I’m going to tell you about one of my favourite pastimes from years gone by. As early as my memory will stretch back I remember having an embroidery needle in my hand, or the pedal of some type of old sewing machine under my foot. My mother was a seamstress by trade and her first job was to sew for a tailor in Parramatta. My mother thought that it would be a mortal sin if her daughters were not taught to sew. She believed that we would need the skill not only to provide for our own families, but so that we might also be able to earn money through sewing. My very earliest memory is of sewing buttons on a scrap piece of material whilst my mum sat at her sewing machine. In those days mum used a huge treadle sewing machine which was set into a very large wooden sewing table. I just couldn’t wait until I was old enough to sew on her sewing machine!
I was in 5th class at East Tamworth Primary School the year that I discovered embroidery could be so much fun. As we practiced stitches every week in sewing class many of the girls groaned and moaned, but I loved every new embroidery stitch we were shown, practicing the stitches at home on scrap material to get them perfect. The stitches we learned were the old fashioned embroidery stitches such as daisy stitch, stem stitch, satin stitch and bullion stitch. I knew about embroidery before that, as I had been playing around with it since 3rd class in Darcy Road Public School in Wentworthville, before moving to Tamworth. But in 5th Class everything fell into place, and those stitching classes started a lifelong adventure into the world of materials, embroidery cottons, colour and beads!
By the time I started high school I was making my own dresses, shifts, shirts and skirts with a reasonable amount of skill. They were good enough to wear to church, which is how the benchmark was set. My mum always decided if you had done a good enough job by whether the garment was good enough to wear to church, and have others see you wearing it.
My very first dress was a pale blue linen A-line dress with short sleeves and a round neck and it was decorated with a wide band of white lace which ran from the neckline to the bottom of the hem, in the centre front. I was so proud of myself when I first wore that dress, as it was the first time I had ever put a zipper into a garment, and mum passed it as good enough to wear. In fact, that beautiful dress was my favourite for a couple of years, until I grew out of it. I also remember an apricot floral dress in a “baby doll” style with short puffed sleeves and a round neckline. It was really pretty, and I’d made it a bit shorter than usual which mum didn’t like very much, but short dresses were all the rage at the time.
When I had my sons I used to make their shorts and t-shirts, which lasted until they both discovered that it was much trendier to buy clothes than have them made by their mother!!
I also really enjoyed making stuffed toys, starting with a pair of stuffed rabbits. The first set I ever made was for my girlfriends daughter when she was six or eight years old – maybe about 1986-1988 – and she loved them at the time. I then went on to make another 3 sets for various people at work, making sure that I dressed them all differently so that each rabbit couple was totally individual!
All along I embroidered bits and pieces – in 1994 I stitched a garden sampler which I had framed and now hangs in the computer room. I loved it for the verse about family, and the fact that it was done in a different kind of thread than I had never used before. It was called Flower Thread.
In 1995 I made a lovely fringed doily which was decorated in my first attempt at Hardanger stitch. When our dear friend Pete passed away I stitched a cross stitch sampler in his memory, which is also in the computer room these days. I also embroidered a family tree, which was freestyle and very creative! I was really proud of that piece.
Then there came the time in my life when I discovered quilting, which was about 2004, when I made the famous “Chook” quilt, much to my children’s disgust!! I, on the other hand, loved it because it reminded me of my very early years on the chook farm at Toongabbie.
Next there was a floral quilt done in pink, green and cream – just to prove a feminine point in a male dominated household which I must admit is still toasty warm.
But my personal favourite is the black, green and cream one that I have never finished (must get to that one day), and of course the Christmas table runner that comes out every Christmas and sits on the dining room table, usually with some sort of Christmas candles sitting on it.
Well, that’s the story of my love of sewing which is, and always will be, a very important part of my life.