A trip down memory lane…..

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….

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46 Comments

  1. Your mum is a gem keeping all your hard work. Thanks for a wonderful trip down memory lane. I have done almost all similar items to you although none as ambitious as a tablecloth. My transfer embroidery was a dressing table set!
    When I became a teacher one of the things I did with my class was to do a handtowel made from huckaback material. The students did embroidery work at either end of the towel. I guess it wasn’t really embroidery as it was more like weaving the floss behind the raised bits of the fabric.

    Reply
    • Aha!!! This is really amazing and I mean AMAZING for me! When we were rummaging today, the items I really wanted to find were the huck weaving ones. I think I made a dressing table set or maybe placemats. I can see them in my head. White fabric, with loops and purple weaving but we couldn’t find them. The fabric called huckaback which I’ve seen available these days is different to what I used. Mine had a thick thread running up and down through the fabric, leaving loops on the right side to weave through. I think it is creating things with colours that inspire most children. I hope some of your students have been inspired like I was 🙂

      Reply
  2. That is the most wonderful post……one that is truly a treasure! Although my mom did tons of sewing, I resisted at every turn (the proverbial “tomboy” in all my interests!!!) but she had the last laugh when she gave me a sewing machine (Singer portable) as a wedding gift. Finances being what they were at the time, and me choosing to be a stay-at-home mom, made learning to sew by sewing coveralls for my boys a necessity!!! My sewing/crafting days were launched!! Thank you so much for the guided ‘tour’ down your memory lane (parts, of which, we all share)! Hugs, Doreen

    Reply
  3. What a lovely post, and what amazing work you did back then. I don’t know how you had the patience to finish things off so nicely. It’s no wonder you’re so talented now! The only thing I remember doing was being made to sew buttons onto a blanket during primary-school-equivalent detentions!!😀

    Reply
    • Oh no! When I trained to be a maths teacher I was told never to give maths as a punishment for fear of putting students off maths forever. Nice to see you weren’t put off sewing🙂 Avis x

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  4. how lovely!! My mum has a few fusty old bits of mine and it is nice too see them again.

    Reply
  5. claire93

     /  April 21, 2012

    what a lovely walk down memory lane ^^ We must be around the same age because reading about Miss Fox reminded me of my sewing lessons at school (also aged 10) with Miss Steel. My works have been lost over the years but I remember making a table place mat, with basic cross stitch on bright red Binca and then a clothes peg bag.

    Reply
    • Yes, it was almost like being prepared for a life of domesticity. Laundry, cooking etc. were all part of the curriculum. We were also taught how to iron shirts!! but at least the boys had to do it as well. No wonder I turned out loving the sewing but hating the chores. Those were the days🙂

      Reply
  6. Thank you Avis for your lovely story – I can imagine the scene from your school class! Those were wonderful and interesting times! Also in Finland all the children learnt the basics fro sewing, knitting etc. How great is that!
    Fantastic that your mom have saved all your crafts – but that’s how mothers are! You have been so talented from a little girl!
    I remember that I made trousers with yellow-brown fabric with big flowers – now I feel that they must have looked terrible but I was so proud of them.
    Have a great weekend! x Teje

    Reply
    • Thank you Teje, Yellow brown with big flowers, now you are talking!! So you were dressmaking at an early age too. I remember never saying “I can’t do it” as it was just accepted we could do everything we were asked to do. The 70’s was the decade of bright and cheerful. Some of the photographs from that time are hilarious but they were good times🙂

      Reply
      • … you are so right! We had a leather factory in our town (bags and cloths) and they sold all the ‘left over’ scraps in plastic bags, so my mom made red leather patchwork trousers for me. I was emarrased to use them, even on the other hand proud to have something so unique. Thanks for my mom, I learnt to love making everything on my own!
        x Teje

        Reply
        • One of my friends had leather trousers around that time. They weren’t lined and when she took them off, her legs were dyed blue he-he. Avis x

          Reply
    • claire93

       /  April 21, 2012

      yellow brown with big flowers – oh gosh yes that kind of fabric brings back memories

      Reply
  7. Wow! I would have loved having a teacher like that. When I was a child, I used to bring home sewing and embroidery books from the library.

    How nice that your mom kept all your projects. They look great.

