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mending fine batiste

nightsewer | Posted in General Discussion on

I am trying to mend a hundred year old christening gown. There are holes in part of the sleeve. The fabric is so delicate that even putting a needle in it causes problems. I have tried mending it by hand with a wash away embroidery backing fabric. I have tried to do it by machine as well. Nothing works. I don’t want to replace the sleeve. Any ideas would be welcome. So far I have made the holes bigger and it looks worse. I just hate to take away the integrity of the gown.



  1. User avater
    ThreadKoe | | #1

    How badly does the fabric shred when you handle it? Cathy

    1. nightsewer | | #4

      The weave just opens up. You don't even have to pull anything. I am really annoyed at myself. I have made it worse!

      1. User avater
        ThreadKoe | | #7

        I think I have to agree with Jigg on this one my friend! A 100 yr old christening outfit is an heirloom piece. This is something that you should consult an expert on. Sometimes, it is better to leave things as is, and to construct a protective under layer to prevent further damage, and to wear the garment only for the shortest time possible. This way, the protective sleeve, bodice and skirt would be put in the garment first, then the garment put on the child. This would protect the garment from further damage. Better an heirloom with holes that can be worn, than to damage it further. You should perhaps look into conservation storage for the garment as well. Good luck! Cathy
        PS Just being able to use the garment is wonderful, even if it does have a few holes.

        Edited 3/25/2009 5:40 pm ET by ThreadKoe

        1. nightsewer | | #8

          Thank you so much. I have taken all your wonderful advice and contacted the museum here in Ottawa. Wonders of wonders, I happened to recognize the name of the chief textile conservator. What a small world. Anyway, I am waiting for a call from her but you are right. Better to wear it once with holes than to replace the sleeve. I will put some batiste underneath the sleeve and let the holes be. Thank you so much.Patty Anne

          1. Ocrafty1 | | #9


            You might find that the best thing is to just have it preserved. The fabric is so delicate that any use may completely ruin it.  I do know that one of the things they do for very old quilts is to apply fine cotton tulle on top of the damaged area to support it and keep it from further damage. 

            Is there any way that you can copy the gown and make a new heirloom for the family? Is there a possibility that you could use the lace from the old gown to use on a new one....that way you could carry on the tradition.  A good source for old lace is eBay.  I've bought some beautiful old laces there.  It would work nicely for you if you make a new gown.

            I made an heriloom gown for my family several yrs ago.  The gown is 5 ft. long and the same around. I had my sister-in-law embroider the infant's name and date of the Christening on the slip, as well as the medallions down the front of the gown. The lace bands were made of several rows of laces & ribbons sewn together, and the pin tuck bands were made the old fashioned way.  It was so rewarding to make something that I know will be passed down for generations in my family.

            Here are a couple of pix.


          2. Palady | | #10

            Beautifully done.


          3. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #11

            This is a lovely gown, and a wonderful idea to embroider the date and name in the lining! Cathy

          4. MaryinColorado | | #12

            Your family is blessed to have this precious heirloom made with your love and expertise.  Thank you for sharing the photos of this beautiful gown.  Did you use a pattern? 

            I was in a fabric store last week end and a woman and her daughter were planning to make a Christening gown.  They said the prices averaged around $200.00 in the stores.  I told them theirs will be so much more precious and gave them some encouragement and suggestions for resources. 

          5. Ocrafty1 | | #14

            I did 'sort of' use a pattern.  I had bought some old Martha Pullen mags and 2 Threads about 8 yrs ago at a little fabric shop near where daughter #2 lived at that time. In one of the Martha magazines there were some ideas/patterns about christening gowns...as well as how to do some of the heriloom techniques. I showed the ideas to my mom and then took the ones she liked best (since she was paying for the fabric & lace) and made the gown.  It was my first attempt at heirloom anything...although I'd done pintucks the old fashioned way before. It was lots of fun to make.  I learned that I love to do heirloom sewing!  All of the little details!  I'd never used entredeux before. The only place I could find the entredeux was at Hancocks. We bought most of the fabric/laces at Hancock Fabrics.  They closed the store a couple of yrs. ago. So now if I need more I'll have to get it through Martha's site. 

