Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Color Collaborative: August: Dress


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.

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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 
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.

27 comments:

  1. What a fascinating post, thanks for sharing these treasures. x

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  2. So pretty !! I also have a christening gown hanging in the cupboard, which came from my mother-in-law's family... It is quite similar to yours, the fine delicate fabric, beautiful edging... Strange that that tradition was so well-spread over the world, in the beginning of the 20th century, when you think about the absence of TV and other international media !

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  3. Such a lovely collection to have, we have no christening gowns here. Both my boys & I were christened as older children when we had made the choice. xx

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  4. Oh what a beautiful dress and what a treasure! Lovely...
    Have a great week and take care now!

    Hug,
    Titti

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  5. How lovely to have those beautiful heirloom dresses, they're treasures. I know what you mean about finding it hard to imagine people as tiny babies. It's odd isn't it. I like to see all of the detail on old clothes, they're so well made. CJ xx

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  6. My girls wore a christening shawl from my MIL's side of the family. I knitted a christening gown to go with it which I still have all carefully wrapped in tissue paper. One of Douglas's cousins has the shawl now as she had the youngest child of that generation. I hope she still has it!

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  7. What beautiful heirlooms to pass on. It's lovely that you know their history and can pass that on too.

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  8. There is something very nostalgic about old fashioned Christening gowns. I have a very ornate one from my own catholic baptism. Sadly it has yellowed in parts and can't really be reused.
    These gowns look so delicate! I love the light cotton and lacework. It just amazes me how intricate the handwork is on these old garments.

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  9. These are gorgeous, Jennifer, real heirlooms. I love that you have a cedar chest for storage too. The gowns are beautifully made, and the crotchet, as you say, is perfection. In our family, there was a Christening robe which we all wore, but sadly that seems to have disappeared along the way. However, I do have a white hand-made baby dress and coat which I wore, made by my mother. Precious.

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  10. What an interesting post, with a different slant on the theme. Those dresses are both beautiful and I love their stories.
    I was thinking back and although my daughter wore dresses as a baby and small child not a single one was white. The only time she wore a white dress was when she was a bridesmaid for my sister.

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  11. How wonderful that you've been entrusted with these precious heirlooms, they're beautiful. My family aren't sentimental about possessions and therefore, not very much at all has been kept. It's quite sad really.

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  12. Such beautiful heirlooms to be treasured and passed down to the next generation. I have the christening gown that my 3 daughters wore but sadly that is all.

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  13. They're stunning examples Jennifer! I have the one that my grandmother, my mother and me were baptised in, but it was handmade and it's falling apart now. Interestingly it has what you think may have been a sleeveless slip dress as a petticoat and a short sleeved gown that goes over that. The petticoat is slightly longer meaning that when both are worn together there is a lot of lace at the hem. I imagine although far from expensive to produce it looked quite opulent when it was made.

    You seem to have a lot of treasures in that cedar chest!

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  14. They are beautiful things, both as pieces of handiwork and as pieces of history. How wonderful that they are nearly 100 years old! My kids were 2 and 4 when they were christened so we didn't do the whole white dress thing for them. But thinking about recent christenings I've attended, I don't think I've seen many white gowns. Perhaps it's a tradition which is dying out. xx

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  15. Lovely things, aren't they? So detailed and delicate. I have an old family Christening gown somewhere - I'm embarrassed to say I don't know where it is. It's very old, made of silk and has a lace overdress. It's tiny, fragile and I have memories of forcing it over the heads of various dolls and teddy bears... I dare say yours will be in much better condition!
    S

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  16. I love those dresses - they are a real treasure! The picture is so sweet too.

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  17. Beautiful, and of course tiny stitches for tiny clothes. I have my embroidered silk christening gown that my mother made for my christening when I was 3 months old. It's wrapped in acid free tissue paper and inside a cotton slip cover and I often take it out to gaze upon it and sometimes leave it hanging for a few days to air and release the creases. The old photograph is wonderful too.

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  18. Jennifer, those dresses / gowns look lovely and how nice that they are still in the family.

    I did keep a babies shawl for quite a time it was one my mother made and I used it for all of the children when they were young. I passed it on to a local charity shop ... so I hope it went to a good home and helped keep another baby warm.

    Happy Memories

    All the best Jan

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  19. Jennifer, those dresses / gowns look lovely and how nice that they are still in the family.

    I did keep a babies shawl for quite a time it was one my mother made and I used it for all of the children when they were young. I passed it on to a local charity shop ... so I hope it went to a good home and helped keep another baby warm.

    Happy Memories

    All the best Jan

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  20. A very lovely interesting post Jennifer :D

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  21. Aren't they beautiful pieces Jennifer. So lucky to still have them in your family. It's always the clothes in the old photos that I adore as well as the beautifully groomed hair on the little ones - puts me to shame! Have a lovely weekend, it's so nice to be back in blogland and catching up on all your news x

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  22. Wow, both are so pretty in their own way. I adore the crocheted lace. I did some for my china cabinet of pineapples and I feel so good about making it. You will be a good steward of those family heirlooms because you appreciate them. ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

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  23. I so enjoyed reading... thank you! xxxx

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  24. Fascinating. Your husband's family is very fortunate to have you in their family for many reasons, including your willingness and ability to cherish and care for these family treasures x

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  25. Isn't it amazing to see the care and detail that folks are able to put into their creations? The crochet in particular so impresses me. I have crocheted a little bib out of cotton thread for each of my grandchildren in a solid single crochet, but the laciest crochet I have done only on very little projects, so I especially appreciate the fine work you shared with us, Jennifer. I have a long white cotton christening gown from my husband's side of the family, but now I wonder what my folks dressed us in when we were christened. I will have to ask my sisters if they know. I have the paperwork from the protestant, Congregational church when I was baptized as an infant in 1951...but no photo. This post is an interesting take on the theme of color in dress. Thanks for posting! xx

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  26. So lovely and special. Would it not be such a journey to be able to read the stories through those stitches? Lots of love, lots of hope, lots of cherishing for loved wee ones were stitched. There is such a contentedness here, prayers past and present.
    Thank you.

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  27. How lovely that you have a cedar chest and such treasures kept in it! The little christening robes are so pretty....we have a couple here too and I love the lace and embroidery. Thank you for sharing such a lovely post, Jennifer.
    Helen xox

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Thank you for leaving a comment. It's so good to hear from you! I don't always have time to reply but I try to answer questions when I can.

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