27 July. Yesterday, my husband asked me to do an alteration on two pairs of slacks that he had recently bought. They were designed for someone well over 6 foot tall, so they needed to be shortened. We could get this done down the road for $20 a pair. However, reluctantly, I realised that I was perfectly capable of doing this small alteration.
So, I took out my 50-year-old Bernina sewing machine, my 21st birthday present. (I am told they don’t make Berninas like this anymore.) It took one me one hour to do the alteration. Not without complaining to myself. I have to acknowledge that times have changed: we do not expect to do sewing at home any more, certainly not darning nor mending. To make the point, I noticed this week that my local needlework and sewing shop has a ‘For Lease’ sign on the dirty windows.
Many years ago, when I was at boarding school, we had a class called ‘Sewing’ where we made things: dresses, skirts and shirts and the best of our work was submitted to the Royal Show in Pietermaritzburg, Natal. Sometimes when your laundry came back, there was a note that required you to go and do mending. It might be for a pair of socks or for an unravelling hem.
My mother made all my clothes: at first on a treadle Singer sewing machine. Later, when we lived in towns that had electricity, she acquired an electric Singer machine. The sewing patterns were bought in the UK to last the next term of our Africa posting. The London department stores had banks of massive books displaying the current fashions trends: Butterick, McCalls, Simplicity and Vogue. My mother bought the required lengths of material to match the patterns. She loved pouring over the latest fashions. There she felt she could keep in touch with the ‘outside’ world.
I was 17 before I was given my first store-bought dress. I remember it as a real indulgence. The problem was, as a teenager, I did not always appreciate my mother’s ideas of what I should be wearing, especially if the pattern and material had been bought in the UK two years previous.
I have an older family story about sewing. During the Second World War, the women left behind gathered to sew and knit for the troops. My grandmother, living in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, organised a group of women doing such work. She was awarded a stinkwood spinning wheel for her sterling efforts. The spinning wheel must have been a practical item because it used to have threads of blue wool within its bobbins.
The spinning wheel travelled with our family from Natal, to Tanganyika, to Zanzibar and now to Australia. It is no longer an object of use, but a reminder of the skills once needed and appreciated in the household.