Wednesday, 10 April 2013

The joy of making

I met a lovely lady called Helen at the Transition Allotment. She has been helping with the skillshare events by sharing her sewing skills. Using some old hand-powered Singer sewing machines, you get to make a Morsbag, which is a shopping bag made from recycled fabric. I saw people doing this at one of the events, but I haven’t had a chance to have a go yet.

I have my Nanny’s (maternal grandmother) old sewing machine at home, though I haven’t made the time to use it yet. I have been a bit reluctant because I felt that I didn’t have the skill, but talking to Helen has brought back a flood of memories to the contrary.

My mum taught me to knit, and I remember making basic jumpers as a teenager (and wearing them!). My sister and I would sew our own dolls clothes from scraps of material. They weren’t perfectly made, but they were ingeniously designed by us kids. I started a dressmaking course in the evenings, when I was at college and bought a second hand sewing machine for £20. Between working nights and keeping up with college work, I soon gave up on the dressmaking course and the sewing machine never really worked properly. I had no money for a proper sewing machine so I hand-stitched items instead. The week my eldest daughter was born I was hand sewing some pyjamas for my husband. We were rather poor, so I made quite a few baby clothes by hand and my mum knitted all the baby jumpers. My favourite outfit was a yellow spotty playsuit that I made.

The material was bought cheaply from the market, and you really don’t need much to cover a baby. The patterns were free in magazines or I made them up myself, and then used them over again, but with different coloured materials. It is the small delicate details of babies clothes that are perfect for hand-stitching. When my second child came along I ran out of time and all I sew now are name labels and Brownie badges, but even that gives me some satisfaction. I really enjoyed making things and just the memories bring a warm glow. This is definitely something that I would like to start doing again and get my youngest daughter interested in.

I also designed and built a pirate-ship bed. My son loved it, and it had a den inside, under the bow and storage shelves for toys at the stern. It was special for the kids because it was unique and magical. Really I am rather amazed at how I just worked it out for myself without any help, then had the courage to build it. (I can’t find any photos, but it was before we had a digital camera.)

The adult response to the bed was rather negative – beds should look like beds, plain, boring and professionally made, preferably by a man. It’s sad because now, 13 years later, I am questioning whether I am competent to put up some shelves, which I have managed perfectly well in the past. Maybe I have been influenced by negative comments, or perhaps building flat-pack furniture saps all your practical skills.

There are a number of projects which I would like to try my hand at, but was feeling a bit apprehensive. All these memories have reminded me that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. It is always worth having a go.


  1. My sister-in-law re-cycles old duvet covers, curtains, clothes by making patchwork items - bags, cushion covers, quilts etc.

  2. I love patchwork and always wanted to try making something. I have a friend who made patchwork cushions. These are quite small, so would probably be a good place to start. I never thought about patchwork bags.

  3. Have just read a blog in today's Guardian that might interest you. It's about a couple of organic gardeners who have decided to grow a wartime garden using heritage seeds -

  4. Having a go is the key, isn't it. There are so many things in life that look so difficult, but you try them, and you work them out, and suddenly you have a new skill. Sometimes you just need a tiny bit of encouragement. The lady at the wholefoods shop convinced me today that I could make sourdough bread. I can do it! (Maybe..) Well done on everything you have had a go at! Love the sound of that pirate bed.

  5. Thanks June, the wartime garden looks really interesting. They like the old wartime films from the Ministry of Information, like I do.

    Thanks Jo. Good luck with the Sourdough bread.

  6. Making things is really, really important. It almost doesn't matter what you make but being able to make anything teaches you (or your children) that you can probably make something else as well.

    Because you don't know how (yet) doesn't mean you can't find out. In these days of internet and youtube it's not that hard to find out how to make jam, use a peg loom, build a straw bale house, knit socks, bake bread. Any time we make something for ourself is a time we haven't spent money and burnt oil on importing it from China. It also means that we look after the things we have made much more carefully than possibly we do with "cheap" imports. "Cheap" is usually another word for "exploited".

    I went to a "craft" fair recently and was quite disappointed. Nothing to eat, little to wear. People had bought packs of this that or the other and made them into decorative but not useful things. Try making things and then using them.

    I grew up with a jeweller, seamstress and quilter. I am a knitter and spinner. My daughter is a seamstress. I've taught people to spin and reminded them how to knit. They go on to do the same things.

    Imagine how we would live with food costing 40% of your income (as 100 years ago). We would soon learn how to cook well with it, how not to waste it, how to grow and preserve it. The same goes for rationing in the 2nd war, including clothes coupons. Necessity is the mother of invention. When we decide oil is better used on medicines than transporting "stuff", necessity may become our mother again, perhaps we should welcome her into our family before then.

    1. Well said Margaret! We really do need to value these practical skills more, so thanks for such a positive reminder.