How to Make a Baby Sling

me and "baby"

I wish baby slings were popular when my boys were infants – we had front carriers, back carriers, strollers and infant seats, all of them complicated and sometimes expensive. We were warned, thirty years ago, that we shouldn’t hold our babies too much or we would spoil them and they would be mama’s boys. Well, I wish I had spoiled them and that they were mama’s boys to the extent that they would occasionally write or phone their mama thirty years later!

You can’t spoil a baby by loving it. You can’t ruin your child’s life by holding it. For heaven’s sake, humanity has done this for eons and somehow we turned out competent, feminine women and independent, masculine men despite toting our babies around everywhere. And where was neolithic mom going to put her baby? On the ground? People tied the babies and small children to themselves to keep them warm and safe.

So, Sarah Ann, remember that I had this babysling on first, and a little bit of my heart goes to you and our little dear one with it.

The sling is designed by Handmade- Adelaide and as usual I’ve lost the http, but it is easy to find if you google babysling. It’s made from a washable home decor fabric. I now know how to make a proper French seam, too, which is essential for holding the baby safely. It keeps baby close to your body, and at first I thought it was too snug, but baby is not a designer handbag and needs to be stable against your upper torso. Sarah requested a one-piece sling because the adjustable one didn’t work well for her. We are about the same height so I made it to fit me. I assume that my middle-aged weight and the three layers of clothes I wear added a bit to the snugness.

I was unsure of how to make the pattern from the instructions so I made a scale model before commiting my nice fabric to scissors.

Lil Daddy Caillou

I made one to fit Patience’s Caillou doll. He has her little chipmunk doll “Ashley” in the sling.

And for those who are wondering where I found a newborn baby for my sling – it’s a rolled up towel, baby length and width, with a bonnet tied on for its head. Genuine Amish towel baby.

Shorn Hair

I get a lot of inquries about cutting one’s hair, especially from women who have sojourned with or joined sects that follow a strict Biblical interpretation of appearance. What is shorn hair? “Shorn” means it is cut close to the scalp, or very short so that the shape of the head shows. “Shorn” is the past tense of “to shear”, and shearing is what we do to sheep. We take off most of the fleece, not quite to the skin, because poor sheep need some protection from the sun and insects; shearing follows the contours of the sheep’s body.

Do we mean when we interpret the admonition from Paul that women should not cut their hair at all? No. Trimming is not shearing. Paul meant that women should have long hair, as a covering when they are naked, and to appear as women and not to try to pass as men. He called for women to honour their feminity by having long hair, revealed only to their husbands, and that they weren’t to cut it so short that they could dispense with covering. Covering protected the hair as well as protecting the modesty of a woman; her hair was not an object of beauty to be admired by all. (And those who think this is ridiculous, that uncovered hair can’t be immodest – well, what do all the product advertisements tell us? That we should have silky, shiny, sexy hair, that men will be attracted to our beautiful uncovered hair and other women will be envious. That sounds immodest and vain to me.)

Must a woman’s hair be uncut? I don’t think we should treat the teaching as a superstition. Some women will need to cut their hair for health or safety reasons. Some women will find their hair easier to care for if the ends are trimmed neatly. I believe the covering is more important than the state of the natural growth of hair underneath, since that is personal and between a woman and her husband. My own hair is uncut, not even trimmed, and past my waist. It is a goodly length of hair. I find it manageable.

I do not cut my hair because this is my personal sacrifice to God, that my hair will be as natural as possible and without any ornamentation. Most women my age cut their hair above their shoulders and colour it. My hair is completely natural, and I am not concerned about the colour or how good it looks. My husband has always been satisfied with this, and prefers the natural look of my long hair to anything styled or coloured. In this way, I am as God made me, without any anxiety as to how others view me. My air is covered in public, and through most of the day in the home.

In Plain dress, uncut hair and headcovering, I have no anxiety about whether my appearance is pleasing.

When We Became Plain

We’ve been publically Plain for more than four years now. It was a very easy step for us, but the consequences were great, and no one expected it of two middle-aged Anglican priests. My husband, Nicholas, had lived in southern Ontario for quite a while, and often encountered Amish and Old Order Mennonite as he travelled around the province in his work. He openly admired them, the simple, Christian way of life, the lack of materialism. He adopted some of that simplicity in his life, although it wasn’t that obvious. Anglican priests, for the most part, dress quite simply. Black is the colour. That’s about it. Black shirt with white collar insert to look like clergy, black jeans or trousers, a plain black jacket or sweater. Yes, I know Anglican clergy, male and female, who are veritable peacocks. (You know who you are.) Most of us, though, keep to the simple and narrow way – it’s easier and it hides the coffee stains, which are an occupational hazard.

