In my much younger days, I was very interested in sewing and needlework. My mother, who believed she was not skilled with needle and thread, arranged for me to have sewing lessons with some of her more skilled friends. As a result, by the age of about ten or eleven, I became quite the little seamstress, cheerily making clothes for myself, my little sister and my mother. My enthusiasm for sewing was at its peak in those years and, although I continued to sew in to adulthood, it was never with the same exuberance and excitement. Finally, at the ripe old age of 26, I stopped sewing.
I may have stopped sewing, ( anything more than a button on a shirt, that is ), but I remained in love with the idea of sewing; the wondrous process of turning one form of cloth into another shape and size ; the different stitches and seams, the cuts and darts and frills and facings. Not to mention the lovely ribbons and laces and trimmings, and the beautiful hand-made button holes with equally beautiful buttons, usually recycled from that ultimate household treasure trove; the button jar.
When we lived in New Delhi, I was privileged to be part of a group of women who employed a tailor, named Mr Singh. Not just any tailor. As far as I was concerned, he was the most skilled tailor ….EVER. As per our group agreement, each of us booked Mr Singh’s sewing service for a couple of weeks at a time, and, at the appointed hour, he would arrive on his bicycle, with lunch container secure on the handle bar, and his hand-operated sewing machine carefully strapped to the carrier. Then, quietly and efficiently, he would settle in his chosen corner…..and sew and sew; everything and anything I asked for. For me it was magic; for him, I suppose, it was merely another day at the office.
Here is a little piece I wrote about Mr Singh in February 2003.
“Mr Singh. Bearded, turbaned, thin as a pin. There he sits, cross-legged, at his sewing machine, in the dim, back room. A silent figure, stitching his magic; making my dreams. I can see him still in the dim back room of my mind.
Why do I see him now? Because today, his stitches, and my dreams, are displayed brightly on the washing line. The duvet cover we created together, from dress scraps and my grandmother’s sheets, is blowing in the Christchurch breeze; glistening white in the glare of a Christchurch sun. I look at the vibrant colours on white and remember the muted tones of Mr Singh; blue and grey, grey on white, grey on grey, almost a shadow in the shaded back room. Ah, yes, quiet, gentle Mr Singh; a master of many stitches. I miss his serenity, his dignity, his creativity.”
The photos in this post are all of the duvet cover. I took them this morning in our bright autumnal sunshine. The colours are no longer bright; they have softened with age. Twenty three years have gone by since Mr Singh pieced all the different fabrics together.
Sheet notes: the white cotton sheets used for the duvet are at least 50 years old now, and the coloured scraps range in age from 25 to 35 years old. The buttons on the cover would be close to 30 years old . I think they were salvaged from a dress of mine, made in Zimbabwe! The duvet cover spends most of its present life in the linen cupboard, snuggled in lavender, in refined retirement. It is no longer subjected to harsh wear and tear and the rigours of washing machine and sunlight.
Amazing…Oh, how I wish I could have Mr. Singh drop by today! I LOVE fabric! But, I cannot sew. I have dishtowels and pillowcases and quilts and napkins……all found in thrift stores or given my friends or family. I was fortunate enough to have a budget for custom draperies in my home and looking at the fabric framing my windows is such a pleasure! I could relate to the quilts current state: I too am snuggled in lavender in my refined retirement!
In Iowa we have quilting shows. One of these days I will have to post a special blog about it, but it will be mostly photos.
That would be lovely. Quilts are always a pleasure to view.
I need Mr Singh in my life! Can’t sew for peanuts but have lots of ideas. Love your description of him and also this gorgeous project! x
I would love Mr Singh in my life again, too. I can sew but I have no enthusiasm for it. Mr Singh made it all so easy.
You are very talented. I have never been good as sewing and I don’t like to sew a button on. I learnt knitting and crocheting at school which I still love, I also learnt sewing but I never did really nice things, I found. Mr. Singh must have been one wonderful man. What nice thought s about him. You know those hand sewn things are certainly good quality hence they last so long. You can’t say that from the things we buy now very often.
I am not very good at crocheting or knitting. I am amazed at how well the duvet cover has worn. A modern one certainly wouldn’t last that long. Mr Singh and I didn’t really have a common language except sewing. He instinctively knew what I wanted though and he could always improve on any ideas that I had.
Oh this is so calming – I am unsure of your whereabout as I am knew to your blog but the BBC are doing a new show – the great sewing bee – it is kind of like project runway but based more on skill than crazy ruffles or creating Ms Wintour’s next dress.
I am glad you found my post so calming. Mr Singh always had an aura of calm and when he came to sew the whole household seemed to relax. The BBC programme sounds interesting. It may find its way to little old New Zealand one day. I will keep an eye out for it.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
― Marcel Proust
And you, my dear friend, have new eyes….
Thank you! And I love that quote from Proust; one of my favourites.
Quilting is an incredible gift – I love the quilt my mother-in-law made for me. I know the work and love that went into it, and appreciate it all the more because of that. It’s fun to be able to look at an object and remember another time, another place!
It is fun. I am so glad you have a treasured quilt too.
I hate sewing but am an ardent fan of textile art…What a great memory you have!
I am with you on textile art, but, even more basic than that, I just love being anywhere that has oodles of fabric and thread and yarn and trimmings to touch and/or admire.
What a lovely memory and beautiful keepsake. As a family historian I love that you have documented its journey. I hope one day future generations will cherish these memories as you do now…a priceless piece of family history.
I was never a great seamstress but I did enjoy sewing and did it well enough to sew a few dresses for my daughter when she was you, some of which I still have. I remember the first dress I sewed…a fluorescent pink with chartreuse green paisley. You could spot me from a mile away…but I was so proud of my accomplishment.
Your memories bring back thoughts when I was young and read stories of far away places, almost magical lands. And here you are, having grown up in some of those places…I would love to hear more of your life in your younger years, it seems quite fascinating.
I think I was a better seamstress in my imagination than in reality but. like you, I enjoyed sewing. I can see that pink and chartreuse green paisley dress from here. I would have been proud of it too.
You have lived in a lot of interesting and different places!
Yes, I have been very fortunate. But I have been in one place for so long now that, if it weren’t for reminders like the duvet cover, those long ago days could almost seem like a figment of my imagination!
How wonderful that you still have well cherished reminders to bring those memories to life!
Lovely tribute to the handmade, especially quilt-type art.
Thank you. At that time in my life, duvet covers were not readily available in nearby stores, so hand made/home made was the only option. And a good one too 🙂
I have a patchwork quilt my mother in law made for me. I love quilts that are a blend, a medley of color and fabric! Thank you for your lovely story today! xo Joanne
Isn’t it lovely that we have these patchwork treasures!
Beautiful art and tribute to Mr. Singh and your collaboration. The duvet looks new in the photos, what a treasure. Ellen
Thank you. I have tried to take more care of it in these last few years. It is still in good condition for its age but is becoming worn in a few places; a few more patches could be added I suppose 🙂
They are lovely pieces.
Thank you. I treasure them.
Sewing is an art ! and patchwork is a real nice concept 🙂
It certainly is an art and I admire those who sew well and design and cut patterns.