Beautiful, tiny burial gowns made from repurposed bridal dresses

Carol Z. Shane
 |  Shopper News

“Look for the helpers,” Mr. Rogers famously said, and even in contentious times such as these there are helpers everywhere.

Beverly Duckett of the Whittle Springs area, for instance.

Up in her bright second-floor sewing room, she crafts tiny gowns for precious clients — the infants who, for various reasons, never come home from the hospital. The exquisite burial garments, called Angel Gowns, offer at least some relief to grieving parents who, in the aftermath of such a death, must deal with many distressing details.

Born in Oak Ridge, Duckett has sewn most of her life.

“My mom sewed and she used to make all of our clothes. When I was 12 or13 and on into high school we had a real thing going because I loved cutting out the fabric, she would sew it, and I’d come back and do the buttons and details. We could really turn out the clothes for my sister and me!”

With a degree in medical office administration, she spent the first part of her career working for an ENT; then, when her architect husband Harold’s secretary left to raise a family, she took over at Duckett, Goss & Wilkinson, where he was a senior partner. The company transitioned into Archaeform, LLC, with Harold as president. She went on to do further administrative work for an orthopedist and a dental office.

The couple have been married 53 years, and for 40-plus of that they’ve lived in a former parsonage, built in 1914. “We had to go to the church board and be interviewed to be sure we were fit to buy the house,” she remembers, laughing.

She didn’t know anything about Angel Gowns until she had a chance encounter with a friend who also sews.

“I was still working, and I had gone out to Jo-Ann [fabric and craft store] and ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in forever. She had this handful of tiny little buttons, tiny little lace. I said, ‘What are you working on?’ She said, ‘I’m making Angel Gowns,’” and described using repurposed wedding gowns to make beautiful funeral attire for “babies that don’t make it.”

“I put it in the back of my brain,” says Duckett. When she retired in 2018, she reached out to her friend, who gave her a pattern and a donated wedding dress to get started. “I got 25 Angel Gowns out of that one.”

Since then she’s sewed hundreds of garments so that newly bereaved parents will have something to dress their little one in for burial. And not just gowns.

There’s also a need for tiny knitted caps, diapers and even “Angel Pockets” for the tiniest preemies.

“If you look at the size of that, it gives you an idea how small some of these babies are.”

Does she dwell on that? “You can’t let your head go there. You can’t function. You’ve got a job to do.”

Duckett has also sewn bat wraps and wallaby pockets for wildlife rescuers in the aftermath of the devastating 2019-2020 Australian bush fires. “My fabric didn’t cost much but it cost me a bundle to ship them!”

She makes an outfit for every new baby in her congregation at the Seventh Day Adventist Church. And she has also sewn custom-fitted sheets and blankets for use in the NICU.

But mostly she makes Angel Gowns. “I enjoy sewing. And I don’t have any kids or grandkids to sew for. So why not? If it’ll help somebody.”