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Guest blog: The SPLENDIFICENT DRESS (embroidering a christening gown)

     My name is Chris and my husband bought me my first Husqvarna Viking Embroidery/Sewing machine in 2003 when I had the crazy idea of embroidering the center block of our daughter and son-in-law’s wedding quilt with their name and wedding date—not having any idea what I was getting into (and the joy it would bring).  My adventure (and love) with machine embroidery had been launched!

     Over the years my wonderful husband has now bought me 7 sewing machines: 3 sergers (two Husqvarna Viking 936s & one Babylock Triumph), 2 single needle embroidery/sewing machines (Husqvarna Viking Designer Diamond and Babylock Ellisimo), Babylock Valiant (10 needle embroidery machine) and HandiQuilter Sweet 16.

     I first learned about heirloom sewing after registering for a Martha Pullen seminar in 2005.  She is a very vivacious and inspirational leader in the heirloom sewing world.  I then enhanced my knowledge and skills by attending 8 more of her licensings on various topics and truly fell in love with everything heirloom.  I subscribed to her magazine, SEW BEAUTIFUL, for many years and drew much inspiration from them and many of her books.  I combined ideas from at least 4 or 5 gowns to create this SPLENDIFICENT DRESS. I was asked to create a Christening gown for a Live Auction Benefit on behalf of a Pregnancy Counseling Center in Southern California, so it was donated for a silent auction benefit

     The cost of all the fabric and lace was approximately $225. For Heirloom work I use Mettler 60 wt. cotton but for general embroidery I most often use Floriani polyester 40 wt.   I did several stitch-outs of the organza motifs to determine the proper combination of thread colors with Hazel’s designs and the sheer fabric.

     I had admired Hazel’s recent collection, Royal Heirloom, and set out to create a gown that would best showcase her beautiful designs. I then began to select, merge, and slightly modify (with Hazel’s permission) the embroideries to enhance the gown skirt, sleeves and slip and gown bodices..  In the center front panel of the dress I modified Hazel’s ‘mock’ lace-shaping embroidery with actual lace and stitched it on ecru organza.  With Hazel’s smaller designs from her collection, I chose several for the centers of the organza motifs that were sewn into the godets around the skirt as well as on the puffed sleeves.  Finally, I duplicated the curved puffing from the front skirt panel onto the delicate bodice.  

     As I wanted to make this gown ‘antique/ heirloom-looking’, I chose ivory silk dupioni and ecru Swiss lace insertion and lace edgings.  I used four colors of Mettler 60 wt. cotton embroidery thread for the embroidery designs.  To make the gown’s embroideries on the organza stand out when the dress was worn, I chose to make the slip from white Swiss batiste with an organza gathered ruffle. I used pearl buttons to close the bodice and slip.

     After looking through my assortment of heirloom books , magazines, and course work from Heirloom classes I have taken, I designed a gown with eight gores, eight godets, an organza hem and a variety of heirloom elements and techniques including lace insertion, beading, puffing, motifs, shadow work, piping, pearls, pin-stitching, and, of course, gorgeous embroideries.

     Though the ‘sewing/embroidery time’ was so much fun for me, there was also a lot of ‘prep time’ in selecting and combining the designs in my embroidery software (Floriani Total Control U) that would best display Hazel’s designs and enhance the beauty of the gown.  Start to finish, I spent about 85 hours in creating this Baptismal gown and slip.

   Truly, the most challenging part of the project was the planning process—choosing the style of dress and which and where to place the designs.  Since I was asked to ‘make a Christening gown’ for the auction, I had a timetable of several months to create my choice of dress—which was actually less stressful.

     I once made a Christening gown with silk dupioni and used water soluble mesh stabilizer. When I washed the embroideries to remove the stabilizer, the gown lost its crispness and didn’t really press out very well.  So, for this gown, I used a tear away under the dupioni and water soluble under the organza. 

     I really loved the finished dress—especially the full skirt.  And, because I was not rushed to finish the gown, I had time to add ivory pearls throughout the designs (though I did use “hot-fix” pearls rather than sewing them on by hand).  If I was to make this again, I realized that I did not make the slip skirt as full as the gown’s skirt, which would have made the gown stand out more.

    I believe one reason I so enjoyed this project is because the ‘time pressure’ element was eliminated.  I had allowed myself a month or so to create the gown and could enjoy the process since I was not rushed or stressed to finish it by a certain date.  I also realized, yet again, just how much I truly love to sew and embroider and that God has blessed me with the talent to do so, for which I am so grateful. However, as with everything I have ever made, I recognize  that I personally could never ‘go into business’ selling my work because, as my children tell me, “Mom, no one could afford to really pay you for all the time you spend in making something”—that’s the ‘cost’ of being a perfectionist, I guess.

Thank you Chris for sharing your experience of making this “splendificient” Christening gown. It is a true work of art and a source of inspiration to us all. It was entered in the 2018 Annual Competition at Graceful Embroidery and won first prize. If you would like the challenge of entering this annual competition you need to join the Graceful Embroidery Group Forum.

Happy embroidering from Hazel

4 thoughts on “Guest blog: The SPLENDIFICENT DRESS (embroidering a christening gown)

  1. That is truly a museum worthy piece of art! How beautiful, particularly knowing it will be donated. I hope it was appreciated for the labor if love you invested.

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