Stitching Memories

Whenever a grandmother dies in our valley, word gets around to the family that her sewing stash and UFO’s and machines should be donated to the local American Sewing Guild chapter…in other words…us. We do our best to help the family decide what things are worth and how they can sell them or donate them easily. Sometimes, our members can buy the supplies or they can be given to the teens in our TAG (teach another generation) neighborhood group.

This month we were given 5 unfinished quilts with the batting and backing included. All I had to do as the Community Sew Coordinator for my town was to find willing quilters who would give them some TLC and finish them. So many women now have their own long-arm machine quilting frames but I ran into a snag as not all long-arm frames are wide enough to handle every size quilt. But 4 of them were handed over and I was left with the one orphan quilt…why?

Well, it seems that quilters don’t like to work with that fluffy polyester batting that was the staple when I arrived here in 2002. I worked in a quilt shop knowing nothing about quilting but selling fabrics and selling and teaching Janome embroidery machines. Slowly, the new batting called Warm and Natural cotton batting became the ideal batting on our shelves. The result is a very flat but very quiltable project.

Since I know nothing about free-motion quilting and have no desire to get into that now, I decided to get out a needle and cotton embroidery floss and give it a real primitive rustic feel. How hard could it be anyway…you just follow along the seamlines of the squares and rectangles? Yes, EVERY seamline.

The knots on the back gave it a vintage feel and I made sure that the white squares were outlined in the red thread to make them stand out. It gave me lots of meditation time and every time I came to a new fabric, it made me think about what the quilter was thinking or planning when she added it.

Once it was finished, I handed it over to my friend Sandi who binds all our charity quilts after I had serged the edges and steamed the bejesus out of it to flatten it. Once it had been steamed, even Sandi could not tell that it had been layered with cheap polyfill batting.

As the year comes to an end, some brides for the summer of 2018 have been bringing by dresses for a consultation and price quotes. This dress worn by her future mother-in-law in 1990 will be the base with lots of altering and modernizing.

Can you see the brown stains down the front of the lace bodice and satin skirt? If the dry cleaner does not do such a great job of removing white wine/champagne remnants, then over the years the stain shows up as gold or brown from being made from red grapes.

The bride wants me to remove EVERY pearl and clear sequin and cover the skirt and flounce and train with all new lace fabric and remove the sleeves while adding rows of boning to keep the bodice flat. Also, the skirt will have the side seams taken in to be really tight/pegged to emphasize the lower flounce. Those front pleats are really hideous and may be stitched flat before the new lace layer is added. All the horizontal lace motifs on the seams will be removed and reattached over the new lace layers.













The side view shows the new 3 point bustle. Won’t it be nice to cover up all that shiny satin?

Back in 1990 dresses did not all come with linings and since this dress shows the bride’s underwear, the lace lace layer will add a bit of coverage.

She also wants about 30 satin covered buttons added to the center back for more drama.












A close-up of all the yellowed/aged/stained clear sequins and pearls to be removed and the lace points pinned up.

So this will be a real challenge and makeover and labor intensive project!

Wishing all my US readers a lovely Thanksgiving Day with moist turkeys and lots of pumpkin pie! Mr. Mole has a small stash of Walker’s mincemeat tarts to devour to celebrate the occasion!











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46 Responses to Stitching Memories

  1. Martina says:

    I’m sure you’ll do your usual impeccable work, but part of me wants to tell her to buy a new dress and add a piece of this one to that! Luckily for all my sisters, my mother’s dress went to the nuns so they never had to think about wearing it. I do have the blue lace dress my grandmother wore to the wedding, and I made my youngest sister a garter with one of the lace flowers as her something old and something blue.

    • LindaC in AZ says:

      This! Buy a new dress. I’m sure Mrs. Mole will do an amazing job, but really wouldn’t a new dress cost about the same or less?

      • mrsmole says:

        Martina and Linda, you are both correct…buying a new one would be better and even I was shocked when I totaled up the first estimate. The dress will require over 8 hours of labor without adding all the buttons down the back. For what i am charging, she could buy 2 dresses at David’s.

  2. Rena says:

    I would imagine it’s cheaper to buy a new dress! Can’t wait to see the finished dress. I chuckled at your guild donation story because our chapter has the same experience. We sell the fabric to members at our annual events as a fundraiser for the chapter. Our Sandie is in charge of that!

  3. Got to be more sensible to just start over! People are crazy- I don’t envy you this one…

    • mrsmole says:

      The bride does not even know if she is getting married next summer or the next one…bizarre.

      • erniek3 says:

        It sounds like this is the only part of the wedding the bride has any control over. She is trying to make the best of a poor condition on the MIL part; at least the leg o mutton (must be mutton cause surely not lamb) sleeves are just going away and don’t have to be altered. And if it’s such an heirloom, why no cleaning by MIL? You know those fairy stories where the bride has three challenges (or some such thing?)?

  4. Sandi Benfield says:

    Mrs. Mole I do not envy you this one but I know it will be gorgeous when you do your magic.
    Happy Thanksgiving my friend!

