20th Century, What I wear

The ‘Gran’s Garden’ 1930 dress


I had my project for the first Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge ‘Starting Simple’ all planned out, and it was going to be so very simple.

I decided to use my 1930s Garden Party frock pattern – so easy and fun, and I’m so familiar with it so it would be so very simple to put together.  I would get the frock cut out in the week before Christmas, assemble the bodice and skirt, put in the bias facings at neck and armhole, and take it with me to Nelson when we left on the 24th.

Then, as we sat around with my parent-in-law and Gran and Grandbob in the days after Christmas, drinking tea and watching cricket, I would hand sew down all the bias facings and assemble a belt.  Mr D and I would arrive back in Wellington on the 30th, I’d quickly sew the skirt to the bodice on the night of the 30th, and we’d do a photoshoot on New Years Eve morning, just in time for the challenge.  That was the plan.  It would be so simple.

And then everything got very complicated.

The call arrived at midday on the 24th.  “Gran went to hospital in an ambulance that morning.  You’ll be able to see her when you arrive in Nelson.  Can you drive your BIL to the airport?”

Our day fell apart.  We couldn’t focus – couldn’t get ready to leave for a week.  I abandoned my sewing – forgot to take the dress, focused on taking care of Mr D.  He looked at his suitcase, full of shorts and summer shirts, stood in front of the closet, his hand on a suit.  Would he need it?

Christmas day was sweltering hot, and passed in a blur of waiting, of trips to the hospital and jumping every time the phone rang.  “Come to the hospital immediately”.  A few minutes later “No, no need to hurry, she’s doing better”.  It rang last just before midnight.  Gran was gone.  The skies opened, and it poured.

We came back on the 30th, the funeral over and the week gone.  There had been lots of tea, but no cricket.  We cuddled Felicity and sat in the silent living room.  I looked at my sewing machine and the fabric, and tried to get motivated.

The sewing finally happened, but slowly.  It wasn’t done until 5.30 on the 31st.  I put on the dress and Gran’s wedding pearls and put my heels in a bag and we went for a long walk then – across the hills and down a hidden lane.  Mr D took pictures of me in the dress.  I thought of Gran making biscuits, of the roses in her garden, of stories of Gran reading Coleridge to guinea pigs, of her working for women’s rights, and I smiled.


Gran’s garden was full of roses in apricot and pink and yellow: sunset roses.  But her guest room where we stayed when we visited was done up in lavender and green florals, and I always think of those colours and Gran.


The dress is like wearing summer – it’s light and airy and flows amazingly when you move,  It’s like a very gentle hug.  Like Gran.


Just the facts, Ma’am:

The Challenge: #0 – Starting Simple

Fabric:  3m of rayon, bought in the Arthur Toye 50% off sale

Pattern:  1930s Garden Party Frock pattern, with curved waistline and dropped hem

Year: 1930 – the year Gran was born

Notions:  rayon bias binding from stash

How historically accurate is it?  Very, except that I overlocked the interior seams because I want to be able to just throw this in the wash.

Hours to complete:  9 – I was very slow and distracted

First worn:  31 Dec for a walk and the photoshoot

Total cost:  $21




  1. What a difficult time for you both, and what a difficult Christmas. Big hugs to you all, I am sure Gran’s proud of you remembering her with this beautiful dress.

  2. chris says

    Your Gran sounds like quite the lady! And what a lovely tribute to her! She must be very loved = )

    • Gran was truly amazing – I haven’t begun to touch the surface in this post. I’m hoping to be able to write a fuller tribute to her life later.

  3. I’m so sorry and my heart reaches out to you and your loved ones. What a lovely dress and way to commemorate her with it. I can just imagine her in it in.

  4. Zach says

    When you said there was bad news, I had no idea it was so terrible. I’m truly sorry for you, Leimomi; I understand what if feels like, as I’m sure everyone else here does, as well. I’m so glad that you’ve been thinking about your happy memories with your grandmother, rather than dwelling on the sorrow you’ve experienced with your loss. If you keep thinking about those memories, it eventually gets easier. Please do keep well–you’re in my thoughts and prayers!

    On the topic of the dress, I think it is very, very lovely! Florals are one of my favorite types of prints (as you’ll see from my #0 challenge–I decided that, since I can’t make nice things for myself, I can at least sew things up in miniature and get my fill), and I love your pearls, too!

    • Thank you for your condolences. Gran lived such a full, amazing life that it has been much easier to focus on that, and to be glad she was able to live the way she wanted until the end, and could pass quickly, without pain. I find that death isn’t such a hard and terrible thing if it comes at the right time.

      I thought you might particularly like this dress 🙂

  5. Now I understand what you meant about your sad Christmas. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss, though it’s lovely that you’ve made this dress and can think of your Gran while wearing it. Thinking of you and yours and sending love. X

  6. Lylassandra says

    I’m so sorry for your loss. My grandmother passed away recently too. I loved how beautiful a tribute you made her in this dress and this blog post.