    Reply
    • Thank you! Yes, I borrowed library books too. I loved the pictures and especially bargello needlepoint (another thing on my “must do one day” list🙂

      Reply
  8. Brilliant post, I really enjoyed reading that. I remember doing patterns on some aida at school (not sure what I made, could well have been a needle book, or what happened to it but I remember loving doing it). Also remember doing the gingham apron too. I think Miss Fox did know how inspired you were at the time but shame she can’t see you now eh? The good news is Big J had a go with the aida in school last year and made a book mark for Daddy for Fathers Day, so it is still being done in schools.

    Reply
    • Aw thanks Patch! I was worried it was too long but once I started typing I kept remembering more details I just had to mention🙂 I also thought it might not be interesting for younger readers but it seems like I’ve stirred up a whole lot of lovely memories which is great. Yes, you maybe right about Miss Fox knowing a loved the crafts. She once brought in a painted plate before it was fired and asked if I wanted to paint a flower on it. I had to copy her. That’s a whole other story…. but somewhere there’s a plate out there🙂 I hope you made good use of your apron! and it is great news that young chilren are still being encouraged to make things in school. Daddy Patch won’t be allowed to use any other bookmark now🙂

      Reply
  9. What a great post and trip down memory lane. I, too, learned these skills in school, but had been embroidering and sewing and even cooking since well before learning at school. My Mum and I are from Europe and moved to Canada when I was a very small child, so my home lessons were very different from what they taught here…caused some problems for me at school – apparently I was doing everything ‘wrong’! Mum let me learn ‘both’ ways and make my own decision as which was better and now as an adult find I still go back to the way Mum taught me…it made more sense. The funny thing is that my teacher (who shall remain nameless) failed my attempts at sewing and cooking and even telling my parents that I would amount to nothing in the “field of domestic science”. I wish I knew where she was now – I have won ribbons for my quilts and my cooking is pretty good too, if I say so myself. Sadly, not all teachers are inspiring – but her criticism drove me to ‘show her’!

    Love the ’70s projects – I see so many things from my past too!

    Thank you so much for this post.

    Connie🙂

    Reply
    • It is surprising your teacher didn’t put you off for good! I’m so pleased you continued because your work is beautiful. Anyone who hasn’t seen what Connie can do, what are you waiting for!! Go and take a look. Those ribbons are well deserved🙂 My mum tells stories about doing everything back to front because she is left handed and she just picked things up better that way. Her knitting was done in reverse but the teacher couldn’t check it so she just let her get on with it. I like cooking too but I hate washing up😆 Avis x

      Reply
  10. Wow! That first piece takes me back too. I guess we all did that kind of stitching in the 70s as kids? The running stitch with different colour thread woven in and out really does bring back memories for me! How wonderful that your mum kept it all those years.

    You were very good to finish the other pieces. As someone else has mentioned about themselves – I became too much of a tomboy (and insisted on doing metal work, because they hated girls doing it!) and so the stitching I didn’t finish, my mum took over. That turned out to be a good thing – she’d not stitched in years until that point, and suddenly realised how much she loved it. She does the most beautiful stitching now. Ultimately, she passed on the love of making ‘things’ to me, but we make different things – which actually, I think is quite nice🙂

    Reply
    • I wanted to do physics in the “Big school” but girls weren’t allowed!! So I did typewriting and commerce under protest, then bragged to the physics boys that I would get two certificates and they would only get one (probably with my tongue sticking out). I still wish I could have studied physics😦
      It is interesting how several of the comments here have mentioned “tomboyish” things considering we all now do what, in our generation, would have been thought of as girly hobbies, though they are not any more.
      It is lovely that you and Mum do different things. You can appreciate each other’s different skills that way🙂

      Reply
      • Gosh! I can’t believe they didn’t let you! I almost had the opposite problem, I did all three sciences, but my dad is a physicist, and so we faught that one through. I think the 80s were very anti crafts actually… It wasn’t a cool thing to do. I can understand that, but I think the problem with it is that sometimes its not the thing you make but the act of making it that is so important. Helps you relax, and process the things that are going on in our lives and our heads.

