Dress Diary: Mardi Gras Italian – Mistakes were made

Sorry it’s been a while – war got crazy, my husband’s grandmother passed away in the middle of it, and I’ve been trapped in the whirlwind of all the stuff that has to get done for the end of the reign. Coronation is in four days, and one of my best friends is being elevated to the Order of the Pelican at it…and she was announced three days ago. Wow. Coronation is fancy anyway, but now that there’s a good chance I’ll be processing in for the Elevation, I’d better make sure to look my best! That means fixing some things on the purple Italian gown. Forgive my super special bed head hair and mirror shots.

Bad Italian 1

Wearing it at war was frustrating and kind of disappointing. I beat myself up for being a bad costumer because I made a couple of errors in construction that are messing with the fit. For one, I forgot to leave a slit in the waistband where the dress laces, so it’s pretty snug and hard to get in and out of. Another problem is the sleeves. They’re so silky and long that they just wind up bagging weirdly and hanging too low on the arm. I think I made it about half an hour in them before I untied them and tossed them back into the tent. The plan is to add more ties and lacing rings for securing them on the upper arm. Maybe a few box pleats to take up extra length if it won’t ruin the look of the ribbon stripes…

The last thing is that I changed the way I assemble the bodices on these to make the shoulder straps lie better. Previously, they were the last thing to be sewn and had to be done by hand, turning their edges in on themselves, inserting one into the other. It has a lot of extra fabric bulk in there, and I don’t like the way it looks to so clearly have the straps nested. Now, I sew them together early on, they look perfect, and the fiddly bit of final hand-sewing gets to happen in a more discrete spot against the ribs. However, I haven’t adjusted my pattern any to see if the new construction method changed anything. I didn’t even think to do it.

Bad Italian 2

The result is a dress that fits well through the lower part of the torso, then gaps and sags through the top half. Tying on sleeves pulls the shoulders right off and down the arm. The nice, rounded bustline that’s a hallmark of these gowns is lost in a boxy mess of extra fabric. The back is just as bad as the front. I hadn’t made time to put on the whole ensemble before we left, and I was so sad to spend the afternoon constantly trying to tug and adjust the thing into submission.

I spent some time looking at costuming blogs with Italian dress diaries and tutorials, desperately hoping to see some brilliant explanation of what I did wrong, how to draft a bodice pattern more correctly, or even just a post on how to fix what went wrong on your rushed novice sewing job.

I found none of those things. What I did see is that these people whose work I so admire make a lot of mistakes, just like me. Mistakes in fitting are an unavoidable part of sewing, and a necessary part of advancing your skills. These other costumers put on the sad dress, play with it and pin stuff until it looks right, fix it, and fix the pattern. What makes them better is their perseverance. I’m stubborn. I can persevere. I was even prepared to totally disassemble this thing to make minor improvements if it would help everything that comes after fit like a dream.

Turned out all I had to do was take a couple of inches out of the shoulder!  It seemed too simple to work, but taking that in seemed like a good way to get a clearer picture of the kind of armscye reshaping I was sure was going to have to be done. I was shocked to see the difference such a small adjustment made! I’m glad this is an easy fix that makes a monster difference. The waistband will not be an easy fix…

Fixed Italian

Dress Diary: Mardi Gras Italian – Putting It All Together

The basic pieces of the dress are done: the underskirt is all pinned into the completed skirt, the bodice is all ready with the waist seam allowance ironed under, and to have a wearable thing, I just need to attach them. If you are doing attached sleeves, attach them to the bodice before you sew the pieces together. I’m doing tie on sleeves because they’re period, and I hate sewing sleeves. Plus, I just have to make one really fancy reversible pair to be forever a Super Fancy Lady. I had wanted to do obnoxious shoulder loopy things, but this is war sewing, and I am already behind schedule.

Before you attach the skirt and bodice, put on the bodice and tug it roughly into the right place, then put on the skirt and check yourself out in the mirror. This is your last chance to easily add or remove any details, like ribbons or edgings. The pieces are really easy to work with separately, and kind of like wrestling a drunken octopus once you’ve put them together. Make sure your look is balanced and that any design choices you made look balanced on YOUR body. If you’re busty, pin those bodice details on and check them before you sew them down since that’s the biggest culprit for things on paintings of Italian dresses that inadvertently make you look weird in real life. (Ok, holding the severed head of John the Baptist would make you look weirder, but badly placed velvet boob rectangles are a close second.)

