Take it away Mom:
Nicole Toebac, and told the woman proprietor I wanted one yard of lace and proudly pointed to my selection. She asked me what I was going to do with only one yard and I told her I was going to use it in a christening gown for my grandchild. She looked at me astonished and asked:
“You’re a grandmother?”I wisely listened to her and walked out with five yards each of three different kinds of lace. That memory and at least one million more flooded my mind during the hours I created my granddaughter’s christening gown. I have dreamed about making this gown for years. Now, my dream was becoming my reality and I couldn’t wait to start creating this garment. I started first by searching Pintrest looking for girls' baptism gowns. Then I did a google image search followed by several pictures and sent links to Laura to get a sense of what she liked in a baptism gown. She liked all the same ones I liked and honestly every gown was beautiful.
“Well…no.” I replied.
“Aww…you have one on the way?”
“Well…no…not that either. I have two daughters, neither of whom is even married but someday they will be and I want to make a christening gown for my future grandchild whenever that happens.”
She just gave me one of those “Yeah…okay, Lady” kind of looks and said,
“Well you’re going to need a whole lot more than one yard of lace.”
Next, I researched silk and silk distributors. I found one website, JRB Silk Fabrics, that I really liked and ordered two sample catalogs and several sample swatches of various types of silk. I was very impressed with the quality of their silk. I knew I wanted silk and ultimately chose silk dupioni. Here is how one website describes this luxurious fabric:
“…100% silk dupioni (a subtly textured fabric woven from a double strand of silk yarn in a plain weave pattern; the yarn is uneven and varies in width, creating a series of natural horizontal "slubs", which should not be considered flaws, as they make up the unique character of the fabric)…”Then it was off to Joanne’s Crafts and Sewing for a pattern. I initially had a 14 dollar Burda pattern in my hand but this Angel sitting at the table with me said “The Simplicity patterns are on sale today for a dollar.” I am not a fan of Simplicity patterns as they tend to be poorly written in instruction and quite confusing. However, for a dollar I could live with that. I have enough experience sewing that all I needed was the pattern itself and a construction guide. I picked the pattern, which had two versions for a gown and a romper for a boy. It included a slip, shoes, and two versions of a bonnet. Then my Angel said, ”I have a 40% off coupon you can have too,” and she handed me a coupon. I looked at her in amazement and said, “You must be my sewing Angel! Thank you!” The coupon was put toward bias tape, Gutterman silk thread, and Clover silk pins and needles that I would need. I was feeling so blessed about this christening gown already!
A few days later my gorgeous silk arrived and after oohing and ahhing over its exquisiteness I threw it in the washer and ran it through a regular cycle. Before you cringe, know that silk is one of the most durable fabrics. It was created to withstand absolutely anything Mother Nature throws at it and still envelope and protect a morphing caterpillar. If silk is washed before construction, it can be washed after construction. I wanted the ease of tossing this garment into a washing machine and drying it while ironing it. So as soon as it was done in the washer I ironed it. As my dear friend Deb said, ”Just remember, silk is thousands of years old and dry cleaning is recent…” Once ironed it was dry and ready to be cut.
Cutting it was relatively easy and straight forward but marking it was a challenge to say the least. I tried marking it with straight pins, but that was an uneven mess. I tried marking it with hand stitched lines but that was equally inaccurate. I finally resorted to a pencil and a prayer. Typically, fabric is marked lightly with a pencil and it comes out easily in the wash. I wasn’t sure how the silk would handle the pencil but I knew I didn’t want a wash-away or disappearing pen because they have left yellowish marks on quilts as the quilt ages. I certainly didn’t want that on Natalie’s christening gown. Marking it with pencil gave me the accuracy I wanted. The tucks in the bodice were marked, sewn, ripped out, and sewn again and I was finally happy with them. The bodice had to be absolutely perfect because it was the focal point. My favorite part of the bodice though is the piece of lace saved from Laura’s wedding gown that I placed in the middle of the rows of tucks.
Whenever I sew something for someone, I think about them and those connected to them. I drift away to another realm and meditate about the person. My mind is totally focused on what I am creating and on that individual. By my calculations I have about 75-100 hours in this project from the purchasing of lace in Bruges in 2009 to cruising Pintrest and the internet for pictures of christening gowns, to locating a silk merchant and placing that order to examining each sample that arrived to scouting through pattern books, to actually constructing, deconstructing and reconstructing the gown. My thoughts were on Natalie, Laura, my other daughter Melissa, my husband, and the profound mysteries of life. For instance, while attaching the lace to the sleeves of Natalie’s gown my thought process went something like this, “Oh, I’ve done this before on the pajamas for Laura. This is simple.” Then I start thinking about those pajamas and I wonder if Natalie would ever want pajamas made by Grandma. And if my other daughter, Melissa, ever has a daughter would she wear the pajamas I made for her when she was a little girl?
I gushed over the silk with all its beautiful natural flaws and thought about Natalie and how she is just perfect. I wondered why slubs and irregularities in silk were considered beautiful but we are so critical about our own flaws, slubs, and irregularities.
I became very philosophical about joining seams in holy matrimony and threads woven together like the generations. It was while sewing that I had an epiphany; Here I am, the first born daughter sewing a christening gown for my first born daughter’s first born daughter. I was sewing silk- a textile that is thousands of years old and creating a garment for a tradition that is also thousands of years old. I was stitching together memories and traditions for another generation. I stopped sewing and pondered the depth of that revelation. This was not a sappy sentimental thought. It was a deep seeded, emotional revelation of how tradition and ceremony defy time and space to unify us through the human experience. That is what making the christening gown for Natalie was all about. We are, all of us, individuals having a collective experience that is both ethereal and eternal which binds us to those who have preceded us and to those who have yet to arrive. I felt a very deeply spiritual, transcendental connection at that point.
I was sewing the Belgian lace on at that stage when I was unexpectedly stuck with something else-the needle I was sewing with. It went into the cuticle of my thumb and reminded me that no matter how spiritual my experience I was a human being, and the needle in my thumb hurt like hell!
My favorite part of the gown was the piece of lace from Laura’s wedding gown.