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Caroline Linden Made Her Daughter a Dress

dtkThis is a story of true love and devotion, of fantasy and fashion, and something that can only be described (by my husband) as “out-and-out insanity.”

My mother taught me to sew when I was very young. She grew up in a thrifty rural community where many clothes were made at home, by mothers and grandmothers, and she continued this. I still have some of the outfits she made for me as a child, exquisitely finished inside and out. I know she made clothes for some of my Barbies as well, but at some point she said, “You can learn to do this yourself.” So I learned.

Aside from the random special occasion I didn’t sew much after I grew up. But when I had children, Halloween became A Thing in our house. My children, even when very young, loved to dress up, and I enthusiastically abetted this. I made gowns for Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. I made Robin Hood, Darth Vadar, Anakin Skywalker, and the Count of Monte Cristo. We crafted bows and arrows from the sticks in our backyard. We painted a chopstick with glow-in-the-dark paint so Harry Potter could cast a convincing spell all around the neighborhood.

But this story is about the pinnacle of the madness: the year my daughter, by then about thirteen, sent me this photo with the caption: will u pls make this for me for halloween.


My agreement to do this may or may not have been influenced by the Halloween costume I always wanted but never got:cl2

Apparently my mother was not as crazy as I am.

So we went to the local Joann store, target image in hand, and bought miles of fabric, lace, various other stuff, and a pattern.cl3

Note that this gown, lovely as it is, does not look very much like the one my girl wanted. Clearly there would have to be some improvisation.

This is how I imagine a modiste, like my heroine Felicity Dawkins (from the anthology Dressed to Kiss), worked in Regency England: the customer would come in and select a fashion plate, choosing colors and other desired embellishments. The modiste would take lots of measurements, then start with a pattern she already knew and build on it. I pictured her sketching, constructing in her head, and then taking up her shears and confidently cutting. She would pin things in place, adjust them, and then whips rows of tiny, perfect stitches by hand. Back-breaking work, no doubt, but creating a stunning gown that would be impressive even two hundred years later.

This is how the green gown happened: I brought home the bags of supplies and put them in the corner of my office. I measured the kid, looked over the size charts, and decided to let the problem of changing that pattern “simmer in my brain.”

October 1

Kid: When are you going to start, Mom?

Me: There’s plenty of time.

October 7

Kid: Are you going to start today

Me: yup [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Stay up late cutting out most of the pattern. Puzzle over how to change it. Quit for the night]

October 10

Kid: Are you working on it? [texted from school]

Me: I started this afternoon. [Decide to cut out part of bodice from the fabric. Chop apart some of the skirt pattern to get the draped half skirt. This dress will end up two pieces, a bodice and a skirt]

Me: See, am working on it! [accompanied by photo below of the bodice. Evidence is important]


October 14

Kid: When are you going to make the rest?

Me: You hate it when I nag you.


October 17

Kid: Am I gonna have to wear last year’s dress?

Me: Very funny.

October 20

Kid: Are you even doing anything on it?????????

Me: Yes! I made the sleeves! [Did not mention that I sewed one sleeve on inside out at first. Those are tricky little suckers.]cl5

October 24

Kid: Im not going out for Halloween this year

Me: Why not??


Me: Stop already. It’s coming along.


October 27

Kid: mom

Kid: Mom

Kid: MOM


Me: What?

Kid: R u working on it yet

Me: Yes! (also working on a book due soon, but that matters naught to her)

October 29

Kid: Im dead

Me: Nope.

Kid: You are never going to finish!!!!

At this point, the situation was familiar to any writer: a deadline loomed with no possibility of extension. The computer monitor got pushed aside for the sewing machine and I started working in earnest. I finished the bodice and put eyelets in the back so it laced up. This bodice, with lace-edged ruffles around the top and a ruffled half-skirt ruched up in back, took two whole days, including time to adjust the fit when she tried it on. But it looked, if I do say so myself, fantastic.


October 31: Almost there! The skirt looks simple: a big round bell with ruffles.

For those who don’t sew, ruffles are long strips of fabric gathered up and stitched in place. The picture gown looked more like it had pleats…but there wasn’t enough fabric to make that many pleats. And we’d bought the entire bolt of fabric. Also you have to iron pleats for that crisp look, and that would take a whole day (which was not happening, given that it was Halloween morning by now). I decided to hem the top and bottom and gather it in place an inch from the top. This meant three strips of fabric, hemmed on two sides. I put on a movie and sewed hems for over an hour. My office door got closed because the dog kept trying to lie on top of the hemmed ruffles, which were approximately fifteen miles long.

I made a terrible discovery when I went to work on the body of the skirt: there was not quite enough fabric left over after the bodice to fit the skirt pattern on. Panic ensued. Let’s just say there are some unattractive seams inside this skirt as I squeezed every inch out of the fabric, because it had to fit over the hoopskirt.

Here you can see the skirt with the bottom ruffle sewn on, and blue lines marking where the second and third rows would go. Getting those lines straight may have been the hardest part, thanks to the cobbled-together skirt. I was on the third movie by now, cranked up loud over the sound of the sewing machine.  The dog was finally allowed back in (the dog was a crucial part of all my creative processes).cl8

The kid arrived home from school. “It’s not done!

And it’s not time to go trick-or-treating, is it?” One ruffle left to go.

But I wanted you to curl my hair!

Obviously dinner would be take-out and candy.

