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Gorgeous Wedding Gowns transformed to Heirloom Christening Gowns

Jan 26, 2010
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The wedding gown's lace adorns this lovely christening gown.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to Erika Mills of Petite Parfait. She specializes in transforming wedding gowns into custom christening gowns, baptism gowns, or couture baptism outfits. I’ve been married for almost 43 years, and my wedding gown has moved from attic or basement to attic or basement every time we moved, and there have been many moves. I can’t part with it, but I often wonder what good it’s doing in a box. I have a grandchild coming in July, so Erika really got me thinking. Her wedding dress conversions are equisite, and each one would surely become a family heirloom to treasure always.

I asked Erika to answer some of the questions that puzzled me about how she goes about such a challenging task. Imagine the courage it takes to CUT your wedding gown–and even more courage to cut someone else’s! It was a fascinating conversation that I know you’ll enjoy. Here are the questions I asked.

Threads:

How do you decide what style gown to make?

Erika:
A wedding gown conversion often takes on a life of its own. Once I receive the gown by mail, I contact the customer to discuss possibilities, and we work together to achieve the final result. I make sure I explain the process clearly without using technical sewing terminology. I ask lots of questions such as: Do you want a gender specific gown? How formal do you want the gown to be?  Would you like any color added to your gown? Is there anything you don’t want? What is the most important end result for you? The outcome largely depends upon the drape and cut of the original gown as well as the prominent features and fabrics we want to showcase.

Threads:
Do you start with a standard pattern and adapt it, or do you design each gown from scratch?

Erika:
I have four different pattern sizes for the chest and sleeve that are well tested. I help the parents choose the size based on the weight of their baby. The only fitted part of the gown is through the chest and around the arm, so, fit is relatively easy.  The rest of the gown is made without patterns; they would be too restrictive for custom garments. I use bias stripping and some of my own fabrics to complete the gown if needed. I rely heavily on instinct (and my trusty measuring tape).

Threads:
Do you start by cutting up the wedding gown so that all of the pieces are flat, or do you plan while the dress is still whole?

Erika:
There are a few steps:

A. I look over the gown and get a sense of how the dress will come apart. If there is a strong feature I can incorporate into the new gown, I will plan to use it on the skirt, bodice, and bonnet to ensure unity and flow. Giving the dress a theme is very important. The goal is to end with a product that is stunning on its own and doesn’t require sentimental explanation to enhance its beauty.

I look over the gown and get a sense of how the dress will come apart.

B. I cut out the skirt. While the dress is whole and hanging from my ceiling, I examine the drape and pin the area I plan to cut.

C. I lay the new dress flat and choose the best pieces for the bodice and sleeves. I almost always sew the top of the dress first.

I lay the wedding dress flat and choose the best pieces for the bodice and sleeves.

D. I cut off any remaining specialty items that can be incorporated i.e. buttons, beads, and laces.

I incorporate specialty items from the wedding dress.

E. I fit the new skirt to the bodice, sew it on and add the finishing touches.  This skirt overlay is made from the bride’s veil.

I fit the skirt to the bodice, sew it on, and add the finishing touches. This skirt overlay is made from the bride’s veil.

Threads:
Are there techniques you use when making a gown for a baby boy to make it more masculine?

Erika:
Baby boy or unisex gowns get pleating–that’s my rule. I use pleated skirts, pleated sleeves, fabric covered buttons and tiny laces. Boys almost always get waistbands. I’ve made a few with Celtic hoods that can be snapped on and off to replace the traditional bonnet.·The majority of customers want some color on their gown so I will usually add small details in blue or gold.·Another very popular feature for boy gowns is the detachable skirt. For this I hide a high quality zipper under the waistband, making it impossible to spot.

Baby boy or unisex gowns get pleating–that’s my rule

Threads:
Have you ever run into problems that were unforeseen? What were they?

Erika:
Oh sure, a few gowns have had staining that couldn’t be avoided. One customer sent lace from her grandmother’s wedding gown that was so old it tore apart in my hands. I had to reinforce it with layers of silk underneath.·

The original gown for this dress had a very narrow skirt. So instead of gathering the waistline (like the customer originally wanted) it had to be made with a princess waist-line, and we used little pick-ups on the overlay instead.

This gown couldn’t have a gathered skirt because there wasn’t enough fabric.

I’m a huge believer in the saying “necessity is the mother of invention.” Problem areas demand creative problem-solving; they can produce some of the best results.

Threads:
Does one of the gowns you made have a special place in your heart because it was particularly special to you or to the parents you made it for?

Erika:
The very first wedding gown I converted was worn by three generations of women.·My customer, a local business owner, was a stranger who found me online.·The simple fact that she trusted me was a pivotal moment in my sewing career. I was very nervous and spent more time considering the process than sewing the dress.·She cried when she saw it, and I’ve been hooked on re-creating wedding gowns ever since.

The very first wedding gown I converted was worn by three generations of women.

My customer cried when she saw the gown I had created.

Threads:
Have you ever encountered a wedding gown that just didn’t work as a christening gown?

Erika:
No, never. Even the smallest family heirloom can be made into something beautiful. I’ve made dresses using remnant fabric, shawls, brooches and old handkerchiefs. I’ve updated vintage baby gowns by adding new silk and trims. It’s true: a little creativity goes a long way.

I agree completely with Erika. A little creativity can produce a garment that’s equisite sometimes because of it’s beautiful embellishments and sometimes because of its stunning simplicity. I hope my conversation with Erika will spur me on to find the courage to envision my wedding gown transformed for my future grandchild, and the courage to cut into it. Or maybe I’ll hire Erika and let her have the courage for me!

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  1. dressforyou October 22nd

    The very first chiffon bridesmaid dresses I converted was worn by three generations of women. I've updated vintage baby gowns by adding new silk and trims. It's true: a little creativity goes a long way. Thank you very much.

  2. Willow_Bean_Studio October 7th

    I have been doing this for clients all over the country for over a decade. Please check out my work www.willowbeanstudio.com

  3. littledoves February 2nd

    I make quite a lot of christening gowns from wedding dresses and really love the uniqueness of each gown. They are so pertinent to the mother and family. Please look at http://www.littledoves.co.uk for more details.

  4. costumemistress April 12th

    I've done a few christening gowns for friends. One of the things I do with the sleeves is attache beading then run white ribbon through.This accomandates a thick arm and the ribbon is adjusted.(Done in Heirloom Sewing)Also,when doing slip underneath I teach the mom to embroider the name of the child and date of birth.Future children can then be added down the road.It's fun to look at

  5. jhack67 April 6th

    I made my daughters' and others wedding gowns. Rather than cut apart the gowns to make Christening gowns for their children, I saved fabric and laces, and made the Christening gowns for these. It was truly a labor of love.

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