My mother always had a sewing basket. I used to like playing with it, especially the jar of buttons. It was circular, woven and lined, and I can still remember it’s straw-like smell. I don’t recall my mum ever making me anything to wear, but I do have a little booklet, made of felt, that I think she made for me when she was pregnant. Inside the pages there is a shoe with a lace, a buckle to fasten, a house with different shaped windows and doors, and my favourite of all: a page with a zip, inside which was always a little felt mouse with a string tail. The original mouse no longer remains, as I recall losing at least one, in an incident, aged four, when we were living in a rented terraced house in Rotherham. I was teasing the neighbour’s cat, and unsurprisingly, it stole the mouse and ran into the cellar through the coal chute. Luckily the mouse was simple to recreate, possibly made from a circle of grey felt folded in two and oversewn by hand.
A generation further back, I don’t remember seeing my grandmother sew although I know she had a machine and I remember that she darned stockings. Grandma never truly left behind the make do and mend approach. When she died five years ago, we donated some of her possessions; weighing scales and weights, and a washing posser, to Eden Camp Museum in North Yorkshire. This wasn’t because of their innate antique value, but was because they were intact examples of pieces of every day life from the 1940s. I now deeply regret not keeping the scales, but that’s another story. My grandparents were never well off and were always careful with money, meticulously noting and comparing food prices in supermarkets.
When my mum was young she was teased at school for having grey socks, not white. I imagine this was simply due to the fact that they were cheaper. She has told me that grandma made some of her clothes, including a dress she loved with a self-patterned stripe, featuring carousels and horses. I wish it had been kept for me to look at the techniques and finishing. I never talked to my grandma about sewing, but I am sure should could have taught me a lot.