            I'd read something many yrs. ago about signing quilts for future generations.  I thought putting the infant's name/date would be a way of making it more special for the future. I also wrote a note that will stay with the gown that describes the fabric/laces.  The Christening set also has a hat; and I had 3 yards of white velvet, so I made a blanket/quilt with some of the wider lace for trim.

            I'd do it again in a heartbeat! Would love to do more of that in my sewing business....but no $$ for advertising.  I may ask if I can put up some flyers in some of the local churches.......


          6. User avater
            Sewista | | #16

            That is a beautiful gown and what a family treasure! I inherited some 80-100 year old liturgical lace that I made into our family christening gown. There were a couple of holes in the fine netting. You definitely want a very very fine needle and size 80 fine sewing thread. The teeniest of stitches must be taken and this needs to be done when there are no interruptions. I was pleased with my results but consider the repairs part of the charm of the garment and its history. I have also done the repairs you are talking about on the extremely fine batiste but I had access to more of the same batiste to use as a hole backing. If you are not feeling up to this I would definitely pass this treasure on to a conservator to work on. Here's a couple of pics of my gown:http://i71.photobucket.com/albums/i135/Smockette/My%20Sewing%20Endeavors/IMG_1944Medium.jpg

            Edited 4/2/2009 11:50 am ET by Sewista

          7. Ocrafty1 | | #17

            Absolutely Gorgeous!!!1 How lucky you were to find the liturgical lace!  I loved your blog.  I'll check it out from time to time.  I haven't figured out how to do one yet; DS works on computers and knows how to do it, but is working midnights (at home..lucky kid) and is going to college full time as well.  One of these days.....


          8. Palady | | #18

            Your effort resulted in absolute treasures!!!!


          9. gailete | | #19

            So nice to see ladies that appreciate the thought and care that goes into a Christening gown. I made one for my niece's first baby. She had also bought some 'cute' little shoes for the baby at K-mart and in just about every photograph of the baby, they were pulling up the gown out of the way to be sure that the shoes showed! I finally had to ask them to take a picture with the gown down so I could get a picture of the baby in the gown I had spent hours working on. Rather frustrating experience.

            I have learned for some bad experiences that I no longer make things for people who can not understand the care and time that goes into a hand crafted gift as it makes my own heart ache to see the item treated poorly.


          10. Palady | | #22

            >> ... had to ask them to take a picture with the gown down ... <<

            You are to be applauded for speaking up!

            >> ... no longer make things for people who can not understand the care and time that goes into a hand crafted gift as it makes my own heart ache to see the item treated poorly. <<

            Amen to your decision.  Your recognizing the shallowness of the recipients had you coming to a very wise choice to be sure.



          11. woodruff | | #23

            "I have learned for some bad experiences that I no longer make things for people who can not understand the care and time that goes into a hand crafted gift as it makes my own heart ache to see the item treated poorly."I have had to learn the same thing, alas, with a close and otherwise dear family member who doesn't have a clue. Love will have to take a different form there.

          12. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #24

            OH! My poor aching heart is so much relieved. To hear others have the same problem with others under appreciating the work that goes into carefully handcrafted items. I no longer feel guilty or ashamed at having boldly stroked people off of the list for having mistreated my work. Or for refusing to sew for others. Each stitch is an extension of my soul, a creation of my heart. I really dislike having my heart stomped on. Cathy

          13. User avater
            Sewista | | #25

            Beautifully put, Cathy. I am of the same mind. I only sew for those who appreciate my efforts.

          14. Ocrafty1 | | #35

            A week or two after my niece's Christening, I got a phone call from my sister-in-law. She asked what she should do with the gown, now that the Christening was over. I learned that this young woman wanted to take care of the Christening gown properly, she really didn't know how! Its amazing to me that so many young people don't know how to properly care for fine garments/fabrics. (Of course, since most schools have dropped their home ec programs, it is easier to understand why they don't know how to do a lot of things that we grew up learning... it seems we absorbed a lot of the info by osmosis from our moms.)

            I typed up a page that listed all of the types of fabric, trims, lace, etc. that was used in the Christening gown. I also included how much yardage of each that I used, how many hours I'd put into the construction, etc. I typed a second page that told how to care for the gown. I laminated both pages and sent them to her to include in the box with the gown. This info will stay with the gown, for future generations; so whomever might be interested in knowing the history of the gown and how to take care of it will have it available to them...when I'm long gone.


