Hi, I'm M. and I'm a fabric addict. I confess I can't help myself when it comes to fabric, I simply have to buy it when I see it and like it. Usually I buy enough of any one fabric so I can make anything I want to and that can mean I need 5 metres of it. As you might be able to imagine the storage of such yardage has become a problem. Hoarding fabrics does take up a lot of room!
The first time I remember to be somewhat enthralled by a piece of fabric, was when my granny made a little dress for one of my dolls. I must have been about 5 then. She had this piece left over from making a dress for herself and it was sooo very beautiful. Well, I thought so any way. It was a kind of mottled turquoise and green and even some darker shades of blue in it. Thinking back I'm kind of cringing because nowadays I wouldn't even touch the stuff. Literally couldn't! It was like a fluffed up nylon on the right side. Maybe even the forerunner to today's fleece, less fluffy though. I was the proudest owner of said dolly dress and many more followed.
Granny made a trip to Australia (much to my annoyance)(how dare she leave anyway) for about 9mts to visit her other two children (my auntie and uncle) and their families there. As she couldn't speak the language there wasn't really that much for her to do except sew. That's why on my first birthday after her return (must have been about 10 then) I was delighted to open a box like those archive boxes with a lid. Yes, Granny was very organized. In it were, nicely folded and colour co-ordinated, lots of fashion garments to fit my Barbie doll. I kid you not. Trouser suits made from Ponte, skirts, dresses even a long winter coat and wedding dress and a party frock. The wedding dress was made from a piece of lace my Gran had left over from an evening dress she made for herself. (She had to have one for dinner with the captain on her way back from Australia).Gran had a treadle machine but I think the one she was using in Oz was an old electric one.
Although I was in awe of her sewing I didn't really get going with it until much later. I think Mum and Gran were just worried I'd do myself an injury especially with the old treadle machine. Really I can see what they mean now. There was an ebay auction recently that caught my eye and I bought a singer treadle a couple of months ago. Nice machine, but boyo, the energy they must have had in them days...... I did about 5 minutes on that machine and was frantically gasping for air. I do visit the gym quite frequently but that thing had me exhausted. Anyway I think those seamstresses from yesteryear are my heroes. Can you even imagine how fit they must have been if they were doing this day-in and day-out. To be honest, if they asked me how they could improve my local gym, I would suggest to install 4 or 5 treadle machines, so members could use them for exercising legs and core. I'm sure it would help fight thrombosis. (Note to self: Must contact Minister of Health and suggest treadle sewing rooms to improve physical and psychological well being).
The start of the stash and my first invention
My first craft was crochet from the age of 5 and I loved that. I made lots of clothes for my dolls and teddies and at age 7 my Barbie received crochet clothes as well. At that age my knowledge of sleeves and such things was non existent , so I didn't do them because I couldn't. Instead of that I made sleeveless clothes that could be worn as tops, dresses or skirts. In short, you're talking to the inventor of the boob-tube. Well, I'd like to think so anyway. Someone stole that idea of me. Sigh! Alas I was just a bit too young to understand the greatness of my invention.
When I was ten I crocheted an orange dress with huge flowers in the middle. Real flower power that one. I adored it and wore it lots and lots. My mum was jealous because instead of having one row of flowers she had two and she never finished her dress either. But still no sewing in sight.
At 13 we all did a bit of sewing at school and my class were making these wide tunics that could be worn as tops over trousers or as a mini dress. My goodness, they really were short though.
1977 and where it all started (darn it! This shows my age now). My first job. In Germany everyone who does not go off to do A-levels strives to do some kind of apprenticeship. It is a good way into life as it guarantees a good education and qualifications as you have to sit exams too. My apprenticeship was in the office of a shirt factory. The title of it at the end was according to bing Industrial clerk (Industrie Kauffrau). In my apprenticeship I needed to spend time in every office of the firm. Which meant I'd have 2 mts of reception duty, then one month at school, 2 mts in office sales or buying section, booking keeping, etc. All in all we did 4mts of school a year and the rest at work. In my first year I had to work the few days between Christmas and New Year which I did rather grudgingly as until then I only ever had holidays in that time. I thought stock taking was going to be a really boring time, but it turned out to be quite enjoyable. As soon as I got into the store room or should I say the store hall, my day was made. There were literally thousands of rolls of fabric to be counted. Now, you might think it's a shirt factory, so what can be exciting about a few plains, stripes and checks? But you'd be wrong. The firm I was working for was called Einhorn (Unicorn) and also sold lady's blouses. This is where the excitement came in as the fabrics were really colourful. I just loved checking all the rolls, to the detriment of the other apprentice, who I was supposed to be helping to do the stock take. The look on his face when he heard me say:”Could you just reach up there and get me.....?” See that 's the thing about being vertically challenged (I'm only 5'3 1/2” which is short, I think) you just can't reach up high enough. There were also a few shelves with discontinued lines. They were just not used anymore and valued at a really low price. In the New Year I asked Herr Hornung (section manager for buying fabric)what was happening with all the discontinued fabric in the store. He said eventually they'd be thrown out or sent to the second's shop. I managed to persuade him to sell me a few metres and got myself some real bagains.
