A few years ago I carried out a project with some local women about how they learned to sew in school and the legacy that it brought them. By kind permission, a few of them have allowed me to reproduce part of their interviews here, to share their stories with you.
Pamela learned to sew in both her primary and senior schools, in the 1940s and ’50s, in Birmingham. She did not enjoy it a lot, and once grown up continued to use the skills reluctantly. She married a naval man and it seems that although she could dressmake and mend her family’s clothes, she wasn’t necessarily the one that always did it.
Here, she is talking about living in Malta, where her husband’s ship was stationed in the early 1960s. She had three small children at this point.
Ingrid: When you were in Malta was there the same availability of clothes as in the UK or were you making them yourself?
Pamela: They used to make them more in Malta. Cos I can remember having clothes made. I had a dress made after Gail was born but I did do… well I should say Tom did dressmaking in Malta. The funny thing about it was that we were round the table one day when Tim brought Susan home [her son bringing a girlfriend who is now her daughter-in-law] and she said to Tom ‘what are your medals for?’ and he said for dressmaking! [laughs]
So he was better at it than me. I mean I’ve got pictures of Susan in a little dress that he made. But you could buy material in Malta ever so cheap and you could have it all made up. It was ever so cheap to get your clothes done.
Ingrid: So where did Tom learn to sew?
Pamela: In the navy I suppose. He used to sew his own badges on. He used to say if I sewed them on they’d all fall off in a week! [laughs] and he said to Tim when he joined the navy, ‘if you want your badges to stay on longer than a week, don’t let your mother do them!’ [laughs] I didn’t ever do much sewing for Tom because I patched his number eights [uniform trousers]. I patched them and I patched the patch right through to the back [of the leg]. When he was duty he got up and tried to put his trousers on and he couldn’t get his leg through! [laughs] I didn’t ever do any patching again for Tom. And I didn’t do any pressing of his whites either because I put the pleats in the wrong place, so I got out of a lot of things actually! It was just right!
What sewing stories do you have to share?