I, on the other hand, had closets of clothes. My daily dress was basic black, with some grey for variety. Off-duty, once out of overalls and denim jackets (raising sheep limits one’s wardrobe, too) I had dresses of fanciful shape and hue, and shoes, shoes, shoes. I had designer clothes. Oh, yes, tasteful designer clothes in those timeless styles, but cashmere, expensive wool, silk. Poor Nicholas was more than a bit intimidated by my high style when we met. (I wore designer jeans, a silk blouse and a suede cowboy hat. He was wearing an ugly plaid shirt and khakis – it just screamed “priest out of uniform.”)

Once we were together, and I had winnowed the chaff from the grain, wardrobe-wise, I was motivated to go one step further. Nicholas gave me his copy of Scott Savage’s The Plain Reader. I was home at last. Within a few days, I was down to two dresses, a skirt and blouse, and boots. I kept my black wool coat and made my first prayer kapp, thanks to Shepherd’s Hill.

But why?

It wasn’t mere Amish-enthrallment, motivated by romantic novel covers. I had known Mennonites and liked them, and had felt a bit of a tug to get Plain, but didn’t follow through. Anglicans aren’t Plain, I reasoned. No one will understand, people will hate it, I will look silly.

So I put that impulse aside. Little did I realize at the time that the hounds of heaven were on my heels.

Nicholas and I talked it over. It was a new life for us. We were already rural people, living a very simple life. It seemed practical, but it seemed more than that. We were making a break from the worldly past, and we were eager to show it. In Plain dress, with kapp and sturdy boots, I felt armored for the battle. I was ready. I was under the shelter of the heavenly hand.

That was the fulfillment of my search. I once said, “If only we could go out into the world, and take the monastery with us!”  I meant that we need to carry peace and mercy with us, sheltered by God. We move in this world, but we are not of it. We live in His Kingdom, here on earth. We are not citizens of the world of commerce and trade, just sojourners eager to return Home.

I went through many permutations of Plain, from nearly monastic to what I wear now, a Quakerly cape dress or jumper and a white or black kapp, and a very Plain Mennonite bonnet. I have made myself a slat bonnet, and those who know me as the most Austere of Austere Plain will be surprised to hear that today I bought two print fabrics for summer dresses, by Nicholas’s advice.

Nicholas looks the same as he has for four years or more: black shoes or workboots, black or blue jeans, black braces, Plain cotton shirt in white, beige, blue or black. He does have one madder red shirt he calls “orange” and thinks way too flash. He wears a black felt hat in winter, a plain straw hat in summer, doesn’t cut his hair and wears a full beard. He was wearing the Brethren chin beard, but his low vision now prevents him from shaving properly, and his beard and mustache have filled in. His winter jacket is his old peacoat, which he has had for many, many years. He’s a handsome man and I am blessed to have him by my side.

That’s us, Plain.

Modest Brides, Modest Women, The Best of Hospitality

I don’t think we can expect young women (and some older ones) to suddenly decide that they are modest after all, just because they are getting married. “Raise them up in the way that they should go.”  And if we, their elders, have not given them much of an example (and I shake my head when I think of my past) then why do we demand it now? So, physician, heal thyself!

To me it is more than a matter of physical modesty; an expensive stylish outfit that shows no leg below the knee or doesn’t accentuate the bosom, paired with gold jewelry, a flattering haircut and a bit of colour to hide the grey, is still not saying to the world that a Christian woman is standing before them. Of course, the Plainest of Plain dresses, the severest of headcovering, and a sharp temper with a rough tongue doesn’t either. Modest, simple, headcovering dress and a meek temperment tell the world that thee is a Christian!

I know many will disagree with that, that they don’t think headcovering is required, that it is oppressive and outdated. I say it is back in date, even if it dropped out for a while. The world needs the Christian witness more than ever, and if we do not make that witness, if we are not living martyrs to the ways of the world, then we are not listening to what the world needs, which is the Way of Christ. We are called to be prophets of a different sort, living out our faith by example rather than words.

Nor is it enough to marry in a modest dress, live modestly and covered, and never give of our hearts. Marriage is more than the binding of two into one and the establishment of a household. It is also living out the mission of the little family church that you have become. Marriage is a mission to the world. It is a way to show how God loves us, how Jesus saves us. It is a place of extravagant hospitality in the humblest of settings.

