Definitions and Resources

      Pictured above is a church doll- my first heirloom sewing project. A church doll was an 17th-18th century toy that a young child would be allowed to play with during Sunday morning services that often lasted 3-4 hours. It was usually reserved just for that occasion. A small project such as this is a good way to begin to learn heirloom sewing techniques.

      The term ‘heirloom sewing’ often conjures up images of the stunning day dresses, wedding and christening gowns, and infant garments that were lovingly and painstakingly sewn by hand in a by-gone time. Created from finely woven fabrics and hand made laces of the highest quality, these garments and home accessories epitomized the sewers craft and were frequently handed down from generation to generation.

      Occasionally some of these garments turn up at garage and tag sales as well as at auctions. Don’t be put off by brown stains or dirt; often these can be soaked out and the garment returned to good condition. Studying the designs and techniques used on such garments can be an invaluable aid in creating your own. And be sure to visit vintage and used clothing shops as well, where old wedding dresses and otherwise unusable garments can provide a good supply of antique lace.

      With the advent of modern sewing machines and sergers that can create precise plain and fancy stitches as well as embroider designs in a variety of sizes, heirloom sewing has become far easier. Add to these marvelous machines the variety of fine batiste, silk, and organza fabrics and excellent cotton machine made laces, entredeux, and insertions available today, and the possibilities are practically endless.

      However, it is important to note that quality is the watchword in heirloom sewing, quality in workmanship and quality in the materials used. While it isn’t the purpose of this article to provide detailed instructions in heirloom sewing- the topic is too vast for that- I would like to share with you some of the books that I have found especially helpful in this type of sewing.

      Chief among heirloom sewers is, of course, Martha Pullen. Her beautifully illustrated magazine "Sew Beautiful" is dedicated to fine sewing and provides patterns and instructions for garments, accessories, quilts, and more. I have also found Martha’s "Sewing Inspirations from Yesterday" to be a good resource as well. Instructions range from beginner through advanced with over 50 projects included.

      I also have found "Heirloom Sewing for Today" by Sandy Hunter to be a useful resource. This nicely photographed book provides definitions of heirloom sewing terms and basic instructions with projects running the gamut from very simple to nicely complex.

      And if you prefer your serger to your sewing machine, be sure to investigate Kathy McMakin’s wonderful book "French Sewing By Serger" which is invaluable in learning serger techniques for creating stunning heirloom items.

      A Caution About Materials and Laces

      Because of the amount of work on a fine heirloom garment - a christening gown for example- never waver on the quality of the materials that you select. If you want your garment to last through generations of use, quality materials and trims are key. These will not be cheap. Prices for 100% cotton batiste can range from $9-$15 per yard; and Swiss fabrics can easily cost up to $30 per yard. 100 percent cotton laces, entredeux, and insertions are similarly expensive. But remember, you are creating something very special that will entail a significant amount of work, so choose quality.

      Images Below: Some garments from my personal collection, including additional details of the church doll face and skirt. The pillow was made entirely on my serger; the garments, a gorgeous tape blouse and an 8 gore skirt in fine batiste, date from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries.






      By Florence Dove Google

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