Friday Night Family Heirlooms… telling their stories: My Favorite Dress

Friday Night Family Heirlooms… telling their stories:    My Favorite Dress

When “heirlooms” aren’t identified, and their stories never told, they often become items tossed or sold – as they have no history, no ties to the family. So take the time to identify your family heirlooms history and memories so your treasures aren’t tossed in the trash. They are just as valuable as your family photographs and also need to be documented. Sometimes it’s not even the value of the item in question; it’s the story which holds the value.

My Favorite Dress

Family pic in color (800x717)


If I was lucky to enough to have this very dress I”m wearing, it surely would be a treasured heirloom, but I only have a photograph to remember it by.

My mother sewed this dress for me as she did all my clothes in growing up. She often sat up half the night , determined to finish once she started. I’m told she survived all night on black coffee and a cigarette; I awakened in the morning to find on a hanger, all pressed!

All my clothes were homemade until I was about twelve years old and begged for store bought – she said it broke her heart as she so enjoyed sewing my dresses. And not only did she sew the dresses, she also embroidered them. What patience and skills she had! I can understand how she wanted to stay up all night to finish, as when I knit for my grandchildren, I so wish I could finish right away… instead of weeks.

Even today, mama often mentions this specific dress and how proud of it she was… and wishing she had kept just this one. Most all my clothes were passed down to her girlfriend for her daughters, so at least they were used. I even have a photo of one of them in this same very dress.


My homemade Easter dress – I believe the purse was bought, but she may have made the hat. Mama liked to make bows on my dresses when I was young. If only I hadn’t closed my eyes!

Jeanne Easter_0001

They did a retake – eyes open and smiling!

There wasn’t anything my mother couldn’t sew and all without bought patterns; she never liked having to follow directions. She made her own patterns on newspaper measuring against other clothes and cutting them as she wanted. And if she didn’t have material, she’d reuse what she did have. I think the reason I never saw my father’s “whites” from the Navy is because she wanted white slacks… need I saw more!

When mama took Home Ec in high school, she made a mess of the dress she sewed and had to model. She tried telling the teacher that she could sew it her own way, but the teacher insisted she follow directions. The dress came out hiked up on one side and the teacher made her model it anyway. Being the “scootch” my mother is, she modeled it swishing and swaying across the stage and the boys all hooted! Of course the teacher wasn’t happy with her performance but mama was mad at how the teacher wouldn’t listen to her… so she decided to model it her way! Once home her mother took the dress apart and redid it; grandmama sewed the same way – no pattern.

During my Barbie phase, mama became her seamstress. My girlfriends and I took turns going into mama,  pretending to order new clothes for Barbie. While we played… mama sewed – later we returned to pick up Barbie’s new clothes.

While living in Perry, she fell in love with the jumpsuits the Air Force guys wore; there were no patterns for them to fit women at the time. Mama took a shirt and pants pattern of hers, meshing them together to create her own jumpsuit. I think she made herself one in every color pattern of fabric she had, wearing  them for a long time. Several women asked mama where she bought them, as they all wanted one; she’d laugh saying “they can’t be bought.” Now she says, “if I was smart, I would have patented that pattern.

Later when she and daddy took square dance lessons, mama sewed herself several of those fancy square dance outfits with a shirt for daddy to match each one. Recently she told me how she sat up all night sewing hundreds and hundreds of tiny sequins all over those skirts. If you’ve ever sewed sequins, you know she must have had very sore fingers by morning. I do remember seeing her and daddy all dressed up in those matching outfits, and I often tagged along to watch; they let me dance on the “Last Call” dance of the night.

Even though I have no actual “heirloom” – I have many “heirloom memories” that I’ve preserved here with my story.

Click Friday Night Family Heirlooms to  read more stories…

© 2016, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved

Family Heirloom Bloggers:

I started a Family Heirloom challenge in November 2015 asking fellow bloggers to join me in telling the stories of their family heirlooms. Writing the stories of the family heirlooms I’ve been entrusted with, has been on my mind for a long time; the time is now and I plan to write their stories on a weekly basis.

Please check out the weekly Family Heirloom stories of…

Blogger: Cathy Meder-Dempsey at Opening Doors in Brick Walls
Blogger: Karen Biesfeld at Vorfahrensucher
Blogger: Kendra Schmidt at trekthrutime
Blogger: Linda Stufflebean at Empty Branches on the Family Tree
Blogger:  Schalene Jennings Dagutis at Tangled Roots and Trees
Blogger: True Lewis at Notes to Myself
Blogger: Vera Marie Badertscher at Ancestors in Aprons
Blogger: Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks theme for 2015 Week 24 was Heirlooms. Check out her Blog at –  52 Ancestors Challenge 2015: Week 24 Recap  for links to more Heirloom posts.

About Jeanne Bryan Insalaco

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2 Responses to Friday Night Family Heirlooms… telling their stories: My Favorite Dress

  1. Lyn Smith says:

    What can I say that hasn’t been said. Great story with wonderful memories. Love those pictures of you and your Easter dress.
    Also, the family picture a few years later.
    Yes, Helen should have patented that jumpsuit pattern. Can you imagine? She should have at least charged to make one for those wanting one. Oh well, hindsight is 20/20.
    I have heirloom memories, as my grandmother, Grace McKinley made many of my clothes. I gave a lot of them to someone who could use them. Three that I wish I still had is this floral green dress when I was six years old. Mama McKinley made me a reversible winter coat that I gave to a girl in need of a coat, several years later. I had several and this poor girl didn’t have one. Mama McKinley also made me a blue corduroy cape with attached hood. She made that to replace one Mother had made for me that got stolen. Mama McKinley made my Senior dresses, too. My Senior baccalaureate dress and my prom dress. I do have the picture of the prom dress. Both of those she made while I was living in Alabama. Aunt Laura sent her my measurements and Mama sent the dress for sizing and Aunt Laura sent it back for finishing. Beautiful work.
    My grandmother did use patterns but I remember her using newspaper patterns as well.


  2. Janice Brown says:

    What beautiful photographs in this article. My mom made much of my sister and my clothing, especially dresses. With five kids, I still am in amazement at how well she dressed us. How wonderful that you still have some of the clothing she made.

    Liked by 1 person

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