Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Ashley's Angels

Several months ago, I chanced upon a website that touched my heart.  Ashley's Angels is run by a sweet woman named Dawn who makes burial gowns, burial wraps and other meaningful items for families who have miscarried or lost a newborn.  The idea behind it is not only are preemies too small for most clothes in stores, but also that shopping for something reverent enough to bury their child is almost unthinkable in the midst of all the pain  they are experiencing.

This, I thought, was definitely something I would love to do, to ease a suffering family's burden in just some tiny way.  I began a correspondence with Dawn and requested the patterns.

Simultaneously, seemingly unconnected, there was a handsome desk out on one of our neighbors' lawns, with a "free" sign on it.  Well, surely I could have used another desk, but I was surprised to find that it was, instead, a sewing table with a 1950 Singer machine inside, with drawers full of accessories and attachments.  Does it work?  I asked the neighbor.  She had no idea.

Enter Pete, a local retired sewing machine mechanic and shop teacher that one of my friends knew about.  He took the machine for a few days, oiled her up, replaced the cord, tuned everything up, and even gave me a tutorial - all for under fifty bucks!  He pronounced that it sewed beautifully, and said that if I wanted to buy an all-metal machine like it at today's prices, it would cost me over a thousand dollars.

Today I am down to three kids.  The house is like a ghost town.  Two are at work, two are with friends, two are at the grandparents'.  The remaining three are watching television.  A perfect opportunity to finally try out the new/old machine and the angel gown pattern all at once.

I am not a very careful seamstress.  Most of the time, good enough is good enough. I hate pinning.  I don't press.  But I usually just make pajamas or dress-up clothes, so it usually wouldn't matter.  Until now.

These have to be perfect.  I am in for a long haul here, fighting against my own haphazard, slipshod manner.  The finished product will be worth it, though.

Pete was right; it does sew beautifully.

The prototype, made from an old sheet.  I love the shape of the angel wing sleeves.

I had some trouble with the lace, and I don't like the way the neck turned out.  I think it should be a little bit lower.

Lace is surprisingly hard to come by in our area.  All the fabric shops are closing up.  This piece was a leftover scrap given to me by a friend.  Now I wish that after my grandmother died, I hadn't given away the bags of sewing notions that we found in her attic.  At the time, it just looked like a bunch of clutter that I had no space for.

The pattern said the gown should be open all the way down the back, but I sewed it up partway so my daughter could dress her baby doll in it.

It looked better flat on the table.  :-/

Oh well, you know what they say - How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Practice, practice, practice!


  1. What a lovely simple idea to do and for you to get involved too.. it was good fate that led you to the sewing machine and your first effort looked pretty good to me. I am in the starting position... had a brand new machine, but just looked at it for over a year, then tried a little last March and nothing since!! I am amazed how you manage to home school your children too! I had five and that idea would never have crossed my mind, and I certainly would never have had the patience!! Luckily they are all grown up now with some having families of their own.. but hats off to you and your husband, you must be an amazing couple... hugs from across the pond.. J

  2. what an awesome find!! I'd want that vintage sewing machine even if it didn't work--just to display! I couldn't have said it better than janzi: "what a lovely simple idea" to make baby gowns, and I agree that your first effort looks good! I've also noticed that fabric stores are going out of business--what a shame. We had the neatest fabric store that specialized in really beautiful special fabrics, but it eventually succumbed to the poor economy.

  3. I am also making burial gowns for the neo-natal unit in our local hospital as a small way of saying thank you for saving my life four years ago when they took out my appendix just in time! As a foreign-born citizen, I will never take the free NHS for granted.

    Finding a suitable pattern that is also not too slow and fiddly to sew is difficult - I have tried at least six variations and am still not satisfied.
    One is similar to yours, but I cut the neck lower and the skirt much wider. I also made facings for the neck - it's actually easier to use them. The sister in the unit requested that the gowns be left open all the way down the back, with no fastenings.

    And I also have an old Singer sewing machine! It was my mother's, and had been a hand machine. Some time in the 1950s she'd had it changed to electric, and when I inherited it I had it changed back again. I just wish I had somewhere to display it, as I don't use it, and it is beautiful.