Family Christening Robe
A project demonstrating the conservation of a family christening enabling it to be worn again now and by future generations
In 2019 the Wesson family from Kent entrusted us with the conservation of their family christening robe. As well as needing freshening up and repairing, the robe was too small for the lovely Amelie and so our work needed to include the careful alteration of the waist and sleeves.We discovered that the christening robe had already been altered once before and seemed to be the combination of two different robes.
Once wet cleaned and treated with a gentle conservation bleach, the robe was carefully rinsed and dried by hand. The bodice and skirt were separated to allow the insertion of a full support for the bodice. The seams under the arms were opened up as agreed to allow the insertion of triangles of fabric to increase their size slightly. Fine cotton Batiste was chosen as the best match for the finely woven original lawn. This was preshrunk and stripped before being cut to the correct shape to be inserted inside the front panel of the bodice. The weak front of the bodice was supported onto the new cotton Batiste using fine Egyptian cotton thread couching down the weak and broken areas. All the main stems of the embroidery and the outside edges of the embroidered eyelets were reinforced to add strength to the original embroidery and the trimming at front neck edge was reattached where necessary and strengthened using stitching.
For the size alterations the gathering around the sleeve ends was released and re-gathered to make them slightly larger and a new plain edge for the entire cuff of each sleeve was made and the original attached to it.The original lace and trimming strip was eased out to make it slightly larger and reattached over the top of the new cuff edge. The old drawstrings which were too short and were getting stuck inside the original channel at the neckline and waist and so these were removed. New channels were made and new ribbons were inserted at the neck and waist.
The skirt was re-gathered and reattached to the bodice taking the stitching through the lower edge of the new waist casing as well as the bodice because it was felt that the bodice edge alone might be too weak to take the weight of the skirt.
After the christening the gown was returned to us to check over and wash again so that it can be stored packed in an acid free box with tissue to await the next family christening.
There is something particularly special about working on family heirlooms for real people rather than collections as our conservation means so much more. We were particularly touched to receive the lovely photographs of Amelie wearing her christening robe and also to see four generations of the Wesson family gathered around her on this important day.
“Zenzie and her assistant who worked on my family christening gown did an amazing job. The gown looked better than I had ever seen it and the stitching and attention to detail was exquisite. The gown is now able to be used for many more generations, which would not have been the case had I not given it to Zenzie to repair.”