Saturday, November 28, 2009

Instant Heirloom

(This post was begun in October but left unfinished because Life has been too eventful for blogging. )

Whew! Still no quilting.

In July my dad followed up with another stroke, and my mum and I were very busy trying to take care of him at home. After an exhausting week we discovered that his insurance would cover in-patient therapy at Casa Colina, a facility about which I cannot say enough good things. My dad is an out-patient now; we schelp him over there twice a week for therapy. Since I live next door to my parents, I'm over there many times a day to help my mother with my dad: bathing, dressing, supervising (since he's not supposed to walk alone), and making sure he does his daily exercises.

However, I did complete one sewing project: making a christening gown from my mother's wedding dress. It was a fun, albeit nerve-wracking, project. The first difficulty was simply squeezing out the time to work on it. (Taking care of my dad is like having another part-time job.) The second was the stress of Great Expectations. My mother and sister are firmly convinced that I am an amazing seamstress, an assessment which I do not completely share.

The gown was being made for my sister's first granddaughter. Her son and daughter-in-law have been married for about 10 years and hitherto have been without offspring. My poor sister, who definitely has the adoring grandmother gene, has been forced to confine her affections to chihuahuas. But now she is being presented with not one, but two grandchildren -- twins, a boy and a girl. Well, it doesn't get much better than that!

The only problem was that they had but one christening gown, the gown which my sister's son wore when he was baptized. That was also the same gown which my father wore when he was an infant, so it was 82 years old -- definitely a family heirloom. Anyway, that gown could be used by the boy, but what to do about the girl?

Rather hesitantly my sister approached my mom and me and asked if we'd be willing to make my mom's wedding dress (which had long been in my sister's keeping) into a gown for the girl twin. Voila, instant heirloom! My mom thought it was a splendid idea and, grabbing her seam ripper, immediately reduced the gown to yardage.

My mother's gown was designed and made by a friend back in the early 1950s and featured a layer of taffeta covered by a sheer fabric with a floral lace edge. I wanted the baby girl's dress to show off the fabric to advantage and yet echo the look of her brother's antique gown. I used a pattern from the late '70s, Simplicity 8971, as a basis for the dress and hat.

I lengthened the gown a bit and dispensed with the horitzontal tucks. Instead of the gathered sleeves, I made loose straight sleeves out of the floral lace. The pattern's hat is made out of wide eyelet lace. My hat was made and lined out of the taffeta with an overlay of the sheer floral lace. (Click on the picture of the hat at the beginning of the post to get a better look at the lace.)

Instead of pintucks on the bodice, I put lace beading threaded with pink ribbon. (The antique boy's gown had lace beading with blue ribbon.) At this point I felt the dress was finished, but my mom felt it needed a bit more, so she added the two vertical rows of lace beading and pink ribbon on the skirt. As it had to be added by hand, it was rather finicky work.

The last picture gives a close up view of the floral lace which I used as the bottom edge of the overskirt. (The under layers of the bodice and skirt are made of the taffeta.)

Both dresses were presented to my sister's daughter-on-law at her baby shower, and I can definitely say that all of the stress and anxiety that went into the making of this dress were as nought when weighed against the expression on her face when she opened the packages. Definitely worth it.

4 comments:

crazypatch dreamer said...

That's a beautiful dress and so special! Making christening gowns out of the mother's wedding dress was a custom in the German-Catholic town that my dad grew up in in Missouri. In the little museum there, I saw a few glassed frames containing a very fancy headress and veil, and the wedding photo. The docent there told me that the actual dress was made into a christening gown for the children. This would've been over 100 yrs ago...what a charming custom! Louise

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

My sister told me that she had heard of this custom, but did not know what group it had originated with. I wanted to post a photo of the wedding dress too, but I'm waiting for my sister to send me a scan of it.

Janette said...

What a wonderful idea! I made my first child's christening gown from that same pattern in 1980. He'll be 30 next week (Valentine's Day). All of my children (6) wore that same gown, along with a couple of nephews. I made my first (and so far only) grandchild's gown from a Martha Pullen, Sew Beautiful pattern. I enjoy seeing other ideas for what can become heirloom christening/baptismal gowns.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Back in October, our parish has a little festival and one of the vendors there was selling heirloom type christening gowns which she had sewn. I couldn't believe what she was charging for them -- over $300! I guess our grandchildren are lucky to have grandmothers who sew.