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When I was young I sat in the garden and watched my grandmother embroider. We were often locked out of the house together.

I had beautiful clothes then because my father’s family sent parcels of clothes from his two nieces. My mother never had to think much about clothes for me. Not until I got too fat to fit the clothes from my cousin. I don’t remember much of the years that led to a school teacher identifying me as a neglected child. But I remember the teacher; her intervention changed my life. I was nearly 10 years old and failing in health, in school and in life.

The teacher arranged for me to start in a new Girl Guide company near my home, and arranged with my parents to get me a uniform. My mother invested in a sewing machine and began going to Singers’ to have lessons to make me a dress. She had no confidence with sewing in spite of the lessons. Dad cut out the patterns and threaded the needles and oiled the machine. He was a toolmaker and understood geometry and machinery. He was confident in his abilities. This was the only activity I ever saw them cooperate on. I got two dresses, one white lacy, the other red velvet; suitable only for ‘Sunday bests’. I was taken to a friend of dad’s for studio photos before I ruined them or grew out of them. There were no more dresses from mum.

My guide captain helped me make two hand sewn skirts for a sewing badge. Mum’s machine had long since been relegated to the back of the pantry. I got through high school with uniforms – school, sports, Guides, and swimming track suits, and nothing much else I remember. I shopped alone and picked up things in Myers bargain basement at times, and I was lucky enough to get a pair of blue jeans that lasted many years of weekend hiking. I refused to go to my cousin’s wedding because I didn’t have a dress. I suppose some excuse was made to the family who had originally clothed me.

One day an old school friend who I had only seen in the same uniforms as mine, came to visit me and she was wearing a dress. I asked her where she got it. She said she made it; she went to lessons. I thought about that for a while; I thought if she could do it, so could I. My IQ scores were interpreted as meaning I could do anything I wanted to. I had just been accepted into medicine. Surely I could sew a dress even if my high school education did not include one moment of domestic sciences. I did not know how many things were not measured on an IQ test.

My parents went away for Christmas, and I stayed home. I had a holiday job teaching swimming. So I got out my mother’s sewing machine, went to Myers and asked for an easy pattern for a beginner, bought some material and made a dress. I followed the rules carefully and luckily it was successful so I made a few more, by which time I included ‘dressmaking’ among many other things I could do, and I had taken over mum’s machine. I even made a few dresses for her.


With love I made my baby daughter a pink dress; machine sewn, but hand smocked. Twenty five years later I made myself a purple doll - and I wondered about my mother