the first dress and the last dress

first dress

This probably wasn't the first dress I ever wore — I was more than a year old here, at my brother's christening — but it's the first dress I remember, in that weird kind of remembering that is nine-tenths composed of other people telling you what you should remember.

My grandmother made that dress, and I couldn't tell you if she knitted it or crocheted it. (My money's on crochet, though.) It has green velvet ribbons, which you can't see in the picture, and it's upstairs right now, in a box. I have a niece coming in August; maybe a year and a bit from now she'll wear it.


This is the last dress I made. Once Dad told me he liked a red bandanna skirt I had made, so I felt as if he would have approved of the black bandanna fabric. I was glad I had the fabric already; I hated the thought of going out and buying fabric for this last dress. Nothing would have been right; how could it have been? Besides, it was the just right weight for Florida in March, and when I lost it during "Be Not Afraid," the drops just beaded up and rolled off.

I used this pattern, for the first time. I went slow, much slower than usual for a first-time-through. I'd measure something and forget the number before I even put the ruler down. I had to move the little speed slider on my sewing machine from "jackrabbit" back down to "turtle." I kept sticking myself with pins.

I even tore the fabric of the bodice, ripping out stitches at the waist seam, but for once I didn't swear and throw it onto the "fix someday" pile; I just dug out some fusible interfacing and reinforced the tear. A little zig-zag stitching and a bit of cheating up when I redid that seam, and no one could have possibly spotted it, not even Dad, who could see a smudge or a nick or a speck of dirt from a hundred yards out.

As always, I made some changes to the pattern. I changed the front and back gathers on the bodice for darts, so as not to have to wear a belt (a blousy bodice looks awful without a belt, and my Good Black Belt is AWOL, as usual). I added deep pockets to the front seams — deeper than usual, as I wanted to be able to carry a full pack of tissues, maybe even two. I didn't want to have to carry a shoulder bag and then have it keep bumping into people when I hugged them. Dad had five sisters; I'm one of fifteen cousins; and friends were coming from all over: there was going to be a lot of hugging.

I know I'll wear this again — Dad was most emphatically NOT in favor of things that you could only use once — but I hope it's a long time before I need to wear it again. I might still want to have two packs of tissues in my pockets for a while, though. Just in case.

I'm going to miss you, Dad.


Thomas Albert McKean, 1944-2008.

0 thoughts on “the first dress and the last dress

  1. Gorgeous piece of writing and beautiful tribute. Just great.I have to tell you that in your baby picture? You look exactly like your son.XOXO


  2. What a wonderful tribute to your father, in both words and fabric. You and your dad are in the thoughts of many. Take care of yourself.


  3. Oh, Erin -Gol, the internet – I have long read this blog and am now sincerely crying for your and your family’s loss. Please know that I am thinking of you. Your parents must be wonderful people to have such a lovely daughter. – J


  4. I lost my dad almost ten years ago, and I still miss him so much. In fact, just today I was thinking how much I would value his advice on some work-related crap I’m trying to deal with.It gets better with time. It really does. My heart goes out to you.


  5. Hey, you know, your dad looks like a kind and wonderful person, and I bet he was a great father too.Keep him safe in your memories. :)Take care, and all my love to you.


  6. I’m so sorry for the loss of your father. I’m also sorry for being late in getting here. But how truly amazing to see how many comments are here. I’ve never seen near so many on one blog. That is a testament to you and how much you are loved around the world.


  7. Erin, I am so sorry to hear the sad news. I lost my dad when I was in high school and it really is so hard. I hope you don’t mind if I also say that it’s lovely and inspiring that your creative talents (both writing and sewing) make something beautiful out of such a sad time.xo


  8. Erin, I’m so sorry. The dress is just right and the juxtaposition of the two is very poignant. I lost my own dad ten months ago and I’m still saving up things to tell him on the weekend. Writing about him has helped me, and I know it will help you.Michael


  9. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and I just wanted to say I’m very sorry for your loss. I hope you find peace in (what seem to be wonderful) memories of your Dad.


  10. my dad left us in july of ’06, shortly after my mom started the trend. you never get over it, you just get used to it. i’m all for ‘dressing in memory’. bought my frye belted harness boots around thanksgiving that year because i knew he’d have liked them. i also have, and wear, his last winter jacket. his hugs changed toward the end of his life, into kind of ‘as if each were to be the last’. his jacket is like a poufy fiberfill hug. snag one of your dad’s jackets if you still can. if you can’t, think about his hugs and remember to carry them with you.


  11. Your dad must be very proud of you.I just discovered your blog, and on my first visit you brought tears to my eyes. It isn’t everyone who can bring a complete stranger to tears of sympathy.


  12. Clothes & memories are inextricably tied tightly together. Reading this broke my heart–I too have fond memories of Dad & bandanna fabric. Hope you have peace & strength through this…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s