by Melissa Lester

My Dear Mary Ashley,

The other day you skipped into the dining room—pausing from your play to watch me work. “What are you doing, Mommy?” you asked.

Bent over my sewing machine, I was intent on finishing a seam. “I’m making a dress for you,” I replied, my eyes leaving the fabric briefly to meet yours.

“OK, Mommy,” you replied brightly. Then as quickly as you had entered, you were gone. I could hear your lilting giggles fade as you skipped down the hall to find your baby dolls.

Yes, my sweet daughter, I was making you a dress. That is the short answer. But I am writing you this letter so that one day you can read this and understand what this project has meant to me.

And it’s all because of what you mean to me.

Tonight I finished making my first heirloom dress. A friend has been teaching me the art of classic sewing, and we have invested countless hours in this project. We spent our first morning together planning and shopping. As Miss Cathy sketched ideas—calculating how many yards of fabric, lace, and ribbon we would need to breathe life into our vision—my mind wandered. I could already picture you running down a garden path, singing and twirling in the garment I would make just for you.

Miss Cathy and I chose our fabric first, a soft blush satin batiste. Since your infancy, I have loved dressing you in pink, and most days it is your favorite color. So this selection was easy.

Choosing lace was much more difficult. But thumbing through page after page of delicate trim, I was drawn to those that remind me of you. A length of Swiss insertion was the first piece that caught my eye. Streamers undulating across the fabric and drawn up in little bows are reminiscent of the ribbons I have slipped into your hair nearly every day of your life. One of the delights of motherhood for me is fixing your hair. I adore every bouncy golden curl on your sweet little head, and I love watching it shimmer in the light as I comb it each morning. You know that we are never done until I had placed a bow into your hair. In fact, when you were a year old and I couldn’t find one to match your outfit, your 3-year-old brother would not let us leave the house. “She has to have a bow,” Christian insisted sternly. “She’s Mary Ashley!”

With Swiss insertion as our inspiration, Miss Cathy and I looked for more trims to add to the lace band. Among them, a pretty white lace with bouquets of roses seemed perfect for you. So many times you have come running into the house, a posie of fresh-picked flowers clutched in your tiny little hand. “I picked these for you, Mommy!” you would exclaim with delight.

With all the materials in hand, each day I learned new techniques. I never knew how much work went into the creation of an heirloom garment, but every stitch is thoughtfully placed. Cutting and pulling fabric, sewing laces together, and rolling and whipping fabric edges can be tedious work. When progress was slow, I focused on the intrinsic beauty of the textiles.

When you entered the room the other day, I was in the midst of sewing the lace band for your skirt. I enjoyed running my fingers over the lace—each length so lovely and intricate. I was amazed watching the lace band take shape one stitch at a time, but then you spoke to me, and my attention turned to you. And the sight of you nearly took my breath away.

You see, each time I see you, my beautiful daughter, my heart whispers a prayer of thankfulness. I never could have imagined what a blessing you would be to me, and I praise our heavenly Father that He has entrusted you to me.

So when you asked me what I was doing, I told you I was making you a dress. And I was. But I was also doing so much more. With each careful stitch, I was saying I love you. I treasure you. And I am so grateful for the privilege of holding your hand as you grow up right before my eyes.

With this dress I am trying to preserve this moment in time. Oh, how I wish I could keep you my little girl forever! But each day carries you forward, and it seems I can already hear your lilting giggles fading as you skip down the hall to the future that God has planned for you. I hope to give you a tangible reminder that your dreams can never take you so far as to move beyond your mother’s love.

Tomorrow morning when you wake up and see my finished project, I hope you will love it. At 5, I hope you will dance and twirl when you try on your new dress. As a little girl, when you wear it, you may realize that your mommy loves you. But only when you are all grown up and you slip this dress over the head of your own 5-year-old daughter will you realize how much. And on that day, as she lifts her golden curls from the nape of her neck so you can fasten the beauty pins—when she turns her sparkling blue eyes toward you and flashes a smile, and you feel your heart lurch with all the hopes, dreams, and prayers that it can hold—I hope you will think of me.

Then you will know what I was doing that day so many years ago. I was wrapping you in a mother’s love, all the while thanking our Father and asking His blessings for you. Yes, Mary Ashley, I was doing all this and more.

I was making you a dress.

Love, Mommy