My mum, Irene, didn’t want to take sewing class at school. She wanted to do woodwork, but this was the early 70s and girls didn’t do woodwork. Girls went to sewing class and so, reluctantly, my mum became acquainted with her first sewing machine, and her first (and only) sewing teacher.
It didn’t take long for them to fall out. Once my mum had (finally) cut out the fabric for a particularly unfashionable orange office dress, the teacher pointed out that my mum hadn’t used tailor’s tacks to mark where the bust dart should be. “I don’t need to do tailor’s tacks. I can do a bust dart without them” my mum replied. Needless to say, the teacher disagreed and promptly kicked my mum out of the class with a retort of “You will never, ever make a garment!”
Mrs Sewing Teacher clearly didn’t know that my mum had been hand sewing clothes for her dolls since she was a kid. And she certainly didn’t know that my mum had recently taken a pair of old, white, dungaree shorts and hand sewn a pair of massive flares to them – massive flares made from red and yellow flowery curtains. Unfortunately, there is no photographic evidence of said dungaree flares, because they sound bloody fantastic! When flares went out of fashion she chopped the flares off, flipped them upside down and turned them into pencil skirts. My mum – the upcycler. It must be in the genes.
When my mum moved into her bedsit, around the same time as she was wearing below-the-knee dresses, wedge sandals, and firing guns over fences (see evidence above), she managed to secure herself several weeks of free rent by making curtains for all of the landlords other properties. She’d seen a second hand sewing machine in the paper for £25, much more than she could afford. Her grandma offered to buy it for her, and she began paying her back a little each week – not a bad deal if you’re not paying rent!
So getting kicked out of sewing class didn’t put my mum off sewing at all. She just wanted to do it in her way – without tailor’s tacks. And definitely not anything orange.
It’s a shame that Mrs Sewing Teacher couldn’t have been there on the sunny afternoon of August 25th, 1980, when my mum walked down the aisle in the wedding dress she made. Sewn in embossed white satin, with lace sleeves and neckline, and a whirlpool train, she’d put the design together from 3 different patterns. She looked beautiful. Heading back to her upcycling roots, she also covered a hat for her mum using a shirt that matched her outfit.
Once I came along (after big brother) my mum took this as the perfect opportunity to start sewing for me. I remember a purple velvet affair with gold scalloped stitching, various creations from old curtains, and numerous fancy dress outfits including a cow outfit for a nativity play that involved tea staining a bed sheet for some reason or other – she’s always been inventive. Here are a few outfits immortalised in photograph form…
As soon as my mum trusted me with her sewing machine I began customising whatever clothes I could. She taught me how to put flares into my straight jeans using fabric from old shirts, she let me cut up my best t-shirts and sew them back together with bits of others, she taught me how to bleach my jeans in the bath and dug out the sandpaper to show me how to make authentic looking ripped knees.
Almost 15 years later she bought me my first sewing machine, like her gran did for her (only I didn’t have to pay her back – thank you mum!). And now I have BrawHem, I have this upcycling challenge, and if I’m ever stuck for ideas I know who to call – my mum, the sewing class rebel, the upcycler, the wedding dress maker, the costume maker, the woman who never has and never will use a bloody tailor’s tack in her life.
So mum, the next part of the Upcycling My Year challenge is for you, in honour of your 1970s dungaree/curtain flares combo. I have one pair of dungarees, and one 1970s curtain. You can see what I come up with in the next blog (heads up: it won’t be massive flares, sorry).