Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A True Family Heirloom

When Sew Beautiful reader Nicole Keating of Brookfield, CT shared a picture from the bodice of her family's heirloom Christening gown, I had to see more and share it on our blog. The gown has been worn by over two dozen members of the family over the last 100 years, including Nicole's grandmother and her 4 siblings, helping date the gown to 1907. Nicole and her family also know that someone in their family once made the gown, though sadly they don't know just who did. Regardless, it is a beautiful piece of history that has been (and we know will continue to be) cherished throughout the years.

Nicole noted that the gown is VERY long and made of two pieces including the dress and underdress, and is made of a a slightly stiff cotton. The underdress has a cord at the top waist that cinches to tighten, and there is room at the bottom of the bodice that allows for a wide ribbon to be woven through and tied (this can be seen on the left side of the waistband above).

I spoke with Amelia about the gown to get some further insight, since Amelia has helped write and edit several of our books on antique clothing, including the Martha Pullen Vintage Collection and Favorite Places Series. She told me:
The embroidery looks to be Aryshire, although I can’t tell for sure if it’s hand wrought without looking at the backside and comparing the stitch repetition. [...] What is most unusual is the plaid fabric. I’ve never seen an antique christening gown, particularly one with Aryshire work combined with a plaid like this. I’d say the embroidery may have been pulled from another garment, but if that were the case, it was still a baby garment as the shape of the yoke was designed specifically for a infant’s piece.
Below is a picture of Nicole (second from the left) and family at baby Liviya's baptism, where the gown was last worn, at Suffern Presbyterian Church in Suffern, NY. Liviya is one of 3 children born to Nicole's cousins, Jenny and Carl Whitlatch. Nicole tells us, "They actually live in the parsonage next to the church, so she was able to dress the baby and then walk across the lawn to the back door of the church!"

Thank you so much for sharing this piece of family history with us, Nicole!


  1. It's a lovely gown. I have my Father's gown, made about 1014 that is similar yet much plainer.
    My thought is that many of the gowns from that time frame were made in rural areas and it depended on what was abailable.
    I have photo's of my father and my son in the gown ( I wore it, but no pictures)!

    Let's keep the tradition alive of enjoying the baptismal event and the gowns that celebrate life!

  2. The fabric looks like it might be a barred dimity? Nice and light and nearly sheer, with a body to it that's crisp without being *hard*?

    I love family dresses!!