It's here! From My Mother to Me...#1

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Happy Mother's Day! Or at least it is if you're here in the UK! And that also means it's the very first post in my new series, From My Mother to Me...celebrating the sewing gifts and more from mothers to daughters.
I'm kicking off a seven-Sunday series, leading up to Mothers Day in the USA, Australia and all kinds of other places on Sunday May 11.

Now I've been looking forward to this post so much! Not least because I get to share these glamorous photos of my mum. Check this out, my mum in a lilac angora jumper, knitted herself;

 

My mum, Christianna Jean, grew up in Manchester from where her father was a baker and confectioner  and her mother worked long hours running the bakehouse and a shop and cafe. Her mother, my gran, was a great seamstress, but never had time to sew with her. The bakery was still open when I was a child and I remember  helping myself to cakes and seeing the tired, flour-dusted faces of the women who worked the long hours there. Here's my mum and my grandmother .



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So, without her own mum around,  my mum turned to the other women around her to teach her to sew, the women who came into the cafe, and also in the neighbouring shops. In particular this lady, the appropriately named Miss Taylor.

Miss Taylor ran another shop, a ladies' drapers as it was called, selling underwear and stockings. She taught my mum to sew. Here she is with my mum, who is aged about 16 and is wearing a cream wool boucle coat that  she made herself, under Miss Taylor's guidance. It's a Vogue pattern complete with black leather buttons.  Miss Taylor taught my mum lots of things - how to make bound button holes, buttonhole stitch ( a kind of twisted blanket stitch for hand finishing button holes), how to cut properly and mark everything with tailor's  tacks.
In those days, the late 1950s and early 1960s, everyone was smarter and clothes were more expensive. So my mum made beautiful tailored pieces like this coat, which required really perfect sewing skills.
She also made some pretty crazy things. Like this dress.

 

My mum's family emigrated from Germany to England in 1910. She had two older brothers, and in the early 1950s they drove to Germany in an old Bentley car, I guess to visit relatives and re-trace roots.   The brothers came back from Germany with some gorgeous printed cotton, and she used it to make this traditional Tyrolean outfit!
And she's also kept things. (Sadly not the Vogue cream wool coat!)



But she has still got this gorgeous floral dress she made aged about 15. It has a beautiful v-back and an amazing full skirt. It is, however, absolutely tiny. It has the most miniscule waist ever!

My mum moved to Edinburgh in 1963, where she met my dad, and her sewing moved from the 1950s feminine to the funky 60s. She made trouser suits and evening dresses and Mary Quant style shift dresses and more. Sadly photos are few and far between, (and you would not believe how much work this post has required from my dear dad and his basic technology skills/equipment - searching for photos, scans, emails etc. If I ever get hold of the 60s photos I'll do a follow-up!).
In the 1970s she started sewing for me and my sister. And sewed everything for us... (from my school uniform, to my sister's wedding dress). She was also quite 'cutting edge.' We didn't wear 'pink' or frills. For instance, I love the graphic stripes on these seersucker pinafores (me on the right). Sewing for us was still due to financial necessity...

So I grew up not being 'taught' to sew, but watching her sew in the evenings. And as a teenager I sewed dresses and waistcoats and bits and bobs (I too still have my teenage creations - but I'll save them for another day).
Now, when I'm spending evenings sewing for Missy, these are the sewing 'rules' I've inherited from my mother

  • An iron is the most important sewing tool. Never be far away from your ironing board when you're sewing. I am often too lazy to get the ironing board out and usually regret it.
  • Cutting is crucial. And never, ever, cut anything out late at night. (I break this rule a lot). I remember her cutting my sister's wedding dress fabric - seven metres of gorgeous silk damask. My dad, brother and I were ordered to leave the house. She said she couldn't cut it with anyone else around..
  • Don't waste your energy and effort on cheap fabric. When I was 17 I made a hand-embroidered 'new-romantic' velvet waistcoat. It took hours. Then I bought the cheapest nylon lining fabric for the back. I clearly remember my mum sending me straight back to the fabric shop, maybe with a little money in my pocket, to buy some decent fabric. I still have the waistcoat.
  • Sew things to last - with growing room. This used to drive me crazy! My mum made me shorts for wearing for sports at school. I had one pair that lasted from age 5 to 11. Also nightdresses that had endless tucks in the hem so they could be lengthened. She added extra patchwork to maxi dresses to make them longer. But much as I hated it as a kid - I'm doing the same now! Everything I now sew for Missy, I think how can I make this so it can be altered?
  • Perfectionsim. My mum notices things. She can see when stripes don't match across a seam, or a facing doesn't lie flat. It would bother her, and she would unpick. There are moments when I look at something, and think 'mum would unpick that' and I reach for the seamripper.
I love the photo of my mum in her Vogue coat with Miss Taylor. I love to think that when I slipstitch a hem (as taught by Miss Taylor to my mum...) something of this old lady that I never met lives on....

