A Prac­ti­cal Art

Pa­tri­cia Ge­orge re­veals how she fell in love with needle­work – de­spite a dif­fi­cult be­gin­ning . . .

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Pa­tri­cia Ge­orge shares her love of needle­work

AS a school­girl, I regularly re­ceived “O” for needle­work. Look­ing back, I think this state of af­fairs was largely due to the small but ter­ri­fy­ing lady who su­per­vised us and who lost her tem­per with any­one who couldn’t sew a neat line of stitch­ing.

Con­se­quently, dur­ing that hour of needle­work (“do­mes­tic science”, as it was then called, to­gether with ba­sic cook­ery), you never knew quite what to ex­pect.

It only took one un­for­tu­nate pupil – like my­self – to pro­duce a bad piece of work for the at­mos­phere in the sewing room to erupt. The cul­prit was al­most al­ways re­duced to a trem­bling, tear­ful wreck who, as a re­sult, could then hardly thread a nee­dle, let alone sew a straight seam. The needle­work slot on my weekly timetable thus be­came some­thing to be dreaded.

How strange then that, many years later, I ac­quired an an­cient sewing ma­chine from a favourite aunt who was down­siz­ing to a bun­ga­low. My first task was to make cur­tains for my new flat – a daunt­ing prospect, but at least it was straight­for­ward sewing, and the sat­is­fac­tion I even­tu­ally felt at see­ing them com­pleted and grac­ing the win­dows was worth all my anx­ious mo­ments.

I soon had other am­bi­tions. The most dif­fi­cult thing for some­one like my­self, with a poor vis­ual imag­i­na­tion, was to de­ci­pher a sewing pat­tern. I spent hours por­ing over er the minutely de­tailed in­struc­tions, and at one stage ap­proached my mother to help me out. But that didn’t quite work out as I had hoped.

To my great sur­prise, my mother, who had spent World War II work­ing in the of­fices of a mu­ni­tions fac­tory and was able to fol­low com­pli­cated graphs of the weaponry pro­duced, was to­tally de­feated by the in­tri­ca­cies of a dress pat­tern! So it was back to the draw­ing board.

FI­NALLY, af­ter some prac­ti­cal ad­vice and help from a friend, I man­aged to cut out and sew my first item of cloth­ing, which turned out to be a sim­ple cot­ton blouse. It hardly mat­tered that the seams weren’t straight and that the sleeves re­sem­bled some­thing worn by Mr Spock – I had man­aged to pro­duce a gar­ment, even if it was only wearable in the pri­vacy of my flat! Af­ter the ini­tial strug­gle, I be­came quite an ac­com­plished needle­woman, pro­duc­ing trousers, skirts and sum­mer dresses in ex­otic prints that were con­sid­er­ably cheaper to make than to pur­chase off the rail. My pièce de ré­sis­tance, as I re­mem­ber, was a swirly skat­ing skirt in bright yel­low satin for my sis­ter-in­law, who quickly be­came the star of her lo­cal ice rink!

These newly ac­quired skills cer­tainly came in use­ful when I changed my job. My of­fice was sited in a tem­po­rary build­ing, just one storey high and from where you could quite clearly see the sky through chinks in the flat roof.

In win­ter, it was arc­tic, in sum­mer, hot and stuffy. Ar­riv­ing in late De­cem­ber, I spent the first few days mov­ing round the depart­ment in or­der to keep warm, in be­tween down­ing umpteen cups of cof­fee, as did most of my col­leagues. But even­tu­ally, I man­aged to solve the prob­lem another way.

On a shop­ping trip to the city, I bought the thick­est tweed I could find and – us­ing my newly honed skills – kit­ted my­self out in a fetch­ing dress and jacket, lined from col­lar to hem and so cosy I no longer needed to sit at my desk in a win­ter coat. At least that way I man­aged to re­tain a bit of a rosy glow dur­ing my work­ing day, and the sense of achieve­ment stayed with me all through a chilly win­ter.

These days, I’m not quite so in­dus­tri­ous and usu­ally buy my clothes off the peg, but just oc­ca­sion­ally I re­call that vi­rago of a do­mes­tic science teacher – and thank her for giv­ing me the im­pe­tus to tackle some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent. Strangely enough, sewing is now sec­ond only to bak­ing in terms of tele­vi­sion ap­peal, so you never know, maybe this will be my next big chal­lenge.

Pat look­ing proud in a spe­cial sum­mer cre­ation! Wear­ing some

home-made flares on hol­i­day.

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