          15. gailete | | #36

            That is great that she cared enough to want to take care of what will be a family heirloom. Not only do most young people not know how to take of fine fabrics, etc. they don't care about them which is very sad. We live in a disposable society and they can't comprehend something being worthwhile 20-30 years down the line much less possibly 100 years later. this is why we can purchase lovely doilies and tablecloth for pennies at yard sales. No one cares about the effort that went into the item. It is very sad.


          16. User avater
            Sewista | | #37

            Sadly, you are so right Gail. Young people today don't even know how to take care of lousy fabrics, never mind an heirloom. They don't iron and wear and put their kids in knits 95% of the time. Certainly my own do. They hand my heirloom dress, which they do appreciate, back to me for "maintenance".bunny

          17. Ocrafty1 | | #38

            You're right about this being a disposable society. One of my favorite things to do is crochet doilies. I have lots of old patterns from the 30's on. Fortunately for me, my kids have seen me making them for many yrs. and love to get them.  I also have a few friends who appreciate them, as well.  So I don't worry too much that my doilies will end up at a garage sale for pennies. I recently started teaching my 9 yr. old granddaughter how to crochet.  What really gave me a kick, was that her 12 yr. old brother and 5 yr.old sister wanted to learn as well.  Imagine a 12 yr. old boy, who is really into sports, wanting to learn how to crochet!  I loved it!  Chalk up another one for Grammy!


          18. gailete | | #40

            I can imagine a boy learning how to crochet as my hubby learned from his mom how to crochet and knit and he taught himself spinning and weaving. Very talented guy, but he leaves the sewing to me! He has made me several sweaters and has crochet circles in heavy yarn to put between my Teflon frying pans to keep them from getting scratched.


          19. Palady | | #42

            >> ... crochet circles ... put between my Teflon frying pans ... <<   Excellent idea which could be used for stacking some types of dishes.   Certainly a good way to use up yarns or crochet thread scraps.   Rectangulars could also be done.


          20. Palady | | #41

            >> ... typed up a page that listed all  ... <<   A most astute decision to be sure.  Did you use a commercial pattern or one of your own?  MO, keeping the pattern and a photo of you also should be considered.


          21. Ocrafty1 | | #43

            I used a combination of a pattern in an old Sew Beautiful magazine and some ideas of my own, as well as details that my mother wanted incorporated...since she was paying for it.  I ALWAYS keep copies of my custom patterns!  Ya never know when you'll want to use a specific detail, or a version of it, on another garment...no sense in reinventing the wheel.  I also keep swatches of the fabric & trims I used, attached to acid free paper, with the pattern.  That way I know exactly what I used.  As per pix of me with the Christening gown...they took a great one of 'Aunt Deb' holding Rachel at the church...also one of me helping her mommy put her in the gown.


          22. Palady | | #44

            Kudos on your efforts in documenting so special a garment.  As well as your understanding of irrepalceables.  Having the pictures is equally grand.


          23. Lilith1951 | | #20

            Beautiful work, Sewista! I checked out your blog, also, and enjoyed it very much. Thanks to all the sewists who share their knowledge. So many people do not have any idea what it takes to actually sew a lovely garment.

          24. User avater
            Sewista | | #21

            Thanks so much, all. It was a real challenge to layout the gown to make the most of what lace I had. The rest was fun! Glad you enjoyed the blog. It really is easy to do and requires no special computer skills. If you can post on this thread, you can do a blog. You do need a digital camera for the photos, however. If you are interested just Google "Google Blogger" and they clearly and easily walk you thru the process. I find the challenge with blogs is "speaking to the world". Many very talented sewists just aren't comfortable with doing that. I had a long sales career so talking to the public comes naturally at this point. Bunny

          25. Lilith1951 | | #26

            Yes, I have blog also, http://chickadeeworkshop.wordpress.com/ which I enjoy very much. It's a creative outlet for me and a way for my family to keep up with what I'm doing. I keep a little more general in my discussions of sewing (not ready for close-up photos of my sewing, I don't think) and include a number of other topics. My blog at Wordpress is a very easy one to use, also.