This does not mean that the wedding reception has to be an extravagant waste of money and resources, the most expensive of everything in order to impress one’s friends. The party can be quite modest in budget, and simple in taste, while providing the guests with a wonderful time of food and fellowship.  It can be as simple as cheese, fruit and lemonade, a barbecue of burgers and sausage and salads, or a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and juice. The wedding cake should be good cake, and if it is homemade, all the better, without the over-the-top decorations of the expensive cakes we see on television. (Not that I don’t love seeing the artistic creations, but what used to be ordered only on the corporate level for huge business parties is now expected at little suburban weddings.)

That’s the beginning of family hospitality. I don’t believe in head tables, special wines for the wedding party, or the horrid habit of numbering the tables for the buffet line. Have two buffets set up or have waiters, or keep the meal so simple that there is not a backup at the buffet. The food should be well-prepared, and most multi-item buffets just don’t meet that standard. It used to be a custom in some places for the wedding attendants or the bride’s family to serve the tables, and special aprons were made by the bride for that purpose.

And that’s just the beginning. Christian hospitality is not about entertaining friends and family every Sunday, though.  It goes well beyond that. The new family – this little church – has a mission in the world, to serve the hungry, provide for the needy, to reach out and love as Christ has loved us.  Activity in outreach, the food bank, the soup kitchen, the homeless shelter, or raising money for and even serving in mission beyond our own walls is part of the Christian family life. We will have no trouble practicing modesty if that is the mission we fulfill, because we will have little time for mirror gazing and contemplation of our own desires.

Modest Brides: Vintage Dresses

Women were more modest a few decades (and centuries) ago. Well, not always – the flappers of the twenties with short skirts and bobbed hair; the late Victorian lowcut dress, the Empire style we know from Jane Austen’s day – there have been different standards in different eras. Christian women of the most devout ideals, though, have always been expected to follow rules of modesty even when the rules of fashion were open to interpretation. My grandmothers wore skirts below the knee in the twenties and never bobbed their hair; my Victorian ancestresses, as far as I can tell, wore dresses buttoned up to the neck, covered with aprons. Before that, not many of them spoke English (or wrote anything down) so my guess is that they wore the modest chemise, bodice, full skirt and apron of their native Celtic lands. We were not fashionable people!

Modest brides look to the past for inspiration in a time of immodesty. Even the low-bosomed dresses of the fin de siecle and the Empire days can be modified to cover above the collarbone. Skirts were generally full, with lots of underpinnings and layers to keep fabric from clinging.

Gramma’s gown might be what a modest bride is looking to wear, but even fabric that is only fifty years old can be distressed, rotted, or otherwise unwearable. I learned a lot about textiles and old dresses when I was a museum curator. How fabric is stored makes a big difference in how long it lasts. Ideally, fabrics are stored flat, without creases, in a cool and dry environment. Sun, heat, metal hangers, cedar chests and mold can do as much damage as moths and small children playing dress-up. The other disappointment for a bride hoping to wear an heirloom dress might be how small that vintage dress is. Some mid-twentieth century gowns may be in a size 12 or larger, but before that, it was a rare bride who was over five feet tall and weighed more than a hundred pounds. Some wedding dresses made before the American Civil War will fit ten year old girls now.

Old gowns are hard to let out. The stitching line may be weak, the fabric starting to tear along the stress points. Matching fabric may be impossible, especially with gowns made before the nineteen-sixties. Losing fifteen pounds to get into a small dress might seem feasible, but shrinking three inches in height is not. Bones at shoulders, hips and rib don’t get any smaller.

So that’s the first thing to consider when buying a vintage gown – will it fit without alterations? The second thing to consider is whether the dress is or can be made wearable, with any missing pieces such as fasteners replaced. Missing lace can be replaced – often it got re-used. Hooks and eyes and buttons can be found to match. Swaths cut out of the skirt would be nigh imposible to replace. Third, can a distressed fabric be reinforced? This is what museums sometimes do with display pieces – matching backing fabric is let into shoulders or waists to hold the old stitches together. This can be done even with pieces to be worn.

But a dress that is too small is just that – light cottons, linens and wool will stretch to some extent, but heavy fabrics such as damask and brocade simply do not give at all. Brides in past eras would compress bosom and waist to ridiculous measurements, which is unhealthy and so foreign to modern women that the idea of a tight-laced corset (i.e. Scarlett O’Hara) sounds like torture. It is.

There are some wonderful vintage vendors on line. Even if a bride doesn’t expect to buy a vintage dress, they are worth looking at for ideas. These are my favourites:

Antique Dress (http://www.antiquedress.com) has dresses of all eras for sale from mid-US$400 on up! They have an excellent photo gallery if a bride is looking for inspiration.

