05 August 2011

A needling post

Teacher-trainees in the Lao project I was managing wear
beanies knitted by my mother just as her eyesight was failing
I come from a line of needle-workers. Many of the women in our family sewed, knitted and/or crocheted. I wouldn't be surprised if some of our French foremothers were lacemakers, too. When she has time (which is rarely), my daughter is continuing the tradition. So is my Tassie niece, who has just bought her first sewing machine and who is also a crack crocheter.

My sister's bowl of crocheted fruit
Unlike my sister and her daughter (said niece), however, I mainly use patterns designed by others – except for homewares (pillow covers, bedspreads, curtains and pelmets etc.), where I happily go off in all sorts of directions. But during my long working life, I used my sewing to take my mind off work problems. I had a stressful job for a long time as the head of a busy government publishing unit. It wasn't always easy to stop the day's challenges and the next day's deadlines from mulling around in my head after I got home at night. So right after dinner on most week nights, I would go straight to my work table and sewing machine.


In that period of my life, I seemed best able to unwind by dumbly following a pattern, usually working on items for my work wardrobe, at a time when my teenage daughter was more interested in store-bought clothes. I did spend several months fabricating a fabulous black and pink silk ball gown for her high school formal – complete with boning, lining, organza underskirt and more than a dozen bound buttonholes and silk-covered buttons making up a false front... well, it's difficult to describe. I'll scan an old photo instead.

Eventually I came to use nothing but Vogue patterns. What appealed about them, I think, was the attention to tailoring detail and the challenges they presented – unusual ways of setting in sleeves, shaping yokes, and those sorts of things. Now my wardrobe needs are greatly reduced, I'm getting to an age when clothes don't wear out and what I mostly wear are garden togs that are the remnants of an earlier, classier casual life. But I'm still addicted to sewing and knitting.

I could afford the luxury of daytime sewing these days, but I still prefer to do my needling in the evening. My sewing machine is almost permanently set up at the 6ft long huon pine dining table. These days we take most of our meals in armchairs by the TV, or at a small cedar table nearer the kitchen. What was formerly our main dining table is now only used for meals with visitors. So for most of the time it makes a wonderful sewing centre, with all my trimmings stored away in one section of the Philippine sideboard nearby.

What is it about my and my sister's fingers that they need to keep busy! Arthritis may take its toll with me eventually, as it did with my mother. But until then my hands will keep dancing to well-known rhythms that by now must have become imprinted somewhere in my tailor's brain. I mainly choose simpler projects nowadays, and just as often sew for others (my son-in-law would like another pair of my board shorts, and my new grand-daughter opens up a whole world of opportunities).

One last square to knit, then blocking, joining the squares
and knitting a red edging and this Peruvian wool afghan
will be ready for my grand-daughter's pram or cot.

(Click here to read an earlier post about my sewing life.)

3 comments:

Zoe said...

I loved that dress. I still have it - and when I'm not battling baby bulge, I have been known to wear it to fancy dress parties. I guess Charlotte will now have that honour.

And yes, B would like another pair of shorts please ;-)

Tracey said...

I shall always remain in awe of those who are talented with needle, thread and quick hands ... such skills are not in my possession unfortunately.

Chartreuse said...

Zoe: So glad you kept the dress. Must take another look at it one day. I'm sure memories will flood back. I seem to recall we first made a calico mock-up! Can't imagine doing all that ever again.
Tracey: I think you have to breathe in those things with your mother's milk. My mother at her sewing machine is one of my earliest memories, though I don't think she ever actually 'taught' me to sew. But I just always assumed I would be able to do it. And my daughter is the same, I think.

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I started this blog in 2009 when I became a full-time caregiver. My husband had been diagnosed a few years earlier with primary progressive aphasia. Over the next four years until his death in 2013, we went on a journey of discovery about this rare condition. My blog is about what I learned, how we both coped and how the journey deepened our love and appreciation of each other. Allen’s journey is over, but mine goes on.