273. The Blue Dress

As a wannabe seamstress, I love it when a garment takes on a life of its own.

My niece, Christine Fitzpatrick Milner, had such a dress.  Her wedding gown managed to infiltrate the treasured memorabilia of several of our households.

This photo shows Chris with her mom, my sister Joan Fitzpatrick.

I’m hoping Chris is going to narrate the amazing story of the life of the gown on the blog soon, complete with photos of its reincarnations. 

It’s quite a story, and it’s become part of the lore of our family.


On a smaller scale, the following is also the story of a dress in the family.

In the days since I started collecting photos of proms (and if you haven’t sent me yours yet, puhleese do!) I’ve tried to find out the origin and next use or appearance of any of the finery that was worn.

My granddaughter, Gretchen Warden Stark, sent me such an interesting assortment of dance photos that I’m going to use her story of them on tomorrow’s blob.  When she sent the email, she included a copy of a letter I had given her the week of one of her proms. It was describing the parts that made up the homemade dress she was about to wear.

A few years later, Gretchen found the letter and included it in a college essay and presentation assignment about family traditions.  The presentation earned her an “A”.  Any resourceful home sewer in the family will understand its content perfectly.  And even if you don’t sew, you, too, may be maintaining a stash of treasured bits and pieces that have a way of resurrecting themselves.

This is the text of the letter describing the “pedigree” of the dress:

May 19, 1998

Dear Granddaughter Gretchen:

Last night, Grandpa listened as I was describing the making of your prom dress, and he suggested that I write this down for you, so here goes.

Saturday night, May 23, 1998, you will be going to your Junior Prom. You’ll be wearing a beautiful and interesting dress. You might say it’s an “all in the family” dress.

Last month, you and I went to Hancock’s Fabrics and bought the royal blue taffeta, boning, and zipper for the dress. But many more ingredients were to go into it.

Dolly Parton wrote a song a few years ago called “My Coat of Many Colors”. In it, she tells about how when she was little, she needed a warm winter coat. Her mother didn’t have the money to buy one, so she made her one out of remnants. Sleeves, pockets, collar, fronts and backs didn’t match, but they kept Dolly warm, and she was proud of “her coat of many colors”.

Saturday night, you’ll be going to the prom wearing a little bit of our family album, and if you want to, someday you, too, can write a song about “My Dress of Many Fabrics”.

“Waste not, want not”, that’s what I always say. The fabrics in your dress came from scraps, but they are part of the texture of your family, and I know you will treasure them more than if they were new.

As you know, the “new” fabric is the royal blue taffeta. You will find traces of the rest of the fabrics used in our family photo albums. 

The white straps, sash and bow are from the wedding fabrics from Aunt Judy’s wedding in 1984. The facing on the straps is from your cousin Sonja’s First Communion dress fabrics three years ago.

The lining is a remnant from a long vest and skirt made for Aunt Lisa 15 years ago. (Sorry about the tan color but nobody but you and I need to know about it.) 

The thread is from an industrial cone I obtained to make the six bridesmaids dresses for Aunt Teresa’s wedding in 1984. So is the bias tape used for the hanger straps inside the dress. The velvet in the royal blue stole is from your Great Aunt Joan who used other pieces from it in her craft projects. The fringe on the stole you’ll carry is from Big Aunt Gretchen’s royal blue winter coat home-made about 12 years ago. The “beads” on the fringe are from Uncle Matt’s drinking straws. Your little cousin TT helped me paint them with a permanent felt pen marker. 

The little flowers on your evening bag were made by Great Aunt Joan from the fabric we used for the bridesmaids at your mom and dad’s wedding in 1977. (We still have the fabric nosegays Great Aunt Joan made that all your aunts – Susy’s bridesmaids – carried). The garment bag the dress is stored in is from one of Uncle Matt’s hospital stays at Providence Hospital.

And, of course, the garment couldn’t have been completed without Grandpa who did the cooking, dishwashing, and troubleshooting so I could sew; or without Aunt Lisa who gave us consultation, shopping runs, makeup, and endless support. 

Finally, Gretchen, guess what? There is a remnant left from your royal blue taffeta prom dress. It’s already been measured, marked, folded and inserted in a plastic bag. Someday, your sisters Elizabeth or Josie, or one of your cousins will be dressing for a prom, party or dance and it may seem to you that something about what they’re wearing seems vaguely familiar. If so, just come in a little closer, and check it out . . .

Love, from Grandma

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5 Responses to 273. The Blue Dress

  1. A relative says:

    When did Gretchen Warden become a Ford and why wasn’t I informed.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    What a special dress! And so fun to read that letter and learn about all the unique details!

  3. Gretchen says:

    Hi Grandma! I’m so glad you put the story of the blue dress on your blog! I love that dress and every other dress you made for me, and I still have them all. They are so beautiful and you are so talented! Thank you again for all of your hard work that gave me so many fun and special memories!! I love you!

  4. A relative says:

    I love the history of all the remnants that came from lots of other sewing projects in the family. Bits and pieces weaved together by a special grandmother to make a beautiful dress for a beautiful grandaughter.
    Love you, Octo-woman!

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