This is the first part in a three-part series on Post-Partum Sewing. Stick around for tips on planning for sewing after having a baby next week.
A few months before my daughter was born, I chatted with my very accomplished quilter Aunt who set me up with all of the books and material required to make quilted sewing machine covers. In my mind, just after having a baby was the perfect time to learn how to quilt a small project because, obvs, I was not going to sew clothes. I had zero expectation of having time to sew, so I figured I could take my year mat leave to a) get back to my “normal” shape (haha!) and b) very slowly finish a couple of little projects.
I am here to tell you that my logic was 100 per cent wrong and to convince you to not only try to sew clothes post partum, but also implore you to plan to sew a butt-ton of new garments. Or even to learn to sew clothes. Seriously, there has never been a better time.
Here, in list form, is why:
- Your old clothes won’t fit. At least, the probably won’t and for a while. I was determined to be wearing my old shorts by the summer (spoiler alert: they didn’t) so I didn’t plan for any kind of post-partum wardrobe. This means that I wore the same baggy sweatpants and awful walmart jeggings that got me through my first 5 months of pregnancy because I refused to continue to wear maternity pants. When I realized that I wasn’t going to magically and suddenly fit the same clothes anymore, I went to a crappy fast-fashion store and bought a new, awful wardrobe for $200. Of all of these garments, I only really wore two garments, so it ended up being a huge waste of money.
- Shopping will suck. The inconvenience and awkwardness of shopping with an newborn aside, trying on clothes with a body that doesn’t feel like your own is kind of the worst. I remember trying on silhouettes that were previously guaranteed good fits before baby and being so confused when they looked terrible. Regardless of how much weight you gained or didn’t during pregnancy, your body will be different and, for me, it was really hard to rush to try on cheap clothes in poorly lit change rooms in order to make it back home before the baby needed to eat.
- It may save you money. While anyone who has sewn for a while knows that making your own clothes costs more than buying them, I actually found I spent less money on clothes once I started making them. Instead of impulse buying a whole new wardrobe of cheap pieces that I never wore because they fit poorly and were just junky, I sewed a couple pieces that fit my new body and felt like me. Don’t forget that you really don’t need a week’s worth of clothes to get you through. You’re going to be doing laundry almost daily, so you can absolutely get through with two pairs of pants and four tops.
- You will have very specific clothing needs. Motherhood comes with some weirdly specific clothing problems. If you plan on nursing, you need to figure out how you’re going to do it in a way that makes you feel comfortable. I tried a nursing cover once at the doctor’s office and found it so awkward that I never did it again. This meant that I had to figure out what to wear so that I wouldn’t flash the public-at-large whenever my kid was hungry. Dresses were pretty much out of the picture unless they had some kind of button front. Yes, you can buy nursing tops and dresses, but they are expensive and, personally, not at all my style. You may also find that you really enjoy having junior in the carrier and don’t want to pay a zillion dollars for a baby-wearing jacket insert come fall. There are so many baby-wearing patterns and tutorials around and hacking your own isn’t actually too bad.
- You have time. Full disclosure: my baby is a great sleeper and super easy-going, so after the first six-week shitstorm of figuring out feeding, I had a lot of time to sew. I am super fortunate to live in a country where I get a full year of paid maternity leave and in the 11 months I decided to stay home, managed to sew an insane amount of clothing: two cardigans, two jackets, two dresses, seven pairs of undies, and a whopping 15 tops. I also knitted a lot (multiple scarves, hats, headbands, mitts, socks and a whole sweater). I started by committing just 10 minutes per day and actually managed to re-arrange my schedule to get up to 10 hours of sewing in per week. Keep in mind, though, that you should absolutely temper your expectations. If you set out saying “I am going to sew an hour a day,” you’re just setting yourself up for all kinds of bad feelings when your baby is colicky/teething/needy and you can’t get that done. Set the bar really low so that you can feel extra accomplished when you exceed your own expectations.
- It gives you something to talk about. Some people will enjoy hearing about the time that your daughter sneezed spit-up in your face and then peed all over the tent while you wiped vomit our of your month (true story), but not everyone will. And at some point, you won’t really want to talk about your kid all of the time either. I really wanted to make sure I didn’t alienate my friends who didn’t have or like kids, and being able to talk about my outfit or the project I’m currently working on was awesome. It also helped me feel like I hadn’t lost my own sense of self as an individual, separate from my baby.
- It will help you make new friends. I’m not the baby-and-me type and don’t particularly want to only talk about my child, so making sewing friends online and IRL was just what the doctor ordered. In fact, I found that not working outside the home left me with energy enough to actually meet new people and get to be a part of the newly created Ottawa Garment Guild. This is absolutely something I would not have even considered while working.
- It will give you something to accomplish. Yes, you will be exhausted. Yes, you will be busy. But at some point, that kid is going to start napping, or your partner will come home from work, or your mom, or friend will come over to relieve you for a couple of hours and you won’t know what to do with yourself. Once you’ve showered and/or napped, you will have an extra 10 minutes that you could spend scrolling through your phone or you could cut out a raglan sleeve top. It’s shocking how much you can get done in short bursts and how good it feels to actually produce something instead of doing the same four things (feed, diaper, laundry, cuddle) on repeat. Take this opportunity of not having to work to be able to do or learn that thing you always wanted to. Yes, this time off is about your kid, but it can be about you, too.
Over the past weeks, I have had more than one conversation with a girlfriend about having kids and have felt myself coming to champion the “have your cake and eat it, too” mentality when it comes to kids and career. So many of us feel like having a child is going to change us irreversibly (true) and completely (not true). I found that sewing a my clothes helped me feel more like myself less because sewing is a large part of my identity, but more because doing things is part of my identity.
I’m a driven, goal-oriented woman with a calendar and check lists and working toward making a new wardrobe gave me a sense of purpose outside of taking care of my child. Going from being reasonably busy to sitting at home and nursing for literal hours in less than a day is a huge transition. (I didn’t make it to my last day of work, so I went from working and running errands to having an actual baby in my home in less than 24 hours.) It felt weird to only be responsible for feeding myself and my child, which is no mean feat, but, for me, not completely fulfilling. I needed something more.
After a year of a slowed pace, I feel okay going back to work. Not because I need the structure and routine again, or because I feel like I need to contribute anything, but because I feel like my time off was well spent. My daughter and I had tons of time to cuddle and play, we traveled a lot, and I learned and grew a lot, too. I viewed my 11-month parental leave as an opportunity to connect with my new family and do the things I never have time for while working. So do it. That thing you never get to do or the thing you always wanted to learn. It will help you be a better mom.