Who inspired you to sew?
Two women had a big impact on my life as a young child. Unable to be cared for at home, I spent a year or so in the care of a beloved Aunt, her husband, and three sons. Aunty Marie was a good old fashioned housewife, living in the outer western suburbs of Auckland she spent her days keeping the house clean and tidy and caring for her family. I remember well laundry day, where she would use the old wringer machine in the out- side laundry. To my small child’s eyes, the machine was enormous, loud, and suspiciously dangerous as adults cautioned us about the supposedly lethal wringing device. Another strong memory was the old wood fired oven and cooker. I’m not sure why Aunty had such a cooker since her home would have been built in the 1960’s, and electricity was certainly around and accessible, for whatever reason, the large green cast iron stove was a marvel, as little doors would open to give glimpses of the flames roaring away deep within the contraption. Notwithstanding how difficult it must have been to cook on such a thing, Aunty Marie turned out beautiful meals and baked delicious cookies and cakes. I recall that her Apple Pie was quite a favourite, although I don’t re- member the morning porridge with such fondness!
Another thing Aunty Marie did was sew- ing. Denied a daughter of her own, my short time with her gave her a little girl to mother, and shower with homemade clothes.
I began my schooling while living with my Aunt and Uncle, and was a little older than the other children since I was living in Canada when I turned the age that New Zealand children commence their education. My boy cousins, Peter, Robert and James were already at the school. I was so proud that my substitute mum was involved around the school with all sorts of things, including the old fashioned equivalent of “canteen duty”. Vegemite and chip sandwiches and little boxes of sultanas were among the treats that lunch order day brought to eager little children.
My Aunty also helped make costumes for the end of year productions, and since she was an accomplished sewer, and offered to make my costume I was awarded the prized roll of Millicent from Sleeping Beauty. I needed no talent of my own for the role since all I did was sand in a circle of children with my magical wand. Aunt on the other hand, required much skill and ability as she made a sequined black masterpiece, including for a reason I cannot explain, a veil. I treasured the veil for years to come, along with the many doll clothes my Aunt made for me.
In much the same way my beloved Nana also sewed for me. Most school holidays I was allowed to stay on the farm with Pa and Nana, and whichever of the other 38 cousins or many aunts and uncles were in residence. Nana had amazing patience and made pretty dresses for my favourite doll, and even made me a Golly and Mammy doll which she sent to me while I lived in Canada. To this day I still have the nightgown she made for the Mammy doll.
Neither my Nana or my Aunty used the treadle machines our customers recall with such fondness, rather they sewed on what were modern machines for their day. Indulging their passion with machines that would enhance their sewing pleasure.
These two remarkable women showed me through gentle example that love can be expressed in the little things that are made with great care, much more than any amount of money spent.
It is with these memories that I greatly enjoy sitting at the machine making something unique and wonderful for the people I love. Every stitch is recognition of these women, and of my high school teachers who honed my skills and shared their own sewing knowledge with me. Although Sister Margaret Heath despaired that I was not disciplined enough, I am sure she would be gratified to see just how much I use the many skills she taught me.
My own daughter is not a great seamstress, but she makes amazingly creative clothes and the most fascinating felted finger puppets and toys for the children she teaches to enjoy. As a Steiner Kindergarten teacher she has her own beliefs about the gentle example of making something for the children in your life, and she shared with me that the parents attending the Steiner Playgroup she has once taught enjoy making simple toys while their young children play. No doubt someone special in your life also inspired you to sew. With every stitch you make not only to you pay homage to the past but you too become inspiration for someone who’s life you touch.
I often hear sewers lamenting that the women of today no longer sew, but I don’t think we need despair that ours is a dying art, rather the opposite in fact. It has been my experience that many women, both young and old, are still learning new sewing skills, and delight- ing in making something for themselves or loved ones.
Stores like mine, which traded as a bricks and mortar shop for 15 years, groups like CWA, neighbourhood houses, and small home groups are all equally necessary in facilitating the continued tradition of home sewing.