During the early 1900s, mothers dressed their toddlers in long gowns and tucked the hem of the lengthy garment under a table leg so they could do their chores without worrying about their child.
Today, those long gowns are used as christening outfits, and other heirloom-type clothes are used as formal wear for children.Martha Pullen, special guest at the Intermountain Sewing and Needle Arts Conference, gave her definition of heirloom clothing as "love clothes" made with great care for loved ones.
Pullen, an advocate of French sewing by machine, taught workshops and held a fashion show on children's heirloom clothing at the conference held at Brigham Young University.
French sewing developed during the late 1800s, relying heavily on laces. Before that time, children were dressed as miniature adults, Pullen said.
Pullen has written nine sewing books and publishes Sew Beautiful magazine from her hometown of Huntsville, Ala. She began sewing at age 6 but didn't become an avid sewer until her first daughter was born in 1977. Since then, Pullen has made sewing a career, teaching heirloom techniques in her own shop and at conferences throughout the country.
The trend in French heirloom clothing is to use different patterns, rather than solid fabrics, Pullen said. Chintz, gingham patterns and the use of silk and mid-calf length for dresses are also popular.
Pinafores, originally used to keep dirt off clothing, are now used as decorative features over dresses.
Pullen said the average heirloom outfit takes six to 12 hours to make by machine and is more affordable than store-bought clothes.
"You don't have to spend several hundred dollars on the lace," Pullen said. "There is no price tag that belongs on taste and elegance."
"We can have the best of everything when we sew by machine - even fun," Pullen said.
People are returning to the sewing machine for pleasure, to relieve stress, to save money and as a creative outlet, Pullen said. The resurgence is fueled by the sewing industry, which is offering more and more sewing classes.
"Every kind of person, on every socio-economic level, sews," Pullen said. "The sisterhood of sewing is very loving."