We did Needlework at school and I was not a good student. I was hopeless at Primary School – the apron with its many coloured cross stitch and the felt needle case with much lazy daisy stitch. My stitches were not regular, they were not even, they were not smooth.
I was even more inadequate when I got to the High School. We had to make slipper bags with French seams. Slipper bags? Who has slipper bags? Still my stitches were uneven, my lines wobbly. For safety’s sake and to avoid the wrath of Miss Weston, I spent my time in class unpicking everything which I had sewn as homework (nothing remains of those efforts).
Because away from school I quite liked sewing. I sent off for a kit for a duster coat and another kit for a panelled skirt. I began to make my own clothes, dresses, skirts, smocks, trousers, jackets. I even made covers for my second hand sofa in my flat in Leicester. Because in Leicester I had my own electric sewing machine. The school where I was teaching – Longslade Upper School in Birstall – was getting some new sewing machines and selling off its old ones. Quick as a flash I stepped in and bought one.
There is nothing quite like the pleasure of rolling out a length of cloth onto the carpet, and pinning on the tissue paper pattern, cutting out the pieces, putting them together, watching the garment take shape.
The Longslade machine has served me well, long skirts, short skirts, a ball dress (though I never got to the ball), coats, curtains. But I haven’t really sewed anything, apart from a hem or two, for about 30 years.
But some while ago I decided I needed a new pair of shorts, and I knew exactly the style I wanted – just above the knee, like a short version of those wonderful floating long wide trousers from 30s movies. OK. First stop, John Lewis. Well the world of dress-making has changed. Gone are the rows and rows of pattern books. Gone is the enormous selection of fabrics. Gone are the acres of haberdashery. But it was something to buy a pattern (albeit a pattern for trousers – but I can manage that), to dream the dream of what the end result will look like, to choose the material, the zip, the cotton. And it was good to lay it all out on the living room floor.
But, I wasn’t sure what size I was anymore. And these days, one pattern contains all size possibilities. It was hard to guage. To cut a long story short(s) the shorts were too small. And I won’t trouble you with the pieces sewn the wrong way round, inside out, back to front. And back again. And unfinished.
And then came the Great British Saving the Bee and the Guardian advert for a sewing machine. It was all pointing one way. I watched the programme and I bought the sewing machine.
I have followed a strict regime which means I have lost a couple of pounds. I am ready to return to the shorts.
So yesterday I set up the sewing machine. I depressed the foot pedal, I tested the tension, I tried out the myriad stitching options. Lovely – that comforting electrical hum of the needle magically joining two pieces of cloth. I was ready. I opened the bag with the shorts. And then I realised.
This was not the bag with the shorts. This was the bag with the shorts pattern and the remains of the shorts material. I have no idea where the shorts are.
To be continued.