Mystery Maxi Maternity Dress DIY Tutorial

     Now, what could be better than a jersey, maxi, maternity dress?  Not much, except, oh, y'know, one made from your own measurements!  I am telling you, friends, this dress is the most comfortable thing I own- and that is including my pajamas!  Plus, it looks beautiful and you can wear it to fancy occasions, doing errands or just hanging out around the house.  You could just make a whole bunch of these and not ever need other clothes.  And the cut of the top is perfect for nursing in, so no need to stop wearing it after your amazing little baby is born!  

   "But, wait…" you say.  "I can't just make a dress to my measurements with no pattern.  That is some sort of fancy advanced sewing I don't know how to do."

Wrong!  It's easy!  And I am going to tell you how, and even better I will show you!  I love a blog tutorial with copious amounts of pictures.  You don't know this blogger, you don't know if they have a clue what they are talking about.  Sometimes, the explanations make no sense.  But pictures!  Pictures prove it will work out, pictures explain that tricky step so much more clearly and simply than bloggers ever could.  So get ready friends, because this post has A LOT of pictures.  

     And speaking of this whole not knowing if it will work out… that is exactly why this dress is called the Mystery Maxi Maternity (MMM) Dress.  When I started working I had no idea if what I believed I could do would actually work out, but it did! Magic! Amazing!  So enough messing around, here it is (after the jump)!

Mystery Maxi Maternity Dress Tutorial

Ruler/ measuring tape (I used both!)
Tissue paper
Scotch tape
Jersey Knit Fabric
          - I used two prints, about 3/4 yards for the bodice and 2 yards for the skirt.  You could use all one pattern or even bring in a 3rd for the band around the waist.  Next time I will probably buy 2 1/2 yards of the skirt fabric to have a little more to work with.  But I am tall, and not small, so you may not need as much fabric as I did.  I'd always rather have a little too much than not enough, but then again, I have a fabric hoarding problem.  

1.  Draw a very basic sketch of the dress- this will help you write down all the measurements you need, see the pieces you are going to plan and cut and keep everything you are doing straight in your brain.

The front and back of this dress are the same, so no need for fancy drawing skills!

The bodice is made up of 4 rectangles (but you only have to draw 2!) and the skirt is basically 2 rectangles (but only draw one! And you will see why I say basically in a minute!)

I also drew out each piece individually.  The rectangles for the front and back of the bodice will actually be to slightly different measurements, and the front and back rectangles of the skirt will differ as well, because of that whole big belly thing you have going on these day.

2.  Chase down your tailor.  Convince her to do some measuring, or at least let you borrow the tape measure so you can do some measuring.

Measurements you will need:

a. Around your ribs:
      Divide this number by 4 and you will have the width of each bodice rectangle.

b. Top of your shoulder, over your boobs, to the place where you measured around your ribs (to where your empire waist will be.)
      This will be the length of your two front bodice rectangles.

c. Top of your shoulder, down your back to the place where you measured around your ribs.
      The length of your two back bodice rectangles.

 d. Empire waist-line, over your belly, to your ankles.
       Add 3 or more inches to this measurement to account for the (amazing, belly accenting) ruching we are going to do and you will get the length of your front skirt rectangle.  Remember, you can always cut and hem it shorter, but making it longer would be much more tricky.

e.  Empire waist-line, over your bum, to your ankles.
      The length of your back skirt rectangle. 
f.  Around your natural waist line.
      Divide by 2.
g. Around the widest part of your belly.  A note on this measurement.  Your belly size is going to be changing (and if you are me, your hips too, no matter what those skinny sales ladies in Pea in the Pod say while selling you very expensive maternity jeans.)  Depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy, how long you want to wear this dress, how comfortable you are with showing off the bump with tighter fabric, adjust this measurement to best suit your needs.  But here's the thing, don't stress too much, the fabric is stretchy, that is the beauty of this whole dress- easy, comfortable and cute, regardless of an inch or two here or there. 
       Divide by 2.
h. Around the widest part of your hips.
     Divide by 2.
i.  Length you want the two front bodice pieces sewn together.  This will determine the modesty of your dress and also relate to the ease of nursing if you are choosing to wear this dress as a Mystery Post Partum Maxi Dress.
j. Length you want the two back bodice pieces sewn together.  This went a little higher than the front for me, because I didn't want to have to worry about bra straps showing.
k.  Length you want the front and back bodice pieces to be sewn together (between your armpit and the empire waist.  This will determine modesty and comfort to some extent, but really, we all just want our bras to not show too much and have our arms fit through the sleeve.  Of all the measurements on the dress, this one is the least important.
l.  Length from empire waist to natural waistline.
m.  Length from natural waistline to widest part of belly.
n.  Length from widest part of belly to widest part of hips.  

