Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Guest Post: Natalie's Baptism Dress

Hello! I took a little vacation last week, literally, and from the blog as well. I'm finally going to spend the week recapping Natalie's June 28th Baptism. Today I have a guest post from none-other than...my MOM!! My mom made the most amazing baptism dress for Natalie and she had a great experience making it - no freak-outs and she only shed blood once! All in all, a successful venture. 

Take it away Mom:
In 2009 my husband and I went to Europe and while there we visited Belgium. I vowed to myself I was not leaving Belgium without buying Belgian lace. I’ve always admired lace from different regions and Belgium was no exception. While in the town of Bruges we stopped at every single lace shop. I returned to the very first shop we had gone to, 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?”  
“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.”  
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.

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.
It’s a simple accent, but it is also symbolic of Chris and Laura’s union in marriage and of the matriarchal lineage-from mother to daughter. That one piece of lace is my favorite part of the gown. Once the tucks and lace were done I focused on the sleeves. They took me three hours to make and attach! And then I stopped working on the gown because I wanted to try the bodice on Natalie before going any further.
As it turned out that was a good move.  The elastic I put in the sleeves was too strong and too tight on Natalie. I ripped the hem out of each sleeve (there seems to be a pattern here!) and redid did them with a softer, narrower elastic, which was much better. The sleeves alone probably have five or more hours in them. Attaching them was a challenge just because they are so tiny.
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 spent an afternoon with one of my friends, Carol who is a fabulous seamstress, as was her mother and grandmother. We batted around ideas for lace placement and collar options. Neither Laura nor I liked the collar from the pattern. We played with lace around the neckline and lace around the bottom of the gown. Ultimately neither of those options came to fruition. As Carol and I experimented and created we reminisced about sewing with our mothers and grandmothers and how they taught us basic construction techniques. Carol told me that her grandmother’s secret to well-constructed garments was ironing and hand basting. This turned out to be sage advice as I had neglected to hand baste the bodice tucks and several of them were going in one direction on the top and the opposite direction on the bottom. I had to rip them out, press them and get them lying flat and going in the right direction.  It wasn’t too time consuming, and definitely worth it.

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!
All in all the entire gown has 28 pleats and 11 tucks. There are 11 quarter-inch (as in tiny!) buttons down the back that close with bridal loops. I altered the neckline by omitting the collar and just self-facing the neck. I then added a rosette trim to the neck which I love.

I finished sewing the gown at about 9:00 the night before the christening and then had to hand wash all the pencil marks out of it and iron it. I think I hung it up at about 11:00 pm and was very proud of my accomplishment. But the best was yet to come.

My favorite part of the gown was the piece of lace from Laura’s wedding gown.
That is until Natalie wore it. Now my favorite part of that gown is Natalie!

20 comments:

  1. This post is so dear to me. Laura, thank you for allowing me to write it. Making the gown was a cathartic experience as was writing the post.

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    1. Thank you so much for such a great post and for the beautiful dress for Natalie!

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  2. How amazing!!! Jeanette wore my baptism dress or else I imagine my mom would have made her one! I wish I was better at sewing, I think it's time for some lessons with my mom again!

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    1. I so wish I was better at sewing too - I used to sew with my mom growing up, but I've really pulled away from it through the years. I should get some lessons as well!

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  3. Your mom is a great writer! Thank you for sharing that wonderful story. It's strange to think of ourselves as grandparents but cool to know your own granddaughter will wear that one day!

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    1. I'm going to stay young forever I don't know about you ;)

      I know, I love that this dress can be passed down - I love stuff like that. Thanks for the great feedback, me and my mom appreciate it!

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    2. Hahahah but of course.

      Anytime. Guest posts are always fun :)

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  4. Crying! This was beautiful! I enjoyed reading every bit of it!

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    1. Aw I'm so glad you liked it Marissa - I think it's a beautifully done post, thanks so much for reading and commenting!

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  5. This made me cry. Your mom is a beautiful writer and sucha talented seamstress. The dress is perfect.

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    1. :) I agree Sharlee, on all counts - I know my mom appreciates this as well, thanks so much for the great feedback!

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  6. That was so touching. Your mom did such a great job and is so talented. Beautiful!
    PS Olivia LOVES the towel blanket. Once I get my act together, I promise to send a pic! :)

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    1. thank you Kara - I'm so glad you enjoyed her post. Thanks for sending over those photos too! Olive is so stinkin' cute!

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  7. Oh my goodness, Ladies! Thank you so humbly for the accolades on my writing and sewing skills. I am so glad you enjoyed it.

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  8. Very cute baby dress. Your mom is so great! Thanks for sharing this with us.

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    1. No problem, and thank you for the feedback

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  9. What a beautiful dress and how wonderful that your mother made it!! Amazing keepsake to have!

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    1. Yes, most definitely - our family is SET with a baptism dress for generations to come!

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  10. Beautiful story! Irene is an amazing seamstress. She has such talent, wisdom, love and is an amazing woman!!!! The gown is so beautiful and Natalie looks like an angel. This gown will be such an important part of your family history. My family has had the same baptismal gown passed down through fifty years. My grandmother bought it for my sister to wear, she is 59 years old now. It has been worn by my mom's children and grandchildren and now great-children. And in the box that the gown came from, the name and date of each baby that has worn it is listed. This beautiful gown that your baby wore will be part of your family history. It is one of a kind. And it was made with so much love. Beautiful story, beautiful women and beautiful baby.

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  11. Awww....thank you Chris! The story of your family's Baptism gown is remarkable. I like the idea of recording the names and dates of each baby to wear the gown.

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