The first fabric I remember buying was a green and white print which I made into a skirt and long waist coat. I really didn't know much about sewing then and the idea was to make it in the afternoon and then wear it out in the evening. In theory..... ! It took quite a while to be able to wear it with the help of Granny. Many skirts and dresses made from the store room fabric stash by Granny followed. My frustration was grand as I didn't really make any of the things I wanted to because if I got stuck I would take it to Gran and she'd just finish it which was lovely of her but also didn't give me chance to learn it myself. I knew something had to change
1978 saw the dawn of my sewing career as I enrolled on my first sewing course in September. The first thing I made was a pair of white jeans with pleats at the top. Also made a little cotton dress which I wore for a very long time. Then I had the brilliant idea of making a winter coat (my teacher must have thought I was nuts, same as I would think now of any of my students who'd come to me with that idea as a 3rd project). At the time I was 17 and still and an apprentice. Needless to say my wages weren't that great but I had 2 fabrics from Einhorn's storeroom costing me about 6 DM. About £2 at the time. My tutor thought that one of them was ok for a lining but I needed to get a proper coat fabric,(meaning wool) for the outside. Dilemma, that one. I had hardly any money but I new she was right. I borrowed some money of my Mother and paid about DM 80 (short of £25), in those days a great amount of money but still cheaper than a coat of same quality. The pattern was just very simple with a pleat in the back and a tie up belt. It was sort of a rust colour and the lining was checked with sand, yellow and rust. It actually looked really good and I wore it during quite a few winters and it was wide enough to wear during 2 of my pregnancies.
My family, my guinea pigs (There will be a guinea pig story later on, I promise)
The course went well and my future husband went halves with me on a Singer sewing machine, after I trashed (well, knocked the timing out) of my gran's very new and sophisticated Singer. Granny's new machine had a drop-in bobbin, and I seem to remember it wound in the down position, but don't quote me on that, it might have been just wishful thinking. My new machine survived many years and I did lots of projects on it. After we moved to the Isle of Man, got married and started a family I used it a lot to make curtains (wouldn't really call it that now, but you know first projects and all that...). This is also when I started making some more clothes using several fabrics up that I still had from Einhorn's.
A light bulb moment
I had tried to do tie dye and make scarves from my dyed fabrics. A venture that ultimately failed as tie dye had gone out of fashion by time I finished them. I think there might still be one or two knocking around somewhere. I thought then what a great effort it was to make things and make a profit.
A lot of moving about
Back in Germany a couple of years later. (We're talking 1985 now) some friends persuaded a designer/maker to give us some lessons. This lady had a young family, not much income and lots of time on her hand. There were probably about 7 or 8 of us to begin with and we had a great time learning. I was pregnant at the time and all my maternity clothes were made on that course. My husband also had two new pairs of trousers from it and my daughter benefited as she had clothes from all the leftover fabrics. Nearly all of her things were hand-made at the time. Fabric remnants were easy to come by as the area where I lived in Germany (Tuebingen/Reutlingen) was known for the many textile factories in the area. In those days there were around 50 of them, weavers, spinners, dyers and sewers. Nowadays there are 3 surviving. My sewing experience lasted until my twins were born in 1989. There were just not enough hours in the day to do my ordinary housework and look after the children, so I temporarily gave up. Two toddlers and needles and pins everywhere just don't go together! To keep my sanity I embarked on a little cake icing and actually made some cakes on commission. Very enjoyable, but the appearance of ready made iced birthday cakes on supermarket shelves stopped it from being worthwhile. Things do go in roundabouts though. Look how many novelty cake makers there are now!
Some colourful crochet interlude
After the birth of my last child in 1994 I decided to revisit my crochet experience and made one of those patchwork blankets. An undertaking that filled near enough 2 years but was definitely worth it. It measured 2m by 1.5m and I got a bit protective over it when my husband declared he wanted to be buried in it.
Apart from the usual mending, altering and making home furnishings there wasn't really much I attempted in the way of sewing until the year 2000. That was the year when 5 members of my women's group fell in love with Patchwork and so decided to hire a Patchwork teacher and have Patchwork and quilting lessons. The group grew steadily but unfortunately all the founder members have left now due to private commitments. 2001 saw me signing up for a soft-furnishing course in Cheltenham. This 2 year course was most enjoyable and we were all ready to sign up for year 3 and 4 when our tutor, Joan Hodgsen retired. 5 of us ended up going to Hereford to finish the course with Marina, who was like Joan an excellent teacher.
Due to the courses I was always in need of new fabrics and in my early years carboot sales and charity shops did suffice for my bargains. Occassionally I would be able to pick up some goodies from a sale but due to a decline in Fabric shops there really wasn't that much choice in Cheltenham.
Nowadays I have progressed picking up my fabrics from the wholesale market. And even there I can hear the gentle whisper as I walk by the bolts of fabric:“Please take me with you”. So I do, when they are pleasing to my eyes as well. That would usually mean I stick to the bright colours. It makes me feel alive.
Seems I'm not alone with the addiction so I've linked someone else's blog post