          26. Josefly | | #30

            I enjoy reading your blog and check in frequently to see what new treasures you've bestowed on your grandkids, and the little scalloped-neck dress you've recently finished is adorable. More than anything, your descriptions of techniques used are wonderful resources.Joan

          27. User avater
            Sewista | | #34

            Thanks so much, Josefly. Glad you enjoy your visits. Bunny

          28. nightsewer | | #13

            How beautiful! A work of art. Yes I am going to get it preserved. It is just too fragile. I hadn't thought of cotton tulle. I used that years ago. I will hunt some of that up. Thank you so much for showing those beautiful gowns. Lucky baby!Patty Anne (nightsewer)

          29. User avater
            rodezzy2 | | #15

            Awesome beautiful.

          30. sewslow67 | | #31

            Oh Deb ...you just never cease to amaze me.  What an absolutely beautiful, exquisite gown.  I bought a Christening gown pattern years ago (more than twenty, I guess) to make it for my first grandchild's birth.  My son and his wife told me to "not waste my time" as they weren't planning on a Christening.  I was crushed.

            When my daughter had her children, she said pretty much the same but much more politely.  ;-)  Anyway, I still have that pattern ...a Vogue ...still in its package in my pattern files.  I think I'll make it up someday anyway, and probably donate it to my church for anyone who might want to use it.

            Kudos to you, once again, for doing such beautiful work on that gown.

          31. Ocrafty1 | | #32

            Thank you for your compliments! I loved making that gown. I really didn't know what I was doing when I started it.  I had to look at Sew Beautiful each time I tried a new technique. Luckily for me, there were directions on how to put laces together, sew with entredeux, and sewing lace bands to flat fabric. There are things that I would do a little differently, if I had it to do over again.  Most importantly, using better fabric and laces.  Everything that was purchased was bought at Hobby Lobby, so it really wasn't 'heirloom quality' fabric.  I had a few nice pieces of lace, as well as the white velvet...which my mother had given to me many yrs. ago...that I pulled from my stash. 

            I know how you feel about making one for your 'grands.'  After all of the formals and wedding gowns I've made for others...both of my daughters eloped!  And to top that off, they didn't want a Christening gown for any of my 7 (natural) grandkids..I have 2 step.  I jumped at the chance when my mom approached me about making one for a new neice...and to have that passed down in the family.  Unfortunately, my brother thought the gown to 'frilly' for his new son to wear.

            I love the idea of making a gown up for people in your church to use.  There are lots of nice laces on eBay that are not too expensive and are perfect for Christening gowns. Also, keep your eye out at rummage sales and auctions for laces and trims.  You never know what you might find. I bought a box of 'junk' at an auction last yr. that had some wonderful, tiny lace that was sewn onto some dresser cloths. The fabrics were worn and torn, but the lace was perfect. There were lots of these in the box, and although I paid $20 for it, it was more than worth it.  When I got it home, I had to take out and admire each piece...old petticoats, a chemise, 3 corsets, and (2) 3 yd. pieces of 1/4" lace, still wrapped on their cardboard..all from about 1880...and at the very bottom, a small box from a jeweler....inside was a delicate necklace.  I took it to a jeweler friend who identified the stones as onyx and diamonds, in a silver setting!  He valued it at over $300.  The necklace is pretty and I love antique jewelry...but I was more thrilled with the lace and garments!


          32. gailete | | #33

            Oh Debbie what a find. I'm always hoping for sales like that. My best ever was when an old lady was put in a nursing home and her kids sold off her sewing stash (plus everything else). I got the first 60 issues of Threads for 10 cents a piece! plus lots of other sewing magazines, patterns, and about a ton of needlecraft books. They also had her yarn for sale, but I don't knit. Her yarn alone took up a whole room on shelves just like a store.


          33. Cityoflostsouls | | #45

            Reading this blog makes me sad all over again.  I had some absolutely beautiful antique tatting (much more than a hundred years old) and my family decided to clean my upstairs.  My granddaughter took the tatting into the sink and washed it.  There's nothing left.  She meant well but I just try not to think about it.  It was so delicate and beautiful.

