Julie Bowersett


Blog Writing Course Alumni

From Guide to Art Schools


Entries in heirloom (2)


Lace-Edged Baby Blankets

It's been a long time since I've done much heirloom sewing.  But a few weeks ago when I received an email from a church friend I knew it was just what I was intended to do.  I've been participating, sporadically, in the prayer shawl ministry at my church over the last year.  When a request went out for someone to make prayer blankets for twin baby girls with cystic fibrosis (CF) I knew pretty quickly that I was the one who was supposed to take on this project.  For ten years I worked in a hospital lab doing breathing tests on patients, and took a particular interest in the ones with CF.  During that time I met a college student, Chris, who was beating the odds and doing very well managing his disease.  We remained friends over the years and the miles.  I have a friend from my college years who lost his teenage daughter to this disease, and just this spring my family traveled to Richmond to attend a fund raising dinner in Lucy's memory.  CF has touched my life many times over the years.  Those of you who know me well will have also made the connection to twin baby girls.  I lost a set of twin girls at 30 weeks gestation almost 7 years ago.  You can see now why I was sure that I was the one to make these blankets.  At first, I hesitated, thinking about how slowly I knit.  Then I had the flash thought that these blankets did not have to be knit, I could sew them.  And I knew immediately what form they would take.

Years before my kids came onto the scene, I used to travel with my sister to various sewing events.  We attended lots of American Sewing Guild conferences together but our greatest times were spent in Huntsville, Alabama attending Martha Pullen's School of Art Fashion.  There I learned to sew delicate, lacy things in the heirloom tradition.  One of my favorite teachers at these schools was Carol Ahles.  Carol is a wonderful teacher who shares her knowledge and encourages students to do their very best.  One year my sister and I took a class from her on making a lace-edged, hemstitched baby blanket.  She provided luxurious cashmere flannel and Cluny lace for the project. The edges were corded and hemstitched, which gave a lovely and sturdy finish.

Here's the blanket I made in that class

and a close up of the lace edge.

I wrote to Carol and ordered several yards of light pink flannel for my project.  I decided that monograms on the blankets would serve to distinguish them from each other, and I used Hope Yoder's Fancy ABC's for the letters.  The Cluny lace came from my stash. 

The blankets measure 36" x 45" and have rounded corners. 

The edges are hemstitched using the Parisian hemstitch and a 100 wing needle. The cording is size 5 perle cotton.  Here is a close up of the hemstitched edge:

Carol's instructions for these blankets originally appeared in the November/December 2001 issue of Creative Needle magazine.  You can purchase the instructions, along with all of the necessary supplies, from Carol's website.

While I was working on these blankets last week my friend Chris lost his battle with CF at the age of 41.  He lived longer than many with this disease, and the timing of his death in the midst of my project was especially poignant.  I pray that the babies who receive these blankets will grow up in a world where there is a cure for this disease.  If you'd like to help support research into a cure, please consider donating to the CF Foundation.


Heirloom Treasures

My sister and I both love heirloom sewing.  We have attended Martha Pullen’s School of Art Fashion a number of times together and have created many lovely things (some of which are still unfinished in my closet).  My sister has always had the dream of making a grandchild’s christening gown, and, with the birth of her first granddaughter last August, it seemed likely this dream would come true. 

A date was set for the christening and Jane got to work on the gown.  She had a head start as some of the elements of the gown had been completed previously at a Martha Pullen school.  Jane has also been spending a lot of time recently caring for my elderly parents (and did I mention she broke her leg in September and has been recovering from that, too??).  As the date for the baptism drew ever nearer she was really working under the gun.  I offered to make the slip that would go under the gown to help clear off her plate a bit (and, as the mother of two boys, I don’t often have the chance to sew frilly little things anymore).

The slip and the gown are both based on the same Martha Pullen pattern, the Heirloom Party dress.  The gown, made from Swiss Nelona, has a high waist with Madeira appliqué scallops around the neckline, lace insertion, and gathered lace framing the rounded yoke.  The skirt features machine- embroidered motifs of ribbons and bows on each side of the central motif of entwined rings enclosing a cross, ribbons and bows.  Lace shaping and Madeira appliqué form the bottom of this panel.  An 8" ruffle with Madeira appliqué scallops outlined in featherstitch embroidery and finished with flat lace complete the bottom of the gown. Pin stitching was added to each side of the lace shaping and to the top edges of the Madeira appliqué.  The dress design is by Sue Pennington Stewart, as taught at Martha Pullen School of Art Fashion several years ago.

The slip is made from Victorian Batiste with a square yoke, gathered skirt and gathered self ruffle.  The hem is trimmed with French cotton lace (purchased at Hollin Hall Variety Store for the Virginia locals), and I machine stitched a shell stitch border around the neck and armholes.  I thought the slip needed “a little something” so I hand embroidered a dainty little floral spray at the center of the yoke just below the neckline.  The embroidery pattern I used was from Jeannie Baumeister’s Old Fashioned Baby line.  I really love doing delicate hand embroidery like this.  It works up SO fast and looks darling.  I think it really adds a nice touch to a baby’s garment.

It seems only fitting that I made this slip.  After all, my sister made the slip that my boys both wore when they were christened.  I had made a little white daygown at one of the Martha Pullen schools and Jane suggested I use that for my baby boy’s christening gown.  I had also made a pink slip to go with this dress but that really wouldn’t do (making a boy wear a dress to be baptized is one thing; making him wear a pink slip is another entirely).  So Jane stitched up a darling little blue slip and embroidered a favorite bible verse, baby’s name and birthdate on the skirt.

The Eyelet Daygown, designed by Connie Palmer, features machine-embroidered eyelets and pin-stitched lace shaping on the bodice and skirt.  The long sleeves are finished with beading and gathered lace and tied with silk ribbon.

The following pictures were all taken in July 2009 by Sally Brewer of Sally Brewer Photography.  We spent a fantastic morning with Sally and she captured pictures of our family that we will treasure always.  I asked her to get some special shots of my littlest guy in the gown.  You can also see the blue slip that Jane made.

So much love has gone into each of these garments.  I love how this story blends generations of my family with the love we all have for creating beautiful things.  My sister was 15 when I was born and helped care for and raise me as a baby.  Her daughter was born when I was only 10 so I grew up alongside of her children.  Now her grandchildren and my children have come into the world and are growing up together.  Sometimes it gets a little confusing figuring out how each player is related to the next but it forms a lovely woven tapestry of family love.