I feel compelled to write down my thoughts at the moment, I think it’s mainly because they are often so conflicted that it is good to have some clarity from time to time. In recent weeks I have blogged about the healing power of nature, sending out ‘happy mail’ to show people you care and things that inspired me, and each week they have been quite cathartic – I suppose that’s just the circumstances we are in. This week as I started my beautiful flag bunting I was reflecting back on when I first started to sew. Sitting at the machine my mum used to make us clothes on, I wondered when I first showed an interest in sewing.
I am pretty sure that it was my mum that started out making clothes for my dolls but then at some point she taught me. It would probably have been hand sewing first, for safety reasons, but then one Christmas I got my very own sewing machine! It was a junior version, in bright blue plastic but it made sewing things together so much quicker and I created whole wardrobes for my Sindy doll. I think the one in the pic belonged to my sister but I probably made clothes for her too. The practice of cutting up old clothes and recycling them started at a young age, and it still seems like the most economical way to acquire fabric for small projects to me.
By the time I got to college, I was confident to make my own clothes using my mum’s machine. Although it was bigger and faster, the transition was relatively easy and the desire to keep up with fashion on a small budget was the driving force behind my creations. In those days I made all my own patterns, picking items out from teen magazines and Smash Hits that I felt I could replicate myself. I had a part-time job in the grocers in the village and I as the responsibility and hours increased I earned enough to buy materials from a stall on Derby Market. I would go to college in the morning for my Art History lesson then get the bus straight back into the city centre to buy fabric.
I would then spend the whole of Friday afternoon, and evening if I had to, making something to go out in at the weekend. There was many an occasion where I wouldn’t get the item ‘quite’ finished or I wouldn’t have the right zip or button and I have even been known to sew myself into a few skirts as an emergency fix! I have a vague recollection of catching the bus to Derby city centre on a Saturday night sewing tartan ribbon onto the bottom of a skirt, to match the ones in my DMs. I was always proud of my achievements and they looked pretty good, as long as you didn’t inspect them too closely – thankfully it was dark in bars and nightclubs.
Possessing the practical skill of sewing has served me well through the decades, and latterly has been a peaceful escape from the stresses of daily life. I have always owned a sewing machine, I got one for my 18th birthday before I left home and it came in very handy for running up curtains, cushion covers, a duvet cover and pillowcases for my first part-furnished flat in Manchester. With little spare income, I was always proud of the fact that I could make a bare shabby rental into a cosy home with my skills and a bit of imagination, and this has stayed with me. If I can make it, or repair it, or refashion it then I will always do that before buying it – it’s much more rewarding.
There have been so many applications for my sewing skills and I never really got into knitting or crochet so it’s still my favourite way to create. And whilst machine sewing can produce quick results, I still prefer the action of hand sewing for it’s repetitive and soothing action. I wish I was better at embroidery, as I love the way that it looks, but will settle for rows upon rows of straight-stitching if the mood takes me. Passing on my skills to others in the group has been greatly satisfying, but also there are many that I have learned from too. I am so grateful to my mum for teaching me a brilliant life skill that will always be useful, and for the gift of the machine that started it all off.