Bobby Dene’s Vintage Clothes has a good selection of wedding dresses,w ith nice photos and descriptions, and prices from US$300 up. (http://www.bobbydene.com).

My favourite is probably Vintage Textile, a museum curator’s dream. (http://www.vintagetextile.com) They must haunt the auction houses! There are many Victorian and Edwardian style dresses, in collector’s quality. Their gallery does not list size, so the buyer needs to check the individual listings. These are on the high end and meant for collections, although many are described as wearable. Vintage Textile has great accessories and caps, mantles and shawls to make a modern dress more modest and certainly very special. Maybe a bride would rather put her money into an exquisite Kashmir shawl rather than a one-time only fancy white dress. There was one white Edwardian dress that I would gladly have worn if the occasion arose! And the shawls – well, Queen Victoria might have chosen one for a cool evening at Balmoral. They carry a few lace pieces and wedding veils that coudl be adapted to modern dress. Prices are moderate to high, since these are museum quality garments and textiles.

These are my caveats about buying a vintage dress or other textiles: Ask if you can put down a deposit and return the dres if it is not satisfactory, which may mean paying for it, and having the right to return it minus shipping costs within a certain time.

Ask how the piece was measured, especially if it is a dress or fitted garment. Was it measured flat, across the front or back, and the measurement doubled (that is, let’s say, 16″ from seam to seam across the bust, then doubled to  32″.) Or was it measured on a mannequin or model, who filled out the shaped bodice to give a measurement of 32″? Cut and darts can make a difference in how the bust or waist measurement is taken.

If a garment is sized, ask if that is the labelled size in the garment or if it is the equivalent modern size. Sizing varied wildly over the decades; what is a size 12 in one era is a size 8 in another.

Don’t buy shoes or accessories until you have the dress, in order to match the colour more accurately. White doesn’t stay white over the years, and beige can range from yellow to pink. I would try to order the dress to arrive at least one month before the wedding, in case alterations or repairs need to be done, and to find accessories.

Bridesmaids’ dresses should match in style with the brides’ dress, which can be a big consideration if the bride must have that special vintage dress. If the bride is wearing a cream Victorian dress with big picture hat and cathedral train, it looks a bit as if the bridesmaids came to the wrong party if they are in short hot pink jersey.

A vintage dress can be perfect in an older church setting. It can be economical and modest. It will honour the women who went before us to the altar and said, “I will.”

Modest Brides – Wedding Dress Sources

I spent a little time cruising Google to find some sites that might give a modest bride some direction. (More on what Christian modesty means tomorrow.)

Most “modest wedding dress” sites are Latter Day Saint-oriented (Mormons as they are commonly known.) Honestly, I don’t find them modest enough. Collarbones and elbows show, but at least the dresses cover the cleavage and shoulders. Bodices are usually fitted; if brides want to avoid the tight bosom and torso of most styles, they will have to choose carefully.

Another source for very modest dresses are Tznius (Jewish modesty) seamstresses. Some big city bridal shops will alter to meet tznius standards if you choose a style that makes that practical. Tznius standards are covering from neck to below the knee, at least, and sleeves below the elbow. Any dress with a sweetheart or rounded neckline can be cut higher for modesty, and simple sleeves can always be lengthened. To avoid too much emphasis on the bosom, choose a style that has a one piece bodice front and darts to shape rather than gathering or ruching. A higher waistline will keep the skirt flowing away from the body.

LDS sites:

LatterDay Bride and Prom (http://www.latterdaybride.com). Prices run from $600 to $1000+. Their models are not all long-sleeved, and they run narrow through the bodice.

Beautifully Modest at http://www.beautifullymodest.com. Pretty much same as above as is Totally Modest (http://www.totallymodest.com).

Eternity Gowns (http://www.eternitygowns.com) has a Sacred line that is the most modest of LDS gowns, with sleeves and high waistlines.

Tznius standards gowns:

A Formal Choice (http://www.aformalchoice.com) will modify their gowns to meet Tznius, but these can be expensive although the prices are somewhat more reasonable than other bridal lines. They are in Puyallup, Washington.

In New York, Couture de Bride is a big supplier of Tznius dresses. (http://www.chossonandkallah.com.) For an East Coast bride, this might be a good choice for a dress from a shop that understands modesty.

Chatfields Bridal Boutique in St. Louis, Missouri caters to the modest bride as well. (http://www.chatfieldsboutique.com.)

My advice about ordering a dress long-distance is to A) Get a good understanding of the price – basic dress, additions, alterations, and shipping. B) Ask for fabric swatches. Sometimes there will be a deposit or a charge for these. It is worth paying. C) Ask for photos of the INSIDE of a similar dress and any closures (zippers, buttons) to make sure that the dress will be well-made. (Expect linings, not just raw seams.) If a dress has a zipper, make sure it is long enough for your figure type.

