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Guest Post from Susan Gregg Gilmore, author of The Funeral Dress


Susan Gregg Gilmore is the author of The Funeral Dress, which is a deeply touching Southern story filled with struggle and hope.

Susan’s third book follows Emmalee Bullard, a young woman with a brand new baby who are on their own. When Emmalee’s mentor from the shirt factory where they both work passes away, she decides to sew a burying dress in her honor, but there are plenty of people who don’t think the unmarried Emmalee should design a dress for a Christian woman–or care for a child on her own.

When Susan set out to write The Funeral Dress, she decided to learn a bit about sewing so she could better portray—and understand—Emmalee’s project. She shared this process with us.

I wrote a book about a community of seamstresses without knowing how to sew.

At the very heart of my book is Emmalee, who loses her mentor Leona in a tragic accident and is determined to honor her with a burying dress. In order to accurately write about Emmalee’s sewing, I decided to make a dress.

Placing a hem, sewing a button, yes, I could do those simple things. And I reassured myself that following a pattern, setting a zipper or sleeve, could not be much harder.

(Unfortunately as a girl, I took violin lessons while my sister learned to sew. I still don’t play the violin and my sister sews beautifully.)

Nevertheless, I roamed the aisles of the fabric store like a pro, fingering every fabric as though I was picking a ripe peach. I bought the zipper, thread, even a quarter yard of facing, and left the fabric store feeling like, well, a seamstress.

This was a fleeting sensation, gone before I slipped the tissue paper pattern from its Butterick envelope and unfolded it on top of the kitchen table.

I made some phone calls, and in a few days, I was in the hands of a master seamstress. With this white-haired grandmother by my side, guiding my every step, I grew confident, bold even. I stepped on the floor pedal, harder and harder. The machine roared and fell into a steady purr–the needle rising and dropping, rising and dropping. One beautiful, fluid seam after another gave shape and structure to my dress.

“Ah,” I thought, “I will wear it to readings.” People will smile and compliment my effort. Perhaps I’d make another, or a skirt and blouse.

The final cut. Just above the knee. I held the scissors against the fabric, easing the blades through the layers of linen. I would stitch the hem by hand like Emmalee had done when she made Leona’s burying dress.

I held it against my body. “No!” I rushed to the mirror.

“No!” It was a mini dress . . . for a mini me or a very small child.


While my dress still hangs in the closet, unfinished, I think of Emmalee and the care she applied to every stitch in the making of Leona’s dress.

I have not sat at the machine since . . . but I have started another book!


Categories: Sewing |

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About the Book
The Funeral Dress
A Novel
Written by Susan Gregg Gilmore
Category: Fiction - Family Life
Format: Paperback, 368 pages
On Sale: September 3, 2013
Price: $16.00
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