Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Notes on a Dress

My Dear Mary Ashley,

The other day you skipped into the dining room, pausing from your play to watch me work for a moment. "What are you doing, Mommy?" you asked.

Hunched over my sewing machine, I was intent on finishing a seam. "I'm making a dress for you," I replied, my eyes leaving the fabric briefly to meet yours.

"OK, Mommy," you replied brightly. Then as quickly as you had entered the room, you were gone. I could hear your lilting giggles fade as you skipped down the hall to find your baby dolls.

Yes, my sweet daughter, I was making you a dress. That is the short answer. But I am writing you this letter so that one day when you are grown, you can read this and understand what this project has meant to me.

And it's all because of what you mean to me.

Tonight I finished making my first heirloom dress, a gift for you, my dear. A friend has been teaching me the art of heirloom sewing, and oh what a learning process this has been! We have invested countless many hours into this project. We spent our first morning together nearly a month ago to plan and shop for the dress. As Miss Cathy sketched ideas -- calculating how many yards of fabric, lace and ribbon we would need to breathe life into our vision -- my mind wandered. I could already picture you running down a garden path, giggling and twirling in the dress I would make just for you.

At the fabric store, Miss Cathy and I chose our fabric first, a soft pink satin batiste. Since your infancy, I have loved dressing you in pink, and most days it is your favorite color. So this selection was easy.

Choosing laces was much more difficult. But thumbing through page after page of delicate trim, I was drawn to selections that remind me of you. A length of Swiss insertion was the first piece that caught my eye. Ribbons undulating across the fabric and drawn up in little bows reminded me of the ribbons I have slipped into your hair nearly every day of your life. One of the delights of motherhood for me is fixing your hair. I love every bouncy golden curl on your sweet little head, my daughter, and I love watching it shimmer in the light as I comb it each morning. Whether I leave your hair down or sweep your curls into a ponytail, you know that we are never done until I have slipped a bow into your hair. In fact, my little southern belle, you have worn hair bows so often that when you were 1 and I couldn't find a bow to match your outfit, your 3-year-old brother would not let us leave the house without one. "She has to have a bow," Christian insisted sternly. "She's Mary Ashley!"

With Swiss insertion as our inspiration, Miss Cathy and I looked for more laces to add to the lace band. Among them, a pretty white lace with bouquets of roses seemed perfect for you. So many times you have come running into the house, a bouquet of fresh-picked flowers clutched in your tiny little hand. "I picked these for you, Mommy!" you say with a smile. I treasure each flower you have given me, as well as your dreams to one day have a garden of your own. Along with our laces, soft satin ribbons would add the final details to the dress.

With all the materials in hand, it was time to get started. Each day I learned new techniques of heirloom sewing. I never knew how much work went into the creation of an heirloom garment, but every stitch is thoughtfully placed. Cutting and pulling fabric, sewing laces together, and rolling and whipping fabric edges can be tedious work. When progress was slow, I focused on the intrinsic beauty of the materials.

When you entered the room the other day, I was in the midst of sewing the lace band for your skirt. I enjoyed running my fingers over the lace -- each piece so lovely and intricate. I was amazed watching the lace band take shape one stitch at a time, but then you spoke to me and my attention turned to you. And the sight of you nearly took my breath away.

You see, each time I see you, my beautiful daughter, my heart whispers a prayer of thankfulness. I never could have imagined what a blessing you would be to me, and I praise our heavenly Father that He has entrusted you to me.

So when you asked me what I was doing, I told you I was making you a dress. And I was. But I was also doing so much more. With each careful stitch, I was saying I love you. I treasure you. And I am so grateful for the privilege of holding your hand as you grow up right before my eyes.

With this dress I am trying to preserve this moment in time. Oh, how I wish I could freeze time and keep you my little girl forever! But each day carries you forward, and it seems I can already hear your lilting giggles fading as you skip down the hall to the future that God has planned for you. But with this dress, I hope to give you a tangible reminder that your dreams can never take you so far as to move beyond your mother's love.

Tomorrow morning when you wake up and see my finished project, I hope you will love it. At 5, I hope you will dance and twirl when you try on your new dress. As a little girl, when you wear it, you may realize that your mommy loves you. But only when you are all grown up and you slip this dress over the head of your own 5-year-old daughter, will you realize how much. And on that day, as she lifts her golden curls from the nape of her neck so you can fasten the beauty pins, when she turns her sparkling blue eyes toward you and flashes you a smile, and you feel your heart lurch with all the hopes, dreams and prayers that it can hold, I hope you will think of me.

