The Bearded Iris

A Recalcitrant Wife and Mother Tells All

Inspired

And speaking of special keepsakes from baptisms

(If you can call a formerly poop-encrusted magnetic stone swallowed by an older sibling of the baptized baby a keepsake, like I obviously do.)

One of my lovely readers, Mary Lou of San Antonio, Texas, recently shared some pictures on Facebook of the baptism gown she made with her own two hands for her beautiful new granddaughter, Emma. All baptism gowns are special by their very nature, but the thing that caught my eye about this one in particular is that Mary Lou made it from her vintage 1974 wedding dress. 

The craftsmanship is simply stunning. But I was particularly drawn to the history and sentimentality of the fabric and trim. I asked Mary Lou for more details and this is what she told me:

I wasn’t able to use the satin because it had yellowed.  Besides, it was too stiff for a baby, in my opinion.  I used the sheer overlay from my dress and underlined it with new broadcloth.  I also trimmed Emma’s gown with the lace from my dress to which my mom, my four sisters, and I had sewn hundreds of translucent sequins 37 years ago. The tiny buttons on the back of Emma’s gown were from an old sewing box that belonged to my husband’s Aunt Emmie.

I am so deeply touched by Mary Lou’s story and her longstanding family traditions.

If I had found this on Pinterest, I probably would have pinned it onto my “Damn, I suck” pinboard, which is what I do when I find yet another thing I never did or probably never will do with/for/about/in honor of my clearly neglected children. But my love/hate relationship with Pinterest is a post for another day.

No, because I discovered this little gem on Facebook, handmade and posted by one of my Facebook friends, I was able to bypass the guilt and go right to appreciation mode.

I mean, really! A vintage wedding dress, hand-beaded decades earlier by her own family, repurposed into a baptism gown for the next generation? It’s so creative, sentimental, spiritually rich, and environmentally friendly!  Being a crafty, God-loving, and somewhat green girl myself, I have a special place in my heart for Mary Lou’s gorgeous creation and felt compelled to share it with you all.

Now before you go beating yourself up for having never done something fabulous like this your own self, you should know that Mary Lou has been sewing since she was a little girl. It’s always been her passion. She used to sew clothes for herself, her sisters, and even her Barbie Doll. Eventually, she became a homemaking teacher so she could share her passion with others.

That there is a picture of four generations of Mary Lou’s family. Pictured from left to right: Meemaw, Amanda, Mary Lou, and baby Emma. That bonnet Mary Lou is holding was made for little Emma by one of Mary Lou’s sisters out of Meemaw’s vintage 1953 wedding gown.

Stay with me, people.

Sentimental sewing is a longstanding tradition in Mary Lou’s family:

I think each of the women in our family have sewn our grandmother’s wedding lace to our wedding petticoats, in addition to wedding rings and hankies from various family members.

Mary Lou also handmade a lace hanky years ago that has since made the rounds in various sacraments through the generations as baptism bonnets, handkerchiefs, and wedding bouquet ribbons. Who knew a hanky could be so versatile?! Not me, I tells ya.

That same hanky, pictured above on Mary Lou’s daughter Amanda’s wedding bouquet, was recently tucked into Amanda’s son Dylan’s pocket at his baptism. Mary Lou hopes that he’ll one day give it to his bride and that his children will have it with them at their baptisms as well.

Mary Lou is obviously a gifted seamstress. But I just love how thoughtful and sentimental she is about so many little details. That is truly a gift that will keep on giving for generations to come. What an inspiration!

I had my wedding dress “preserved” (or so I thought) back in 1997 right after my big day. I took it to a dry cleaner who supposedly specialized in wedding dress preservation and paid the big bucks so that one day I’d be able to hand it down to my daughter or granddaughter like I guessed I was supposed to do. Sadly, the process they used totally removed the white color from the overlay, turning my once beautiful white dress into a tarnished beige color. (Oh hold your snickering, Evelyn… I know you always thought it was wrong for me to be married in white in the first place! Bitch.)

Anyhooo…I have kept my tarnished dress in that ginormous acid-free cardboard “Wedding Chest” for all these years, never knowing what I’d do with it. Mini-Me is not going to want a brown wedding dress…even if it does complement the poop-tainted magnet pendant I’ll be making for her one day.

