I learned how to knit and crochet and sew from my mother. She taught me knitting one day when I was off school sick. It must have been before I was 6½, because it was when we lived in Newcastle, and we left there in July 1970. I don’t have a specific remembrance of learning crochet, but it was after knitting, I’m fairly sure. Sewing was something she did all the time, my sisters and I all had matching dresses.
I made clothes for my doll, Mary-Ellen, using Mum’s leftover scraps. And Barbie, but Mary-Ellen was my favourite. I also did do sewing in Home Economics at school. In primary school, I made a tote bag in binca, with lots of embroidery on it, and a needle book which my mother ended up with. We had a fabulous home ec room, in middle school, with a load of cookery/kitchen equipment, and also a load of sewing gear. I can definitely remember making a chambray skirt with a lace trim. (I also remember making rice pudding, and coleslaw, but that’s beside the point…)
I learned how to darn from my French grandmother, Mamie. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else darning. She wasn’t exactly a domestic goddess, my grandmother. She had a housekeeper during her whole adult life. She might occasionally sally forth into the kitchen to bake a cake, or sit companionably with Madeleine (the housekeeper) and shell peas, but she never actually cooked stuff. Similarly, she always had a dressmaker (Lalie). I can’t ask my Mum how she learned how to sew, because she’s gone now, but I’m guessing it was more from Lalie than from her own mother! But Mamie was a demon darner. Mainly because she was a tightwad! She had two grown up sons who stayed living at home for years, and she always, *always*, darned their socks, along with my grandfather’s socks, to extend their longevity. Sometimes she was darning over darning!
I learned how to embroider from my great aunt, Tante Madeleine. Tante Madeleine was Mamie’s older sister. She’d had polio as a child and had thick wonky legs. And not to put too fine a point on it, she was whiskery. As aunts go, she was a little bit scary. But she held court in her Salon, and I would sit with her and learn how to do French knots and stem stitch and satin stitch (I didn’t know what all those stitches were called, not even in French), and I made embroidered napkins and napkin holders and doileys. Not items that are particularly in use now, in the UK, but were actually useful items in 1970s France. I keep thinking now, I should try and incorporate some sort of embroidery into my me-made garments. Last Christmas I personalised a pair of cheap mass-produced gloves to go in my niece’s Christmas Stocking. But that’s as far as I’ve got with reinvigorating my embroidery skills!