And what do I hope Missy, and Torin, will take from watching me sew as they grow up?

  • That you don't need to buy things, you can make them
  • Don't be a consumer, be a creative
  • Never, ever, use Mummy's sewing scissors to cut paper!

From my Mother to Me series continues with the most amazing line up over the coming Sundays.
Look out for An from Straight Grain here next Sunday!



13 comments :

  1. Oh, I love this post. My grandmother was a seamstress - that is how she supported her three children after my grandfather passed away (young). Sadly I did not pick up sewing until a few years after her death. I often think of all the things she could have taught me.

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    1. Thanks Masha, it's only when you start sewing that you think of all the things you want to learn. Supporting three children as a seamstress, that's tough. At least I only sew for pleasure. Sewing for work must be a very differnet thing.

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  2. Oh this is such a beautiful post Victoria! Your mother is obviously a very important person I. Your life and I can see so many similarities with the things she taught you. I have started secretly quizzing mum as I would love my post to be a surprise for her. She is a bit of a fan of my blog though so will no doubt click on the button when I put it up later! Happy Mother's Day to you and your mum and well done dad on the photos!!

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    1. Good luck with keeping it secret! I had no chance - this has required hours (really) of effort by my dad! I had a lovely mothers day, Spring barbecue and gin and tonic. Perfect. It's funny that you can see the similarities. I think I can too- I'm not as neat a sewer at all. But she did like to experiment, especially in her 20s. Looking forward to your post!

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  3. Happy Mothers Day Victoria :) What a beautiful post! Reading it I could picture your mum sewing. That coat is amazing! Made by a 16 year old! Wow! Your mum has great rules for sewing! Sadly I break the Do not cut fabric when tired way too often! And yes, cutting paper with fabric scissors is the worst sin anyone can possibly commit!

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    1. Isn't the coat amazing! She did lots of other really technical stuff (like trouser suits!) but sadly no photos. It was the only way to get good/glamorous clothes. And, yes...., if I didn't cut fabric when tired, I would never actually sew anything!

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  4. I LOVE this post so much!! so moving to see those skills and creativity pass from one woman to another. So much to be treasured!

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    1. Thanks Sophie, its only now I'm really appreciating what a gift it is, and how clever women are ! (sewing, family, work etc etc....)

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  5. What a lovely post! I learned the basics of sewing from my mother as well. As it turns out, I'm pickier and fussier about my sewing than she was. I had to giggle when you mentioned what you wanted your kids to learn and it included the scissors rule. That rule existed in my house growing up, too, and I have carried that forward. My husband knows better than to touch any of my sewing stuff. LOL.

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    1. Thanks Linda! I'm getting a bit fussier about my sewing, but often make 'speed' my priority. And yes the 'scissors and paper' rule, I think that's one that lasts forever!

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  6. I loved reading this post. My mother sewed all of our clothing when my siblings and I were little but was no longer around when I was a teenager and young adult to teach me - I am so grateful for the wonderful blogging sewing community to which I owe much of my sewing ability today :)

    Hardest tip to learn - there is always time to iron!! Great tips. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you! Isn't the blogging comunity great, I've learnt so much too! (but am still often too lazy with the iron!)

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  7. Victoria,
    What a beautiful post. Your mother sounds like an amazing and inspiring individual. Thank you for this walk back in time. And that coat, by the way, is amazing. Any chance she would remember the pattern she used? What was the fabric? And the colour? Sorry... hahaha... I love that coat!!!!

    Natalie
    XX

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Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I love hearing from you, and try to reply as often as I can, either here or by email. All views, tips, gratefully received...
Victoria

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