And now that I’m on a mission to clear the clutter from my life and get organized, I’m thinking about that damaged wedding dress and all the cool things I could make out of it for family heirlooms. All because of Mary Lou!

Baby Emma and her “MimiLou.”

Yes indeedy! You best believe that my kids and grandkids will be sporting little bits of my tarnished vintage wedding gown someday in everything from ring bearer pillows, to hankies, to fancy heirloom bibs and burp cloths. Shoot, with the size of my train, people are going to get mighty sick of all the heirloom hand sewn items soon to be coming their way. Can’t you just hear me now: “Sweetie, you be careful with that custom Trapper Keeper Science Binder Cover! Grandma made that ‘specially for you out of my vintage wedding gown.” Or “Make sure you have those kitchen towels dry cleaned, they’re handmade from my wedding dress, you know.” Or, “Hon, did your poker buddies like the coasters I made?” 

Hey, a girl can dream.

I am linking this to Org Junkie’s 52 Weeks of Organizing series because I am so motivated by Mary Lou to someday repurpose old, unused or damaged, sentimental “clutter” into new family heirlooms my family will treasure for generations to come. I hope this post can inspire other crafty friends on the decluttering and organizing journey to do the same!

with love, admiration, and inspiration,

-Iris

 

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© Copyright 2011, The Bearded Iris.

37 Comments

  1. What are we supposed to do with our wedding dresses? Sheesh. I ‘d like to have mine made into a quilt I think.

    • Easy there. You’re not SUPPOSED to do anything. We all do what we do. Some people sew. Some people cook. Some people have bad-ass ninja skills, among other things.
      This is just a tribute to a really beautiful family tradition I admire. It’s not intended to be a mandate. Just something that inspired me.

  2. That is so amazing. I love things that have a history to them. Both of my children were Baptized in the family gown. It is now 134 years old, made by my husband’s Great-Great-Grandmother. My children, their dad, uncles, cousins, grandfather, great-aunts & uncles, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather, and many others have all worn it. It’s been carefully cleaned throughout the years, and was even shipped back & forth to/from Switzerland so my nephew could use it. It’s a little piece that ties the family together, and I hope it continues.

  3. Damn. I do suck… not only did I not pass down my GORGEOUS Christening gown that my uncle got while stationed in Greece, I didn’t Christen my kids.

    Anyway- enough about my heathen ways, this is such a beautiful story. It’s so nice to hear something that inspiring, and truly lovely.

    And- you’re making me want to bust out my wedding dress to see if it actually got cleaned when I had it “preserved”. I bet the grass stains are still there, and the lipstick stain on the inside of the bodice….

    OH- and Pinterest… SO addictive.

    • Thank you Kristen!

      I love that your wedding dress has grass and lipstick stains on it. Why am I not at all surprised. That sounds like an awesome party, right there.

      I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of your vagina themed pinboard.

  4. Debbie downer here – I have to point out the tasty irony at the end of your post: As part of your de-cluttering you are going to keep MORE old stuff around to possibly someday turn it into NEW stuff that will become MORE old stuff for someone else. As opposed to de-cluttering, it sounds like you are at the epicenter of a force five cluttornado…

    Of course, I’m not exactly Mr. Sentimental – you could burn everything I own and I wouldn’t shed a tear as long as my family was okay, my mac book hard drive was safe (photos), and my property insurance was paid up.

    Less stuff, more zen for me thanks!

    • I hear you, Mr. Zen, I do. I am definitely a “force five cluttornado.” That’s a great phrase. I’m keeping it.

      What I failed to make clear in this post is that there FIRST has to be lots and lots of other decluttering in my life to make room for projects like this that could really matter to me and my heirs way down the road. Right now, in its current damaged state, my wedding dress IS clutter. But I can’t bear to throw it out because I’m so sentimental, and green, and crafty. SO… I will hang on to it and someday, I will reduce it down to just a few very special keepsakes…like a matching set of beer can coozies. I will follow Mary Lou’s shining example, but only after I clear enough other clutter first.

      • Okay – so like kids who can’t have ice cream until they’ve eaten their broccoli, you Iris, may not Craft until you Clean.

        Meanwhile, my wife loaned her wedding dress to a friend who promised, promised, promised to return it and subsequently disappeared from the surface of the earth. No joke – we have been unable to track her (or the dress) down for over two years now. Fortunately my better half is also not too sentimental so we’re over it. Was a perfect fit on my 7 mo. pregnant bride, so if there’s any justice it’s now way too snug for her chubby klepto frenemy.

