Stitching Memories

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. Everything and AnythingFor 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 Colour on Whiteand remember the muted tones of Mr Singh; blue and grey,  grey on white, grey on grey, almost a shadow in the shaded back room. Muted 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.Marking Time

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.

© silkannthreades


29 thoughts on “Stitching Memories

  1. utesmile

    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.

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      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.

  2. coulda shoulda woulda

    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.

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      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.

  3. Clanmother

    “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….

  4. melodylowes

    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!

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      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.

  5. Mrs. P

    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.

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      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.

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      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!

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      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 🙂

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      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 🙂


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