          34. nightsewer | | #46

            You will be glad to know that I contacted the museum and spoke to a textile conservator. I followed her advice and made a new sleeve out of batiste and put it under the original. It looked great. Luckily museums are generous with their advice. Your story is so sad. But the nice thing is that your granddaughter meant well. Patty Anne Hill

          35. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #47

            Wonderful! I am glad to hear the museum did help you. I had been wondering about what was happening with your lovely family heirloom. Thanks for filling us in on what you ended up doing. Was there anything else they suggested? Cathy

          36. nightsewer | | #48

            They suggested that I retire it. I think I will probably do that as the younger generation really don't think of it. Maybe my daughter will when her daughter has a child . It is sad really. I hate to retire it.Patty Anne Hill

          37. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #49

            Retirement of a well worn and loved garment is hard. Retirement from use for a family heirloom is another whole story! I have seen some of these gowns framed in Shadow Boxes, to protect and still share them. They can still be shown, and shared, with family, but remain well protected. Perhaps this would be a suitable idea for a retirement home? Perhaps this is the opportunity to create a new heirloom to pass on to wear, for say, the next hundred years? Cathy

          38. nightsewer | | #50

            I am thinking of having it put in a shadow box, maybe with all the names of the wearers included. However, I have to consult with my brothers and sisters. Well, maybe I will skip the brothers. My sister in Virginia has it now. She was hoping her son and his wife (who just had a baby) will wear it. It was wonderful to hear from you. Patty Anne

          39. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #51

            Now the crops are in, and a few of my previous commitments are almost complete...maybe we can finally get that coffee in? If I do not get committed first, lol.
            Seems like crazy season has hit this place.
            I have a few scraps of my late MIL's wedding dress left over from making christening blankets for each of her children's first born, except mine, of course. She took it apart after they were all born. Been thinking of making some for when my girls have their firsts. Should probably put that one on my ROUND TUIT list.... Cathy

          40. nightsewer | | #52

            love to. I have just finished one batch of costumes. I want a couple of days off before I start a silk dress. Name the place. Thursday or Friday would suit or even Saturday. Somewhere halfway perhaps? Patty Anne

  2. Palady | | #2

    >> ... even putting a needle in it causes problems. ... <<

    Thought coming to my mind is the type of needle you used.  Likewise the thread.  There are super fine platinum needles available.  I have 3 in my embroidery basket sized 8 - 10 - 12.   The 12 is the finest.  I'm unable to recall where I bought them but can say the 12 worked for me to repair some delicate lace from my mother's stash.   To accomplish my effort, I used my Opti-Visor.


    The following URL shows one in size 8.  One would have to explore to know if the smaller sizes are still available.  Keeping each in the supplied foam cushioned case is important.  MO.


    Finding the very fine thread in today's market will take some sluething.  My mother's stash was again my source.  I'm thinking the thread was silk.

    Might it be possible to find a fine lace applique, or carefully cut one from a lace design that you could hand sew, with a fine neelde & thread, over the hole?  To bring the all together would mean scattering a few other appliques.


    1. jjgg | | #3

      a size 12 needle is a common hand quilting needle and shouldn't be difficult to fine. Also, metlers fine machine embroidery thread is about the finest you will find, It's 100% cotton, very light weight.How to you plan on fixing the holes? I"m not even sure you should try this.you might contact a museum about preserving this garment.

      1. nightsewer | | #6

        I am using embroidery cotton thread by mettler. I will have to look for the platinum needles up here as the Sew Inn is in the states. All you ladies have been terrific. I do intend to call the museum to see if they can help as well. But I will search for the needles.

    2. nightsewer | | #5

      I was using a very fine needle. It is very short. The card that it is off of is old and torn but I believe it is a fine darning needle. about a size 8. In the machine I used an 8 as well. Thank you so much for your ideas. I am going to go to the websites you suggested.

  3. Ocrafty1 | | #27

    I was just doing some research and came across this site.  You may want to contact them and ask questions.  I'm sure they will be able to give you something constructive, either for mending your gown or preserving it. Hope it helps!



    1. nightsewer | | #28

      Thanks Deb. I will do that immediately. Patty Anne

    2. KharminJ | | #29

      Kent State University Museum - Care of Historic Costume and TextilesThat's a terrific resource, Deb! Thank you ~ it's going in my bookmarks, too! Kharmin

    3. User avater
      Deana | | #39

      What a great find, 0crafty1. These tips are so useful. Thank you for sharing.

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