Friday, April 13, 2007

Reincarnation: A Grandma's Wedding Dress Transforms into Twin Christening Gowns

I cannot apologize enough for not having photos of this hack- but I'm having a hard time convincing Mo, the sewing genius behind our Diaper Valet, that it's helpful to take pictures of her freelance work. The wedding dress hack is still great, so we persevere on without visual aids.

A local mom commissioned Mo to transform her mother's wedding gown into two christening gowns for her infant twins. So, one grandma's wedding dress got practical, meaningful reuse regardless of its style, dress size, and (in the case) the gender and marital predilection of her progeny (these were boy/girl twins).

What a great way to use a dress imbued with meaning without forcing the next generation of bride to forgo fit or style. Think of all the saved wedding dresses that never made the cut for a second generation walk down the aisle. They would be great for a project like this.

The wedding gown could also be transformed into a special celebration outfit (birthdays), decor item, or sewn toy for grandchildren. If the dress isn't something that will be worn again, then any reuse you will value and enjoy is fully justifiable.

The wedding dress Mo worked with was a narrow, fitted style, so it was really important that the seamstress measured and planned carefully and cut with great judiciousness in order to get two twin gowns out of the material.

If you are considering the reconfiguration of a wedding dress, I strongly recommend:
  • choosing a seamstress carefully (get recommendations for someone who does tailoring and dressmaking, not just alterations, and don't be afraid to ask to see a sample of their work). This also applies to selecting a seamstress from friends or family or sewing the item yourself. Does the seamstress have a reputation of meeting deadlines and doing consistently high quality work? (I fail on both counts.) If I or my mother sewed anything, it would arrive at least two years over deadline or marginally sewn (which isn't good for an heirloom item).
  • having photos, a sewing pattern, and or drawings to clearly detail the look of the item to be made. This prevents confusion between customer and seamstress.
  • ask questions: end cost, time frame, will additional materials be needed (what will their cost be), are there any additional fees or expenses that might occur (I know of a woman who paid a small fortune for custom window treatments and then was charged a slightly smaller fortune in additional travel fees for measuring the windows and installing the curtains [never mentioned in the initial consultation] by the seamstress).
If you have any odd feelings about the potential seamstress, do not hesitate to ask more questions or keep looking for another candidate as you only have one wedding dress to work with.

We won't be doing this with subsequent GeekBabies for a few reasons.

My moderately unsentimental parents eloped, so my mom's wedding garb of a cotton sundress was discarded long before my adolescence. There wasn't an heirloom dress option in my family.

We ended up getting a satin 1940s vintage wedding dress for $18 at an antique mall for our laid-back, somewhat impromptu outdoor wedding. So I probably wore someone's grandma's dress; I just don't know whose grandma. The material is gorgeous, but it would make a little guy look like a lounge singer, plus, I keep thinking it would make lovely pillowcases (my grandma was a firm believer in the wrinkle-alleviating powers of a quality satin pillowcase- wrinkles or not, they're blissfully cool and comfortable).

Here are a few other tips from Mo on caring for your heirloom clothing items:
  • Have treasured items professionally repaired if they are torn or deteriorating. Amateur repair work might temporarily fix a problem, but it often (think Antiques Roadshow commentary) can cause further damage to the material. Mo did a beautiful restoration of a second-generation christening gown that was torn and unraveling, but due to fabric loss from amateur repairs it required the addition of new materials (hidden to the observer) and hours of careful hand stitching. The dress should last for another generation's use. Please, please, please, don't trust just any dry cleaner or alterations place with heirloom work; some will do the work magnificently, but many will not. It's worth the extra effort (the cost is often the same or less) to find someone who can lovingly restore your heirloom textiles.
  • "No wire hangers.... ever!" It may famously bad parenting, but it is good advice for clothing items that you want to survive in good condition for generations (I doubt it's any big deal for day to day wearables). Mo recommends not using any hangers on any items that you're storing. Delicate fabrics can stretch and discolor on hangers (regardless of type) with prolonged hanging (especially in crowded closets). Padded hangers are better, but not for items that are being stored long-term.
  • Crowded closets make fabrics more prone to wrinkling and deformity. I have read about bachelors pressing their pants between the mattress and box springs, but the same flattening principle doesn't seem to work in closets.
  • Think inside the box if you're storing a special textile, put it folded, but not compressed, in a large acid-free box with tissue paper wrapping.
  • Don't store boxed heirlooms in the attic, garage, or basement (where they will be subject to extremes in humidity, heat, etc.).
  • Plastic is bad for fabrics: dry cleaning bags and other plastic covers do not allow fabric regular air exchange. They allow moisture to collect and promote mildew. Also, plastic bags can be bad for people and pets: In college we used to use plastic trashbags to store off-season clothing items, and then we found out that some plastic trash bags have embedded pesticides (though Glad reports not to use them). It still freaks me out a bit when people store their kids toys in them for attic storage, etc..
So put that gown to use already.


Anonymous said...

I am currently creating Christening gown from Grandmas dress. 1970 vintage. I stumbled across your website and found the info very useful. I think this is a really neat idea....who needs a wedding gown in a box anyway. I am making two bonnets, one female and one male. Thanks for listening.

Anonymous said...

I have a very talented dear friend who creates these beautiful gowns form wedding gowns, they are truly stunning . For many families the creation of a wedding gown that grandma wore into something for children 2 or 3 generations later has been to say the least a very emotional experience.
A finished christening gown from a wedding gown is unlike any pre fabricated item any parent would want their child to wear on such a special and blessed occassion.
MY friend is in the process of establishing a website ,as she has invested a lot of money inadvertising local area parish newsletters.
Not just because she is my friend, but because she feels so emotionally driven to create something rare and beautiful , and something that will never be duplicated. I would love to just put her e mail address out there , but I am sure she would not appreciate me doing that.
However I would and could forward any requests for photos and testimonials . The time involved in creating one of these pieces of art , certainly is not reflected in the end cost. My friend will never become wealthy providing this service, but you will never find something so rare and beautifully tailored as her finished product. Catherine Lieberman

Anonymous said...

My mom just did this for my sister's boy/girl twins using my sister's wedding gown. It was something my sister decided while she was planning her wedding and almost forgot 7 years later when she had her first children! The outfits are absolutely beautiful and made out of a solid satin fabric appropriate for both sexes. The train from the wedding dress had some detail around the edge and was used as the gown part of the little girl's christening gown. I encourage anyone to do this especially when the grandmother has wonderful sewing talent!