Tiny, Beautiful Gowns

Designer of dresses for little girls, Nancy Crum, found her sewing business taking an unusual turn last year. Suddenly, former brides were bringing their wedding dresses to her. She never dreamed a woman would be so eager to hand over her wedding dress, knowing fully that Nancy would cut the expensive and gorgeous fabric into pieces.

The reason? To make tiny, beautiful gowns for preemie babies who die shortly after birth.

Nancy began sewing the gowns at the request of Moreen Foster, a woman Nancy met at church. Moreen is a retired registered nurse and pastoral psychotherapist. She volunteers in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City. “She rocks the babies, holding them to her chest so they can hear her heartbeat,” Nancy said. “She’s familiar with the challenges these families face when a preemie doesn’t survive. It’s a horrible burden for grieving parents to have to buy something to bury their child in. Moreen asked if I would make burial gowns for the hospital to have on hand. I make the gowns look like christening gowns, with decorative lace, a little slip and a bonnet-type hat. Each one is different, depending on the style of the wedding dress.”

Selfless Sewing

Sewing is both a business and a hobby for Nancy; it’s a skill that runs in her family. Her mother “could sew anything,” and her aunt was a well-known dress designer in California. Nancy named her sewing venture Nanse Originals and specializes in designing and making doll dresses for the American Girl doll, outfits for little girls, and fashionable aprons. She recently moved into Edmond’s Touchmark retirement community and continues her craft in her house’s dedicated sewing room. A few years back, when her congregation at First

StephensPresbyterian Church of Edmond put on One Incredible Moment, a popular Christmas musical, Nancy designed and sewed costumes for a cast of 200 people. Now, the baby burial gowns, which she donates to the hospital, are taking most of her time.

“So far, I’ve made 27 gowns,” Nancy said. “When I started, I used a doll pattern, because these babies are so very tiny, but now I have the basic design down. I can usually make one to three baby gowns from one wedding dress. I decorate each gown differently, depending on the fabric.”

Although some people might feel uncomfortable with the idea of destroying a wedding dress, Nancy has no qualms. “No, I don’t struggle at all with cutting up these dresses,” she said. “I’m focused on making things easier for the grief-stricken parents. It’s surprising that so many babies are lost during these modern times, but it still happens too often.”

Reuse with a Purpose

Once Nancy has completed several gowns, she and Moreen deliver them to the hospital for distribution. Nancy has never met the babies nor the families who receive her handmade gifts, but she doesn’t feel the need to; she’s gratified to help from a distance, as are the women who donate their dresses.

“Many of the women who donate their wedding dresses say that they had saved them for their daughters to wear, but didn’t, or that storage space was a problem,” Nancy said. “It’s easier for them to give up their gowns,” Nancy said, “when they know they will be used to dress these babies.”

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