        Reply
        • Yes, Girls and boys did chemistry and if you wanted to do a second science, boys did physics and girls biology. I agree about the 80’s. Thankfully, crafting is really catching on again now🙂

          Reply
  11. witchylin

     /  April 21, 2012

    Just like some of the posts above I remember making the same items as you. OK I didn’t have a Miss Fox….I had a Mrs Jones and she taught us to sew. I remember making a red skirt with embriodery around the hem and my aunty wearing it. It must have been standard school sewing to make a gingham apron and a small cloth. Mine no longer exsist since my parents are no longer here. I got rid of all those things when I cleared out their house. I have no children to pass them on to or brothers and sisters, even so perhaps I should have kept them!!!!! I went to school many years before you but the sewing classes were almost the same. What a lovely collection your Mum has kept and one to treasure.

    Reply
    • Yes, it looks like we all went throught the same projects. I suppose each item we made taught us different and more advanced skills so they were well chosen🙂 It is a shame you no longer have your pieces but you still have the memories. I was surprised how much detail I can remember about those times🙂

      Reply
  12. Thank you for telling. It was interesteing to read. My teacher of textile handicraft always thought I was no good and maybe I wasn´t. My grandma taught me how to do the crochet and I was so proud, but the teacher didn´t like it. She wasn´t a very nice teacher and I wish I could show her the quilts I´m sewing now. Maybe, maybe she would like them……….!
    Gun, Sweden

    Reply
    • Thanks Gun, I wish you could show her your work too! It is a good thing you had your Grandma to encourage you. She did a wonderful job🙂

      Reply
  13. This is such a lovely post. I loved hearing about your memories and so amazing that your mum kept everything for you.😀

    Reply
  14. I love the items… actually since I just did a yellow and brown quilt, I was even getting into the colors. (I apparently have oddball color taste.) What I loved best was the no knots, that was how my grandmother taught us how to embroider and even to this day it is how I do it. I am not sure if my family kept my early projects. I better check before my brother cleans the attic like he is threatening to do. i know if he does that, all those type of things will be deep sixed. The kid has no sentimental attachment gene.

    Reply
    • Oh no! You must beat him to it🙂
      I don’t use knots when I embroider either. I suppose it is just how I was taught and it seems to work well. I would love to see some of my maternal grandmother’s work but as far as I know it has all gone😦 My mum frequently talks about her quilts which were all hand quilted. I like your phrase “deep sixed” by the way. Avis x

      Reply
  15. Dear Avis, what a really fantastic post! I am glad you went to see your Mum and the needle case came out of your Dad’s sock drawer :0) I had to smile because you made me remember my own school sewing days ….. especially the apron and the pump bag!! I think they must have been “compulsory sewing education” – pity it’s not so much today.
    Val xx

    Reply
    • Sorry Val! I’ve just discovered your comment. I’ve just re-read the post as someone else has made a comment. Those were the days😉 Long time, no see. I hope you are well. Avis x

      Reply
  16. That’s an incredible story, and I loved reading it and seeing all the early examples of your sewing and embroidery. It’s very inspirational, and humbling at the same time. Thanks for sharing it!

    Reply
    • You are most welcome Ria🙂 It seems to have taken some readers back to their beginnings too! It was lovely to read their comments🙂

      Reply
  17. What a lovely post! Thank you for sharing your story.🙂

    Reply
    • Thank you very much🙂 Looks like it stirred quite a few memories in other crafters too! Welcome to my blog. Have a lovely weekend! Avis x

      Reply
  18. What an extraordinary, and inspiring post. You were Blessed to have Ms Fox as your teacher, and you’re sure making her very proud today. I hope she’s around, and come across this beautiful post showing what she taught you years ago is still inspiring today. Thank you so much for posting, and sharing. Thank you for being able to see my granddaughter’s craft work, and letting me know she can do more. I’m grateful for all you’ve shared. Be Blessed, Mtetar http://projectsbyMtetar.wordpress.com

    Reply
    • Thank you Mtetar. No, Miss Fox will be long gone. She was a grey haired lady when she taught me over 40 years ago. She had no family, so even though I would love to share my thanks with them, it isn’t possible. I think of her a lot as there are so many other things that she taught me. I will always be grateful to her🙂 Avis x

      Reply
  19. Elisabeth

     /  February 23, 2013

    I enjoyed your story so much!Great memories. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • You are most welcome Elisabeth🙂 I enjoyed remembering all the lovely things Miss fox taught me how to do. She had so much patience. She also used to paint pottery and she allowed me to paint two plates. I haven’t found them yet but I know they are around somewhere. Avis x

      Reply

I really enjoy reading your comments. Have a lovely day :-)

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