A Practical Art
Patricia George reveals how she fell in love with needlework – despite a difficult beginning . . .
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 somehome-made flares on holiday.