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ON THE 11th HOUR: when the war went quiet
Margaret March’s hobby is both beautiful and bittersweet.
The St. John’s, N.L. woman makes “angel gowns” from wedding dresses.
As the name suggests, the tiny gowns are made for babies who don’t live to go home with their families. Babies are often buried in the tiny gowns.
March started making the gowns in 2017. By that time, life had handed her several crushing blows.
Struggling with severe fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, she could no longer work. She was also still coping with the loss of her husband, who died in a car accident in 2013.
“I’d never experienced such grief, and every day was hard to get through, so needlework was a needed distraction,” she said via e-mail.
March stumbled upon angel gowns while searching the internet for something to help ease the pain and stiffness in her arms and hands.
“I knew how deep and overwhelming grief was, but to lose a baby had to be worse again. I found the Canada Angel Gowns Network and decided to try my hand at it and made the first gowns from my own wedding dress,” she said.
March donated the gowns she made to the province’s children’s hospital — the Janeway.
She’s been making them for Janeway babies ever since, and as of March 2019, she and other volunteers have made and donated 146 gowns to the hospital.
“I think, knowing that I was making something that someone would take comfort from, really helped my emotional healing.”
While most of the gowns are made from wedding dresses, she has also made them from bridesmaid and prom dresses.
The process of making the gowns starts by cleaning the dresses and then taking them apart, she said, which can be slow going, especially if there’s a lot of lace appliqués on the dress.
“Most times, all the pearls, beads, and sequins fall off, so we keep them to hand sew them back on later. One of my volunteers, Dana (Cole-Conway), particularly loves to take the dresses apart but also sews dresses. She does amazing work,” March said.
Once the dress is apart, the sewing pattern is pinned onto the material then the pattern is cut.
“After that, we can start sewing them together and adding the lace and ribbons as we go. The sewing part is probably the fastest part of it, but I do love to hand sew the pearls on the most,” March said.
The challenge in recruiting volunteers, she said, is finding people who know how to sew and have time to make the gowns.
“There’s a lady in the Carbonear area that is also making them and she sends them out to me to package and deliver. There is also a group in Corner Brook who supplies gowns to their hospital.”
When completed, March’s gowns are packaged and include a blanket, pillow and beaded charm.
“It’s nice to add a colourful vest for the boys. We use fleece to back the blankets and pillows, so it’s super soft for the little angels to have their pictures taken,” she said.
The birth of a newborn can be an unexpected tragedy with babies often being born prematurely.
March has heard of parents sending family members to a toy store to find a doll’s dress for their baby’s burial, so she makes pouches, similar to a sleeping bag, for the tiniest babies.
“Those babies are so delicate and there may be some physical issues that make it too hard to put a dress on them. They have a little pillow and blanket attached inside to keep them cozy,” she said.
An honour and a privilege
While it’s not unusual for March to spend her own money on supplies, she is also grateful for monetary donations to help buy beads and other supplies.
“Fabricville donated a huge amount of fleece, ribbons, buttons, sewing thread, and cotton fabrics, and I was blown away by their generosity,” she said.
“And I’ve had people donating supplies in lieu of a wedding dress, which helps so much."
March has had a great response from people looking to donate their wedding dresses. She’s stopped taking them for the time being, she said, until she uses the ones she already has donated to her.
“My house looked like a bridal store and I had no room for more... I get messages from women every week, wanting to donate their dresses, so I know there will be a steady supply.”
March said it’s an honour and a privilege to make and donate the gowns to grieving families.
“While I’ve not experienced the loss of a child, I know how overwhelming grief can be, so if this gives the families some comfort, then it’s worth the work. They won’t get the chance to dress up their little ones, so they deserve a beautiful dress.”
March has heard from a couple of families who wanted to thank her for the dresses they were given.
“Some wanted to pay it forward and gave me their wedding dresses to make more,” she said.
Angel gowns simple pillow pattern
- Cut two pieces of fabric, 10 centimetres by 13 centimeters
- Sew on lace
- With right sides facing, sew four sides together, leaving space to stuff the pillow.
- Stuff pillow with batting
- Fold in the open edge and sew all the way around the outside edge to finish
For more information on March’s project, visit Newfoundland Angel Gowns on Facebook.