckband in half lengthwise. Pin to the camisole, right sides together, matching the center notch and shoulder lines. Stretch the neckband slightly as you pin. Sew a 5/8″ seam allowance.

Note: the pattern calls for a 1/4″ seam allowance, but I wanted the neckband to be much thinner. I also found that sewing with a larger seam allowance along the neckline reduced puckering issues.

Step 2: Hem the camisole.

Zig-zag hem

Turn up the camisole bottom and sew a 1/2″ hem.

Step 3: Make the pleats.

Pleats in Top

Matching the marks, fold the pleats on the lower back toward the center. The folds of the fabric should face toward the side of the shirt. Sew the pleats closed from the mark down to the hem. On the right side of the fabric, topstitch 1/8″ away from the seam, catching the folded fabric on the wrong side.

Step 4: Prepare the zipper facing.

Fusible sheerweight

Fuse the interfacing (I used Pellon Fusible Sheerweight) to the wrong side of the facing. Finish the edges of the facing.

Step 5: Attach the zipper facing.

Zipper facing in shirt

Mark the zipper opening length on the center front using chalk or basting stitches. Make sure you have a straight line, as you’ll be using it as a cutting line. With right sides together, center the facing over the marked line. Sew 1/8″ on either side of the center line marking and across the bottom of the facing.

Step 6: Turn the facing.

Zipper facing

Cut down the center of the stitching line to within 1/4″ of the lower stitching. Cut diagonally into the corners. Turn the facing to the inside and press the seam edges.

Step 7: Sew the shoulder seams.

Shoulder seam

Layer the front and back pieces right sides together, with the camisole in between (the front of the camisole should be facing toward the wrong side of the front piece). Sew a 1/2″ seam across the shoulders.

Note: The pattern calls for attaching the camisole much later by sewing it to the shoulder seam. However, this is pretty impossible at that point in construction because the shoulder seam allowance is stitched down when the neckband is sewn on. You can do as I did and employ a bit of topstitching over the shoulder seam to sew in the camisole after sewing the neckband, but I think it would be easier and look better to add the camisole at this point.

Step 8: Attach the neckband.


Fold the neckband in half lengthwise and pin, right sides together, around the neck. Match the notch at the center back. Sew a 5/8″ seam. (Again, I used a larger seam allowance so I would end up with a smaller neckband).

Step 9: Install the zipper.

Basted zipper

Fold the zipper top edge under and baste in place. Center the zipper under the opening and baste in place. Using your zipper foot, stitch across the zipper end through the facing only. Attach the zipper.

Step 8: Sew the sleeves.

Pinned sleeve

Pin the sleeves to the armholes, right sides together, matching the notch on the sleeve to the shoulder seam. Make sure the camisole front is facing toward the wrong side of the zipper. Sew a 1/2″ seam around the armhole.

Step 11: Sew the side seams.

Pinned side seam

Pin down the side seams from cuff to hem, matching all notches and seams. Sew a 1/2″ seam down the side.

Note: I tried the top on at this point because the sleeves looked huge. Sure enough, although the top was fitting great in the shoulders, my arms were swimming in the sleeves. I took the sleeves in an additional 1 1/2″ and the sides in an additional 1″. Sewing sleeves in flat means it’s easy to make an adjustment like this. After taking the sleeves in, I was much happier with the fit.

Step 12: Hem.

Hemmed sleeve

Turn the sleeve and shirt bottoms up and to the wrong side. Sew a 1″ hem using a double needle.

Tips for maternity sewing:

1. Get over your fear of knits.

A few basic tips and tricks for sewing knits will help. Another option is to take a look at Sewing With Knits with Meg McElwee.

2. Take frequent breaks.

I’ve found that I have a harder time being on my feet for a long period of time than I did before I was pregnant. If you’re cutting out a pattern with a lot of pieces, take a break every half hour or so and put your feet up.

3. Measure twice (or five times), cut once.

Baby brain is, as far as I can tell, a very real thing. For whatever reason, I’ve been making more silly mistakes, and unfortunately, it’s usually when cutting. Not a big deal when I have plenty of leftover fabric, extremely frustrating when I don’t. So measure or double check yourself a couple of times, especially when your fabric is at a premium (or really expensive).

Have you completed any maternity sewing projects? Please share any favorite maternity or nursing sewing patterns in the comments!

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