Anyone can go to Strasburg Children www.strasburgchildren.com and buy gorgeous heirloom clothing. Their collection of smocked and heirloom sewn apparel for little ones is unrivaled. But even in Strasburg’s oasis of classic beauty in the world wide desert of classic children’s clothing , the selections for girls far outnumber those for boys. That’s a realistic reflection of the market.
I could buy their lovely outfits for my two grandsons and they would look so classically handsome. But that would not satisfy my urge to create unique garments just for them. I want to do it myself. I want to bring life to my personal, unique vision of beautiful children’s clothing for my unique and beautiful grandchildren. And I don’t recall ever seeing train duds in the Strasburg catalogue.
So I sew. The satisfaction of sewing for the boys is even greater than sewing for granddaughter Laurel. The challenge to design classic attire for little guys is greater, given the constraints of practicality, comfort and local standards of acceptability.
For Easter, once again I am coordinating outfits for all three grandchildren- almost 7 year old Laurel, 5 1/2 year old Robert Charles, and just 2 year old Alastair. This year, the only unifying component is the color blue.
Laurel’s dress and petticoat are standard heirloom, Swiss batiste, heirloom laces, embroidery. To look presentable, it requires starch, my beloved 1946 Betty Crocker football iron (would you like to hear about it?), a puff iron, a ham, and about 20 minutes on the ironing board.
The boys’ easy care outfits will definitely fall into the category of “modern projects for old fashioned Nanas.” Alastair’s 2-piece suit consists of blue babycord shorts and an Imperial batiste shirt with a square collar. The shorts pattern is Jackson by Children’s Corner, available from Farmhouse Fabrics The pants are almost tailored, without the fullness I have come to expect (and dislike) in so many elastic waist shorts. I chose to line the shorts for more body, though the pattern does not call for lining.
The button back shirt is from Martha Pullen’s Heirloom Sewing for Jack and Jill. What a great resource this book is! Among the many, many patterns it includes several for shaped collars. Baby cord piping trims the square collar and the sleeve cuff.Alastair is currently enthralled by trains, so his collar reflects that interest. I decided to use shadow embroidery, rather than applique’ or standard machine embroidery because I wanted to maintain the heirloom mood established by Laurel’s dress. The design is from Suzanne Hinshaw’s Teddies and Toys collection.
I’ve often wondered why it is that I have such a passion for heirloom sewing and classic children’s clothing. It certainly did not come from my roots in the Midwest. I grew up 50 miles from Chicago, surrounded by cattle and cornfields–not cotton, not tobacco, not Spanish moss. My mother sewed most of my clothes and they were lovely, well constructed and stylish. And yet, from my earliest recollection, my taste has always been in tune with Southerners.
To this day, I remember seeing my cousin Elaine wearing a Sears Roebuck blouse with embroidery and “eyelet.” I thought it was the prettiest thing I had ever seen and pestered my mother until she drove me to the store to see if they had another in my size. It was as close to “heirloom” as anything I had yet seen.
When my son was born here in sunny Florida, I was blessed with the friendship of a woman who had served on the faculty with me during my last pre-pregnancy year of teaching. Her Puerto Rican mother and Cuban father had given Nilda a heritage rich in needlework skill and appreciation. On one visit to her family in Miami, she brought Ryan a little white romper, embellished with Madeira applique’d red teddy bears parked in patches of grass and French knot flowers. I was smitten. I wanted to go to Little Havana.
I had never seen anything like that–not even at Sears Roebuck! And Strasburg Children was more than 15 years from opening their doors. I loved this little suit and spent untold hours searching department stores for clothing of that genre for my precious baby boy. Ryan wore it in 1976 and he looked precious.
Ryan’s son Robert wore that classic suit to our Rebecca’s wedding in 2006. He looked precious. Rebecca’s son Alastair wore it in 2010 and, you guessed it, he looked precious.
For Ryan’s 3rd birthday, Nilda gave him a blue linen blend button on suit with drawn thread work down the front. After he outgrew it, I packed this treasure away. It has been worn Robert Charles and another special little boy. Soon will fit Alastair. It was stunning and “in style” for each of them. What’s not to love about classic children’s clothing?
I wonder if I would have been such an enthusiastic fan of heirloom sewing if my taste for this classic clothing had not been fed by these little boy suits from Little Havana. I wonder if I would have achieved or sought creative satisfaction without those gifts.
Perhaps some of the garments I make for my grandchildren will become heirlooms. I certainly hope so, for their children and grandchildren. If not, at least I had the pleasure of stitching them and the joy of seeing them worn by my loved ones.
Do you love heirloom sewing? Why? Was it a family legacy or an inherent appreciation? I’d love to hear about other journeys into sewing classic clothing.