Friday, August 15, 2014

Heirloom(ish) Sewing - Dresses

Have I mentioned that we remade my sewing room? 
It was the husband's idea, actually. There I was, contentedly wallowing in the inefficient and claustrophobic layout of my old sewing room when he came along and suggested we Do Something. And he went out and bought me a butcher block tabletop and we designed a fabulous new table, with cabinets and extra storage and reorganized the entire room and everything. 

Then I stood cutting fabric out on my new table (instead of on the floor) and thought, "Why on earth hadn't we done this before?"

I might take photos if I feel particularly industrious and/or gloaty, to show you, but that's not the point of this post. This post is about how I was motivated by my new sewing table to actually sew something this summer! That isn't altering or mending someone's pants or shirt, I mean. 

So, some years back, my mother-in-law gave me some old embroidered pillowcase hems.

Which were awesome not only because they were the kind of vintage pillowcases that had no side seams at all because they were woven as a complete tube, but also because her mother Ruby, who has since passed, had embroidered them. 

And her work is exquisite -

both the embroidery

and the crocheted edges.

I fell in love with them immediately. And, just as immediately, I wanted to turn them into linen sundresses for the girls.

So I sat on them while life sped by me (as usual), watching as summer window after summer window of opportunity disappeared with the first snowfalls of each year.

This summer, I put my foot down and decided they had to be made. Because if I waited any longer, my girls would become grown women and need wider skirt hems than these pillowcase panels could provide. A trivial reason, yes, but oh so practical.

So I went shopping, and bought linen, which was totally not the same shade of white, but the best there was in the store. Also lining fabric, because that linen was so translucent that I might have well have been using mesh.

And then I made pockets because white linen, while all clean and ethereal and lovely, can be somewhat bland without detail elsewhere.

But then I realized that the pockets might look a bit more integrated if I added a little embroidery along the same theme,

which I am ashamed to show you, because my needlework pales so much in comparison with Great-grandma Ruby's.

Never mind. It's the thought that counts, right?

Finally, the dresses came together. 

Here's the inside, to show you the lining, attached WS together at the necklines and armscyes.

Not quite true heirloom sewing, since I didn't do french seams and other high-class linen finishes and whatnot. After all, I was mass-producing, which is kinda breaking heirloom sewing rules anyway.

And speaking of rule-breaking, I used swimsuit lining. Which is a travesty, because one just isn't supposed to combine knit and woven like this. Rules, schmules. Swimsuit lining is all stretchy and Lycra-ish, which feels cool and smooth against the skin. And my children completely approved. Which is what counts. 

The prototype dress had closed shoulder straps, the way I usually make my spaghetti straps, meaning that the strap on each shoulder was sewn as a closed loop first, joined at the bottom of the armscye, 

and then attached to the dress without crude overlapping ends.

But because two of these dresses were gifts for the girls' cousins, whose dimensions I was only able to guess, I made the remaining dresses with open straps, 

which could then be adjusted and tied to fit (if you can make it out on Jenna's shoulders, below). It also makes it easier to pull on and take off the dress. A linen dress, after all, is not stretchy the way a knit dress would be.

Here are two of those dresses being modeled by my younger girls. Note that Kate's dress looks like it should've been a few inches shorter. This is because it was supposed to be Jenna's, but after I'd made it, it required a fair bit of upper body contortion to get into and out of it. I'd used my old spaghetti strap dress pattern, which I'd drafted for stretchy knits, but even after I'd added ease to compensate for the woven fabric in this project, it was still tricky to wiggle into. So Jenna's dress went to Kate, which was a better fit, and I redrafted a new size for Jenna.

I'm planning to save these dresses for slightly more special occasions than everyday wear. Just because my children's idea of "everyday" includes this kind of thing:

So four dresses, two of which we mailed to the girls' same-age cousins, so they, too, could have a little living bit of Great-grandma Ruby's art.

I used the other pillowcase hem panels in two other projects, one of which was for me. Check back soon to see them!


  1. Hallo! I recently started following you some months ago, and I just wanted to say that this project is amazing. I have some embroidered pillow cases and never would have thought to turn them into something else. What a sweet gift for your girls!

  2. I think those dresses are the sweetest things ever! Perfect for your sweet girls!

    (And I really hope you get to feeling industrious... or even gloaty! I want to see!! :) )

  3. These are lovely! Thanks for sharing!

  4. So completely adorable. What a wonderful way to refashion those beautiful piece of embroidery. I wish I had a stash of something so lovely in my closet.

  5. Is there a "mind's ear" as there is a "mind's eye?" There must be because I can hear Grandma Ruby laughing with delight at your doing something so "silly" with pillowcase covers. She would be pleased; pleased with the idea, pleased with you, and (maybe most importantly) pleased with herself.

  6. How lovely! I have some pillow cases with edges crocheted by Mike's great-grandmother, sitting in a closet because he doesn't want to use them. I don't see him letting me turn them into dresses for our girls (maybe grandchildren someday, though?). I'm curious to see what your other project will be.

  7. What a great idea. Now I'm thinking about the pillowcases I sent into the Universe (sending to an Op-Shop). Damn.

  8. Very cute little outfits! Well done. :)

  9. Delightful way to use these - I'm sure your mother-in-law appreciated your work and that you also shared with the other ggrandkids. Dear girls in darling dresses, not much better than that.


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