In my case, I took off the gold ribbons I had planned to run up the front of the purple split front and up the bodice. They weren’t very visible from a distance because it was shiny on shiny, it looked a little off balance over my bust without also having the neckline edged in the same ribbon (oh HELL no not doing that at this point) and sewing them was going to add more time than is worth it for a detail that doesn’t make much impact.

Pro tips for attaching skirt to bodice (you’re almost finished!!!):

pleats

1. Change to a heavy duty needle and some serious business thread before you sew through layers of pleats and bodice and linings since it’s easy to have MANY layers of fabric in there. Machine quilting thread or upholstery thread isn’t a bad idea.

For example, where the line goes through this, there are 8 layers of pleat to go through, plus 2 for the bodice, which is ten. Only those raw edges have been serged at the edge and folded in to reduce satin’s notorious fraying. It’s a very, very thin fabric, so the machine will do it, but the actual count on layers at the thickest points is 26, including the ribbon that the skirt is anchored to. My pleats are positioned so that’s kept to a minimum (more like 20), but this is a sewing expedition your machine should be equipped for. This is an extreme number of layers, and my simple linen Italian working class dresses are maybe 8-10 layers.

2. Sew slowly and patiently so you don’t break a bunch of needles in the process or do a bad thing to the innards of your sewing machine. This is like driving up the mountain in second gear. It’s why after breaking a couple of the under-$100 machines doing mighty sewing, I saved up some and sought out a used machine with metal gears instead of plastic. And I learned to slow down and use the right thing for the job.

3. This is often a place where pins don’t really work for holding everything in place. There’s too much fabric, so they warp and bend and can easily cause problems with the seam laying right when you’re done. It’s easier to be patient and hold things where you want them with your fingers, bit by bit. When I was sewing these together, I needed a couple of pins to get it started, and even then had to be careful about them making everything lie awkwardly.

4. Absolutely take the time to turn under the raw edges at the bottom of your bodice and iron them towards the inside with a generous seam allowance before you start. That way you KNOW the waist will look nice and straight, and there’s a lot less effort when you’re actually sewing them skirt into it. You can just sew the skirt to the bodice without turning, but it creates a big, bulky ridge of skirt that is now pointing perpendicularly at your belly. You’ll wind up having to fix that with top stitching, which is quick. However, it never ever looks as good as it would have if you’d spent five minutes with an iron.

 

Dress Diary: Mardi Gras Italian Skirt

photo 2-fixedThe skirt was just going to be a simple knife pleated affair with the rest of the purple fabric. There’s a lot of this fabric, and it’s too tall to just run around with one selvage in the bodice and one as the hem. So once I cut it down and sewed the pieces together, I wound up with five yards of skirt. Clearly, I’m a very fancy lady of means. *hair toss*

THESE THINGS HAPPEN WHEN YOU’RE NATURALLY JUST FABULOUS, OK? Ok.

This is not my first pleating rodeo. I have learned hard, sad lessons. Measure a sturdy piece of 1″ grosgrain ribbon the same circumference as your bodice. Mark the halfway point on your ribbon and pin the halfway point of your skirt to this spot. Now you start pinning your pleats to the ribbon. It’s a stable method of attaching them and inserting them into the bodice. It also makes it really easy to adjust how big they are or how they’re spaced because you’ll know if there’s an issue before you get to the end of the skirt. It’s easy to hold up your ribbon and make sure you like how the pleats fall on your body, too. It usually takes me more than one try to get the pleats right, and this time, I got all five yards just perfect on the second try.

f8bd2363dfd181860a1903a8b0ec1aef

See this fancy lady? Those dark stripes are called guards, and they’re usually velvet. Velvet is expensive and evil and requires handwork to look right. One day I will buy velvet, make strips and lovingly stitch them on with my hands. Today is not that day. I had intended to do satin ribbon stripes, but then I did all the pleating without thinking about that part. Italian skirts are rectangles, so adding these stripes is absurdly easy, IF you remember to do it BEFORE you pleat anything. I never remember. The guards are actually helpful in weighing the skirts down, giving nice drape, and in being some fabric reinforcement in the bodice over where you put your lacing rings. A big solid one at the bottom is an easy way to either fix where you didn’t have enough fabric to make the skirt full enough and long enough or to refresh old dresses whose hems have spent too much time on the ground.