  5. Every time I hear these lovely stories about re-purposing wedding dresses, I want to bust out crying. My wedding dress, which my mother so thoughtfully took to a local dry cleaner after my wedding in 1995 with A COUPON to have it preserved, was lost, by said dry cleaner. They gave me back the purchase price, but that can never replace all the grand plans I had for that thing. See, I may have actually cut it up for hankies, bonnets, baby gowns, etc. And seeing as how I have three daughters, it might honestly have been appreciated by one of ’em… or maybe their kids. So, go crafter-friends… repurpose your sentimental objects so that their value can be multiplied. My kids will have to just look at the photos and imagine how beautiful my half assed efforts might have been!

    • Oh Meili, I’m so sorry. That makes me heartsick for you and your family, particularly since you and your mom did everything right and had only good intentions. Fucking dry cleaner.

    • I wore my sister’s wedding dress, which was my late aunt’s wedding dress before that… unfortunately, my sister didn’t get “permission” to pass it down to me, so when my grandmother saw the wedding pictures, she was “sickened” to see that we had disgraced it so, and she took it back. Haven’t ever seen it again.

      It was beautiful, though. 🙁

      • Holy CRAP, Aubrey Anne. WTF? Your Grandma sounds like a piece of work. I sincerely hope “disgraced it so” means that you got rip roaring drunk and then puked all over that dress before you gave it back to that mean ol’ bird. Damn.

        I sincerely hope the Google ad at the bottom of the page is for GROUP THERAPY, because this whole topic is a big ol’ can of worms, ain’t it?

        • Hahaha, yeah, my grandma’s a bit on the mean/crazy side! But no, disgraced it probably had something to do with the fact that my aunt is dead and my grandma can’t get over it, and I was 4 months pregnant when I wore it/got married! 😉

          And group therapy… isn’t that what blogging is??

  6. My dang wedding dress turned yellow from being preserved, too!
    And I have 2 daughters (although; one thinks she wants to be a boy).
    I keep wondering if there is a way to get the yellow out…..I’m going to google that right now…lol

    • Apparently, in Morocco, brides wear yellow because it scares off the evil eye. So if you can’t get the yellow out, you can just go multicultural. It’s so hot right now.

      If you do figure out how to restore your dress to its original white – tell me! Maybe Mini-Me won’t have to carry a sullied brown hanky after all!

      • I wore my mom’s veil when we were married — it was very yellow. Here’s what I did – not sure if I’d recomend it, but I really wanted to wear it since my grandmother had made it.

        We turned on the washing machine and put in a small scoop of Oxy-Clean (hot water to dissolve), let the water cool and then filled the remaining machine with cold water. Waited a half hour or so, mixing the contents every so often. The yellow veil lightened to a beautiful ivory which I wore on my wedding day.

  7. I love stories like this! thank you
    My sister just recently had my mother’s wedding dress made into a shorter sassy dress. The dress maker did a beautiful job and my mother is so pleased that the dress will be worn and not in her hope chest. When my sister showed us and my aunties it was so emotional but so exciting to see it brought back to life!

  8. I could cry….actually I am…..my first dress I made my granddaughter was her third birthday dress out of Cat in the Hat fabric. It turned out so cute, but now my daughter is not speaking to me, nor her father apparently even though he did nothing to her. The only thing I did was clean and organize her house while she was gone…..and then when chaos was going on, inquired how she could completely ignore what was going on in her house sitting at her computer???? This while holding my screaming granddaughter because the dog got her lunchable……and they blamed me for Bristol having diarrhea….

    • Oh Cheryl… the first rule of fight club is that you don’t talk about fight club. The mother-daughter thing is tricky. I feel for you, honey. She’ll cool off. Give her some time.

  9. That really touched me Iris, for real!! The fact that, that entire family loves and treasures the memories from before…. wow!!

    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzp, back to reality. I can see my kids, ugh mom, that’s so gay, seriously??? Yep, my reality! I too had my gown dry cleaned/preserved, yeah… so I literally donated it to the salvation army 5 yrs ago. After my kids groaned and moaned upon witnessing the box and then realizing how YELLOW it was… um yeah!!

