By guest blogger Karen Ross

From a very early age I was aware of the importance and place crafting garments had in my family. My mother was always sewing, mending, planning and piecing together garments for her brood of six.

As she worked in the dress fabric section of the once grand department store DIC she always had the pick of remnants and interesting cuts of fabric. My sisters and I were extremely well clothed and few guessed they were all made at home.  During the 60s clothes were simple: bright shifts and long A-line skirts. I share my mother’s love of fabric and sewing, though sadly none of my siblings do.

During this period I was vaguely aware of the family gown that was laid out for each baptism, but as it did not concern me I forgot about it. Only when I started to have children of my own did I ask my mother where it had got to.  At first it could not be uncovered, so when my son was baptised he had to have a new garment trimmed with fabric from my wedding gown and adorned with a deep trim constructed for the gown by a very close friend.

It was only after my daughter was born that the family gown surfaced. She wore that to the church and the more functional ‘newer’ one at home.  As they are 17 and 25 years respectively now the ‘newer’ garment in soft cream viyella is getting on, a little.

Family gown (left) and new gown (right)

After this I started to uncover the story of the family gown. Word had it that it was completed onboard ship to New Zealand,  which dates it to around the late 1860s.  I am not sure if this is true, and am trying to reconstruct its story at present.

It is made from very plain material but is all hand sewn and demonstrates exquisite craftsmanship in the trim and central panel.

Over the years many babies have been baptised in the gown. As part of unravelling its history I am making an undergarment for the gown.  Around the hem of this garment I am going to embroider, where possible, the names and baptism dates of the babies who wore the gown. I will keep you posted on my progress.