2008-11-20 / Front Page

Infant christened in 167 year-old gown

By Eileen M. Daly

Lily Marie Phillips wears a christening gown first worn by an infant in 1841. Photo by Andrea von Hohenleiten Lily Marie Phillips wears a christening gown first worn by an infant in 1841. Photo by Andrea von Hohenleiten Lily Marie Phillips was christened on Oct. 19, wearing a gown that was first worn by an infant in 1841.

Phillips is the step-granddaughter of local resident Wendy Harvey, who wore the gown at her own christening ceremony many years ago. Harvey's great-greatgrandfather, Clarkson Dearborn was the first child to be christened in the gown, followed by her great-grandmother, Emily Dearborn, her grandmother, Constance Warren-Armbrust, her mother Linda Armbrust-Warner and then by Harvey herself. Harvey's sister Melissa Warner-Burrows and her niece Jessica Burrows also wore the gown, but Harvey's brother, Christopher Warner, and her nephew, Andrew Burrows, were unable to wear the gown because it was too small. In fact, according to Harvey, they were lucky the gown fit Phillips. "She's gotten a little bigger, so we were hoping it would still fit. We were putting her little arms in the dress and hoping it would fit around them. We just about squeezed her into it," said Harvey.

The dress is made of cotton and nothing special has been done to preserve it, Harvey said. "We just make sure it is clean, wrap it in tissue and place it in a box until the next christening. It is really in remarkably good shape considering how old it is and how many children have worn it," she said.

Phillips wore the dress with a bonnet that was made by Harvey's paternal grandmother, Harriet Warner, for Harvey's own christening ceremony. The bonnet has a satin lining and has also been worn by a succession of family members. The bonnet was made through a process called tatting. It is a process that dates back to the early 19th century. Tatting is a lace-making technique that produces a particularly durable lace. "It is not quite like knitting or crocheting because there are no needles used," Harvey said. "A shuttle is used instead, but not a large shuttle like those used in weaving looms. This shuttle is only about three inches long and is held by hand rather than on a stand. Everything is done by hand with tatting. Also, yarn isn't used in tatting. Instead, strong thread is used to create the lace," Harvey said.

"Tatting has almost become a lost art; not many people know how to do it anymore," she said. Harvey's sister has possession of all of their grandmother's tatting supplies, but neither sister has retained the art of tatting, Harvey said. "My grandmother tried to teach me at one time, but I was around 12 years old and she didn't really start at the basics. I wouldn't recommend trying to learn this from a relative," she said. All hope is not lost, however, as both Harvey and her sister are taking knitting lessons from a man named John Gomes, who, coincidentally, is skilled in the art of tatting.

According to Harvey, she and her sister haven't entirely given up on learning the complicated process. "John has worked a lot with weaving and looms and he does know how to do tatting. You never know, we may learn how to do tatting, yet," Harvey said.

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