    I wonder which dry cleaner they used???? Hmmmmm could you get an addy for the love of Pete woman!!

  10. I *wish* I was that talented. That’s an amazing thing to pass down to another generation.

    I really do suck. My wedding gown wasn’t even preserved. It’s hanging in a closet. It is in a bag though, so there’s that…

  11. I was just thinking about what to do with my “preserved” wedding dress…hmmm…very cool ideas!!!

  12. I’m planning on doing this same thing with my wedding dress, only I was going to take it to a seamstress since I don’t trust myself 🙂 The dress should have a long enough train to get two dresses out of it, one for my son and one for my daughter. Of course, I’m waiting a little bit to see if my daughter would like to use it when she gets married before I cut it up. She says not but she’s only 14. All I can say is if she wants the option she better get married before her brother has a baby!

    Thanks for sharing, that was a beautiful dress and I loved the multi-generational pictures.

  13. I have looked at my dress many times and thought it belongs in a trash bag (but then I’m divorced). Maybe before that I will choose a nice section and a good length of trim and make my son a handkerchief/pocketsquare for his wedding day. I suppose he would like to have something from the day I married his dad. 🙂

    • Brandy, that is very magnanimous of you! Your son is one lucky boy to have such a big-hearted mama. And a simple loving act like that will go a long way toward everyone’s happiness and mental health the day of his wedding (and all the days between now and then too!). ‘Atta girl!

  14. Thanks for sharing that great story! What a wonderful family history in the making! I am proud to also have our family heirloom Christening Gown. It is 73 years old now. My Mom always was the one who took care of it in between uses, and when she passed away 12 years ago, I took charge. I decided rather than have it sit in her old cedar chest (that my father hand made for her for their engagement in 1934- so it is 77 years old now) that sits at the foot of my bed now, I would display it. I had my husband build me a shadow box in which the gown hangs. The shadow box hangs in my bedroom whre I see it every day. And now, not only do I have the Christening Gown and my mother’s cedar chest, I have the shadow box that my husband built for the gown. I hope my daughter who is now 19 will appreciate it someday- I can only hope. Thanks for this story and reminding us all of the things that are important…

  15. Thank God I have boys! Yes I’m assuming that boys will be less disenchanted with the fact that I’m unlikely to ever do anything with my wedding dress. Because they got a Mom who will roll in the mud, loves soccer more than they do, and appreciates the fine art of a really great rice crispy treat. But who won’t be crafting artful handmade items out of…well…anything really.

    I’m with @Bernie. Live in VT and all the flooding got us thinking about what we would grab if we had to skiddadle with <10 minutes of warning. It was a pretty short list:

    a) kids
    b) cats
    c) computers
    d) snacks

    As long as those things made it in the car there isn't much else I would miss.

  16. That is the same story I hear from EVERY LAST PERSON I know that did the preservation process. I cannot believe it. That is too bad. We have a hankie and a lucky penny (for the shoe) that gets passed from generation to generation so I didn’t preserve mine, I just had it dry cleaned. It’s in my closet now. I thought the girls might like to play dress up with the veil or something. So far, nope. No interest.

    I was thinking about selling mine so it could make a wedding more affordable to another bride, but it’s too out of style now.

  17. One of my bridesmaids showed up VERY late to the rehearsal (thank heavens it wasn’t the real production) because her kid decided to eat her own poop right before she was to leave the house. What is it with poop and formal church ceremonies?

  18. I donated my first wedding dress to a local theater company … too much negative karma to keep it!

    For my second wedding, I asked all of my friends to send me small pieces of their wedding dresses (or some other special dress), and my grandma sewed the pieces onto a linen handkerchief. I’m hoping that the handkerchief will play a role in my daughter’s and stepkids’ weddings some day.

    And now that my crush, Steve Martin, is remarried, I guess there won’t be a third wedding!

  19. Patti Centeno

    April 5, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    Iris,
    This is truly a gifted lady! In June, 35 years ago, Mary Lou made my wedding dress and veil. Very simple, clean lines, and unique. I have always been grateful to Mary Lou for doing that for me and being my friend for all these years. We first met when our husbands coached together at a middle school. We had children at about the same time as well. Though our jobs and lives have gone in different directions, Mary Lou and her family are still very dear to me.
    Thanks for showing her off!
    Patti Centeno

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