I have always liked sewing, but am going to have to cut back my sewing activities in the next few months, as a sedentary life is hardly compatible with getting fit enough to scale the highest free standing mountain in the world.
When I was a child, it was not considered acceptable to buy presents for adult relatives: I had to make something. My grandfather got endless spill holders (spills were for lighting his pipe with) and book marks, carefully made from whatever came to hand. My female relatives got an endless stream of embroidered tray cloths. If anyone was ill in bed – and you did have to stay in bed if you were in any way unwell in these days – then meals would be brought to you in bed on a tray covered with an embroidered cloth.
To get the pattern, you would buy a transfer and iron it on to the cloth. One then had to embroider over the blue markings produced. I loved doing this, and must have inflicted dozens on my relations.
However, when I got to secondary school, my sewing career took a dip. The teacher, the dreaded Mrs Darroch, took against me for some reason. I expect I was too mouthy – the fate of most females in my family. I remember her telling me that she was “sorry for the man that got me”! I suppose that was better than what a friend of mine was told by her sewing teacher. She was told she would “Never get a man”! You can start to see why it has been such a battle for women to gain equality and to believe they are entitled to be taken seriously during the last half century.
I made quite a lot of clothes for myself and others during my teens and twenties. It was much cheaper to do so then – garments were relatively much more expensive then. Nowadays it would probably cost as much to buy a skirt zip as it would cost to buy a ready made skirt in the likes of Primark, but that certainly didn’t use to be the case.
When my sister had children and later I had my own, I quite often made baby and children’s clothes out of cut down adult clothes. Fabric was still pretty expensive.
I taught Jae to use a sewing machine when she was still in primary school. We all still remember the “strawberry shortcake” jump suit she so proudly made out of a remnant of cotton for her little sister, Gwen, to wear in a school fair fancy dress parade. Maybe that’s where Gwen got the love of dressing up she has passed to her children: they often seem to wear exotic costumes.
After that, I didn’t have much time for sewing until the last few years, during which time I have gradually stopped working. Sewing clothes makes no sense as they have become so cheap. So I have taken up patchwork and have been taught the necessary skills mainly by brilliant teachers in Canterbury U3A – University of the Third Age. I have got a bit of a reputation however for being unconventional. My teachers all favour using new fabric, whereas my greatest satisfaction has come from making quilts out of old clothes.
For many years we have gone on walking holiday with a group of friends. When the original organisers of the holidays decided not to continue, I asked everyone who had ever been on one of their holidays to give me an old blue or greenish garment. My friend Mary and I then spent a few days in the caravan at the beach making the old clothes into quilts for the organisers. We were doing the finishing touches sitting on the beach when Stew rolled up with his camera and a bottle of bubbly. The smiles on our faces say it all.
Several times now, I have worked together with another woman to make a quilt from old clothes, which belonged to their late husband or parent. I love doing this: it is such a privilege to be entrusted with something so precious. My friend Gerda from the Netherlands was one of the first people I did with this: I think she was very pleased to go off after three days with a fleece-backed quilt to wrap herself in on chilly evenings made out of her late husband’s shirts, waistcoats and ties. Recently she turned seventy and she asked all of her friends to give her a ten inch square of fabric in rich jewel colours. I look forward to spending another few days with her this year to turn these squares into another quilt – so long as she accepts that I will have to do a bit of marching up and down the beach to improve my fitness between seams!