Saturday, March 5, 2016

Mother to Mother

My graduation gown

In 1991 I had high enough grades to be a Junior Marshall for the graduating class. I can't remember what the boys were supposed to wear, but the female Marshalls were supposed to wear white dresses. Lace dresses and Victorian styles and heirloom sewing were really in at the time, or at least that's what my mom and I were into. I found a pattern for a lace dress that would have been all the rage about 100 years ago. The lace trims for the dress were really expensive, and I remember it was stressful for my mom who was sewing it and didn't want to make a mistake. The dress turned out beautifully, and over the years it's been useful enough to justify the price. Since it cost so much I wore it to everything for a couple years. I had my senior pictures taken in it and wore it to my own graduation. Then the styles changed and I went to college and lost a ton of weight and the dress was too large. And then after that I had a baby and gained a bunch of weight and it was too small. So it just hung in a garment bag in the closet for years and years. I dug it out with the intention of making it into a christening gown for my daughter. As it turned out we decided her Buddhist ceremony was enough of a christening (they blessed her and sprinkled water on her head, pretty much just like a christening except with the addition of incense and gongs) and she wore a Chinese dress for that. So my dress went back into storage. Then, about a month ago she informed me she had to wear an all-white dress for the Black and White Ball at Cotillion and she wondered what kind of white dress I was making for her. My daughter has been going on 30 since she was about 18 months old, so I was surprised to hear I am no so pathetic and uncool as to be disqualified from making her ball gown! My thoughts turned to the white graduation gown.

I sized the dress by draping and pinning it.
I pulled out my old dress. It's 25 years old now and made entirely of delicate and elaborate lace, so I knew I would have to be careful. Somewhere along the way I lost the slip that went under the lace. I have several other old wedding and prom and party dresses worn by my sisters and I, so I got those out too. I decided to fit the dress to my daughter the way I would fit a doll: by draping. I cut the dress along the lace band across the hips. Then I painstakingly pinned it higher on the torso to shorten the skirt and took some tucks to tighten it. I was such a tall slender thing back in the day, I had to shorten the dress about 8 inches but only took it in about 4 around the hips!

I sewed it by hand.

The lace is so fragile I knew I couldn't make any mistakes that would have to be ripped out because it would tear the fabric, so once I had it pinned I sewed it all by hand. Then I fitted it twice more and made hand-sewn alterations before moving it to the sewing machine to finish it. It turned out really well. It's still just very slightly long in the hem and sleeves to give my daughter more time to wear it. I shortened the sleeves by bunching the extra lace in to the puffed sleeve caps rather than cutting them. They were already stuffed with a little bit of lace padding. When I my daughter grows I may be able to take the stitching out to lengthen the sleeves, hopefully without tearing the lace. I'm really happy with the resulting dress. My sister had a similar lace dress around that time, and it fit my daughter with only hemming needed, but unfortunately it appears to have been stored away without being washed for 25 years and it was all stained. I washed it and was able to remove the stains from the lining but not from the lace. So I cut the lining out and finished the edges to make my daughter a slip to wear under the dress.

My daughter and me in the same dress.
I think, amazingly, my daughter is proud to wear my dress. She often talks about how pretty my senior pictures are and I think she feels like she looks just as pretty. I took her into the yard for a little photo shoot. A photographer is taking photos before the ball, so we will have professional shots done then. I couldn't wait for that, though! I really hope the photos turn out. If they do I am going to see if I can find a double frame so I can display pictures of us each wearing the dress side by side. My ultimate hope is that someday my daughter's daughter might wear the dress again. I talked to her about the process of altering it and she watched me, so I think she will be well able to remake it again someday.

As I mentioned in my last post, I met on Monday with a client who drove from Tennessee with her mother's Shirley Temple doll. I am going to repair some broken composition and crazing and restore the shattered eyes. It is humbling and somewhat frightening to take these precious artifacts passed through generations and to try to bring them to life for a daughter or granddaughter to enjoy. I am so honored when I am chosen for this serious task. I will share the results with you as soon as I get Shirley finished.

A client's doll

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