The loveliest dresses I own are vintage christening gowns, handed down through my husband's family. I married into a family who keeps everything, and I've been entrusted with the preservation of many beautiful and interesting family heirlooms. A few years ago, my collection grew by two items, a christening gown from each of my in-laws' side of the family, and while it was too late to use them for my own children, I'm happy to store the gowns in my cedar chest for safekeeping.
The gown on the left comes from my father-in-law's family. He wore it, as did his older brother and their father (and their father's siblings). It was probably made around 1912 for the first baby, Helen. Bill, my husband's grandfather, would have worn it around 1915. The gown on the right belonged to my mother-in-law, who would have worn it around 1945. Both gowns are made of creamy, lightest-weight cotton, soft and translucent. I think they were both ivory-colored to begin with and have yellowed only slightly. Both are almost impossibly small, and when I look at them, it's hard to imagine the people I know now wearing them as babies. There is something surreal about baby clothes, I think; everyone starts little and everyone grows. Even larger-than-life personalities were babies once.
Christening gowns are traditionally made of white or cream fabrics, often embellished with embroidery or lace. Different Christian denominations may have their own styles and the styles also change with the times. The gowns I have are simple but elegant. The newer one has embroidered flowers and cut-work on the yoke and along the bottom edge. It has long sleeves, which I think means it was designed to be worn on its own, as the full baptismal outfit, possibly with a bonnet. Both gowns were made in the first half of the twentieth century and were worn by babies from Protestant families. In reading about traditional christening garb, these two gowns seem to be exemplars for their time and the churches in which they were worn.
I love to examine the differences between them. The older gown is sleeveless, with a deep opening in the back. I think it was meant to be worn over other clothing, possibly another gown with sleeves. I believe this one is an example of a "slip dress," worn by both boys and girls for baptism.
There is fine detail work on both gowns. You can see that this was an important event in a family's life. Time and care have gone into making them beautiful and special. The older gown is particularly impressive, with a wide hand-crocheted border all around the bottom edge. As a crocheter myself, I'm in awe of the meticulousness of the work. The crochet border is soft and smooth and does not make the skirt heavy at all. It's a beautiful work of art and clearly the product of a very talented crocheter.
Like any other fashion, christening gowns change with the times. When I was baptized, in a Catholic church in the 1970's, I wore a gown made of pure white satin, long and flowing, bedecked with ornate lace and worn with a satin bonnet and lacy over-garment, like a cape (I was baptized on Christmas Eve and it was cold). My gown was very pretty in its own way, almost bridal in character. Today's christening gowns often seem to hearken back to the simpler ones of yesteryear, at least those that I have experience with. There are basic elements you will always see, though: white or cream color, some embellishment, a crisp daintiness meant to signify that this tiny person in the gown is fresh and new, cleansed of sin and ready to be taken into the flock.
For the sake of interest, this is a photo of Bill (left) and Helen when they were about two and four years old, respectively. It was taken around 1916. Note the pure white outfits on them. Only their high buttoned shoes are black, and they pose so prettily for the photographer. I try to imagine my own children dressed this way and it isn't easy. I have serious envy for Helen's white dress in this photo. Looking closely at it, I think the edging may be Battenberg lace, one of my favorite kinds. There's nothing like a sweet white dress on a little one.
Don't forget to visit the other Color Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts. Just click on the links below:
Annie at Annie Cholewa
Sandra at Cherry Heart
Gillian at Tales from a happy house.
CJ at Above the River
Sarah at mitenska
What is The Color Collaborative?
All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a color related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about color in new ways.