We frequently talk about the heirloom aspect of our hand-made clothing, the timeless design and lasting quality that allows for an Alabama Chanin garment to be worn for years and, in some cases, passed along to a younger family member. While we know this to be true, we don’t often have the opportunity to witness a specific garment change and evolve over time. Perhaps a perfect example: my daughter, Maggie has been wearing the above dress for five years (and counting).

The dress was made for her, cut from an oliver + s pattern, when she was a curly headed, cherub-faced two year old. Made with our organic cotton jersey in Butter and Natural, the dress has been through about a million washes and worn on too many occasions to count. It’s been stained, ripped, appliquéd (to cover the rips), and dyed blue (to cover the stains). No longer a dress but a summer top, she will not give it up.


Eventually, she will outgrow the frock and, while I would love to see her pass it on to her niece, Stella, I’m not sure our heirloom garment will go that way. In the September 2013 issue of Martha Stewart Living, deputy editor Rory Evans describes preserving her daughter’s dress, inextricably linked to my memories of her age-specific cuteness,” by stitching the dress to mat board, framing, and hanging it in her daughter’s bedroom. It’s a clever alternative to folding it away in a box shoved to the back of the attic. Certainly the clothing turned artwork would evoke colorful childhood memories for Maggie (and also for me).

To be perfectly honest, this post was originally planned as a recipe for removing chewing gum with eucalyptus oil – one more thing this jumper has been through. The gum was stuck and smeared in several places on the inside of the dress (and happened when she was in her father’s care, I might add). And then the gum came out in the wash. Amazing what men can miss. Still, there’s so much love in this single little dress that the story needed to be shared. The recipe for gum removal has become a recipe for growing up with a loved garment.


oliver + s pattern
1 yard 100% organic cotton jersey
Angie’s Fall stencil
Textile paint
Button Craft thread
2 snaps for shoulder closure
Scrap fabric for patching holes
Dye for covering stains

Paint stencil onto fabric. Cut pattern and construct garment according to pattern instructions. Fall in love with the child as she wears and loves the dress. Later, appliqué scrap fabric over inevitable rips and tears. Eventually, dye dress a darker color to cover the unavoidable stains. Watch child grow and love the dress until it becomes a top. Cherish the memory, share your story.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Click to read 10 comments
  1. Sara Crystal

    this is great. what to do with it? ideas: pass it on to a well loved younger sibling or friend. recut as the front of a tshirt, applique square panels onto shirt or dress. add side panels from armhole to hem. add ruffles to hem and it becomes a skirt, using the upper section as a waistband and merely trimming off the shoulder ties, to be used elsewhere. turn into pockets.add to quilt or make into pillow for her bed or yours. turn into totebag for some favorite items. make into bookcover. use as center block of quilt front and back.turn into center of alabama chanin style poncho.dresser scarf. scarf scarf.think of it as, this is a piece of cool fabric, what shall I do with it? for more ideas, see multiple threads in albany ca, they are my inspiration and are fearless.
    I am working on several items inspired by you and make quilts, mosaics, and clothing often. thanks for everything. love sara

  2. Sara Crystal

    oh more: add side panels, ruffle, and extensions to shoulder ties and it is good for another five years. add a squared section to your own tshirt front. use skirt section as panels and add more long triangles so the skirt becomes a gored skirt with alternating panels. use as center section of a sarong or wrap around skirt… love sara, again

  3. Carol

    I love the idea of treating the dress as art & preserving it forever. With all those memories I wouldn’t want it to finally become a dust rag. I remember one dress I had as a child that I loved dearly – it was a blue one shoulder number that my mother made. I still think about it all these years later & wish she had saved it.

  4. Sara Crystal

    one more thought, just copy it in a larger size. ask her first what she wants to do… looking forward to your new line of children’s garments. I just think making girls’ skirts is so much fun. and I always put on pockets. love again, sara

  5. Grace

    At first, I thought, “wow… I like that the textile paint didn’t take the dye”, but now I see that the stencil placement is completely different than it was originally. Did you restencil it or is this a different side of the dress?

    1. Alabama Post author


      We made several of these dresses when the original was made for Maggie. The difference in stenciling is simply that the stencil got placed differently on the different dresses. You have a good eye as we never noticed the difference in the photos. You are correct. On Maggie’s dress, the dye doesn’t take as well in the areas that have been stenciled. Or the color of the stenciling paint “comes out” once dyed.

      Natalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin

  6. Pingback: made and worn with love | Blog | Oliver + S

  7. Mary G.

    I have a swimsuit of mine, tucked away in a box. I wore it when I was two, or maybe three, and now nearly forty years have passed. I thought I would save it for my own daughter but I’ve yet to find Mr. Right, let alone Mr. Close Enough. And if I do become lucky enough to have a daughter of my own the fabric is so very old, the elastic no longer stretches and the yellow plastic daisy on front just barely hangs on, I think I may have to try framing it for my own enjoyment!

    When I see it, I think of a photo of me, sitting with my dad, in a lawn chair by our pool. There is nothing as wonderful as a good memory.