You are going to use measurements a, f, g and h to sketch out a gently curving "rectangle" for the skirt pieces.  It will be narrowest on the top, curve out to your widest point, back in if you are not shaped like me and your hips are more narrow than your belly, and then finally straight down to the ankles.

3. Create your pattern pieces!  Here is where the tissue paper, tape, pen, ruler and measuring tape really come in handy. 

*****Be sure to add an inch to each measurement when creating these pieces to give yourself a half inch seam allowance on both sides.  *****

The bodice rectangles are easy!  They are really just rectangles and you only need to create two pattern pieces to cut the 4 bodice rectangles from.

Front bodice rectangle:  Measurement a x Measurement b

Back bodice rectangle:  Measurement a x Measurement c

Don't worry about measurements i, j and k  until it is time to sew it all together! 

The skirt rectangles are a little bit trickier, but not so hard, just stay with me here.  

In order to help out symmetry (and save some tissue paper and cutting) I like to make my pattern pieces (for the skirt) to be cut on the fold.

This means take your drawing you just did with your measurements and imagine the dress folded in half, lengthwise.  One edge of the pattern will be straight, it will be placed on the fold of the fabric, and it will go right over your belly button down the middle front of your skirt (or middle back).   This means that measurements f, g and h need to be cut in half again for the pattern piece because the fabric will be twice the width of the pattern piece. 

 If you have enough fabric, you can think about how you want to center your pattern piece to have optimal awesomeness from the print of your fabric.  If not, just fit it on there and your dress will still be awesome, I promise. 

All of the shape of the curve will come from the outside long edge.

     Tape pieces of tissue paper together as needed for length.  If you are using the dollar store tissue paper, you may need to take some together width-wise as well, but that will depend on your measurements and I busted out the good tissue paper to simplify things on this project!  You will need to do this twice - once for the front piece and once for the back.

Front Skirt Rectangle: 

Measure and mark one of the long, straight sides of tissue paper the length of measurement d.

Moving from the top to the bottom of that length, place a mark at each measurement l, m and n.  This will be where you will measure out the width the create the curve that will perfectly flatter your body!

Draw a straight, perpendicular line across from the very top of your measured line the width of measurement a to create the top of your pattern piece that will be the width around your empire waist. 

Draw a perpendicular line at mark l the width of measurement f (divided in half, remember, because this piece is on the fold!)

Draw another perpendicular line at mark m the width of measurement g (divided in half!)  

And one more at mark n the width of measurement h (guess what I'm going to say here?)

Draw a (as) smooth (as you can) curve from the outside edge of the top empire waist width, down to your final width, connecting the ends of all the lines.  This (plus the simple ruching we are going to do) will create the shape and curve that will make your dress cute and so, so, comfy!

And one more line, straight across at the bottom.  There are ways to curve this to make a gentle curve at the ankle of your skirt, if you know how, make that happen (in which case you probably don't need this tutorial...) if not, don't worry!  Just draw (and later cut) straight across, and we will work it all out beautifully at the end with some timely fabric trimming, pressing and hemming. 

