21 August 2009


I've had a wee holiday, just a few days messing about enjoying the quiet of London in the middle of August. It has been lovely.

I popped round to my mum's one afternoon to collect some fabric for making Morsbags at our East End WI meeting this week. Entering her back bedroom was a bit like time travelling. First we came across some old jewellery, mostly those cheap sixties fake pearls. I guess I'm just a cheap sixties kind of girl, and very pleased that those days of playing surreptitiously with these treasures when I was a child were now legitimised with maternal sanction to take it home with me.

We carried on through the chest of drawers. Here, some dotted sand-coloured cotton - "Aunt Mary B gave me that. She probably didn't like it. She never gave me anything much in case I made something nice with it." Aunt Mary B, by the way, ran away to New Zealand in 1970, which means that this particular fabric has been in my mum's stash for nearly 40 years. )

Over here, at least 8 yards of a grosgrain type fabric, a lovely black- on- white mazy, meandering design - "Aunt Lily gave me that. She got it from work. They didn't want it. It would make a nice shift frock." Aunt Lily is coming up for 88 0r 89 and probably retired at least 25 years ago. What's more "they didn't want it" may well be a euphemism for helping herself to it.

We carried on. Leftovers from curtain making ( "Miss Cahill wouldn't let anyone else make those curtains but me"). Yards of lace ("I took this off that milk maid Laura Ashley frock you had, do you remember?" Yes I do, I ditched it more than 30 years ago.) A pretty red cotton print ( "This was for a dress for Sally when she was little" She is now 26.) A remnant of material with white umbrellas printed on black ( "This would make a little skirt for E. She could wear it with a white top. Take it home and do something with it.").

And so we went on, my mum claiming that there was a time when she could remember where every last bit of material came from. She talked about the way she had sat with her tailoress grandmother doing exactly what we were doing, how she had known that she wanted to be a dress maker. She talked about the frocks she had made for me, and the things she had planned to make but never got round to making.

I was handed a pile of material and instructed to put the rest back carefully. But I realised she was beginning to feel older and more vulnerable, and that maybe I should value a little more what she was passing on.


j said...

Looks wonderful! Will be great fun to wear them.

Did your mother make those great sixties fashions?

Felix said...

What a beautiful post.

I recently talked with my own mother about clothes and we have the reverse situation where I remember everything in her wardrobe since I was really young, whereas she doesn't so much. She sewed her own Wedding Dress and made lots of other lovely clothes but doesn't seem to have kept up the sewing.

I love all the memories your mum shared with you and it sounds like you had a really great time in the fabric room! I'm excited to see what you make from these very resonant textiles.

PS I thought your beads were a collection of berries from your allotment at first glance! Do I need my eyes testing again or is there some resemblance?

Rattling On said...

I know exactly what you mean about suddenly realising your parents are entering a different phase in their lives.
My Mum also has an impressive linen stash (mine is yarn) and so does my sister.
I hope you'll post pictures of the finished bags.

Liz said...

Loved reading this. My mum neither sewed nor knit (when I was at primary school I longed for a home knit cardi). I don't know who I'll pass on my little stash of fabric to. And yes, it will include an unsewn Clothkits skirt!

kristina said...

My mum and I did just the same thing the last time I was home--reminiscing our way through both the jewelry drawers and the fabric stash. It was one of the best parts of my visit!

And I still think you have the coolest WI ever...

K x

Kate said...

This was so very beautiful. I don't care what Proust says about cakes and tea and suchlike, to me there is nothing more powerful where memory is concerned than fabric and notions. Scraps and buttons are always so powerfully suggestive of the lost whole that is the past. My mother has kept all the buttons from our childhood clothes -- when I see them I remember outfits, autumns, spaces - a whole abyss of feeling.

Anonymous said...

I decided to wash the cover of an old cushion that belonged to my granny (she's been dead 10 years now), and carefully unpicked the stitching thinking about how she had once sewed this herself. I found another cushion inside which had been embroidered into a beautiful vase and flower pattern and hadn't seen the light of day for umpteen years. The colour of the threads were still very bright and vibrant. PS Really enjoy your posts.