And then, my daughter, you will know what I was doing that day so many years ago. I was saying I love you. I was wrapping you in a mother's love. All the while thanking our Father and asking his blessings for you. Yes, my dear Mary Ashley, I was doing all this and more.

I was making you a dress.



(Find this post linked here on Tip Junkie.)


Nancy Hood said...

Oh.my.dear.friend, I could so have been writing these words for my own little girl, Jenny. You have ripped the thoughts straight from my heart and placed them into the most beautiful prose. Thank you for sharing this with me tonight. I awoke, wondering why, got a bit of tea, and decided to check a few of my favorite blogs before going back to bed. Yours was the first. And I am so glad I came. I am blessed to know you~and they are blessed to call you mother.

Faye said...


Ariadone said...

Dear Melissa,
Beautiful felt, you are a precious woman and mother. Like you now I have sewn lovely dresses for my daughter and yes, oh, she remembers them all and formost she remembers and by remembering feels again my love for her then and now. She is a beautiful young woman now - see our picture on my blog if yoy like - going through deep loss now, but she has come to stay with me for a period of time to regain her strenght. I cry with her, but I also comfort her, for that is what mothers do, and it is not all about : saying so, but also, as you describe it: sewing her a wonderful dress, right from the hands and the soul, in spirit..
Have a lovely day, Melissa

Rebecca said...

Your post reminded me of all the beautiful heirloom dresses my mom made for me and my sister when we were young. This post was not intended for me, but it was so nice to think of my own memories of days gone by. I can't wait to see Mary Ashley's dress on Sunday.


i was remember my mom and her dresses sewed for me...i felt so bad now..and missed my mom.now i am 45 ages.....
thanks for wondeful post...have a lovely day.

KK said...

So sweet and so special. And a lovely dress. I so treasure all the heirloom dresses my mother made me and my girls (she learned from Sarah Stone!). You are truly making an heirloom--your grandaughters will wear this dress some day just as my girls have worn the ones I wore as a girl--I can only imagine how big your smile will be the day you see that! God is good!!!

Brandy said...

I have one daughter and reading your words, just for the very first time made me realize, yes, you are right...We do things we do for our baby girls because we love them ohhh so very much.
Thanks for sharing your words.

Love Being A Nonny said...

This letter, along with this dress, boxed up, in years to come, will mean THE WORLD to her. What a special way to honor a special daughter. I hope you will post pictures of her wearing the dress. (We have *bow* girls in our family too. My grandaughter had one in at 12 hours old....and I don't think has ever been without it except to sleep. She thinks it's another appendage...ears, eyes, nose, bow!!:))

Unknown said...

Thanks for making me cry this morning.!! haha!! I can't wait to see the finished product. I know you are so proud(of her AND the dress)!!

Lisa said...

What a priceless gift you are giving your daughter! Do share the photos of her wearing the dress. I'd love to see!

Cindy said...

That was so touching! They grow up so fast so it's so wonderful that you appreciate these days with your daughter. It seems like my daughter was just 5 and I was dressing her in the hand-smocked dresses my mom had made for her.

The dress looks so beautiful! Please share photos of it on her!!!

Donna @ Party Wishes said...

What an amazing heirloom you have created for your daughter. Unfortunately our children don't realize the depth of love we have for them until they have children of their own. This is a wonderful way of showing that kind of love.

My daughter was never without a bow as well. She always received so many complements on them. We have over 100 bows-easily! Closer to 200 I think :)

Can't wait to see a picture of her in it!

Meredith said...

Melissa, the dress looks beautiful, but not half as beautiful as your words to your daughter.

Next time I slip Elise into something special, I will slow down and say a little prayer of thanks and hope.

Melissa Stover said...

how beautiful, your words and the dress. what beautiful children too.

Alisa Lucas-Brown said...

This is a beautiful post. Heirloom sewing - that just sounds so special. I can't sew much to my dismay but if I could I think I would love to learn how to sew heirlooms. Just beautiful. You brought a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat. God bless you and have a Happy Easter.

Amber Schmidt said...

Absolutely beautiful! I need to make time to do this for my daughter.

Jennifer said...

Melissa - you made me cry. I wish that I had had a mother like you. I pray that you and Mary Ashley always have that special bond. I had a wonderful foster mother, but those feelings that you give to your children on a daily basis - I just hope that they aren't taken for granted every day..because not everyone has such a wonderful and Godly mother like you. Your children are so blessed to call you Mommy.

