The feeling of a dressmaker's pin spiking into a barefoot is a sensation no-one should experience. But, for me, it was a weekly occurence.
Mum was always sewing: for herself, her children, and for other people who asked her to make a special dress, or even to alter an item of clothing. Even if her family didn't acknowledge her talent, she was held in high regard.
From an early age, I wanted to learn everything. What I couldn't find in books, I gleaned off my grandparents, and, if I had to, begrudgingly off my parents. Because, that's the thing isn't it - no-one wants to pretend their parents are cool, so you dismiss their usefulness. Challenge them at every chance, and let them know they are rarely in the position to help you. With anything!
Then, the day comes when you really cannot avoid it - you realise they hold the key to learning something that you really want to know about. Let the games begin.
If I really prod the depths of my memory, I would say that Mum first put me in front of a sewing machine. She must of, for me to feel so confident when I sat in Textiles class in Year Seven, and watched as the teacher demonstrated how to put a pocket onto a main piece of fabric, add a strap and then hem the entire piece to make an apron. I think I was done pretty quickly and watched as others struggled to control the accelerator function of the foot pedal. I even remember one day, watching a male friend put the needle through his thumb nail and into the flesh. Gosh, my stomach still churns!
By a teenager I was sewing a lot of my 'special' clothes. A trip to Lincraft was a weekly event, and by this stage I was reading patterns and identifying requirements of zippers, buttons, interfacing and anything else, without Mum looking over my shoulder. I was adding shoulder pads (it was the 80s OK!) and rouching and even boning. Wow, writing these words now, is a nostalgic journey in itself.
Mum, had been taught to draft a pattern, so she could make any style of dress, shirt or skirt. Even though I couldn't, it didn't stop me from experimenting - blending two patterns together. In Year Twelve, girls were given the opportunity to wear their own style dress, as long as it was with the school uniform material. I remember I made a box pleat skirt (falling just above the knee), attached to a square neck, sleeveless top. Others had gathered and tiered skirts, and some very radical girls even went for pants. Back then, this was as radical as it got.
At one of the many deb balls I went to, I wore one of my more interesting pieces. It was a bubble skirt, joined to a fitted bodice, with leg of mutton sleeves. But, apart from these individual eighties style features, the best part was that it was in blue lame (pronounced larm-ay) polyester lurex fabric. Picture, electric blue and shiny. I teetered in on black patent leather heals and that one-of-a-kind dress like I was Christie Brinkley on the catwalk...I rocked it!
When I had my own cherubs, I pulled the sewing machine out, thinking I would use my design flare to create some equally one-of-a-kind cool pieces. But alas, sewing for boys is the worst - just so boring. After creating a line of bibs, then tracksuits and tee-shirts, I left the machine and overlocker out for a few weeks on the dining table (which by then had become a space to put everything that was in between being 'put away'. I was performing the duties of the good housewife and hanging out the washing, when I returned inside to find two ten thousand metre overlocker threads, wound around every piece of furniture in the house. The two eldest of my three toddler sons had decided they wanted spider webs - the result, I retired the machines for almost fifteen years.
When people say, 'Covid made me do it' they quite often are referring to taking up a new hobby. For me, it was resurrecting one. I pulled the sewing machine out, and overcame a confidence crisis to make a tote bag. Yes, a tote!
I used beautiful Australian native birds and flower patterns that brought colour to a sullen day. And then, they took off. I had an Insta channel where people would contact me and order their favourite designs, and I would have Spotlight on speed-dial. When, lockdowns ended, I even overcame my internal voice of despair (you won't sell any...) to do a couple of markets. I sold out, and came home with hours of orders to fill. But, the thing is there really isn't any 'profit' in handcrafts. Even though I had become a speedster on the sewing machine, it was still time I needed to find. Eventually, the excited feeling waned, and I was sitting in front of the sewing machine because I had to, not because I wanted to.
The photo at the top of this post is the last dress I made - possibly two years ago now. I'm still attracted to gorgeous patterns of bright botanical and native Australian patterns, but I'm sewing less. I am thankful that I learnt the art of sewing at a young age and that I have returned to this creative passion later in my life. I lost Mum almost thirty years ago, but the act of sewing often reminds me of her. I see her hands smoothing over a tissue pattern piece, whilst she pins it to the fabric. I even sometimes remember the pain of a stray pin piercing my foot as I walk innocently across the living room floor. And I am filled with joy, when I remember her smile as she appraises her own work, whilst you model the fit and feel of the garment. I know she would think the dress I made was lovely - I do too! And, as for totes...well, you need to convince me that the tote you want to gift, is going to a very special person for me to make another one. I'm almost all toted out... Almost. There's probably room for a few more to go into the world I think...
What's your childhood talent, that has come and gone through your years?