Judith Dobson and the Tea Dress

This is my post for Freckled Laundry’s Air Your Laundry Linky party.

From the 1989 version of the Tea Dress, this one is made of white Swiss batiste, ivory lace and entredeux, with a blue broadcloth underdress.

Laurel’s Easter dress has had its final press and is on a hanger, ready for Sunday. After a 22 year wait for someone to wear it, I have finally stitched this beauty.  Since finishing it,  the dress has been in my thoughts quite a lot. While my hands were occupied with mindless tasks like piping and machine embroidery for the grandsons’ outfits, my mind wandered over details of the garment.

Bodice features fil tire' and surface embroidery. Except for a few French knots, all embroidery was done on my beloved Brother Innovis 4500D.

I couldn’t help but think about Judith Dobson, designer of this pattern. She seems to have dropped out of the sewing world, at least from  my range of sight.  Still,  I have no doubt that she is out there,  stitching fervently, beautifully and perfectly. As the mother of five children, including twin girls who modeled her creations for Belles and Beaus ads in Sew Beautiful and Creative Needle magazines, she likely became too busy to spend much time way from home since I last saw her. Now, with any luck, she has grandchildren to dress.

I’d like to share some recollections I have of this amazingly accomplished needleworker who has patterns, magazine articles, a book and more to her credit. Her background and experience is extensive.

I first met Judith when we were both teaching at Martha Pullen’s school in Huntsville. She taught a variety of hand embroidery classes, most notably shadow work and cutwork.  Students lined up to get in her classes to learn how she stitched such stunningly beautiful designs.

Bodice back shows machine embroidered buttonholes. Flip flop lace is pinstitched above the puffing band and lace ruffle.

Later, we roomed together in Jacksonville, Florida, where we were both teaching. I think it was a Classic Classes event, with Judith, Mildred Turner, Cindy Foose and Janet Hyde. Or it might have been the SAGA National Convention…whatever. There in Jacksonville we became much better acquainted and I very much enjoyed our time together.

 

Sprigs of floral embroidery rest between ecru mother-of-pearl buttons from Farmhouse Fabrics.

I learned that she and her five children had lived in Saudi Arabia for several years where her husband worked as an executive with an oil company. She described a culture which prohibited women from driving.   That shocked me. Returning home to the United States was a great joy to her.

For some time, Judith gave children’s etiquette classes, serving high tea and lessons on propriety and manners. She also offered small group handwork schools when she lived in Colorado.

In addition to her design work, her children, of course, kept her very busy all day. But she carefully scheduled her time so that every evening, from 7-11 p.m. she stitched.

Her children must have been very well behaved. And her husband must have been very helpful and supportive. With just two children, Bob and I could hardly get baths, stories and homework finished by 9:00!  I should have asked her for a class in time management.

Straight sleeves are embellished with more flip flop lace insertion and machine embroidery.

In Jacksonville, Judith graciously agreed to share our suite with my mother who arrived the second day of the school. When I called to extend the invitation, I chattered about a gracious lady Judith was. Mother looked forward to meeting her.

While Judith and I were in class, my mother arrived at the hotel, picked up the key from the front desk and went to the room to get settled in.

She walked in the door just as a naked, dripping wet man stepped out of the shower to see who had entered!

Scandalized, my mother stormed out of the room and waited in the lobby until time for lunch, when I joined her. She was seething as she pulled me aside to speak privately.

Petticoat has 4 rows of lace, extending the too-short dress to an acceptable length.

“That Judith is NO lady! ” she sputtered through clenched teeth. “She has a man up there! We are NOT staying there. I’m getting another room for the two of us!”  Righteous indignation radiated from her black eyes.

Of course, Judith WAS a lady. The hotel had given my mother the wrong room key and we all had a good laugh about it. Actually, my mother only smiled politely. Since that incident, she has been unable even to say “Jacksonville” without a rise in her blood pressure

Older issues of Sew Beautiful feature many of Judith’s designs and articles. She purchased the Belles and Beaus pattern company from Betty Rast in Alabama and added to the extensive offerings of the company’s handwork collection. These patterns are spectacular and I am pleased that in my sewing room I have nearly every Belles and Beaus pattern published. Her lovely book, Roses and Delicate Embroidery, is like a work of art, with watercolor illustrations and careful stitch diagrams.

I haven’t seen or spoken to Judith in many years. In 2007, we were both scheduled to teach at Martha Pullen’s school in Huntsville and I looked forward to a little reunion.   But there was some complication and she didn’t come. That was the last news I have about her.

I’m grateful to her for the beautiful Tea Dress pattern, first published in 1989. I am also grateful that is now available for thos who do not have a 22 year old Sew Beautiful packed away.  And I hope Judith is happy and well, wherever she is.

9 Responses to Judith Dobson and the Tea Dress

  1. I am just in awe. This dress is beautiful. I love all the details you included.

  2. Thanks, Chris. I’m looking forward to the details you include in the house you are building. What an awesome task you have taken on! I am enjoying your blog

  3. I’m so glad you posted on freckled laundry, I’ve now found you! Delightful post and website. I’ve always wanted to learn heirloom sewing, collected many of the magazines, even the first Sew Beautiful ones, but was afraid my skills were not good enough. I long to start, I’m just not confident. That dress looks so stunning. Would this be an advanced project? Do you have suggestions for a beginner’s project to build skills?

  4. Darlene, believe me, your skills are more than adequate. Heirloom was my first foray into the world of sewing! The Tea Dress is a little advanced for a beginner project, but as soon as my grandchildren go home, I will e-mail you with some specific recommendations. I get so excited about newbies to heirloom sewing. It reminds me of sharing the wonder of DisneyWorld’s It’s a Small World with children. I’ll be in touch.

  5. So wonderful to see Judith Dobson’s Tea Dress you made! I made 3 of my own versions starting when it was published in SB. I too miss seeing Judith teach; I took her class at SOAF way back when and thoroughly enjoyed it.

  6. Nancy Faulkenberry

    I, too, have always admired the beautiful handwork of Judith Dobson and was very fortunate to have met her a long time ago. She is truly a gracious lady in all aspects of the word. After sewing for 32 years, I am about to make the “tea dress” for someone for the very first time and going to the attic to find the original Sew Beautiful magazine for the pattern. Thank you for your article on Mrs. Dobson. I enjoyed it!

  7. This is an especially lovely pattern, Nancy, and I think you will enjoy making it. There is one tip that I would like to pass on–greatly reduce the gathers at the center front point. You might already have figured that out, but I didn’t think about it until I had trouble getting the lace point to lie flat. I’d love to see a picture of your dress when you finish. Please share it.

  8. I lived in Tulsa OK and studied with Judith; I was a lucky girl to have that opportunity. I moved away and now live in FL. I googled her name just to see what she was doing now, and your page was at the top of the list. If you hear any more about her, please post. I hope she is well and happy. Your dress is beautiful, of course!

  9. You were lucky, Melissa, to study with Judith. Her work is flawless and her design sense is magnificent. I have no news of Judith but will share if I hear anything. Please do the same. Thanks for visiting my blog.

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