Mum used to give me her sewing box to tidy, or her button tin to sort out. She was busy, and would never get round to all this important tidying and sorting by herself. I would sit quietly for hours to accomplish such tasks, never thinking I was being “occupied” or kept out from under the maternal feet. I suspect I was a clingy, whiney sort of infant – no wonder she needed to shake me off once in a while.
I never tired of lifting the little wooden lids that fitted on top of the sewing box, or opening the whole contraption out and folding it back again, concertina-fashion, or opening one side but not the other, which usually made it topple over. I regularly pinched my fingers in those lethal metal hinges. They’re probably banned nowadays.
Within the sewing box would be ‘all manner of things’ – cotton reels to be rewound and organised into a kind of colour spectrum (I must have thought this was necessary); cards of narrow elastic; cards of lace; tiny gold safety pins; tacking thread; cutting shears; cards of buttons in complete sets awaiting only a garment to sun themselves on; thimbles, several, one pink; tape measures, inches only; a sharp gadget for unpicking seams, like a miniature Bat’leth; ric-rac, always loads of that, guaranteed to make any dress or skirt look home-made; a pair of pinking scissors.
I was left-handed and the pinking shears – like all scissors unless you order them specially from a catalogue – were right-handed and virtually unusable. All the same, I managed to ‘pink’ a whole lot of things holding the scissors upside down – scraps of material, pieces of cardboard, the paper covers of my school exercise books.
What could one not accomplish, with such a sewing box? It was as if the box itself possessed the sewing magic. Thus royally equipped, how could you fail to turn out some little couture number or a shirt with a collar that lay perfectly flat or a babygrow with the gusset in the right place rather than half way down the leg?
Which brings me neatly to where I intended to be all along – The Great British Sewing Bee. It’s on again at the moment – next one tomorrow evening, yay! Oh, the pleasures of making garments from scratch; the joy of cutting out those shapes from crisp, virgin fabric; the artistic buzz of getting the thing to actually fit on the dummy at the end of the process without the dummy’s head falling off.
You wouldn’t think a show about a group of amateur needle-men and women competing against one another to whip up something complex, usually involving overlocking, zip insertion or bagging out, from organza, velvet or corduroy within a strict time limit with Claudia Winkelman bellowing at them all the time would be so… nail-biting. But it is.
Though last week’s babygrow was an exceptionally entertaining disaster.
The baby grow seemed both ill-fitting and badly put together, with the gusset appear at an angel near the middle of the leg. Patrick tried to console the obviously disappointed Ghislaine by suggesting she put that challenge to the back of her mind and the garment to the back of the closet.
I just love the bit about the gusset appearing at an angel.
Poor Ghislaine – we’ve all done stuff like that. Nobody, unless they had no life at all, would waste their time making babygrows anyway. Why spend three hours torturing yourself over sunken gussets and back-to-front cuffs when you can buy the things ready-made? And how long is a baby going to fit in a babygrow?
Last year I was so inspired by the programme that I went out and bought myself a sewing machine. I suspect many other ladies did exactly the same foolish thing. And men, of course. I don’t know why the number of needle-working men should be surprising. After all, what are you doing when you design or follow a pattern? Fitting together an intricate set of components and thinking in three dimensions. It’s soft engineering – no different to designing a mould for a tractor tyre or building a whopping great bridge – just in cotton, chiffon or – in poor Ghislaine’s case – stretchy jersey stuff. If only she hadn’t plumped for contrasting navy-blue for the gusset they might not have noticed it appearing at an angel. As they said, it did rather leap up and hit you in the eye.
I made a bunch of stuff on the new sewing machine, and not bad stuff either. I was compelled to “do” needlework at school and found it infinitely preferable to cookery, though that’s not saying much. At least needlework was clean; you could sit down for it and it didn’t involve getting dough stuck between your fingers or pleading with members of the giant hockey-playing class mafia for a tiny share of oven space.
As that particular series of Sewing Bee came to an end so, predictably, did I run out of steam with my new sewing-machine. In fact I temporarily lost it. But now in the process of packing for the house move I have found my sewing machine. It’s all boxed up in readiness and who knows, once I’m moved…
Maybe not a babygrow, but….