Body positivity is as much a journey as is living in our constantly-changing bodies. Through our lives, all sorts of things change, but we seem to be the most concerned with weight gain and weight loss. This is understandable! Many of us live in societies where our weight determines our value.
Though two sides of the same coin, weight gain tends to strike far more terror into the heart of the average sewer than weight loss, even though they both mean that adjustments are in order. Weight gain is probably the most common reason people stop sewing garments for themselves! It’s also the main reason people give away or throw away handmade garments, avoid photographing newly finished handmade garments, and fear certain silhouettes.
I’m going to share some tips on navigating weight gain from both body positive and sewing perspectives. I will also point out that these tips aren’t just for unplanned weight gain; while searching for body positive weight gain articles I came across ones geared toward people recovering from calorie restrictive eating disorders, and those who are pregnant/trying to conceive. So if you sew and come to a point in your life where you need to gain weight, these tips are for you, too.
The most common tip for sewing for a bigger body is to sew knits. I’ve seen this advice time and again, and it has its merits! But you can’t just make sweatpants and hoodies. Your knits must still be real garments, that really reflect your style and shape. Yes, your shape. Even when you gain weight, you still have one, and your garments need to reflect this.
At 5’9.5″ (175cm), my weight gain has spanned 150 pounds (68 kg), but my shape has never changed. I am a textbook ‘pear’ shape. In other words, my body is proportionally small down to my waist, curves out dramatically at the high hip, full hip, and thigh, and then tapers down to a moderate scale at the knee down to my feet. Keeping with the fruit theme, we move on to the ‘apple’ shape: a body that is proportionally fuller through the neck, upper back, full bust, and belly, tapering to a moderate or small scale from the hips down to the feet. Lastly, there’s the ‘straight’ figure (celery? rhubarb?), where the figure is pretty similar in scale from head to toe, and the full bust/waist/hip measure similarly.
There are, of course, many other body shapes, but these three are common and easy to recognize.
When pears and apples gain weight, it generally goes to the proportionally larger parts of our bodies – so for pears, that’s our hip/butt/thighs; for apples, the neck/upper back/full bust/belly. For straight figures, weight usually packs on around the waist first and then pretty evenly over the whole body after the waist has filled in. Given that fruit shapes tend to have to make adjustments for patterns to fit our bodies in the first place, if we sew well-fitting knit garments at one size they should be forgiving up to a whole size larger, maybe even a size and a half.
But things are tricky for straight shapes, because they are less likely to need to make pattern adjustments and when they gain weight, they’re more likely to need to go up a full size to accommodate it. If you’re a straight shape and you notice your garments getting snug, try sewing your next few makes with wider seam allowances. That way, you can let out the seams as needed. So if tip #1 is sew knit garments, and tip #2 is fit your garments to match your shape, tip #3 is sew wider seam allowances if your shape tends to gain weight evenly over your whole body.
And finally, my favorite way to use knit fabrics to accommodate weight gain is to sew woven garment patterns in knit fabrics. Patterns for woven garments tend to have more ease built in, which means bigger garments. Also, when you sew them up in knit fabrics you often eliminate the need for closures! A nice bonus. You can also add tip #3 to this tip and sew wider seam allowances when using knit fabrics to sew woven garments.
Now, I know I said tip #1 was to sew knit garments, but I only put that tip first because it’s the most common. If you ask me, the biggest, most helpful tip for sewing for a body gaining weight, is the biggest, most helpful tip for anybody sewing for any body: MEASURE. Your body and the flat pattern. You cannot accurately make any kind of adjustment without numbers. Also, when the numbers on the scale go up, the numbers on the measuring tape do not increase at the same rate. I am not a scientist and there is much I don’t understand about body composition and fat distribution. But I can tell you that I’ve gained 10-20 pounds and found my measurements barely changed, but other times an additional 10-20 pounds has meant up to an extra inch in places. Whyyyy? I don’t know. But you know what I do know? That I should measure myself regularly. You should, too!
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Now for body positive tips on living in a larger body: let’s start from where we just were – measurements. Measurements are just numbers, and numbers don’t carry any value judgment. Humans do. When you find the numbers on the scale growing, or you need more of the tape measure to go around your hips, ask yourself why you feel bad about the new numbers. There could be a bigger reason that you can and should address, that has nothing to do with the numbers themselves.
For example, I have a long history of emotional eating. About a year ago, I was going through a rough patch in my life and felt isolated and depressed. I bought a bag of mini candy bars, and sat in bed and ate half the bag. Not long after, I stepped on the scale and saw I’d gained weight. I felt terrible. But when I questioned myself I realized I felt bad because the weight gain reminded me of that sad, lonely night when I tried to accompany and comfort myself with candy bars. I realized I needed to address my isolation, and face the issues that were causing my depression. I released my bad feelings about the weight gain in the process of working through my real issues.
Body positive tip #2 for managing weight gain is to continue to treat yourself well. And if you don’t treat yourself well, start. Self care is not just for non-fat, non-weight gaining people. Self care is for everyone. So your weight has gone up? Keep getting enough sleep. Keep gossiping with your bestie about your favorite reality show. Keep giving and receiving hugs and kisses. Keep splurging on organic eggs. Your weight does not determine your worth and deservability.
Tip #3 is a little less woo-woo than the first two. :) This tip is to own your appearance. If you want to be a certain size and that desire comes from you personally, own it! Models, actors, dancers, and athletes of all levels make a point of maintaining their bodies at a certain size and strength/flexibility/etc so that they can be their best at their craft. But there are other reasons people might have for wanting to keep their bodies at a certain size, and that’s okay. If you are someone who wants to keep their body a certain size and you gain weight, take the necessary steps to lose the weight and maintain yourself at your goal when you reclaim it. But you still need to follow tip #2 – continue to self care and treat yourself well.
Our size and our wardrobes are intertwined such that we express our size through our wardrobes. Clothes are too big or too small? Throw them out or give them away! But this is often more of a symbolic act than one of real generosity. Tip #4 is to not take your size out on your wardrobe. Don’t forbid yourself new clothes because you’ve gained weight. Don’t throw out your ‘skinny’ jeans in an act of sadness over your lost body. Instead, focus on having a wardrobe that fits and expresses you at all times. This way, you can manage your wardrobe in a weight-independent fashion. Whether a move forces you to downsize, your style changes, your clothes wear out from use, etc, you’re never going to keep a garment forever, regardless of what size it is. Make the decision to let go a personally authentic one, instead of a size-based judgment.
Tip #5 on body positive weight gain is kind of woman focused, but: don’t wear old underwear. I know it’s a weird tip, but few things are more depressing than old, broken, bras and underwear. You don’t have to buy lacy new thongs every week! You don’t even have to wear sexy underwear at all – my underthings would make Bridget Jones’ stuff look like Frederick’s of Hollywood. And you don’t have to go pricey! But underthings are a crucial aspect of how you treat your body. They are the first part of every outfit, the closest items to your skin, and completely personal. Having standards here will help you feel more body positive, and will help you navigate your larger body.