I resigned myself to a plain skirt and a plan to tie on some existing gold sleeves to make the thing all Mardi Gras. But then I remembered some cream polysilk embroidered with gold fleurs-des-lys that I had in the stash. The drape is horrid, there’s only enough for half a skirt (or sleeves?), and ohmywordy’all – now it’s a split front Italian with a fancy underskirt with bands of gold satin ribbons carefully placed between the rows of fleurs. Woo! Maybe it’s wrong to put such a French motif on an Italian dress, but I don’t really care. It’s going to be pretty, and I’m finally using up a bunch of stash yardage.

dee35379890cbbd79d4f2d69cd3b65d1

I’ve decided to run the gold ribbon up the split edges of the skirt and up the bodice. Here are a couple of paintings* from the first half of the 16th century showing two common treatments with a split bodice and a split skirt edged in contrasting fabric. Googling Renaissance portraits of Italian women will show you every variation on this you can think of. Anything I do is arguably “correct 16th c. Italian”. Whether the effect is worth the effort is the main question. And the fact of the matter is that I had planned to knock out a dress in maybe a maximum of three hours, but this plan is deteriorating rapidly (we’re well past the three hour mark) in the face of all the cool stuff I could do to make this the fanciest of all the dresses.

471bfb8f592f2d09c08db5ccfea8a88a

Bottom line – I need to tie more green into the dress for it to be properly Mardi Gras. Adding green velveteen ribbon strips into the mix is an option, but I think too many ribbons will do unflattering things over the bodice. Or worse, I’ll wind up looking weirdly like 70’s supergraphics paint effects have taken possession of me. My guess is that it would all together wind up being a solid band of alternating gold and green vertical stripes 6″ wide across the whole bodice. I’m a big, curvy girl and can pull off some bold things, but that might be too much for anyone to pull off. I certainly don’t see any examples of a chest full of crazy ribbons in paintings.

I think keeping the vertical ribbons simple and working the green into the sleeves and maybe a necklace is probably the best and easiest way to manage my time and up the Mardi Gras factor.

*The lady in gold and red is Raffaelo Sanzi, c1505: Lady with a Unicorn. The lady in all green is an unknown Venetian from around 1520.Plus there’s the part where I’m lazy and don’t want to hand-sew on or carefully line up

Dress Diary: Mardi Gras Italian Bodice

photo 1

With all the travel I’ve been doing for the current reign, a trip abroad and a cross-country move in the summer, and the general instability of not knowing when I’ll get a job in Savannah, we’re trying to be really smart with money. So war sewing is almost entirely from old bits of things in the stash. Maybe the yardages are weird. Mostly, they’re fabrics that are pretty but made from dead dinosaurs, purchased at breath-taking discounts when I started playing and knew less than I do now.

There are some rolls of fabric in the back of the studio closet, and one of them is a beautiful polysilk dupioni satin bought the week after my first event. It’s heavy, drapes beautifully, and the wrong side of it has just the right texture and sheen amount to be almost indistinguishable from real silk. Better still, it’s a shade of purple that I KNOW I can get with natural dyes in a couple of different ways. The photos below are a true representation of the color. It’s perfect for an Italian (my pattern is at the bottom of this post). And a nice Florentine dress is perfect for war sewing because it’s fast and really flexible and forgiving on how much yardage you have to work with. I planned to whip something out in an evening, trim it with some gold ribbon I have left over from the wedding, and move on to even more sewing.

photo 3

HA! A friend is making a purple and gold entari, some jokes about making Mardi Gras garb ensued, and now it’s become A Thing Which Is Happening For War. I modified the bodice pattern to add some fabric around the inside of the neck opening a little so there’s less chance of bra straps showing and more room and stability to tie on sleeves.

photo 2

 

photo 4And – a totally new thing for me – I decided to use the lightweight interfacing I have in my stash for some reason. The gold one I did is lined in a really heavy fabric, and I love how secure it is and how much it allows me to have the right shaping and smoothness I see in portraits. The more experience I get, the more I find that there’s a good reason people tell you to do things, like use similar fabric weights together, or take the time to line garments, or to pick the right needle, thread, and stitch for the fabric and seam type.

