I’m the eldest of two girls, but the second youngest of eight cousins, with only my little sister rounding off that particular generation. If you look at our family photos over the years you’ll see familiar outfits cropping up; a bright yellow jersey knitted by Grannie I think, first on my oldest cousin, then his sister, and then Zee and I in our turn, or a pair of white trousers with a red matchstick pattern worn (with very trendy red braces) by a cousin at the height of the 80’s, by me a few years later to set off the deep tan that belies a summer spent almost entirely outdoors, and eventually by Zee, rolled up to her knees as she wades through rockpools.
And of course, we’re doing our bit in turn to perpetuate the family hand-me-downs. All of my gender neutral baby clothes make their way to London in fits and starts, where the tiny nephew has just started to fit the vests that Elma was wearing only a month or so ago, and Kitty’s extensive dress collection is hanging in Elma’s wardrobe, just waiting to be grown into.
I’ve loved dressing Elma in so many of my favourite clothes that Kit seemed to shoot through far too quickly, especially the ones that I made for her, but I am making sure that there are a few things that are new, just for her. I’ve bought a few bits and bobs on the rather flimsy justification of the changing seasons, and Gap had a Beatrix Potter collection earlier this year which needed no justification at all and merely required excessive restraint to stop me bringing the whole lot home. But as I’ve said before, my love language is textiles, and that means that my littlest girl needs something Mama-made.
Having unearthed my sewing machine from beneath a pile of teatowels, magazines and other bits and bobs that materialise whenever I turn my back, I’ve been putting a little cumulative action into practice, and, taking full advantage of Elma’s naps on the days that Kitty goes to nursery, I’ve made a little cord pinafore dress.
It is in fact not just a pinafore dress, but an Oliver + S pinafore dress; the Music Box Jumper, in a Japanese needlecord by Kokka (imaginatively called Pink Trees) . It’s described as pretty much the easiest pattern in the Oliver + S repertoire, so it seemed a good place to start. I’m hugely relieved that it was actually very easy to make, because I’ve got more Oliver + S patterns in the stash both of which sport a little more than one scissor of difficulty.
I know these patterns have a reputation of being phenomenally expensive in the UK, and they are; I could have bought Elma quite a nice dress for the cost of the pattern alone, but having made one I can say that they are entirely worth every penny. The instructions are clear, and easy to understand, and there’s an attention to detail in even the simplest construction that gives you a really nice finish, a dress that I’m proud to put my name to. I used French seams for the side seams, and all of the other interior workings are tucked away neatly so there’s not a raw edge to be seen. By contrast, my experiences with Burda patterns suggest that you need an overlocker, or a lot of bias binding, to get a finish that doesn’t scream “country cousin”. And if I’m going to put my time and pennies into a project it needs to have that “Wow, you made that” factor.
It’s also a really lovely length, which this Mama of tall girls appreciates; it doesn’t turn into a tunic top as soon as I pick her up, and she should still be able to wear it in the autumn with wooly tights and a nice long sleeved vest.
If there’s one part that needs improvement it’s the buttonholes, but that just needs a little time, scrap fabric, and possibly recourse to my sewing machine manual.
It’s not a homemade dress, it’s a handmade dress, and judging by the enthusiastic response of the young wearer – kicky feet, and a propensity to chew on the hem – I think Miss Elma might be getting a taste for one of a kind fashion, and I’m only too happy to oblige her.