Dress Like Your Grandma

I don’t join in many sewing competitions – but I had to jump on board Tanya’s Dress Like Your Grandma challenge! The ideas is to “take a photo of your grandma (or your grandpa, great-grandma, mom, aunt, someone else’s grandma —  you get the idea!) and re-create an outfit or piece that they are wearing.” I looked at all kinds of family photos, but in the end, I chose to make something I’d actually wear day-to-day.

Sew Like Your Grandma

I was inspired by a picture of my Mom’s mom at a garden party in 1954. She’s the one second from the left, with the large hat! Standing beside her (centre) is her sister-in-law, and second from the right is my great-grandma! This branch of the family always aspired to elegance, so the house in Ottawa where this was taken is named “Brunstead” after the distant-family-owned manor in Norfolk, England. (I think my line of the family ran away with a stablehand to the colonies, so sadly I don’t own a town! My sister has corrected my with a much less exciting story – our forefather was a miller from Brunstead area who became a miller in Ontario.)

Spring Tea at Brunstead Ottawa: mystery lady, Cap, Jean Port, Eva Port, P. Christie

My Granny is 98 right now. All her life she has loved crosswords, clever word play, and entertaining. She is an amazing grandma and a great inspiration to all my family! Sadly, she lives a 7 hour drive away. She fell and broke her femur this winter, and is still recovering… she’s legally blind, but when I saw her in March, she was as sharp as ever!

While I was visiting, I asked her about what she wore on her first date with my Grandad (they married in 1940) and what she liked wearing in general. (Ok, I filmed her while I asked, because what she can’t see won’t hurt her!) She answered that she liked a fitted bodice and a full skirt – so that’s where I’ve taken my sewing inspiration!

Sew Like Your Grandma

My dress borrows the v-neck and angled sleeve from Granny’s garden party dress… and let’s be honest, that’s where the similarity ends! Mine is a faux-wrap with full circle skirt, sewn in ITY. Full points if you can tell what the pattern is… oh wait, it’s Cashmerette like always! I hummed and hawwed about what to sew for so long that in the end I just wanted a quick and wearable project, which means a TNT pattern. I did almost sew a Tiramisu, but I didn’t care to resize it for the changes in weight over the last few years.

Sew Like Your Grandma

Even with a TNT (tried’n’true) pattern, it wasn’t all plain sailing. I first sewed it with a 1.5″ waistband, but the waist sat a bit low and it wasn’t flattering. By time I cut the waistband out and re-seamed it, the waist is rather high… but I got 4 compliments on it at work today, so it must be ok! My last Dartmouth top needed a camisole underneath, so this time I wrapped it an inch tighter on each side, and it’s perfectly secure.

Sew Like Your Grandma

I used the short sleeve pattern as is, with a line of clear elastic zigzaged to the inside for a ruching effect. I like the angle it gives the hem of the sleeve. Speaking of hems… the skirt is left raw because when I free-hand cut a circle out of folded fabric, I ended up with one part too short. Oops! The rest got trimmed to match. I’m pretty sure Granny would never have been so careless as a seamstress.

Sew Like Your Grandma

For photos, I drove an hour to my parent’s house so that I could host an imaginary tea party with Granny’s dining table, wedding china, and silverware. (Couldn’t find the tea cups though… nor the teaspoons… nor the pair of vintage gloves I thought might still be were I remember them as a child!) I really love family heirlooms, and we’re lucky to have quite a lot from generations past. My favourite is a chair meant for women in hoop skirts!

Sew Like Your Grandma

(This post is already picture heavy, but I need to show you at least one shot of how long the skirt is, right?) 

So… how’d I do at imitating my inspiration photo?

Sew Like Your Grandma

Better than I expected as I was sewing, frankly! Plus – do you think we look rather similar in the jaw and mouth? I’ve never noticed that before!

A big thanks to Tanya for host this challenge! I really enjoyed looking at old photos and considering the options, and I hope that Granny is entertained by the thought of inspiring fashion 60+ years later!

Sew Like Your Grandma

Love you lots, Granny!


26 thoughts on “Dress Like Your Grandma

  1. I had loads of fun reading this post Gillian! I was born in 1954, same year your family’s garden party pic was taken and the dresses they are wearing in the photo look distantly familiar. I think you did a great job of matching inspiration to project – a modern take for sure but the common thread is solid 🙂 You do look like your grandmother! The mouth, chin and cheeks (maybe the cheekiness too? 🙂 are definitely genetically inspired 🙂

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  2. For starters, I totally knew who your granny was in that pic. The resemblance is strong. I think you’ve managed to recreate things fantastically. You’ve got a garment you’ll wear (a lovely one) that is also a perfect tribute to your gm. On another note, breaking the femur is nasty! I hope that she’s healing well.

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  3. I love your photos! The tea set and the photo where you posed like the inspiration photo were great. Beautiful dress–very inspired but totally wearable. Loved this post!

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  4. This is such a beautiful story, and dress, of course! I can’t wait to read more of the results of this competition and wish I had participated. The only photo of my grandma involves a late 80’s windsuit!

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  5. Your dress is a lovely tribute to your Granny! I love the idea of capturing/remembering the past in our ‘makes’. Great post!

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  6. What an interesting challenge. It was so much more than just making an outfit. Loved the photos and your interpretation – stylish and elegant. And yes I too saw the strong resemblance in the jaw line and cheekbones with your mother.

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  7. You are adorable and I love your dress! And your grandma is amazing. How fortunate you are to have her, and she to have you. ❤️

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    1. I feel so lucky to have one grandparent left! The others passed on a while ago, but Granny just keeps trucking along! 😉

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  8. This is such a sweet post – I love the fabric you picked for your dress. Great to see the older pictures – I must do a search and scan when I visit my Mum next, and some copies of older pictures ;o)

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    1. My sister sat and took pictures of old pictures with her cell phone at Christmas – and I’ve really enjoyed looking though the pics several times since! It’s nice to have them digitally and in one place!

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  9. So fantastic!!! Love the dress and the story, you definitely can see the resemblance and she sounds a great women 😊

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  10. This is so wonderful. As soon as I saw your inspo photo on insta I thought how similar you look to your granny! I can’t quite place exactly what it is but I think mostly it’s a way of holding yourself. I can definitely see a similar spark in both of you!

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  11. This is such a fab post, Gillian! Love the side by side of you with your grandma, you definitely share chin and mouth characteristics, and you nailed the pose! Great dress and lovely tea party 🙂

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    1. My mom laughed when she saw how many things I’d dug out deep from her cupboards for the “tea party”! It was so much fun!

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