One of my closest friends, Alexis, has a daughter named Thalia. I was honored when she asked her to be Thalia’s godmother and I offered to make little T’s baptism gown. Fun fact – Alexis and I bonded over the fact that we are both half-Armenian, but we actually met volunteering at a snowboarding event for families of 9-11 firefighters.
I have never made anything like this but I dove right into. Luckily Alexis gave me free reign on the design of the dress and I wanted to do something really special! I picked up a used copy of Martha Pullen’s Grandmothers Hope Chest at Powells to get some ideas. This book is a great reference for a lot of heirloom sewing techniques! Sadly the copy I bought didn’t have the patterns in it.
There are not tons of patterns for christening gowns available, so I bought Simplicity 2457. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for but it gave me a good starting point. I had the pattern and I knew I wanted to use a lot of heirloom sewing on this gown like insertion lace, pintucks and swiss embroidery. I also had to find fabric. Heirloom batiste is incredibly expensive and I didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on materials. Luckily I live in Portland where fabric stores are plentiful!
My first stop was the Button & Ribbon Emporium in downtown Portland. They have a small selection of French insertion laces, Swiss embroideries and entredeux. I bought some floral insertion lace, but I wasn’t loving any of their Swiss embroideries. So my next stop was Fabric Depot. The bridal/fancy fabrics department was extremely helpful in selecting fabrics. They didn’t have any fancy batiste but I was very happy with my fabrics. I bought Kaufman Radiance Cotton/Silk in Satin White for the dress and Kaufman Vanessa Silky Cotton for the slip.
I also ventured over to the trims and found that Fabric Depot does carry a few heirloom sewing trims! They had a Swiss Embroidery that I liked so I bought it. Supplies – done!
I also wanted to get a pintuck foot for my Viking 350. I have secretly wanted one of these for years but I haven’t ever had a real reason to use it…but now I did! Lastly, in the 17 years I have owned my sewing machine I have never had it in for tuning, so I decided this was a good time.
So with fabric, trims, pintuck foot, and freshly serviced sewing machine I was ready to sew. This seems very complicated, but honestly it wasn’t that hard or long to make with some heirloom sewing tricks. The pintuck foot is awesome! You only need to mark one line and then that first pintuck is used as a guide for all of the other tucks. You just need a twin needle that works with your foot.
The lace was a little trickier, but I practiced piecing my laces together before I started on the dress. Using stitch in the ditch foot allows you to butt your laces or fabric together and get a nearly invisible join. The other key here is to use a fine needle and fine thread.
As you can see from the photos, I modified the pattern a bit. I changed the collar to a peter pan style. The pintucks and lace on the bodice and skirt are also my own design. Because of the sheer, fine fabric I French seamed the entire dress and slip. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t even think I could French seam the armscye until I tried it!
The gown turned out beautifully and Alexis and her family loved it. Hopefully it’s an heirloom for their family for years to come! More photos below.