So the interfacing is an experiment. The internet made it seem like it might be a good idea, and looking at the layers inside the bodice of my wedding gown backed up that guess. A Laurel I trust said I probably wouldn’t like it and that a heavier lining would be a better choice. I’d already fused it on by the time she said that, so now it’s going to get field tested!

It’s a fusible interfacing, so you just put down a damp cloth and iron that sucker in place. A previous experience with Heat n’ Bond has made me wary of things that fuse with irons not holding up to the first washing. I’m really scared it’s going to unstick and get all bunchy and awful inside the bodice.  Let’s hope it stays put…

Put up or shut up

8fd81a4380630c7ca796ff1be6725b98I can complain all I want about the lack of Burgundian out there in the wild, but I have to be the change I want to see in the world. Now, I think I know how… I’m going to make a Burgundian for war. A practical Burgundian, if you will. I have the pieces for it, I have a fitted dress pattern that works, I just have to pull it all together. I believe that it MUST be possible since I’ve seen photos of them on actual humans who do reenactment in Europe. Pray to the costuming gods for me, ok? I may be doing a horrible thing that will result in me having insufficient clothes to make it through the war. What I really want is Miss Isabella of Portugal over there with her ridiculous Hat of Glory and embroidered goldwork under dress and bejewelled everything. What I’m shooting for is maybe not looking like I tried to make a bathrobe out of some curtains, belted it, and passed it off as a dress. It’s good to have reasonable goals.

A costuming Laurel helped me troubleshoot my cotehardie pattern a couple of weekends ago at Kingdom A&S. This happens to be a Laurel who has gorgeous clothes and is the only person I’ve seen wearing anything from the era of Burgundian gowns. She casually was talking about the layers of under-things, construction options, and how they work really well as maternity and nursing gear if you make them the period way (i.e. laced at the front or sides). I already knew that part from some effigy portraits and a little bit of thinking through how much time you spend pregnant or nursing if you don’t have birth control and only some of your children will make it through to adulthood. That fitted clothing is fitted because it’s laced tight or belted, not because the patterning is absurdly precise and complex.

She says that once you get a kirtle pattern that really fits you well and make it up in a couple of layers of fabric that is of a sturdy, fine weave with no give on the grain (think shirting or high thread count sheets), it can serve as a basis for just about anything if you add a little extra room to let it skim over your layers. You know, like her Burgundian stuff. And with the neckline like that, you can just kind of pull in a shoulder, wiggle it down a little, and have easy access for nursing. I stood there gawping like an idiot for a second. Everything started clicking into place in my head for how the shapes work, how the clothes work, and how the ability to make a few styles of dress with similar fit characteristics from one core pattern makes the most sense of all. Occam’s Razor applies to dresses, apparently… I’m trying not to feel dumb about it.

pointy-shoes-medieval

I’ve had some discount fabric slated for something along these lines for some time now. It’s blue and gold with diamonds and quatrefoil flowers inside each. I think I have about 8 yards of it at 60″ wide. Not exactly drapey, but not as stiff as most brocade woven decorating fabric tends to be. I think this will be the perfect experiment since I’ve held onto it for a few years now and haven’t used it, plus it was cheap and is synthetic, so I’m not holding it dear like I would silk or velvet or something pricey. My original intent was a houppelande, but in all my research, I wind up really disliking the ones people do out of poly decor fabrics because the drape isn’t there, even on the bias. It takes all the grace out of the thing and makes people look really bulky. I still want one, but it’s worth finding a nice wool gab or light suiting on sale. Back on topic… The train on this particular example is absurd, mostly because I need clothes to go to Gulf War. And also because I do not have a handy manservant to tote my dress around. A wedding dress with a train was bad enough to manage around other people, so I can’t imagine what to do with 15 feet of train while camping.

The absolute worst case scenario is that I’m pretty sure I could pull off something like this from Christine de Pisan, which is still 15th century, but less of a departure from the basic shape of a cotehardie. Plus, it has flappy sleeves! They could be lined in something obnoxious and fancy, which I’m all about. Plus, I could wear it over existing stuff when it gets chilly at night or for court.

a437d69efdd412af66723aa90f31c380

Burgundian – why doesn’t anyone around here wear it?