Don’t buy a headcover or veil until the dress arrives; colours vary from swatches depending on the manufacturer’s batch. I would advise the same for matching shoes and other accessories. It may be best to order so that the dress arrives a month before the wedding, in case accessories or shoes are hard to find, or if a local seamstress has to make an alteration.

Plain Sewing for Men

I haven’t had to sew for Nicholas. He is quite satisfied with jeans, blue and black, and simple shirts. Almost everything he has was bought at thrift stores. That it was really cheap and it fits him is what he likes the best about it. He never wears a sports coat or a suit, and the last tie he had was used to wrap up an old futon going to the tip. The only sewing I do for him is mending – buttons, rips, and remaking a pair of stretched out braces. (I intend to make a good pair as soon as I can find all the necessary hardware.)

But what if you want to make some traditional, or simply styled men’s clothing? Maybe you are a wife or mother sewing for the men, or a man who wants to run up some inexpensive clothes for himself. (I come from a family where the men knew how to use a sewing machine – and a good skill it is!)

The best choice is Friends Patterns (http://friendspatterns.net) for a range of Plain garments. They have patterns for broadfall trousers, fly front pants, a vest, a Hutterite cap (usually worn by boys), a placket shirt, a more traditional “coat” shirt (like a dress shirt), a Wamus dress jacket, a Mutze frock coat and work clothes like overalls, coveralls, and a farm jacket. This covers just about every need a Plain man should have. They also have boys’ sizes. My experience is that their patterns are high quality and meant to hold up for years. If your man doesn’t change sizes much, you may be set for life.

Candle on the Hill (http://www.candleonthehill.net/store/catalog) carries boys’ patterns for simple, modest clothing. They have a few Friend’s Patterns in stock.

Folkwear Patterns(http://folkwear.com)  has a a number of men’s styles that might be adaptable to Plain life: The Drover’s Coat 9137; various ethnic shirts (212 frontier shirts, 102 cheesemaker’s smock, 116 Shirts of Russia and Ukraine, 221 English smock, 148 Black Forest Smock, 202 Victorian shirt, 204 boatman’s shirt) and a “vintage vest” pattern, 222. Some big fabric stores carry Folkwear patterns, but I would expect to have to mail order them.

For those who don’t want to mail order patterns, although I believe the Friend’s patterns are worth the effort, there are some commercial patterns that can be adapted. Butterick has two costume patterns that might be adapted for shirts and jackets, 4486, which is a laced placket shirt – the lacing could be removed and buttons used; and 3072, a pattern I have used to make a Swedish men’s costume. It has a placket shirt, a vest and a frock coat of Colonial style, along with knee pants. Please note that most men’s costume patterns have pull-on, elastic waist pants – meant for an evening of dress-up, not all day use. You will either have to add a fly front or have a very disgruntled man on your hands. I’d just give the costume pants a bye, or use them for pajama pants. (Even then, men want a fly front.)

McCall’s has some patterns that might be useful. There’s a simple buttoned vest pattern (8285, for men and women.) Under costumes, there is a pirate’s costume that includes a laced placket shirt and a very simple vest. Again, forget the trousers. But for a more formal but Plain suit that would not require a tie, I like the look of the Civil War uniform, 4745. There is a single-breasted tunic jacket and button fly trousers that are more than basic costume pieces. Made in black or dark grey, with plain buttons, it would be nice for a wedding or Sunday, without looking costumey or like a uniform.

Simplicity  has some useful men’s and boys’ patterns. Pattern 2741 is a simple shirt and vest, also sized for women. For the rugged fella, there’s a husky/big and tall pattern for men and boys for shirts and vests (4975). If you are inclined to make trousers, Simplicity has 4760, shirts and pants for men and boys. One (7030) includes a shirt, vest and suspenders (braces) sized for men and boys. In costumes, Simplicity has a men’s caped coat (2517) which may not look so Plain, but is very practical – the cape sheds water and keeps the coat from getting soaked. Make it in wool. I like the looks of 2895, a Western style pattern, to make a frock coat, shirt and vest in men’s sizes. If a man wanted a more medieval or peasant type shirt for comfort, there’s 3519, which has dropped shoulders and a placket front.

Men’s clothing may take a little longer to make because of all the fitting, but it is worth the effort, considering that men wear their clothes for years. My grandmother made pants, shirts and suits for men all her life; my grandfather and uncle were quite well-dressed! And I wonder if some of their Pendleton wool shirts, made by Nana, are still being worn!