Baptismal Gown

I like to talk about my projects here, past and present. And today I’m going to talk about the baptismal gown I worked so hard on and didn’t finish “to spec” in time for the baptism.

I’m afraid I never got a good picture of GeekBaby in the gown, things were so chaotic around the time of the baptism. (We had to have the baptism on a Saturday so my in-laws could come, but our parish only held them on Sundays at 2pm, and had no private Saturday slots open for something like a year! We ended up having it at the church we were married in, a one and a half hour drive away.) Anyway, here’s a picture of the “finished” product.

The original design was spawned when I decided to make a heirloom gown. I didn’t know whether my baby would be a girl or a boy, but I passionately hate those silly little white pants suits, a hatred only surpassed by that of the frilly, poofy, besequined girl’s outfits. I wanted something different, even if it did mean someone mistook my boy for a girl just because he work a gown instead of a stupid pants suit.

At first I was going to cut up my wedding gown like a friend did. But her dress was beautifully embroidered, and she showed the embroidery off in the gown. My dress was plain, its beauty was all in the lines of the gown itself, and there wasn’t much point in cutting it up. So instead I started thinking about what symbols I would like to incorporate into the gown.

Eventually, I ended up with this:

I tried several silhouettes before deciding on this one. The pleats at the shoulders added fullness to the bottom and I felt gave it a resemblance to an alb. It’s made from linen twill, for a good stout embroidery background. And because Texas can be so terribly hot, I made it sleeveless.

The offset deer and running water were inspired by this gown. I hated that awful silk screened green grass and tree, but liked the idea of of some color. I also love the psalm from Easter Vigil with the response “as the deer longs for the flowing stream, so my soul longs for you, oh Lord.” So the border was born. The border was actually born first, and helped dictate the shape of the gown.

I still felt the rest of the gown was too… plain, somehow. Some whitework embroidery would be nice and subtle, but decorative. After playing with the idea of some psalm verses around the collar, I decided instead to do a stanza of the Lorica of St. Patrick (appropriately) on the breast of the gown. I love the Lorica, it has always made me think of baptism. And I learned that the Gaelic title of the Lorica, “Fáed Fíada”, meant “The Cry of the Deer”, which tied in thematically with the border.

So… I’m making a gown for a baby who’s size I don’t know, with a homemade pattern, and then I’m going to compliment it with a brand new embroidery technique – crewel embroidery. I had my work cut out for me.

First I made the pattern. I bought a pattern purely for the size information, cut it to a six month size, then started folding and adding bits of paper to places and changing the hem and necklines until it was something like what I wanted. Then I cut a muslin model and tacked it up, using a teddy bear as a model. Finally, I made a real paper pattern, which I still have floating around.

I got the linen and crewel wools from a needlework supply store online, Needle In A Haystack. They were just great. When there was a flaw in the first bit of linen, they sent me more fabric so I could get everything I needed. The fabric wasn’t quite what I was expecting, it was very thick, and not as drape-y as I hoped, but it took the crewel embroidery beautifully, so I can’t complain.

With my pattern and my fabric, I traced the outline of the front onto one piece of fabric with a water-erasable marker. Then I taped it up on my window centered over a copy of the text and traced the text. And spent the next few months painstakingly split stitching the letters in white wool on white linen. I was very happy to finish!

When this was done, I cut my pattern pieces from the linen and assembled the gown. I lined it with some fine cotton, because I was worried the linen would be too itchy for a little baby. I hadn’t figure out how to close the back yet, so I let it be.

And now I was stuck. I had a model for the deer. But I just wasn’t happy with the water. I tried many different attempts, before I settled on the S-shaped waves that I ended up with. In the meantime, I started embroidering the deer.

I started the water Thanksgiving week. The water band was supposed to go all the way around the gown, and I ran out of time to finish it. It was also supposed to have a third, middle shade, of blue in between each wave. But I finished what I could, and it at least looked respectable. I’m not entirely happy with how unlevel it is, but those are the breaks when you’re embroidering at 2am the day before the baptism.

I have a bad habit of putting things off that I don’t want to mess up, and then rushing them because I’ve put them off too long, and this embroidery is a perfect example of that. It was my first crewel project too, so it was never going to be perfect. I am absurdly proud of that deer, though. You can tell it’s a deer and everything!

So, the baptism happened (this was the important part, after all). And I have my heirloom gown for future babies. But there were several things that didn’t work out as planned, or as advertised, and I’m not sure how to change them.

  1. The lining stretched way out when I washed the gown. Even though I cut it shorter than the linen, it stretched out to longer than the linen and I had to pin it up to keep it from hanging out from under the gown. I still need to go in with my shears and cut off the hem and rehem it up shorter.
  2. The method of closing up the gown didn’t work, and it kept getting unhooked in the back. I looked for snaps, and could not find any! I am going to install a zipper and snaps combo, because it was really ridiculous trying to hold a wiggly baby in a gown that kept coming undone.
  3. I can’t decide whether to extend the embroidery all around the border. I also can’t decide whether to add the third shade of blue to the water. Opinions on doing either or both are welcomed.
  4. Linen wrinkles terribly, but I still love that it’s linen and not cotton or polyester.

The end… until the next baby comes along anyway!

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One Response to Baptismal Gown

  1. This is absolutely beautiful! Don’t be so hard on yourself about the so-called ‘imperfections’! It’s wonderful that you put so much love into something that will become an heirloom in your family – and it’s such an original one, too.

    The text on the front is just fabulous. Well done.
    Janet Granger

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