By 5 in the afternoon, the dress was done. After all the wailing and fretting, she loved it. She looked beautiful and so happy, all the angst in the past. As we watched her head off with a pack of other kids to collect our neighbors’ candy, my husband put his arm around me and said, “Another amazing creation. But you, my dear, are seriously insane.”

I understand why people go into fashion. I felt pretty psyched when she twirled around and all those ruffles flared out. The bodice fit perfectly—the beauty of custom-made clothing. I’m very VERY glad I didn’t have to sew it all by hand, in candlelight, and my Regency modiste Felicity would probably cry in envy at the cost of this green cotton; in the Regency, fabric was expensive, and narrowly woven, meaning far more sections had to be pieced together. I’m sure a real modiste would be appalled by some of the shortcuts I took, but a modiste would also recognize the trial of working under pressure and having a demanding, impatient client she could not afford to ignore. But the desire to create something beautiful and flattering, exactly suited to someone’s figure and taste, is very much the same as it ever was. I think Felicity would agree.

cl9 cl10

PS: The best part is, with the right industrial-grade Spanx, this dress fits me as well!

clCaroline Linden was born a reader, not a writer. She earned a math degree from Harvard College and wrote computer software before turning to fiction. Since then the Red Sox have won the World Series three times, which cannot be a coincidence. Her books have won the NJRW Golden Leaf Award, the Daphne du Maurier Award, and RWA’s RITA Award, and been translated into seventeen languages. She lives with her family in New England. Her latest work is the novella A Fashionable Affair included in the anthology Dressed to Kiss.

Madame Follette’s is Felicity Dawkins’s birthright; her mother founded it, and now she runs it. She’s fiercely committed to making it the most exclusive modiste in London. The Earl of Carmarthen also has big plans for the shop—he wants to buy it and tear it down, to make way for a grand new boulevard of shops. One way or another, he’s determined to persuade Felicity…not only to sell her shop, but to explore the passion that sparks between them every time they meet.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]


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09/10/2019 8:20 am

I wish I had learned to sew…

The dress is GORGEOUS, and your daughter will treasure it forever. Maybe her own daughter will wear it one day. Your kids are so lucky to have a mom who loves creating costumes for them!!

Marilynn Tobash
Marilynn Tobash
09/10/2019 12:47 am

The dress is georgous! I loved the white dress with the green sprigs she wore to the barbeque. I used to sew most of my own clothes until I past 40 and bifocals seemed to get in the way of me seeing the seam line so I got graduated lenses. Same problem multiplied since the conversion part of the lens still hit at the wrong spot so I gave it up. But what the heck, shopping is fun too, especially with sales and bargains. If I had been your daughter I would have asked for the dress Bob Mackie made for Carol Burnett for the “Went with the Wind” sketch. I don’t believe I’ve ever laughed as much as I did when I saw the original broadcast of that sketch. It would have been easy to make, all you’d need would be green draperies and a good curtain rod.

mel burns
mel burns
10/09/2016 7:12 pm

You’re amazing! I am so glad I have boys, pirates, Jedi, hobos and goths are easy…..thank goodness,

Caroline Linden
Caroline Linden
Reply to  mel burns
10/12/2016 10:08 pm

I have a son, too. And I made boy costumes, including Darth Vadar, Anakin Skywalker (you know they are different), Robin Hood, an astronaut, a pharaoh… Yep.

10/09/2016 5:26 pm

This is the same thing my mom and I did every Halloween! My mom was a genius with Halloween costumes.

One year I went as Scarlett O’Hara in the famous white dress!

Caroline Linden
Caroline Linden
Reply to  Minerva
10/12/2016 10:06 pm

OMG. You got the white dress from GWTW? I just turned green. I pined for that dress for about five years. Well done (and Yay for your mom). :-)

Sonya Heaney
Sonya Heaney
10/09/2016 8:01 am

I love these costume posts. Everyone enjoys ridiculing the mid-1800s, but I swear – as inconvenient as it was – my favourite stage costume I ever wore was a big ol’ hoop skirt. You can do so much stupid stuff when you wear one. :)

I think that dress is inspired by The Vampire Diaries(??). I have never seen it, but I’m sure I remember that gown from publicity posts.

Caroline Linden
Caroline Linden
Reply to  Sonya Heaney
10/12/2016 10:05 pm

Yep! Vampire Diaries was the inspiration.

And you are so right about the hoop skirt hiding much. When she went out for Halloween, my daughter wore her fleece PJ pants underneath it…

10/08/2016 10:02 pm

Very funny blog! Your daughter is hysterically funny. Love the dress.

Caz Owens
Caz Owens
10/07/2016 6:00 pm

I can’t sew to save my life (I can knit and do needlepoint but my actual sewing skills only extend to backstitch and sewing on buttons!) so I am extremely impressed that you took the job on in the first place, and with the results!

Caroline Linden
Caroline Linden
Reply to  Caz Owens
10/12/2016 10:09 pm

See, knitting eludes me. I knitted one thing, ever, in my life: a six foot scarf for Harry Potter (Halloween again) and it took me months. I envy people who can knit.

10/07/2016 4:07 pm

I loved reading this story! I laughed quite a few times reading it :) The dress is amazing and you did a great job! I’ve read Dressed to Kiss and really liked it :) you can check out my review here

Caroline Linden
Caroline Linden
Reply to  Joana
10/12/2016 10:10 pm

Thank you! And I’m so glad you enjoyed the book–thank you for reviewing it, too!