  5. Laura Jansen says:

    How fun to see you doing something in my genre – Quilting. You will be the magician you always are and that dress will be outstandingly beautiful.

  6. Beth S says:

    Love you hear you have an area network to ensure that sewing supplies/stash go to those who can appreciate them. I have told my family to contact my stitching friends should anything happen to me. I’d hate to see my books, fabrics, laces, etc. be dumped at Salvation Army.
    On this wedding dress- only you could make that one into a star again!

  7. Jean says:

    Got to go with the other comments, buy a new one and add some small part of this one to it. I hope you have a very happy holiday season.

    • mrsmole says:

      Thank you, Jean and best wished to you as well. The sleeves have lovely beaded tassels that could be used on something else…headpiece or ring bearer pillow perhaps?

  8. Sharon P says:

    TAG – teach another generation – absolutely awesome idea !!
    Hope any vintage sewing machine are finding a new home too. Many of us quilters have found the vintage (straight stitch only) machines are excellent for piecing quilt blocks. The opening in the throat plate is more narrow as they do not have to accommodate for zigzag stitching. When piecing, you want the stitch length very close and a quarter inch seam allowance. This sometimes presents a problem with fabric being drawn down into the throat plate resulting in having to disassemble the bobbin casing in order to unleash the fabric. Plus, most all metal vintage machines are true work horses that need very little maintenance, and sometimes it’s just fun using a retro machine without all the bell and whistles. Good job Mrs. Mole and guild members !!

    • mrsmole says:

      Thank you my East Coast sister…you know quilting like a pro and once you closed your shop, you have more time to experiment with all of your stash too! many of our members own the coveted Singer Featherweights as they are so portable and make a gorgeous straight stitch and make all the other ladies jealous in classes.

  9. mltothill says:

    I was think the same as the previous commenters, why not incorporate a bit of this dress into a new one? I hope they will deal with the stains ahead of time.

    Great job with the quilt. What a wonderful group you have to donate time to finish quilts and help families find good homes for fabric stashes.

    I love the idea of your TAG group. I may suggest that to my MQG.

    • mrsmole says:

      We more mature sewers have to encourage the next group coming up and that seems to be the teens. Imagine being a teen with her own machine…how cool is that?

  10. Suzanne says:

    Everyone agrees, just buy a new dress! That dress only has a place in the 90’s.

    • mrsmole says:

      HA ha…we shall see, Suzanne…sometimes brides change their minds about the dress, the venue and even the groom…she has time to make big decisions for sure!

  11. Marina Porter says:

    Mr Mole must a have a few drops of English in his background, my mother made mincemeat for our pies, Oh I grew up in england, many memories of Christmas in the 1950’s and ’60’s.

    • mrsmole says:

      Mr Mole spent his whole life in Liverpool so I would say he has a few drops in him. When I moved to the UK in 1994, the shops only had those tarts in stock around Christmas but now they are available almost year round. He also manages to procure slices of Christmas cakes and Christmas pudding with custard poured over the top…for me it has to be pumpkin pie covered in whipped cream.

      • Martina says:

        My dad loved mincemeat squares, so my mother made them for him. He passed away 21 years ago, and we haven’t had them since! I think it’s an acquired taste.

  12. Cheryl Designs says:

    I understand the GOWN HISTORY 🙂 BUT….I agree with the previous comments, buy a new gown and incorporate a bit of the old one. The gown actually fits her pretty nicely 🙂 I understand if she just wanted to remove the sleeves. ADDING an overlay, REMOVING beads and sequins..WHEW!!! Does she want NEW beading and sequins? PLEASE remember to CHARGE for that. I charge $50 an hour to bead. Yes, I RARELY do it because IT IS EXPENSIVE 🙂 It is TIME CONSUMING. This is such a 90’s, INEXPENSIVE SATIN gown 😦 Just charge enough for YOUR time and labor lady 🙂 Have a WONDERFUL holiday season 🙂

  13. mrsmole says:

    My rates are close to yours, Cheryl and I always ask if they want to remove or add beads on their own or pay me to do it…no one ever says they want to mess with beads of sequins or even tiny buttons. The fabric is thin and cheap so no wonder they covered it all with bling.

  14. Trish says:

    I agree with the comments about buying a new dress, as that satin looks really cheap. It sounds as though the bride is going to get you to cover most of it, so what’s the point?
    I know you’ll do an amazing job as always, but I’m sure there will be moments when you’ll wonder why you agreed to do it! Looking forward to seeing the finished product if she goes ahead with it.😊

    • mrsmole says:

      You’re right Trish…what is the point? The bride is appeasing the new MIL. She has dreamed of a lace dress her whole life and this is the only way she will get one. They will need to drive 5 hours to the store and buy 5-6 yards of expensive lace in addition to my labor charges…now it is creeping into the ridiculous stage.

  15. upsew says:

    I love the story of the quilt and your group that ensure that UFOs and sewing machines get into placed homes rather than random. I was asked to finish a crochet blanket for my husbands cousin who died some years ago. it felt rather sad but it was nice to know it went on her daughters bed! ( I felt like a ‘Ushabti’!) I was unsure what to do with the box of hooks and notions that was in the bag but in the end left them in my workroom now and then when I use ‘Claires’ scissors, I think its in the right home.

