This post is as a result of my visit to see my parents today. My Mother always likes to see things I’ve made so I took my latest quilt to show her. We got talking about the family members who used to make things and do practical crafts (as we do every time I show her what I’ve been up to) and she reminded me that she still had things I’d made years ago. I started to remember some of them and was surprised she was still hanging on to them. So we went upstairs for a rummage about…..
As far back as I can remember, I was always surrounded by knitting and sewing. My Mother was the knitter (he-he) and my late Aunt Edith was the dressmaker. I now know, because of the lovely work of Occasional Crafter that my Great Aunt Emily did tatting (I always thought it was fine crochet). They were all very inspirational crafting women in their own right. However, the most influential crafter in my life was my Primary School teacher Miss Fox, probably because she did the more unusual crafts, or just ones that I wasn’t familiar with at home. She painted china and did needlepoint, cross stitch and embroidery. In the store cupboard in her classroom, she had boxes full of embroidery magazines with lots of lovely colourful patterns. Miss Fox had a hand-cranked Singer sewing machine in a wooden case which she allowed pupils to use under her supervision. She was my teacher when I was 10 years old and she taught the whole class, girls and boys, how to sew.
Before we could embark on a proper sewing project, we had to make a sewing case. I had completely forgotten I’d made this but my Mother fished it out of the bottom of Dad’s sock drawer!
It is rather grubby to say the least and it has been in that drawer for the last 40 years. So, here is my very first piece of embroidery. The thread is very thick and I remember Miss Fox cutting pieces from the cones for us, in case we took too much at once. “No knots!” she kept saying “Remember to use the Begin On stitch!”. She had already demonstrated various stitches like cross stitch, with and without spaces, back stitches and so on. She encouraged us to experiment with the colours and stitches. The next photo shows the back. Some of the stitching is now loose.
The next photograph shows the inside which still has all of my old pins and needles exactly how I left them, pin heads and needle eyes around the edge for some reason?? Sewing the purple felt inside was my very first attempt at using that wonderful sewing machine.
The next thing we did was embroider our name onto a ready made “School issue” drawstring plimsoll bag which would later hang on the peg next to my name in the cloakroom. Miss Fox wrote our initials and family names on the front of the bags and we embroidered the letters. I think we used stem stitch for that. I have no idea what happened to that bag.
Next we made an apron from gingham for our cookery lessons. It was a simple rectangle which we had to gather at the top by sewing a line of long machine stitch and then pulling one of the threads to make it the correct size. Then the waistband was made and attached. There was a large pocket on the front with more cross stitch along the edge. This pocket, we were told, was for keeping laundry pegs in. Unfortunately, the apron hasn’t survived either. However, I do remember still using it during cookery lessons when I was about 14 years old.
So, by this time, I’d now learned embroidery, measuring, pinning, cutting fabric from a pattern, tacking (that seemed to go on for weeks) and sewing on a machine.
I enjoyed the machine sewing, probably because it was so fast, but I also remember, the tacking really bored me rigid! My real favourite was doing embroidery and especially being allowed to read the magazines with all the pictures of table cloths, runners, napkins and placemats etc. I used to return to the same page of the same magazine over and over again. Miss Fox allowed me to take that magazine home. I wanted to show my Mother a table cloth that I really wanted to make. I knew that I would make it one day and I would have to work out a way to persuade Mum to buy the cloth that I needed. Miss Fox told me it was very expensive but she had also promised I could use the threads from the cones if Mum would buy the cloth. Eventually, it was agreed that we could get the aida cloth but I had to promise to finish the project because of the cost.
This is the result. Sadly, it has seen better days. Some of the stitching is coming away because this table cloth has been washed and put through an electric mangle many times. Sewing with no knots and Begin On stitches didn’t quite stand up to this abuse! When I look at it now, I still can’t believe I was only 10 years old when I followed this pattern in the magazine but I do remember doing the central stitched pattern and being determined to finish it because of the cost.
The stitches are quite large and I was obviously trying to match the early 70’s decor at home with the yellow and brown🙂
The part that I don’t really remember is that, Miss Fox who insisted everything was done “properly”, must have shown me how to mitre the corners!! Not perfect, but not bad either.
The next stage was to try to embroider without the counting and the holes in the cloth. Miss Fox gave me one of her own iron-on transfers!!! In those days you could buy the table cloths already hemmed which you could put transfers onto. You then embroidered over the transfer design and washed the cloth to get rid of the transfer lines. I remember Miss Fox asking me try to finish the cloth before I moved into the “big school”. Here it is. I was probably given a free choice from those thread cones, judging by the colours I’ve used😆
A bit closer and you can see how the washing machine has taken its toll again. At least the stitching is all intact on this cloth🙂
Around the edge, I have the wiggly weaving stitch that I’d stitched on my sewing case.
So, there we are, a potted history of embroidery 1970-71, in an ordinary Primary School with an extraordinary teacher. Miss Fox was nearing retirement when she taught me. She never married or had children and would never have known how much she inspired one of her pupils.
Knitting and sewing at home had always been functional, usually for clothes. It was done to help make ends meet and was much cheaper than buying clothes in those days.
I often wonder what Miss Fox made for herself when she wasn’t inspiring little 10 year olds….