77165_131145276943915_3752366_n

For the number of manuscripts and portraits out there featuring Burgundian gowns, it always surprises me that I see so few of them on people at events. They have the princess hats, they’re kind of the official mental picture of what medieval ladies wore, and they seem like they shouldn’t be that hard to put together. Maybe it’s just Ansteorra and our logical objections to wearing so many layers.

Maybe there’s a big secret I don’t know about why they’re awful – a friend did suggest that nobody wears them because they’re tied up with the post-plague aesthetic for making sure women look like they could be pregnant. However, people wear bliaut dresses with the belts doubled over, and that definitely makes all but the very thinnest among us look pregnant. My best guess is that we’re not entirely sure how they go together, so wearing them is fraught with “I’m doing it wrong and look dumb” anxiety. I get that – I look pretty dumb in this picture, but it’s from my first year, and people let me slide a lot on things. Although, that hennin is made with an Ikea lampshade, and some women were just thrilled with it. I felt good at the time, but now I’m embarrassed by it.

Fabric is a big deal when it comes to the 15th century. It looks like people live in clouds of fabric and have dresses so long you wonder how they walk anywhere. Maybe people get intimidated by the fact that fabric drape matters an awful lot for something like this and it’s a higher yardage count than many other styles of dress. Why does it matter so much? Just check out this picture of me in a hand-me-down Burgundian… It’s upholstery fabric, which has no real drape, so it creates unnecessary bulk. I’m cool with looking a little bit pregnant, but I’m not ok with looking like a circus tent. In all fairness, I’m not wearing the right stuff under it, I used the wrong thing for lacing rings, and they all popped open and ran away by the end of the night, and I think the belt would have helped a little. But… This would have worked far better in a nice mid-weight wool that could gather and drape without being bulky. The wisdom of experience!

These questions bother me a lot because it’s the style I’m most drawn to when I look through art. I really love the idea of pursuing a full wardrobe and set of skills for the time and place of my persona, but I don’t do that because I get daunted by making Burgundian gowns. Same goes for houppelandes for almost the exact same reason. Nobody wants to splurge on fabric when they’re reasonably sure they’re going to wind up not looking as good as they could have if they’d stuck with something simpler.

N8470041_JPEG_25_25DM - cropToday, I found this tree full of people, and it made me notice some things that would remove some barriers that keep people from making the gowns – namely the one where the materials used are silk and velvet and fur. Just look at the variety in this tree full of women dressed in the Burgundian style (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Français 202, fol. 9r). There are six hat styles, two varieties of dresses, and some interesting details re: the dress linings, collars, and the triangle parts across the bust. A couple look to be lined in fur, a couple in a contrasting fabric. Some have the plain black placket across the bust, but one has a red one with gold spiral lacing across it. Some backs look to be scooped lower than others.

Cursory research will show you a lot of conflict over each of these details, and while each argument has merit, I think they make for a lot of unnecessary worry about making the dress. While there are plenty of examples of these dresses being absurdly luxurious (heavy silk lined entirely in fur!), we have plenty more examples of them being worn by women of all social classes with a fair bit of variety. A placket pinned across the bust would account for all of those nearly identical necklines, but so would a dress underneath (ah, the kirtle… you make everything make sense).

It’s a dress that evolved from the houppelande, and you need to understand that for things to start clicking and stop worrying. What I’m talking about here is making clothes to wear, not making them for A&S projects. You’re on your own for A&S, kids. You should read Mistress Mathilde Bourette’s amazing presentation, Discovering the 15th Century V-Neck Gown: The Sexiest Bathrobe You’ll Ever Wear. She takes a lot of the mystery out of construction, has a ton of pictures, and is funny.

Having read through that, I feel like I could make myself a nice gown in something like wool, line it in a nice, heavy linen, and try starting out wearing 15th century styles for cooler weather or indoor events. They’re dramatic and romantic, even if they’re not exactly the most practical things to pack up and take to war. Maybe if I wear them, other people will start wearing them too.

How I stopped struggling and learned to love Italian dresses

I love France and French styles, but I never really wear them. I started in the SCA largely because I wanted to learn authentic historical costuming so I could make sumptuous French gowns and have a reason to wear them. If you see me, there’s an excellent chance that I’m wearing an Italian dress, probably from the upper-middle class. Why make the move to a different country and a few rungs down the social roster?