    That dress looks such a chore. It could have been remade to a christening gown as that stain,….. but then again, you are a braver woman than I!

    best of luck

    • mrsmole says:

      First of all I had to look up “Ushabi”. Hard to think of handling an article from a person who has passed like with our donated quilts, but we have been chosen to complete the article with the same love that they would have attached to it. It warms my heart to know that a homeless person or destitute family will receive the quilt to warm them this winter. The bride did mention that the dress could be cut up later for christening gowns…maybe it should be cut up FIRST and buy herself her own lace gown from David’s?

  16. Jane Urbach says:

    I watched the children across the street have one of those very large dumpsters delivered and even then all left in the house would not fit. (No Fabric) I asked my husband (he is outside in front more than i am) “Couldn’t they have given some to Goodwill?” His answer was “Goodwill won’t take it.” Apparently Goodwill is very picky in California. I am glad you are rescuing some stuff. I am trying to find homes for my fabric and sewing doll clothes with scraps when my head doesn’t hurt for children on the PineRidge reservation. They are teaching children to sew in some of the classes with a few used machines and hoping to have some seniors learning when they get their new center built. Hopefully that will happen, and I will send fabric there. Dolls may be less caring about fit, but even sewing for 18 inch doll takes an amazing amount of time.

    I know you will save the wedding dress, but I sure don’t think it is worth it. After all the work is done (and you get paid) I hope the relationship survives.

    • mrsmole says:

      You can read stories of how our US clothes are not even re-sold in Goodwill shops. They are bundled and sent off to Africa or plowed into land fills. With all our good intentions of recycling gently used clothes we loved through thrift stores and charity shops…it doesn’t always happen. Bless you for supporting the Pine Ridge children. Back in the 80’s, one of their directors, a priest, came to SoCal to drum up donations and he showed many videos of what life was like and what good they were doing for the next generation through education. So many people ask me how I can sew on dresses for brides who will be divorced later with a 50% divorce rate. Being optimistic at all times, I never think like that…I wish them all happiness and keep my fingers crossed…ha ha.

  17. Tee says:

    wow is all I can say about that hideous dress, LOL Happy Thanksgiving dear~

    • mrsmole says:

      Thanks, Tee….hoping you never get such a weird request in your business that involves many generations and lots of bead removal!!! Wishing you a warm Thanksgiving surrounded by family!

  18. Iris says:

    May I ask what’s the best way to remove a stain like that. I spill some whiskey on the front of my dress during my reception. The drycleaner couldn’t take it out of the silk organza. And I’ve been procrastinating on that for 2 years now. I don’t even know if the drycleaning has “baked” in that stain. Though, to be fair, I don’t have children and I doubt I’ll wear that dress again. So I’m in no hurry. But, I probably so sort this out sooner rather than later.

  19. mrsmole says:

    I don’t know about removing stains from silk but for all others I use a stain stick like this:
    I tell all my brides how to use it: place a white washcloth down, place stained area over the cloth, rub the stain or another white washcloth with the stick, spray the washcloth or the fabric with water, then press, not not rub, the stain. Keep pressing until the stain migrates to the lower cloth. Spray a little more water and keep patting with a dry cloth. I have gotten huge wine stains left for many years out of vintage dresses. It doesn’t always work as the dry cleaners have, as you say, baked the stain in but it might be worth a try. Good luck Iris.

  20. Chris says:

    I think this dress is a way for future MIL to start controlling the bride. 😩

  21. JustGail says:

    Please tell me I’m not the only one with the theme song from Dallas TV show stuck in their head now! Thanks for the tip on trying to remove stains, I’ve had a few mystery stains on my own clothing that I’d rather be able to keep wearing without needing to add a sweater or sweatshirt.

    You did good on finishing that quilt. The bigger stitches suit it nicely.

  22. Linda Craig says:

    Mrs Mole you have the patients of Job

  23. sewruth says:

    Busman’s holiday for you – you sew for a living and you sew for fun. Your hand sewing complimented the quilt perfectly.
    Why would anyone want to wear their MIL’s wedding dress, especially this one? Make a brand new one and just tell her you’ve done all the alterations……

  24. mrsmole says:

    It could be that she feels she has to make the MIL happy before the wedding to get the man…sort of a package deal?
    I failed to mention that the bride brought 5 other people with her for the consultation. All women shouting for me to pin here and pin there and what about this and what about that….this went on for one hour and then Mr. Mole knocked on my door to say that there were 3 toddlers running amok and screaming in our cul-de-sac…children who had been left in their truck while their mothers and grandmothers were ordering me about. I certainly did not need this chaos at 4 pm on a Friday afternoon. Keeping my fingers crossed that the bride loses my number!!!

  25. Mem says:

    Omg there is more to this story than meets the eye . A psychiatrist would have a field day . I would never make anyone wear a dress like that. No I would never ALLOW my prospective daughter in law wear a dress like this .you will do great job I am sure . I look forward to seeing you do your magic

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