Modest Sewing for Plus Sizes

I used to wear a size four. That was a while ago. While I haven’t had to move to the upper teens in size, I have sympathy for my friends who find that advancing years have meant advancing waistlines. I say it’s a natural process, that our bodies get smarter about not wasting all those useful calories by running them off. That’s my rationalization, and I’m sticking to it.

While culture pushes us to look like pubescent girls or stick insects, men may not find that very attractive. Husbands in their honest moments may even complain if their wives have lost too much weight. They may like a certain roundedness to the womanly figure. My husband does. I was a runner when he started dating me, but aging and lack of time to run mean I’m back to my old seminary weight. I don’t like it, but he appreciates it. So I’ve come to accept it.

Dressing Plain means I don’t have to worry about tummies and soft padding. It pretty much gets covered up. I’m wearing clothes that allow me to move, work, lean over, stretch and reach without showing what doesn’t need to be shown.

But if you have gone past the point where off-the-rack fits well, and you have to hunt out speciality stores for your sizes if you want anything of quality, it may be time to get out the old sewing machine and oil it.

The following measurements refer to American sizing and inches.

Friends Patterns ( has sizes up to XXL, with a waist measurement of 34 and a bust of 48. Three of their patterns come in the largest size, the Ohio three-piece dress, the contemporary Plain dress, and the women’s jumper. I would recommend scaling the patterns to fit best, in case you aren’t tall as well as plus size.

Folkwear Patterns ( are sized for women up to 16, which I don’t find particularly “plus.” But some patterns are sized for men as well, like the Black Forest Smock, up to a chest size of 44.  Made in a dress length, it would be modest, and attractive. The English Smock has nice detailing on the front.

Candle on the Hill ( offers a Kwik Sew button front dress in sizes to 4X (bust 47, waist 49). It is very modest and something beyond the a-line jumper so common in plus size patterns. They have a good variety of different patterns. Their Simply Modest Dress and Country Cape dresses are sized up to XXL, and work well for Plain women. The Jewel’s Apron pattern goes to XL, waist 47.

Sewgrand patterns ( , while not specifically a modest dress company, does have some lovely and modest patterns. They have sizes up to 26, bust 50 and waist 42. They have a full range of modest clothing – tops, skirts, dresses, pants and a raincoat. They seem to really understand how to fit a plus size woman. I have never ordered from them; if anyone has any experience with them, please add a comment. They are a Canadian company.

Some commercial patterns (Simplicity, Butterick, McCall`s) are scaled to plus sizes, but it takes a bit of hunting amongst them to see what will work.

Unless you want to wear just caftans and muu-muus, I recommend that you borrow a book on fitting a pattern from the library, have a good friend help with your measurements, and most importantly, take  your time sewing. You can try pinning the pattern pieces on what you are wearing, if you have an extra pair of trusty hands, or pin the pieces onto a dress you know fits. This can help you decide where things need to be modified.

I think plus size women often get discouraged about their clothing. Don`t be! No one has the perfect figure without a lot of life-threatening, expensive surgery, and whose idea was it that there had to be some ideal – not yours or mine!

Time to Write

I’m going to take a brief hiatus from the blog, probably a week or so. I want to do some indepth thought and reading on a couple of subjects that are a little deeper intellectually than what I have been doing. I like the kind of post I have been writing, and the responses to it – but I need to shift gears and flex my heavy-lifting theological muscles as well. Not that there isn’t plenty of theology in daily life!

My online time is very limited right now, for various reasons. I know that I am in entering another transition; that things will change in the next few weeks – I know this through the Spirit, and I hope I am hearing His voice in it.

Among the topics I would like to explore is hospitality in mainline churches (especially Anglican) and the profound stillness of God. The recent readings in the lectionary on Elijah got me thinking about that. I heard an online sermon that so missed the point about listening for God, that what Elijah encountered in the profound stillness on the mountain was a voice inside himself. That has troubled and disturbed my spirit. There is a whole book around that.

As well, I would like to do more reading and reflection on the creation spirituality of women. How do we articulate what we are to the rest of the world?

I hold you all in prayer; those who have my email address can find me there, and for those who don’t, there is facebook – a little work will find me.

God’s blessings to thee!

Capes and Winter Coats – Making Your Own

“What do the Amish wear in the winter?” asked a friend a while ago. Traditionally, the women wear a cape, men wear wool jackets. Mennonites I know wear everything from plain black coats to parkas. Staying warm is what’s important.

Friends Patterns ( has the Amish Mandlie or Mantle cape pattern. It has a short overcape. They also have a pattern for a Jennifer coat, a simple, a-line coat to go over dresses, which can be made long or short. I find it hard to drive in a cape, so I prefer a coat when we have to go somewhere by vehicle, since I do the driving now.

I love capes. I packed mine with my now-disappeared vestments. I plan to make a new one, but what I really want is the Kinsale cloak from Folkwear Patterns ( It’s a full, hooded Irish cape. I wear a cape because I am walking somewhere, and I want extra fabric over a cape dress or a coat, a hood that will cover a bonnet, and enough length to cover to the ankles. I carry things under the cape – handbag, shopping bags, even a backpack. (Looks a bit odd, but very effective.)

Costume cape patterns are not meant to be lined with anything heavy, and you will need a good wool, quilted or flannel lining in a cape you wear outdoors. My last cape was black wool, lined with wool in the front and flannel in the back, to save some weight. It had a velveteen lined hood and a pewter clasp. I wore it at seminary, at burials, and in the cathedral in the winter if we had long meetings there. (Which got me a mild reprimand from the bishop, who said that “some” thought it “too ecclesial in appearance.” I said, “It’s what I wear in the winter.” Do you think I cared if someone thought it looked like a cope? It’s black! Besides, I could pull it around me and close my eyes, with my head pillowed back on the wall against the hood. Just meditating, of course.) In really cold weather, in unheated bedrooms, we slept with the cape as a top blanket.