I am terrible at pattern drafting. I blame never having taken geometry for this, but the real culprit is that 1) patterning is a skill, and 2) it requires everyone being brutally honest about measuring their bodies, which is hard. We’re not used to dressing in fabrics that don’t stretch and styles that fit close to the body. Patterning that means that you and a helper need to get really familiar with your body and all of its oddities. Bodies are weird, we usually hide our flaws well, and really getting in there to make proper medieval clothes demands a lot of vulnerability. Like maybe there should be a mediator and a therapist on hand. While there’s nothing like a perfectly-fitted self-supporting gown, they’re complicated, unforgiving, and use an obscene amount of fabric. They’re basically the worst thing ever for a novice to work on.

Enter Italian dresses and their blessed simplicity. God love my friend Behiye, Our Lady of Italian Costuming, and her intervention right before my first Gulf War. Here was a dress I could make with 3-4 yds. of fabric and 2-3 hours. It works well in hot Texas weather, and it’s easy to warm up with layers or a heavier fabric choice. Here I am not sweltering on a hot, humid day.

gr ital

In its most basic form, late-period Italian costuming for women is a sleeveless dress with a skirt gathered into the bottom of the bodice, worn over a camica. It laces at the front or the side(s). Sleeves can be tied on with ribbons, left off, or attached. Sometimes you see a partlet, sometimes you don’t. We’re talking about practical clothes for busy women with a lot to do. Like… work in the kitchen (Vincenzo Campi, Cucina) or run all over site being helpful!
Vincenco Campi-Cucina
There are paintings of women selling fruit from the 16th c. that perfectly show this look off (Vincenzo Campi, 1580, The Fruit Seller detail). There are also pictures of women working together in kitchens that show similarly dressed-down versions of this basic mode of dress.
Vincenzo Campi - The Fruit Seller detail

Simple updo. A pretty green apron with fancy trim. Narrow dark velvet trim around the seams on the bodice. A softly pleated partlet in plain linen, without beading or embroidery. These are simple details that you can get right and really nail the look. Now see how similar it is to this much more formal and luxurious dresses (Boltraffio and Kempener):

Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio 003

1532 Kempener Bildnis einer Dame anagoria

While Italian can be really ornate, it’s often a simple garment with luxurious trims or fancy fabric treatments, like the gold cord couched onto the gown in the Kempener portrait. Once you have the basics down, making luxurious versions is really only a matter of how much time you have for embroidery and how big your fabric budget is. Make the skirts fuller with cartridge pleating rather than box or knife pleating, make the sleeves massive and fancy, use tissue thin silk organza and work it with gold to make your partlet, then embroider the cuffs and neckline of your camica.

Here’s one that’s fancier that I put together out of rogue scrap polysilk, cheap velveteen ribbon to trim the bodice, remnant brown corduroy for the bottom guard, and scrap Chinese brocade for the sleeves. It started plain, had a failed set of bodice trim that stained the fabric and came off first washing (Heat and Bond can eat rocks and die in a fire), and I saved it with the velvet ribbon and an evening of hand sewing in front of the TV. The camica is plain muslin with fake blackwork (2 rows of a honeycomb stitch my machine has) at the cuffs and neckline. I tied some linen veils together to make a turban and went on down to the Known World Scribal and Heraldic Symposium this year. For coronation, I added a deep red polysilk long jacket over it that has big poofy sleeves and ruffles. This whole thing would look a heck of a lot better if I put on the hemp corset thing Behiye handed down to me, but I am lazy. And it was hot. And I am lazy.

peeps italian

Want to make an Italian dress? Here’s my pattern piece. That’s right – piece. As in one. The bodice can end anywhere from an inch or two below the bust to at your natural waist. The skirt length is from the bottom of the bodice to the floor (roughly 45″ for me at 5’7″) box or knife pleated into the bottom. As long as you have enough to go around you more than once, you’re good to go. I get a really nice full skirt at 2x enough to go around me. The skirt is just a rectangle, so if you hem it and add an guards you want before you pleat it in, it takes a fraction of the time.

italian patterns

You put the center of the neckline on a fold and make four of these (front, back, and lining for each) or you cut them out like they are and sew them together to make four equal pieces. I don’t add seam allowances so that when I lace it up one side, I can tighten it and make for a more fitted hourglass shape. If I were pregnant or nursing, I would make it a little higher waisted and put eyelets on both sides for lacing and the ability to expand the dress without it skewing weirdly to one side.