Jennifer said...

You should submit this for Michelle Mitchell's April Writing Contest at Scribbit!

The topic is "Mom" and you've written about how you experience being a mom just beautifully!

Anonymous said...

And so, I will persevere in finishing my daughter's first homemade Easter dress, for her first Easter. It will be the simplest dress she owns, but it will be made with the most love.

Beautiful post.

Flower Girl Dress Mom said...

That dress is just so adorable!

The Quintessential Magpie said...

Melissa, that is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read in my life. Oh, what a lovely tribute to a daughter! I'm in awe. Thank you for sharing that with us. It made my night.

I have been spending the last few days with one of my two best friends and her mother who is passing away, and I have to say that watching my friend tend to her mother over these many years (and now, as she's slipping away), I feel so blessed to look into the face of that type of love. And I know you have that type of relationship with your own daughters.

Somehow reading your sweet words and watching Trish's tender ministry to her mother (and her sister's and daughter's as well) makes my own mother and my grandmother feel that much closer to me, even though they have been long gone from the face of this earth. But gone in the physical sense only, because they are both alive and well in my own heart and in Heaven.

Thanks for taking me to that place that all little girls (old and young) love to go... straight to the heart of a mother.


Sheila :-)

lady m said...

Oh my! This was beautiful! When sewing for ones children, you are making memories that will be passed down to their children someday. I still have many of the first outfits, I made for my little ones...not so little anymore.

Thank you so much for sharing,

Lady M

sle said...

Hi Melissa,
I have a box of smocked dresses in storage for my daughter's daughter. I also have an heirloom dress in pink just like the one you are finishing up now. It was hard for me as I am not the best seamstress in the world but I had help and hopefully one day my daughter will appreciate it as I am sure yours will as well. I know it is beautiful.

Belle (from Life of a...) said...

What a wonderful mother (and example for other young mothers) you are!

Jennifer Driver said...

Awww ... that made me cry Melissa! I miss you and your sweet family so much! I can't wait to see Mary Ashley twirling around in her beautiful dress!

Judy said...

This brought back so many memories of my mom and I sewing for Shannon....could it be that's been over 25 years ago? It seems like yesterday! My mom can no longer hold a needle or sew but it gave her great pleasure....we'd pick out fabric and lace, she always had those Sew Beautiful magazines to get inspiration from and I'd do the smocking. Just recently Shannon said she'd love to take lessons so she could sew for Taylor. Next time I see you or talk with you, I'll find out more about your heirloom sewing class.

You are such a talented writer, but mostly a wonderful mother and someone I'm proud to call "friend."


Judy said...

Oh, I see where one someone said she took lessons from Sarah Stone. I worked with Sarah's daughter-in-law for many years and we are still friends but I never took lessons from Fran (the DIL) who sewed beautifully as well.


Leah said...

Melissa, this just beautiful. Thoughts of precious Mary Ashley in this dress, with all her Mother's love sewn with each stitch brings tears to my eyes.

Unknown said...


I have been learning heirloom sewing for all the grandchildren I have not have yet. My daughter is 24 and you never stop feeling those same feelings for your daughter. I have a special bond with her and count her as friend and confident.

Bless you for showing others the love of a mother to a daughter.

Happy Easter,

Kristi said...

These sentiments are so eloquently written! It makes my eyes weepy... I love it!

Carly Winborne said...

I think I have read this post three times, each with tears in my eyes. I just love it.

I just finished my first hand smocked dress for my little girl and she just loves it. What delight it brings when the recipient, even as a little girl, is thrilled with the hard work of her mother. I hope Mary Ashley gives you the same feelings when she wears this gorgeous dress for the first time.

Please share pictures of your final project.

And thank you for sharing these thoughts.

Stacey B said...

Beautiful, so beautiful. Cathy is right you paint a beautiful picture with wonderful words. You are so gifted. Your children are so blessed to have you as their mommy. I know Mary Ashley loved it, and she will cherish your words, thoughts, feelings and the tangible expression of your love also for her whole life.

Anonymous said...
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Bec said...

This is so beautiful. I don't even know you and I was touched by your expression of love...I can only imagine how much your daughter will treasure her dress and your words one day!

Heather said...

I read this while my own 8 month old daughter slept on my chest and couldn't help but shed a few tears. That was beautiful. What a wonderful gift for such a beautiful little girl. This makes me wish even more that I could make something like that for my daughter.

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