Skirt Back Rectangle:

Don't worry! You did all the hard thinking with that last piece!  This piece is going to be done in pretty much the exact same way, the length measurement will just be different.  This time the length will be measurement l.  The widths to determine the curve are exactly the same as the front piece, so just copy whatever you just did.  I know that it seems like more of the width should be on the front at the belly and the butt at the back.  And if this was a more fitted dress, with less stretchy and drapey fabric, that would be true.  Once again, the beauty of the jersey knit!  Your side seams may pull a little to the front or back in your widest areas, but it will all work out perfectly, I promise!

4. Cut out your pattern pieces!  


5.  Place your pattern pieces on the fabric.  Pay attention to any straight sides of skirt pattern pieces that should be placed on the fold!  You can also pay attention right now to how the pattern of the fabric works with the shape of your pattern pieces.  The beauty of tissue paper- you can see through it!  I accidentally centered by skirt fabric pattern beautifully on this pattern.  If you have enough fabric you can try to do this on purpose.  Or you can trust in the magic of the mystery pattern and be shocked at how beautifully it all worked out.  I also purposely placed the bodice pattern pieces at an angle to get the diagonal stripes,  and lined them up with each other, so that the stripes would match up in the front.  

     If you look closely at the picture on the right, you can see one already cut out bodice piece on top of the fabric, this is how I lined the stripes up for my super fancypattern matching! It's very technical. Ha!

6.  Cut out all of the pieces!

7.  Take a break!  If this is your first pregnancy and you can actually work on a project more or less uninterrupted, you deserve a break after all this work.  

If you have a toddler (and working on a project uninterrupted is just a dream of a memory of something you used to do once,) it has probably taken you a few naps/ after bedtimes/ early mornings to get to this point.  You, too, my friend, deserve a break now.  Go find some chocolate you don't have to share, put your feet up and play some Candy Crush.  

8.  Sew the bodice.  

Line up your four rectangles.  

I placed the front bodice pieces down first as they are longer.  Pin them together (right sides together) from the center bottom the length of measurement i.  Open them up so they lie flat. 

      Repeat with the back bodice pieces the length of measurement j.  Open them up and place them face down on top of the front bodice pieces with the bottoms lined up together.  

     Fold over the tops of the front bodice pieces (taller rectangles) and pin the shoulders of the bodice, right sides together, all the way across.  

Pin the side seams from the bottom the length of measurement k. 


Now is where we actually start sewing!  If you have never previously sewn with jersey knit fabric, do not fear!  I do not understand why it has a reputation of being so horrible to work with.  Follow a few simple set up steps and it is easy breezy!  

Check out this post of mine for some tips and tricks.  Or consult our old friend Google.  He will have lots of help for you. 

     With all your settings set, and your ballpoint needle in place, sew together all of the pinned seams for the bodice. 

     Turn it right side out.  Try it on with your yoga pants (PJ pants?) Laugh at yourself for wearing a dress bodice with stretchy pants and your belly hanging out, but also, get excited about how perfectly it fits and how awesome this dress is going to be. 

9. Sew the skirt! 

Place skirt-back face up on your table.  Place skirt-front face down on top of it.  Remember the front will be 3 inches longer.  We are going to take care of this. 

Start to pin the two pieces together at the top, but don't go very far.  Somewhere around the widest part we are going to do some gathering.  Choose a 6 inch segment.  Pin together both skirt pieces at the top of the 6 inches.  Use a pin to mark 3 inches down on the back piece of fabric, and another pin to mark another 3 inches down on the front piece of fabric. 

Gather or pleat the top fabric until the 6 inches marked becomes 3 inches, lining up the two bottom pins.  Using lots of pins will help hold everything nicely in place while you sew.  

     Repeat in the same spot on the other side seam.  Fold in half lining up the gathered segments to make sure your dress will be symmetrical.  

     Finish pinning down both sides the length of the skirt.  Look how cute its going to be!

Loosely pin the skirt to the bodice (inside out so you don't poke yourself too much) and try the dress on.  You want to make sure the gathering is at the right place to give your belly the space it needs and help it look its cutest.   On my first try my ruching was way too low, so until a time when ruching to accent your bum is socially acceptable, I had to redo the gathering to move it way up.  I am so happy I did not skip this trying on step and was able to move it before I had a lot of stretch stitches to rip out. 

