As a child I loved to play in my Nana’s sewing room; although “sewing room” makes it sound much grander than it was. In actuality it was a small box-room on the top floor of my Grandparent’s large Victorian semi. A little “attic-type” room that seemed to balance precariously at the top of a flight of ricketty stairs. A room that often began to shudder and shake as oil tankers and other large lorries, thundered past on the main road, outside.
I remember how the table would rock, while we were cutting out fabric and the shelf above would creak and shake and the jars of bobbins and the metal boxes of pins would rattle and clatter onto our work and paper patterns would spill off the shelf and fall to the floor. Then I would be given the task of gathering up the tissue shapes and spilled pins and restoring everything to its proper place, while Nana tutted and grumbled and said how she would have to get Granddad to rehang the shelf …………………. that, probably, he had not firmed it up sufficiently when he first erected it !
Up the narrow stairs he would come, puffing from the effort, saying,
” If these blooming stairs get any steeper, we will have to install a hoist !”
His deep voice boomed and filled the tiny room as he inspected the offending shelf, declaring it,
“As firm as billy-o ” and saying that there was nothing he could do about the traffic and maybe if Nana,
” Didn’t have so much blooming stuff, things would not be crammed so blooming tightly onto the shelf !”
Then he would smile his genial smile, shrug his tired shoulders and stomp downstairs to listen to “The Archers”…………………………… leaving us to our sewing or chattering or whatever we were doing.
That cosy room was like an Aladdin’s cave to me and how I loved to be there, reveling in the spools of thread, the thick black or white button-thread and the ordinary sewing cottons, in a myriad of shades, displayed in neat rows on smaller, narrower shelves.
The silky embroidery threads, in a rainbow of colours; golds and purples, blues and reds, spread out in their box like multi-coloured cobwebs.
There were ample supplies of hooks and eyes, press-stud fasteners, boxes of pins and needles of every type; from long, fine beading needles to embroidery sharps, darners, tapestry needles and bodkins.
Beautiful ribbons on spools or wrapped around cardboard tubes from the inside of toilet rolls. Silk ribbon, nylon ribbon, wide ribbon and ribbon as thin as a shoe lace. Ribbons of every colour under the sun…………………. to adorn a dress, a petticoat or even my curls.
Oh yes, and yards of elastic too, black or white, for panties and slips and for making garters.
Buttons by the dozen; a box of brand new ones, each set stitched to a little card………………………………… And then the mysterious biscuit tin, full to the brim with other buttons, saved over the years.
Buttons cut off old shirts, suit jackets, worn-out trousers and cardigans, any outgrown or discarded garment.
Everything was recycled, kept because it may “come in”. I loved to play with these buttons, burying my hands in them as they nestled in the tin, feeling the smoothness of some, admiring the decoration of others. Buttons of every colour, glass buttons, shaped buttons, nobbly buttons, chunky buttons and tiny little pearl buttons.
But, beautiful as those button, ribbons and embroidery silks were, my absolute favourite things were the big square baskets of fabric.
Yards of cotton for making aprons, pillow cases and my Summer sun-dresses. Glazed cotton, sprigged with dainty posies, gay gingham, polka dots and candy stripes. All folded neatly, smelling of “newness” and that lovely cottony “fabric shop” aroma.
But best of all were Nana’s “scrap” baskets. These contained recycled fabrics …………………………nothing was ever wasted and each piece of cloth held a memory and a story.
There were scraps of russet velvet from the sitting room curtains, made by my Nana and bringing memories of them drawn against the stormy nights. Of huddling around the log fire, which burned brightly in the grate, of feelings of security and loving families.
Little pieces of cream silk, from my Great Grandmama’s blouses. She always wore these lovely blouses with her special “Mizpah” brooch at the neck. Great Grandpapa had given her that brooch before he had gone off to war, the inscription read ……………………………….
” The Lord watch between thee and me, when we are absent, one from another ”
And the brooch was buried with her, when she died at the age of 98.
Remnants of lilac dimity, from a beautifully stylish suit my Nana had made and worn to a School Prize-giving. I remember how I had boasted about her prowess with a needle and how my rather old-fashioned needlework teacher had admired the suit. I’m sure it had forced her to revalue my work as, from that day, my rather “outre” designs were suddenly viewed in a new light!
Little nursery prints, on remnants of the material Nana had used to make romper suits for my siblings, way back in the days when they were still using potties.
Pieces from the petticoat my dear Nana ripped up one late Summer’s day when, walking in the Dales, armies of ants had attacked my sandal-clad feet. My poor ankles were sore and terribly itchy and covered in bites. , but Nana had whisked me over to the nearby stream and dipped strips of her petticoat into the cool water and bandaged the bleeding areas of skin. She always saved the day !
I recall fabric from damask curtains; satin evening dresses, worn on glamourous nights; gypsy skirts and dirndl skirts and even Grandad’s shirts; all with their own special memories attached.
Oh, how I loved those hours with Nana. It was there that she taught me the salient points of dressmaking and I began to make my own clothes from the age of 8 or 9.
I learnt to embroider too ……………………. and knit and crochet. Life skills that encouraged my creativity and began a life-long love of crafts of all descriptions.
I, too, now save scraps of gorgeous fabric and remnants of beautiful cloth, to fashion into cushion covers and unique bags. But my collection will never rival that of my darling Nana and the memories they evoked.
The old Victorian semi was sold long ago and my Grandparents retired to a little cottage in the country.
Sadly there was no box-room ………………………no sewing room as well stocked as a haberdashery store.
My Grandparents are long gone too, but they live on in my memories, my fading photographs and the faces of my children and grand-children.
But every night the memories of that sewing room come flooding back and, once again, I touch the wonderful fabrics and glorious threads and feel the memories in every piece ….. they are all here, in the patchwork quilt that my Nana made for me.
The above is my entry for this week’s Countdown Word Challenge.
Unusually, this week’s story contains more than a few grains of truth !!
If you would like to tease us and mix truth with fiction; or, in fact, just blatantly lie through your teeth, please do have a bash at this challenge ……………………. if I can do it, anyone can !!
Just be sure to include the following words;
BOOMED, PANTIES, FIRMED, POTTIES, REVALUE, AMPLE, TANKERS, BOASTED, SALIENT, HOIST, ARMIES.