  7. Demented Seamstress says

    What terrible timing, no one should have to go through something so sad on Christmas.

    The dress looks so lovely with that parasol. Are you using some sort of filter on the camera? There is something odd about the light, it makes you look like a picture from a storybook.

    • In a way, Christmas was a good time – the whole family was there already with minimal fuss, hassle, last minute tickets and stress. We could just focus on each other.

      I’ve run my photos through a filter to get the dream-like vintage effect. On some of them I blurred the edges in iPhoto as well.

  8. Dear Leimomi,
    My heart goes out to you…am glad that you are celebrating her in one of the ways you know how to do very well.

    With warm condolences,


  9. I’m sorry for your loss. She sounds like a wonderful woman. I hope being with family and sharing happy memories of her helped ease the pain of your loss.

  10. I’m so sorry. My sympathies to you and your family.

    What a beautiful way to remember your grandmother. It’s a lovely dress and I hope it brings you good memories always.

  11. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. The dress is lovely, I’m sure it will bring back happy memories of your gran for a long time to come.

    When my MIL passed away some years ago I inherited her sewing basket, and it reminds me of her every time I use it – which is pretty much daily.

    • Thank you.

      I find the same thing with my sewing things – so many of them are inherited from Grandma and Nana and I think of them as I use them. I’m glad you get the same comfort.

  12. Claire Payne says

    I am so sorry to hear of your loss Leimomi. I know too well that feeling of waiting and jumping when the phone rings. My thoughts are with you, Mr. D and family at this difficult time. I am sure Gran would be happy about her connection with one of your wonderful frocks.

    As ever, you look marvellous. I love the dress, I love the 1930’s and I can’t wait to see you at the vintage sewing weekend in early February.

    Blwyddyn Newydd Dda. (Happy new year in Welsh).

    • Thank you Claire.

      I look forward to seeing you in Feb too and making early 1930s pretties with you!

      Hau’oli Makahiki Hou (Happy New Year in Hawaiian)

  13. Polly says

    Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us. What a wonderful tribute to make and wear such a pretty dress in honour of someone so special.

  14. What a lovely tribute to your grandma, she sounds like a real lady. So sad it happened over christmas. Sending lots of love your way.

  15. Daniel says

    I am so sorry for your loss, words aren’t enough. My dad’s partner and a couple of good friends also lost their mothers at the same time, which is just… too much coincidence for comfort. So my heart goes out to you with extra love and thoughts and strength. The dress is lovely and the most fitting tribute.

  16. Oh, gosh, that was a rough Christmas! And your dress is a wonderful homage to her, she sounded like a wonderful woman! Sending thoughts your way xx

  17. This is a stunning tribute to your Gran. I am very sorry for your loss. Such a lovely dress and so wonderful it triggers sweet memories of your Gran.

  18. Sorry to hear about the sad Christmas; how odd is it that these kind of things often happen over the holidays.

    All my love to Mr. D and his family, and what a nice tribute your dress is!

    • Thank you. In a way it’s like Gran arranged it so we would all be there, and so no-one would have to do a mad scramble to rearrange their life to get down to Nelson. So like Gran!

  19. I am so sorry for your loss and at such a time of year. Your dress is lovely and a beautiful memorial to your Gran.

  20. What a perfect response – to sew her into a dress, so to speak. Wonderful memories of a wonderful woman. Thank you for sharing this with us. xo

  21. I’m sorry for your loss. It’s a beautiful dress and you have lovely memories of your Gran. Best wishes for 2013.

  22. I’m very sorry for your loss!

    The dress, and the pictures, turned out beautifully!

  23. […] Kitty’s Vintage Kitsch (tutorial!) and The Dreamstress. I shared The Dreamstress’ “Gran’s Garden” 1930s dress with American Magpie, who said it was just the thing, but that she couldn’t […]

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  24. I am super late to this post since I’m still catching up on my holiday blog reading, but I just wanted to say that this was an absolutely beautiful tribute to your grandmother. I teared up reading your lovely words. I didn’t know either of my grandmothers, and never really felt like I was missing out, but gosh, this post really tugs at my heart. So sorry to read of your loss; she sounds like an amazing lady.

  25. Darling friend, I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. She sounds like a wonderful lady and storyteller, and I think this was an amazing tribute to her and your family and all the memories you’ve collectec.

  26. Rosalind says

    Reading a novel with a reference to calamanco shoes has led me to your fascinating website. Here I sit in Scotland and within minutes am thinking of you and your grandmother-in-law and your husband. Serendipity indeed! May I wish you well and I look forward to exploring more of your site, once I’ve finished the book.

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