Sew straight down both skirt side seams.  Does the bottom of your skirt look a little nuts?  Mine did too!  Don't worry!

Fold the skirt so that the side seams are together, cut a smooth line across the bottom.  Problem solved!

10.  Attach bodice to skirt.  

     Put the bodice, upside down and right side out inside the inside out skirt.  Ok, that sentence was ridiculous, but this is where pictures come in handy!  This way the bottom seam of the bodice will line up with the top seam of the skirt and the right sides will be together.  Start by lining up the side seams of the two pieces and then pin all the way around.  

Sew around the circle.  Turn dress right side out and try on.  There should be no problems now because you already tried it on before you sewed! But changes can always be made.  I decided at this point that the whole thing was a little too big.  I have a tendency to believe patterns are going to be too small, so I cut the fabric big and seam my seams small.  When the pattern is made from my own measurements, this is a ridiculous thing to do, I know, but what can I say?  I did it, so now I had to make everything a little smaller.  Luckily for me, this is pretty much the easiest adjustment to make, just took in all the seams a little bit! 

Here is my belly, looking cute, with a little room left to grow. 

We are almost done friends!  Just a few finishing touches left! 

11.  Hem the bottom of the skirt!  Knit fabric does not fray, so this is not actually necessary, but it gives the skirt a much more finished look.  Because of this not fray-ing thing, though, you do not have to double fold your hem, just fold it once and sew around!

12.  Finish the shoulders!  I chose not to hem the sleeves or neckline because I like the look and drape of the fabric this way, but if you want it hemmed, just fold and top stitch like you did for the bottom of the skirt. 

To gather the shoulder, try on the dress, pinch and wrinkle the shoulder from the neck out until it looks just the way you want it to.  Pin in place.  Try to make the other shoulder look the same.  Don't worry about this being perfect, no one will ever notice! 

Carefully take the dress off.  Stitch across your pinned, gathered shoulder, reversing at the beginning and ends of your stitching to help hold it in place. 

If you don't want to add a waist band, you are done!  Woo hoo!  Celebrate by wearing the dress the rest of the day!


13.  Add waist band.  
Cut a strip of fabric measurement a (either one long piece to go all the way around at the empire waist, or two pieces that are each half of the way around) by a few inches.  The exact width does not really matter and is all about your personal preference.  Just remember to add half an inch so you can fold over and finish the edges.  
For this strip you can use a 3rd contrasting fabric or either of the two fabrics you have used for your dress.  I cut mine from the skirt fabric, but with the pattern running in the other direction.  
To attach the waist band you will need to use one of your fancy stitch settings that crosses from side to side.  Jersey knit fabric is heavy, and if you use a simple straight stitch it will hang down on top and look funky and sloppy and you will not be happy after all this work. 

Fold, press and pin all edges of this long strip.  Pin in place around the dress.  When sewing, put the edge of the piece right down the middle of your presser foot and stitch over the top.  This will attach the strip securely and make everything flat and beautiful.  This would be a great place to add some contrasting thread color for a little pop of something special.  Or use matching thread.  Or plain white like I did.  Totally up to you, this is your dress, after all!

I used a straight stitch for sewing down the short edges of the waist band  at the side seams.  Does it look beautiful?  Not so much.  But if anyone really wants to spend that much time looking at my armpit, I guess they will get to see my lazy, messy stitch mess.  And I will show it to you, too, and you don't even have to stare at my arm pit like a weirdo. 

Using the same stitch I used around would have been better, but sometimes you are just ready to be done. 

And speaking of... you are done!  Woo hoo!!  Celebrate by wearing the dress the rest of the day! 

Now you get to be comfy and look cute no matter what you and that belly of yours have planned. 

Thank you for sticking with me through all of that!  It seems like lots of steps, but now you know it is actually pretty easy!  Let me know what you think about this tutorial and if you make your own, I would LOVE to see pictures!  Leave me links to your own blog posts or if you Instagram, tag me (@gracefunlittlethings) and use #mmmdress so I can check them out!  

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