I don’t think commercial coat patterns are big enough to go over all the layers we Plain women wear. They tend to be fitted through the torso, or have lapels, or fancy pocket designs. the witner coat I wear now is an old wool one, bought when I was first ordained, single breasted, with a small collar. It’s starting to show its years, though. I hope one more winter…

Plain Sewing for Men

I haven’t had to sew for Nicholas. He is quite satisfied with jeans, blue and black, and simple shirts. Almost everything he has was bought at thrift stores. That it was really cheap and it fits him is what he likes the best about it. He never wears a sports coat or a suit, and the last tie he had was used to wrap up an old futon going to the tip. The only sewing I do for him is mending – buttons, rips, and remaking a pair of stretched out braces. (I intend to make a good pair as soon as I can find all the necessary hardware.)

But what if you want to make some traditional, or simply styled men’s clothing? Maybe you are a wife or mother sewing for the men, or a man who wants to run up some inexpensive clothes for himself. (I come from a family where the men knew how to use a sewing machine – and a good skill it is!)

The best choice is Friends Patterns ( for a range of Plain garments. They have patterns for broadfall trousers, fly front pants, a vest, a Hutterite cap (usually worn by boys), a placket shirt, a more traditional “coat” shirt (like a dress shirt), a Wamus dress jacket, a Mutze frock coat and work clothes like overalls, coveralls, and a farm jacket. This covers just about every need a Plain man should have. They also have boys’ sizes. My experience is that their patterns are high quality and meant to hold up for years. If your man doesn’t change sizes much, you may be set for life.

Candle on the Hill ( carries boys’ patterns for simple, modest clothing. They have a few Friend’s Patterns in stock.

Folkwear Patterns(  has a a number of men’s styles that might be adaptable to Plain life: The Drover’s Coat 9137; various ethnic shirts (212 frontier shirts, 102 cheesemaker’s smock, 116 Shirts of Russia and Ukraine, 221 English smock, 148 Black Forest Smock, 202 Victorian shirt, 204 boatman’s shirt) and a “vintage vest” pattern, 222. Some big fabric stores carry Folkwear patterns, but I would expect to have to mail order them.

For those who don’t want to mail order patterns, although I believe the Friend’s patterns are worth the effort, there are some commercial patterns that can be adapted. Butterick has two costume patterns that might be adapted for shirts and jackets, 4486, which is a laced placket shirt – the lacing could be removed and buttons used; and 3072, a pattern I have used to make a Swedish men’s costume. It has a placket shirt, a vest and a frock coat of Colonial style, along with knee pants. Please note that most men’s costume patterns have pull-on, elastic waist pants – meant for an evening of dress-up, not all day use. You will either have to add a fly front or have a very disgruntled man on your hands. I’d just give the costume pants a bye, or use them for pajama pants. (Even then, men want a fly front.)

McCall’s has some patterns that might be useful. There’s a simple buttoned vest pattern (8285, for men and women.) Under costumes, there is a pirate’s costume that includes a laced placket shirt and a very simple vest. Again, forget the trousers. But for a more formal but Plain suit that would not require a tie, I like the look of the Civil War uniform, 4745. There is a single-breasted tunic jacket and button fly trousers that are more than basic costume pieces. Made in black or dark grey, with plain buttons, it would be nice for a wedding or Sunday, without looking costumey or like a uniform.

Simplicity  has some useful men’s and boys’ patterns. Pattern 2741 is a simple shirt and vest, also sized for women. For the rugged fella, there’s a husky/big and tall pattern for men and boys for shirts and vests (4975). If you are inclined to make trousers, Simplicity has 4760, shirts and pants for men and boys. One (7030) includes a shirt, vest and suspenders (braces) sized for men and boys. In costumes, Simplicity has a men’s caped coat (2517) which may not look so Plain, but is very practical – the cape sheds water and keeps the coat from getting soaked. Make it in wool. I like the looks of 2895, a Western style pattern, to make a frock coat, shirt and vest in men’s sizes. If a man wanted a more medieval or peasant type shirt for comfort, there’s 3519, which has dropped shoulders and a placket front.

Men’s clothing may take a little longer to make because of all the fitting, but it is worth the effort, considering that men wear their clothes for years. My grandmother made pants, shirts and suits for men all her life; my grandfather and uncle were quite well-dressed! And I wonder if some of their Pendleton wool shirts, made by Nana, are still being worn!

Friday, Food Waste

I did something really stupid – a real beginner’s stupid thing – and put eggs on the top shelf of the refrigerator. Six of them froze. I boiled them and chopped them for eggs salad, but they were too tough for human consumption, so they supplemented the dogs’ ration, and were much appreciated. Leftover salad got eaten (by me) and cold take-away pizza got reheated for supper last night, with a pasta and fresh herb side and more salad. I love salad – if I lived alone I would eat salads twice a day, with cold meat or shrimp and some cheese. Breakfast used to be whole-grain bread with goat cheese and soem fruit, and the rest of the meals were salads or a bit of pasta with the salad. I was quite thin, too. If I tried that now, there would definitely be a rebellion.

An onion went bad in the five pound bag, and I suspect there may be another one. It’s the time of the year when everything wants to sprout. I’ve got a chunk of fresh ginger to either use or plant soon.

I’ve got a few things in the big freezer, mostly chicken and pork, and a packet of hamburger rolls to use. I hope to get through all that this coming week.