Today is a good day and some would also describe it a bad day. It’s certainly a day when I took a step closer to what they say we all become.
As a child growing up we always had a room called The Study, a place where we played, lined with shelf upon shelf of books, Georgette Heyer sat alongside the whole range of penguin classics, detective novels to the left and right, Dorothy L Sayer, Miss Marple and John Buccan. Later the Oxford University Press versions of Pennington and Flambards were my teenage reads and these sat above Mrs Pepperpot, Milly Molly Mandy
and below Return to Sula and the Wolves of Willoughby Chase. On reflection, I realise we were fortunate that we had enough space. A family of five we still had a room that was not the lounge or the dining room.
The study was a family room, without a TV, as well as the books it was the creative centre of our house. Permanently set up on a black high table in the corner, without a cover – all ready to go, The Study was also the home of my mother’s sewing machine. Initially it was a Singer classic – black with scrolly gold writing. I only remember it being electric. with a black and white curly cable that led both to the wall and the foot pedal. It might have been converted from the hand driven version. The sewing foot could be raised and lowered with a shiny lifting handle and the complicate ritual of threading the needle and the bobbin was a dark and mysterious art that only mothers knew.
Most of our clothes were homemade. School skirts where the right colour and fabric, usually the wrong style. They were knocked up with lightning speed to the sound of the needle running rapidly through the cloth as it was fed with floating hands. Button holes were created at waist bands and pockets were added with zigzag stitches. I remember one time my sister and I had matching white and green striped dungarees made for a holiday. Bibs, pockets and even that funny dungaree loop on the side – not idea what that is for – were added without a problem. We were stylish on hols.
If we grew, or the cutting out made them slightly the wrong size, then “taking in” was never a trauma or a problem. Even zips, that required careful pinning before they were firmly stitched in place; came to order without the need for tacking them in. It really was magic, although we did not always appreciate it at the time. It took a while to embrace our own style, to be happy in unique homemades.
The old singer was shelved (not thrown away) and an updated model arrived. We started to want to make things, and to turn trousers up. It is only when you try that it becomes clear just how hard it is to thread a sewing machine needle, fill a bobbin, pull the bobbin thread through to the top and to sew fabric without losing your ends. Creating a pile of stiches one on top of the other or running out of cloth to sew is easy. Sewing a straight line of stitches that hold together the right pieces of fabric is a lot hard than it looks. The peddle action is key and a sewing machine peddle is as fickle and fidgety as a fly.
With tuition and lots of tantrums, I managed to master the basics. The ritual of turning the wheel manually to get the needle to the top became second nature. Bobbins and thread still played tricks with my tension if not watched with care. I could even make a button hole, marvelling at the simple way you can turn the fabric if you leave the needle down.
I ended up owning the newer machine; it moved from life to life and house to house. I ran up some magnificent orange curtains for a house in Kent, sewing the header tapes and hems with ease. The machine was never serviced or maintained and years later when I lent it to a friend it would just not sew.
For many years I have done without. Managed by hemming and sewing by hand. I have even used iron on hemming tape. This weekend that all changed. I have bought myself a new sewing machine.
I unpacked it with some apprehension. Even got out and skimmed the instruction book. Then I found the bobbin winder & the bobbin case.
I wound my first bobbin for about 12 years – easy.
I threaded the needle – not too hard.
I pulled the bottom thread through to the top without losing my end.
And then I made a jolly cushion cover. My first machine sewing for a very long time.
I have big plans for my machine, curtains, taking in skirts and turning up jeans.
I think today is a good day. Today I took a step closer to becoming like my mother. The material cupboard may follow soon.