Friday, June 28, 2019

Susan's Suitcase

What is better than fabric shopping and lunch with a friend? Well . . . 

A few months ago, when my neighbor, Susan, and I (Teri) enjoyed such a day, she told me she had a suitcase that she thought I might enjoy looking through: it was filled with treasures made by her aunt and her mom. I couldn't wait to see what stitched stories were inside!

Remember when we used to put these precious
embroidered bibs on our babies?

The suitcase was filled with bibs, dresses, bonnets, congratulatory cards, shoes, and even a quilt. Susan's aunt, Mary McQuilkin, made the bibs, bonnets, and dresses in the 1940s. She was born in 1904 and lived until the early 1990s, a lifelong seamstress taught to sew by nuns. The detail of her dressmaking was enthralling. Her stitching was flawless! I hope you will enjoy her needlework as much as I have. I certainly learned a lot about embroidered detailing from studying her work. One thing was clear to me—there are few times that we see babies dressed up in such finery today! Susan must have been adorable, dressed in such fabulous frocks.

Each dress was lined, and almost always with lace. This velvet dress had a satin sash, with hooks in the back and a snap to keep the layers in place.

She even made these sweet little slips.

Several of the dresses had smocking.

Those tiny buttons!

The lining snaps into place at the neckline. This dress is accented with hand-embroidered flowers.

Just wait until you see the details in this one!

Aunt Mary must have loved the feather stitch as much as I do. She used it here to adorn the cuff, along with some French knots.

It opens to a satin, lace-trimmed lining. Pink, of course, for a sweet little girl!

More feather stitches and knots on the collar

 Mary used French knots to hem the dress.

This bonnet has pretty hand-embroidered flowers along the ribbon.

This is the only dress in the suitcase that was larger than baby-size.  
Perhaps it was a birthday party dress?

Bodice stitching: feather-stitched leaves, with lace. 

 The leaf design is repeated on the collar. The center of the bodice has a pattern of zig-zag blanket stitches with French knots between.

She hemmed the dress with her feather-stitched leaf pattern, and carefully cut away the organza.

The skirt is attached below the bodice with the feather stitch. Ingenious! 

I can only imagine the fashion show that Mary might have had with all of her  exquisite creations! Her workmanship is awe-inspiring, especially for someone like me, who loves embroidery but has never made clothing (except for the obligatory Home Ec assignments). Her attention to detail demonstrates a real passion for her craft. What an honor it would have been to wear one of her designs!

Susan's mother, Fern, made this quilt for Susan's son in 1965. Susan said her mother hated to sew, so you can imagine that it is filled with much love! What does that say about the power of a quilt, if one who hates to sew decides to create one for her grandson?! 

There were numerous pairs of shoes, as well as a crocheted sweater, hat, and bootie set. And a pair of lederhosen, worn by Susan's son in the late 1960s when they were in Munich, Germany. So many stories packed away in this suitcase. And so much love stitched into every one of these items. 

This is the question I leave you to ponder: What does one do with such beautiful dresses? How can this amazing workmanship be preserved and shared? 

Please share your thoughts! 

Many thanks to Susan for sharing her treasures and their stories.


  1. Sell to other vintage lover mama? Reuse , reduce , recycle to keep the beauty of the dresses alive .

  2. So beautiful, thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Visiting you by way of Wendy over The Constant Quilter - got weak in the knees when viewing the contents of that fabulous suitcase. The attention to detail that Mary accomplished is incredible. Being a WW II baby (‘44) my own christening dress and other garments look very similar. My Mom kept them for me and I have 3 pieces displayed in large glass cases which are about 2 1/2 “ deep so nothing touches the fragile fabric. That might be one way to showcase some of the pieces. Such a large collection, it would be difficult to choose!! I have also seen display quilts created where a tiny garment was appliqued to a foundation background to create a block. Makes for a very dimensional quilt filled with great charm. Thank you for sharing such a treasure.