Monday, July 18, 2011

The Dress

This has been quite a year for our family.  Our little Charlotte had her birthday just a few weeks ago, and I'm still amazed to be raising another little girl.  I was quite certain that Naomi was to be our only girl, and that I was destined to be the mother of many boys.  During this last pregnancy I found myself patting and singing to 'him' and using male pronouns to refer to the baby.  As per Riendeau tradition though, we did NOT find out the sex of the baby on ultrasound and waited until the big day. 

One thing I love about midwives is that they usually do not announce 'It's a girl, or It's a boy.'  So after delivering Charlotte in the quiet of night at our home, I reached out for her, I looked at her and I exclaimed 'Eric, I think IT'S A GIRL!!  Really!'  I was completely shocked and would be for several weeks.

Now had I known this would be the case, my knitting needles would have been clicking away many months on the gown beforehand.  To be fair, I did knit several inches of the dress during my pregnancy (just in case) before abandoning the project as a waste of time - I was 'sure' I was having a boy!  So very soon after sweet Charlotte came into our lives I began to panic about a blessing gown for her.

You see, it had been a dream of mine to complete such a gown for many many years.  I have a vast collection of vintage lace-knitting patterns, christening gown patterns, and the like, and only needed the motivation to get it done.  Of course, lace knitting is no easy task, so I picked the one stich for the dress that I knew I was comfortable with and could conquer.

And so it began, from the bottom up, to grow on the needles.  Of course, when I decided to start the gown months before, I couldn't decide which pattern to use, so I just guessed at how many stitches to cast on and went for it.  Then it grew and grew and I poured over patterns, 'Would this one work?, would that one?'  I was headed for trouble, since I had spent EVERY waking hour of my postpartum recovery period and summer at home knitting, and I had no idea how to shape this mass of thread into a gown!!  None of my patterns seemed to make sense unless followed right from the start. 

Thank goodness for my absolute favorite knitting website in the world.  I found a gown and a pattern that I 'hoped' would work.  And one very LONG car trip later (that would be when an accident prevented us from getting to Alder Lake) I was shaping the top of the gown.  Yeah!  I couldn't believe I was actually there! 

Lace knitting is a fascinating process.  What you end up after all your hard work is a droopy mass of threads with no shape whatsover, so crumpled that you cannot see any network of holes.  A process called 'blocking' is required in order for knitted lace to take it's final form - before that anyone would think you were off your rocker for spending time and effort on that mass of stuff.  

Naomi helped me block the gown, which required hand washing the gown very vigorously, mashing it over and over.  We pressed the water out, mashed it into a towel, and STOMPED on it.  Yes - this is the heirloom in the making.  After that we used a corner of her bedroom carpet, laid a sheet out, and SEVERELY stretched the gown out.  At this point you are sort of molding it into the shape you would like to take, while it is wet and working with the give and take of the knitted fabric.  It metamorphs from a lump into something really marvelous and surprising.  The stitch irregularities even out, the lace flattens and the holes line up beautifully.  It is the best part of the project and never ceases to amaze me.

Naomi helped me to sew a little slip for the gown and she embroidered white little stars onto it which were lovely.  It was a miracle that we finished the gown!  It was a miracle to have another little girl in our lives - and a lovely blessing day with our family around us to celebrate. 

As we blocked the gown, I couldn't help but draw an analogy, probably one I needed to learn from at the time.  Sometimes after all our hard work in life, it is still required for us to be mashed around and stretched before we take a beautiful shape.  But it's so worth it.  Here's that 'Life is my teacher' part.

Blog Update:

One thing I was curious about, was how many different sizes this dress would fit.  I was thinking 'heirloom' while I was selecting patterns, and trying to make the neck somewhat adjustable for the future.  I tried the gown on Charlotte again, many months later, to see if it would still fit. 

My model would not hold still on the chair this time!
But that does mean that at 10-12 months it still fits!


  1. Oh how I feel your pain with blocking! That is my least favorite part of tatting, so I have a little pile of stuff that needs blocked. The dress is gorgeous!