When my twin girls were two years old, I spent hours upon hours making their heirloom Easter dresses. Their dresses were truly a labor of love but what I loved most about making their dresses was the conversations that were had between my sewing class as we sat at little tables with lace and fabric, needle and thread. We were a class of young moms and grandmothers and my teacher, Christy, was a mom to teenagers that traveled to Montgomery every Monday night from Selma in her minivan. I just loved it.
If you've ever wanted to learn how to heirloom sew, I hope this post will inspire you. I've also got another post full of sewing tips and tricks here. My biggest suggestion would be to find a class and commit yourself to going. Learn from the experts and let them help you if you make a mistake (because trust me, you will!). These dresses are something that I pray will stay in our family for generations to come and were worth every bit of time and money invested.
I simply love the color of these dresses. Last year, I fell in love with a picture of another little girl in this dress at Sarah Howard Stone. My teacher, Christy, assured me that I would be able to make this dress. What she didn't tell me was how time consuming the yoke (neck) part of the dress would be. Here is a closer view of the beautiful round neck of these dresses:
I'll spare you all the details, but the whole neck was hand-sewn. See the little bands of dotted material in between the lace? That is entredeau. I had to attach each side of the lace to the entredeau which meant that I had to weave thread in and out of every single hole to make it secure. I had to do that with three strips of lace, plus the long ruffle strip of lace. To make this process easier and more secure, we actually attached the pieces of lace, entredeau and fabric to the pattern piece and then cut it away once it was in the rounded shape.
Also, another technique that was used on the collar which made the fabric bunch up is called puffing. There are two types of puffing (that I'm aware of) hand & machine. I did hand puffing on the neck piece of fabric and machine puffing on the band above the bottom ruffle. To do puffing by hand, I had to roll & whip the edge of the puffing strip on both edges to the entredeau and then pull it to gather it up. I love the puffing strip on this neck.
Another reason I loved this dress was the sleeves. I'll take an angel-sleeve version of a dress any day, so I loved the simple lace strips on this sleeveless pattern. Again, lots of attaching entredeau to ruffled lace....
The very first piece of the dress that I worked on was the ruffle. To save money, I did a big fabric ruffle with lace trim. It is so neat to see a big piece of fabric slowly become a dress. I had to pull and cut strips of fabric for the ruffle and then there was lots of sewing straight and zig-zag stitches. At the time, I thought the ruffles would never end (I didn't know what was ahead of me with the neck!) but I was thankful to make the process move along with my machine. There are some women who still hand-sew all parts of their Easter dresses, including ruffles. I say this all the time, but these dresses truly are a labor of love!
After the ruffles were sewn together in one long piece, I started machine puffing the strip above the ruffle. To do this, you need lots of thread hanging at the beginning and end of your strips. Basically, you stitch along the top and bottom edge and leave your long thread hanging. Then, you attach the thread to marking pins on your ironing board and wrap the thread tightly to anchor the fabric. After that, you are able to move the fabric into gathers. Once the thread is gathered there is lots of steaming and more sewing to make it stay in place. Finally, you sew the puffing bands into a circle with your ruffle strips, with all of the seams lining up. (If you ever take classes on puffing, Ann from Sarah Howard Stone has a wonderful tutorial). The end result is a gorgeous puffing strip and ruffle that makes any little girl want to twirl.
Since the fabric is so thin, a slip is a must. My teacher came to my rescue and attached the lace to the bottom of this slip. After that, all I had left was to attach the slip to the inside of the dress, under the arms and neck. Again, more weaving in and out of entredeau!
Here's a look at the back of the dresses. I bought the girls beauty pins which are basically just fancy safety pins to keep the dresses together instead of using buttons on the delicate material. Such a southern thing!
After four long months, they were complete! Sure, there are little errors here and there, but that is what makes the dresses so special. I know some of you are wondering why I went to sew (get it!) much trouble, and trust me, I asked myself the same question many nights. I did it because I knew that I was making something to be worn by future generations. Something that will be pulled from the drawers many, many, years from now and will be delicately admired. These dresses will become a story that my girls can tell their girls and their girls can tell their girls about. A story of love work, that's what it is.
Adeline & Maralee, Easter 2012
Till next time, let your light shine!