DIY Heirloom Upgrade

dress XX



I did not make this dress but I did upgrade it. I think of it as Strasburg Children ver.1.1. , Laurel’s flower girl dress.

Though there are for sale many really lovely ready-to-wear smocked and heirloom garments, for both children and adults, invariably, everything in my price range falls short of my standard of excellence.


Lwalks back

Laurel took two steps and then stood like a deer in the headlights. This is the only photo that shows forward progress.


Laurel was to be the flower girl at our daughter’s wedding, which took place at our home in 2006. I would love to have made Laurel’s  dress, but I was nearly overwhelmed by the task of getting the house ready. Having sustained major damage from two hurricanes in 2004, the repairs were finished just 2 months prior to the big event.



The embroidery is all ivory. What appears to be discoloration is the result of shadows from editing, in order to show detail.


When I saw this simple but very elegant ivory, silk organza heirloom dress on-line, at Strasburg Children, I thought it would look sweet on 2 ½ year old Laurel. Several wagers had been made as to the likelihood of her fulfilling the responsibilities of this plum wedding gig. So I didn’t want to go over the top in case Laurel balked and was only a tiny guest rather than a member of the wedding party.


Mother-of-pearl buttons replaced the plastic but serviceable originals.

Mother-of-pearl buttons replaced the plastic but serviceable originals.




In all respects, the dress was lovely. The tone-on-tone hand embroidered wreath at center front was understated and well executed. The hand-stitched tucks were worked on both front and back. The cutwork buttonhole scallops at the neckline were perfectly and cleanly stitched. A pristine white slip was built in to the garment, providing modesty while detracting in no way from the simplicity of the frock.

When the dress arrived, I knew right away a few modifications would have to be made, if only to please me.

Shortcoming: The plastic “utility” buttons just had to go.

Upgrade: They were replaced with mother-of-pearl. Few people outside the world of heirloom sewing see buttons as anything but a serviceable closure for clothing. So, of course, manufacturers do not invest in a detail that is rarely if ever appreciated.

But I have always been in agreement with Wendy Schoen’s comments on “closures” for heirloom garments. In her classic first book, Heirloom Embroidery for Boys, Wendy states, “The only acceptable options are beauty pins, genuine Mother-of-Pearl buttons, and covered snaps. Anything else would be considered inappropriate………..Plastic, metal, novelty or anything else are fine for casual daywear. …..Metal snaps, hooks and eyes, zippers and, (Heaven forbid!) hook and loop tape are forbidden. You might as well use paper clips.”

But still, it lacked that lagniappe element, that little something extra. Hence, my efforts to upgrade the dress.


sleeve FI


Shortcoming: The sleeves were puffed by means of an ivory ribbon, simply stitched into the underarm seam, wrapped around the arm and tied into a bow.



Having second thoughts as to the advisability of walking down the aisle in front of 140 people.



Upgrade: The ribbon was replaced with pink satin ribbon. Pairs of bullion knots were stitched around the sleeves as ribbon carriers. This held the ribbon securely in place.

Shortcoming: No lace. I wanted a little more frou-frou than the dress generated.

Upgrade:   Ivory English lace was whipped to the sleeves.




The A-line style of the dress required that the hem have a few tucks. But they showed through the sheer silk organza and begged for the eye’s attention.

Upgrade: French beading was joined to the same English edging used on the sleeves. This was sewn down along the stitches of the hem. With pink ribbon woven through the beading, a lacy distraction was created.

I would love to have pinstitched the beading as well as the lace on the sleeves, but I had no scrap fabric to audition stitch length, width, or needle size. So I left well enough alone.


Even a good stiff drink of straight apple juice failed to infuse her with courage.

Even a good stiff drink of straight apple juice before the ceremony failed to infuse her with enough courage to get the job done.


I was pleased with the improvements to our little flowergirl’s dress. As it turned out, she was unable to perform her duties, even after strong fortification from a few swigs of straight apple juice before the ceremony.


Laurel and Robert chasing bubbles

Laurel and Robert chasing bubbles

Laurel parties on with Tinkles, the potty training doll. That little girl loves a live band.

Laurel parties on with Tinkles, the potty training doll. That little girl loves a live band.

Have you ever improved or modified ready-to-wear?

4 responses to “DIY Heirloom Upgrade

  1. We just now saw your post. We’re glad we could be your foundation. She looks beautiful!

  2. Thanks to Strasburg Children for making beautiful classic, heirloom style clothes available for those who don’t sew….and those who do!

  3. Oh my, this is the exact image of a flower girl dress I have been searching for! Do you sell these?? This is absolutely beautiful! Wonderful job!

  4. Thanks, Courtney. It was the exact image of what I wanted, also. I’m sorry but I do not have one to sell. I hope you find just what you want. Have you tried Esther Conrad at Tiger Swallow Tails? She does beautiful custom orders and could easily reproduce this dress.

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