On a different but related subject, if I really analysise my love of vintage sewing patterns, fabric and notions, I think it is the connection it gives me to the lives of women in the past that I love, particularly my mother and grandmothers. This is a subject I would like to come back to and elaborate upon in the future. However, today I would like to share with the (edited) fruits of an email interview I have been conducting with my mum to find out more about the role sewing played in the lives of young women in Southern England in the sixties.
(Mumma E, enjoying a bevvie)
Me: What was your first sewing project?
Mumma E: My first clear memory of me sewing is when I was 9 or 10 when I made myself a summer skirt. Fabric was gingham (can't remember the colour) bought with my pocket money from Peter Jones Stores in Holloway Road, London. It was a very simple skirt gathered onto a waistband. I made it by hand and I have no idea what prompted the activity.
Me: Wow, quite an ambitious first project! What next?:
Mumma E: The next major memory was early/mid 60s when I was 14 or 15. I was a Mod and had my finger well and truly on the pulse of fashion. I liked to be ahead of the game and so I made most of my outfits but could only wear them once or twice because stuff went out of fashion that quickly. Fabric was bought on Pitsea or Basildon market (my mum had moved with her parents from London to Essex by then) on Saturday morning. The outfit would then be knocked up very quickly (and probably very badly) in the afternoon and worn at the Locarno for the dance on Saturday night. Two memorable outfits were the nightdress dress - layers of grey blue frills on a plum colour shift and an A line dress in some plum colour fabric with bell sleeves with holes cut in the length of the sleeve (very Courreges).
Me: Why did you sew your going-out clothes instead of buying them RTW?
Mumma E: Mostly because of having little money but desperately wanting to be in fashion - but there was of course a culture, both generally and especially in my family of making clothes so it was quite an obvious thing to do. Also fabric and patterns were cheap and readily available.
Me: Did any of your friends sew their own clothes when you were teenagers?
Mumma E: Both my best friends did and one of their mothers was a very good dressmaker too so she had double my wardrobe.
Me: I detect no lingering hint of envy, Mum! Did you make anything else around this time, aside from things to do out dancing in?
Mumma E: I made a dress to submit for my needlework 'O' level which was gorgeous. Made from a Mary Quant paper pattern it was grey pinstripe wool with contrast button stand and cuffs and I remember having a real battle with my teacher over the length of the skirt who thought that the mini was a very transitory fashion and I would be sorry that I made it that short!
Me: You studied at the London College of Fashion didn't you?
Mumma E: Yes. The outfit I made for my interview for the London College of Fashion in 1967 was equally as short as the grey pinstripe wool one. This outfit was an orange wool A-line wrapover skirt with the edge bound in dark green and I dyed a shirt the same colour to match. Well it must have worked 'cos I got in. The length of my skirts then got ridiculous. Because they were so short I made matching hot pants to wear underneath otherwise I would have been arrested! The making of garments then slowed up a bit - so much college work and I was working at the weekends too so had much less time. But I did make use of a suit I made at college when I used it as my going-away outfit when I got married in '71. Beautiful rust coloured wool bought from the local market with a collar of exactly the same shade velvet. And as you know I also made my wedding dress - very simple, cream colour wool A-line dress.
Me: I did indeed know that, in fact you recently celebrated your's and Dad's Ruby wedding anniversary, congratulations! So, forty years after the event, what can you tell me about making your wedding dress? Did you have any help? Any last minute panics?
(Mumma and Daddy E on their wedding day in 1971)
Mumma E: At the time I was the manageress of the fashion workroom in a department store called Keddies. I did have some help at the end to finish my wedding dress but that was only because one of my workers got fed up with my slow progress and seeing it laying around, so one day when I went out for an extended lunch, I came back to find it virtually finished! It was one of the other workers there who crocheted the long waistcoat that went over it. As for your last question, I cannot think of any last minute panics over finishing something other than when I was working in the workroom and we had forgotten to alter a bride's dress until she phoned and asked if it was ready! She had ordered it months previously and it was left at the back of the rail - you have never seen an alteration done so quickly!
(The pattern Mumma E used to make her wedding dress)
Thanks very much to Mumma E for taking the time to share her early sewing history with me, for exposing me to fabric in the first place and for listening to all my sewing project gripes over the years!