This week I have been dedicating my blog to Motherhood. With Mothering Sunday's arrival I wanted to spend a week enveloped in Appreciation for Motherhood, in all it's guises. In a series of amazing guest posts we have been hearing what Motherhood means to an array of writers. Our guest writer today is fellow blogger and friend Mummy Plum, who writes over at www.mummyplum.blogspot.com. All contact details for Mummy Plum can be found at the end of the article. Enjoy.
My mother has always been good with a needle and thread. Lack of money was the incentive that prompted her to learn to sew. She made most of my baby clothes; mop hats to shield my hairless head from the summer sun, sundresses, sleep suits. Fabrics were sourced for next to nothing from second hand stores and jumble sales. As a young girl everything I wore was created by her, made with love, either at her sewing machine or sewn by hand. The family photo album charts her creations; primary school dresses in purple and white gingham check with cute peter pan collars and hipster pockets, a deep purple dress with pink rosebuds, a copper coloured cord dress for my youngest brother’s christening, a checked full skirted number for everyday, a high collared blue blouse with contrasting floral skirt for ‘Sunday best’, and once, matching sundresses for me and for her, white with a sprinkling of tiny red roses.
The kitchen table was often spread with patterns, pins, cotton reels. As I got older, she would sometimes let me cut the fabric with her special dressmaking shears or use her special dressmaking chalk. ‘Follow the line of the pattern’, she’d say. Dressmaking wasn’t her only skill; she could turn her hand to tapestry and embroidery too. There was no end to her talents. Whilst she was working on her projects, we would talk. Words entwined with wool. It was an opportunity to have her to myself whilst my brothers usually played outside, slinging mud around the garden. Sometimes she would encourage me to try some of the less complicated sections of whatever it was she was working on; the night sky of a landscape, the grassy green of a field. Tapestry engaged me, I found it satisfying, but more so, the luxury of being alone in her presence, sharing secrets, talking together as we sewed.
Her box of embroidery silks was enchanting, almost exotic; bright and vibrant in colour. I used to love opening it and staring at the kaleidoscope within, rearranging the coloured silks to make different patterns. She’d show me the easier stitches; chain stitch, cross stitch, as she created pictures from the silken, shimmering thread. Patience, tenacity, listening, observing; all skills I learnt through sewing with my mother. The Christmas I was seven, the last parcel under the tree was a ‘special’ one, she said. Inside, two handmade nightdresses, the bodices of which had been embroidered; one with a small girl, the other with a posy of flowers. She must have spent hours stitching them late into the night in order to surprise me. I thought they were wonderful.
It was a hot dusty summer’s day when I first sought to test her skills in a different way. Riding over the hose pipe in the back yard, my bike slipped on the gravel and the handle of the brake inserted itself under my chin. My dress, patterned with delicate blue daisies, became a sheet of blood red. As I ran into the house wailing, I remember the shock on my parent’s faces and then my escalating hysteria as I heard them discuss ‘taking me to the Doctors.’ In the end, my mother didn't take me to the Doctors that day, instead I was cradled inside the safety of the spindles of the old Windsor chair in the kitchen, wrapped in an oversized cardigan whilst she pieced together the underside of my neck. ‘Butterfly stitches’, that’s what she called them.
Mum’s needle and thread have been present at every juncture in my life. Her stitches have been markers in time, present at significant turning points. Many of my happy memories are filtered with images of fabrics, be it the sumptuous purple velvet of a homemade Tudor fancy dress costume or the sweet pink floral of my bedroom curtains. In my teenage years I cared little for her homemade efforts. I wanted brands; the high street, not to wear clothes from home cut cloth. It was then that she made the patchwork quilt. Off cuts, remnants, she’d kept them all, fabric pieces from every dress, every outfit she’d ever made. Painstakingly, they were sown onto hundreds of hexagonal cardboard templates, before being joined together, by hand, until they resembled a giant piece of colourful honeycomb. Sometimes I would sit and help her, we would talk about the stories behind the fabrics, when I had worn it, or what it had made, I liked to listen to her reminisce about my earlier years. The finished masterpiece covered my single bed, a visual memoir, each fabric patch with it’s own tale to tell. A symbolic rite of passage, a parting gift from my mother, to mark the end of my early childhood years as I began my journey into adulthood.
Sewing has been a language for my mother, stitches her way of saying; I love you. She herself grew up without a mother and had no blueprint to work from when she had children of her own. At times I think she has found it easier to show her emotions wordlessly, through making and creating. A blue ribbon sewn inside the petticoats of my wedding dress, the names of my boys embroidered beautifully next to those of my brothers on the family christening gown. Most recently, an appliqued play mat for EB featuring bright and playful farmyard animals.
As we prepared to move house recently and she helped us pack, she gathered up small green and pink pompoms from various locations around my house. Once part of a fringe on my favourite scarf, but helpfully detached by my son's incessant tugging, I had kept them, optimistic that one day I would find the time to sew them back on again. After she had Ieft, I noticed they had all been restored to their rightful place, that my scarf was now fringed again. Every time I wear it, I think of her and feel loved.
Over the years my mother has stitched, unpicked, pinned and restitched me together again countless times. Becoming a mother myself has allowed me to appreciate how much. Quiet words in shared moments; small but significant stitches in time, carefully placed, delivered with deft and grace, shaping who I am today. Even though I say so myself, I think she's done a magnificent job. I'm writing it here, so I know I've said it; thanks Mum. x
About Mummy Plum
I live in London with my husband and two boys, Pip (3) and EB (3 months). Part memoir, part sanity saver, my blog charts my reflections on life, motherhood and whatever else takes my fancy. My philosophy is to celebrate the little things often. I believe a good cup of tea can make the world seem a brighter place, especially when accompanied by cake.
I blog at www.mummyplum.blogspot.com and you can also find me on twitter @mummy_plum.