Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Cara's Christening Gown

In many families, the christening gown is a cherished heirloom, carefully preserved to be handed down to the child who wore it when it's time to christen his or her own child. Few items of clothing in baby's first year hold as much meaning for new parents as the outfit in which they first present their precious gift to their community. Nearly every culture around the world has traditions associated with christening and naming their children, from church ceremonies to joyous celebrations. It's a universally understood wish - to present a new member of the community - whether that community be your church congregation, your tribe or your family. Just before my oldest daughter was born, I decided that I wanted my daughter to wear a gown made by my own hands on her christening day. I chose a pattern that incorporated a complex stitch known as 'The Tree of Life'. It seemed appropriate for a day that would mark the beginning of her spiritual life within the Church. I bought skeins of white fingering yarn, and a new crochet hook specifically to work on the lacy confection that I planned. My husband gifted me with a carryall to hold the work in progress and the yarn, a bright yellow and green bag that opened to stand at my feet wherever I set it -- and I set it everywhere. For the next six weeks, the christening gown went with me everywhere. I crocheted en route to work, to home, to family parties and to meetings. I worked on it during my breaks at work, drawing up stitch after stitch after stitch. My coworkers and family measured the progress of the christening gown row by row - and each row was a full 60 inches long. Day after day and week after week, the christening gown grew, and as it grew I found myself explaining to strangers in coffee houses, demonstrating the tree of life stitch to passers by in the park, and building memories into the weaving of the skirt. The half-finished christening gown came to the hospital with me when Cara was born. She was three hours old the first time that I measured its length against her tiny body, marveling at the way her little toes poked through the openwork lace of the skirt. It accompanied us home, and on our first excursions as mom and baby. I worked on it at La Leche League meetings and mommy-and-me massage workshops. It was a never-ending labor, with every row taking nearly two hours to complete. The night before her christening, I stayed up late to put the finishing touches on the frothy lace of the gown, weaving a pale green ribbon - for life - through the eyelet opening at the waist and around her throat. The day was hot, but she was the very picture of angelic innocence in the crocheted gown over which I had worked so long. She wore it two hours that day - it was far too hot to let her swelter in such a lavish confection. I wish I could say that the christening gown has been tucked away, carefully preserved for her own daughter, but it would be a lie. For the first two years of Cara's life, it hung in her closet, a reminder of all the wishes of fortune I'd worked into every stitch. She was three the second time that she put it on - running barefoot from her room and turning in front of me to let the skirt flare wide and ask me to tie the ribbon. She was four when she wore it in her preschool play in the role of the Princess. At Halloween, she reprised the role, adding a crown of silk wildflowers to be the Queen of Earth. For a year, it clothed a doll that was larger than Cara, standing in corner of her room. The christening gown has been worn for dress-up, for celebration, for play and for comfort. It was only the intervention of her grandmother that kept Cara from wearing it on her First Communion Day, and on the morning of her Confirmation, she laid the by-now bedraggled and well-worn christening dress out on her bed, and carefully worked the pale green satin ribbon free so that she could wear it in her hair as she took her place in the Church as an adult. The christening gown that I started on a whim has followed her throughout her life as a child and into adulthood. It finally gave in to the wear and tear of use and began to unravel - but Cara has the ribbon still, and a small ball of white yarn she salvaged from the carefully worked dress. I have no regrets about allowing her to wear and play in her christening gown all her life. I only have this wish for you as you choose the garment in which your own child will be clothed - may it bring you and your child all the blessings and joy that Cara's christening dress has brought to our family.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Buying Gently Used Baby Clothing

Remember that adorable outfit you bought for your newborn - the one that cost you nearly $40, and got worn three times before it no longer fit? For such tiny things, baby clothing is expensive - and as fast as babies grow, they seldom see much wear. For parents on a budget, those are potent arguments for cutting costs where you can when dressing baby.

Designer duds for baby DO make sense though - and by designer, I mean the elite in the baby design field: OshKosh and Baby B'Gosh, Carters, Sweat Pea and other top-of-the-line baby clothing manufacturers. They concentrate on the little details that cheap clothing manufacturers skimp on - little details that make a major difference in fit, appearance and comfort. You want to take advantage of nice, flat seams that don't irritate, and nylon snaps that don't scratch or pull through fabric. But you don't want to pay $30 for a sleeper!

The answer is shopping around for gently worn using baby clothes and checking with friends and relatives for outgrown hand-me-downs. Yard sales are a great source in the spring and summer months. You'll often find great clothes that are barely worn in sizes for the next couple of years. Check the newspaper for upcoming yard sales - baby clothes are often one of the advertised items.

Another great place to buy designer baby clothes at rock-bottom prices is a good consignment shop. Strike up a relationship with the owner, and she may even put aside items that she knows you'll love and give you a call to let you know what she's got. In addition, you can often sell the same baby clothes BACK, or trade them in on the next size up when baby outgrows them.

How about a place to get gently used baby clothing for the cost of the gas to go pick them up? is a national movement of community bulletin boards who are committed to the concept of 'one man's junk'. Check to see if there's a chapter near you, and join up. Seldom a day goes by that someone doesn't offer a few bags of baby and children's clothing in various sizes. The quality varies, but the younger the baby, the more likely that the clothing is still in excellent shape.

Don't overlook church and community thrift shops as sources of good, well-cared for baby clothing. If there's a Junior League thrift shop in your city, you'll find beautiful clothing for baby at bargain basement prices.

When you do pick up used clothing for baby, launder it as soon as you get it home. Pretreat stains if there are any, and wash with a gentle laundry soap meant for baby. Add borax to the water for extra whitening power, and be sure to rinse at least twice if you use bleach. By the time you're done, you'll have one of the best-dressed babies in town - without breaking your piggy bank.

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