The Christening Gown
Made in 1894 by my great-grandmother Minnie Weatherhog nee Porter, for her only son, the christening gown has become a family treasure. Thomas Percy (Tom) Weatherhog, my grandfather, was christened November 3, 1894 at Ilkeston in Derbyshire, England.
Using a small, sharp needle with an eye just big enough to comfortably hold the cotton thread, and a thimble on her finger, how Minnie must have worked to complete the gown, stitching the fine cotton in spare moments during the day and by candlelight or oil lamp in the evening, every stitch a labour of love.
The gown is a lovely piece of work. It is full length with rows of pin tucking alternating with lace panels. The bodice has vertical pin tucks and joins the skirt with two lines of hand sewn stitching. The back opening is secured by a small piece of narrow tape.
It would be impossible to reproduce many of those stitches with a sewing machine. The beauty and functionality of Minnie’s excellent hand stitching are astonishing. And because the seams are hand-done they look, fall and drape differently to any seam made by a machine – and the garment is the sturdier for it.
Thirty-two years later, my mother was christened in the same gown. Rosemary was born in 1926 in Taumarunui, New Zealand, once the most secluded spot in the North Island reached only by train, river boat or horseback. Tom, now married to Mabel, was the vicar there, and Mum was their only child. Grandfather was rather a restless soul who found it difficult to settle, so that gown, washed, pressed, and folded away, travelled all over the world with them: England, Brazil, New Zealand. When my grandparents separated in 1946, it remained with my grandmother and was, in due course, given to my mother for her children.
My three siblings and myself (born 1952-1962) have all worn it, as have our children. My grandchildren, Minnie’s great, great, grandchildren (born 1995-2002) have been photographed wearing it at their Naming Days but the last time it was worn was fifteen years ago when Alessandra was born.
And now, it is to be used by a new baby, gender unknown, to be born to my nephew Andrew and his partner Leah in London in May 2018 when I shall become a great aunt for the first time. My daughter Jennifer, (the current caretaker) retrieved the gown out of storage. It is still white, still in immaculate condition, and will shortly be on its way to England in the safe-keeping of my sister-in-law.
Our family’s christening gown is a rare treasure, one that has been handed down five generations to date. May there be many more generations to carry on this family tradition, babies whose wide eyes and beaming faces carry the genes of Minnie Porter Weatherhog.
Below: Minnie Porter Weatherhog holding Thomas Percy Weatherhog wearing the christening gown, Jane Anne Weatherhog Perriam (Tom's aunt), and Thomas Foster Weatherhog, 1894 Ilkeston, Derbyshire.