I actually squealed with delight when I unwrapped my parent’s Christmas present to me this year. It was a copy of ‘My Learn to Sew Book’. Back in the gender specific seventies I had been given a ‘My Learn to Sew Book’ and my brother a ‘My Fun with Wood Book’. I wonder, was this how The Woolly Pedlar began?
As a child I was encouraged to make things. I watched Blue Peter and made many of the items Valerie Singleton showed us. I even made my own kids a Tracey Island when Thunderbirds were popular for the second time around in the nineties. When visiting my Nan, I’d be asked in true Jane Austin style, if I had my ‘work’ with me. Not homework, but my embroidery or knitting – something I was positively encouraged to do. Maybe it was to give me something to do while the grown ups were talking.
Growing up in the seventies we made things for something to do. Children’s television ended at 5.30 with The Magic roundabout, when Dad came in from work, and didn’t start again til we got in from school. That included school holidays. We had no computers, ipads, xboxes or Playstations. We played outside, read or made things.
I loved my ‘My Learn to Sew Book’, with it’s projects growing in difficulty. I began with the ‘Shell Shape Needlebook’, which consisted of three shell shaped pieces of felt, joined by overstitching, and added it to me ever growing sewing box. I loved collecting haberdashery, and still have many of these first items in my sewing box today.
After the shell shaped needlebook, I progressed to a hedgehog pincushion and made a family of finger puppets and a hen egg cosy. I made a stuffed mouse, and a floppy frog. Oh how I loved felt!
I later progressed to making Baby Billy and Polly Dolly, complete with clothes, though I was a tad disappointed in my Polly Dolly, as she looked nothing like the one in the book. I just couldn’t get the hair right.
My Nan was a great embroiderer and between her and my ‘My Learn to Sew Book’ I learnt how to do tent stitch, blanket stitch, chain stitch, French knots, and made a sampler.
These were all sewn by hand, and by making them I learnt sewing techniques that were reinforced at school by sewing binker canvas samplers.
Patchwork quilting was another sewing skill learnt with the help of ‘My Learn to Sew Book’ and my creative family. My Great Aunt Vera was a quilter, and sold her quilts to America. I remember as a child being in awe of her sewing room, and longed to have one for myself. I made the little dolls bedding set, and then moved on to a full double bedspread, which I’m ashamed to say is one of those unfinished projects I’m sure we all have.
However, what I really wanted to do was make my own clothes, and longed to own a sewing machine, which I eventually did. It was a toy sewing machine, a little red one, and was my pride and joy. I made myself the Dirndl Skirt on p.52. Good grief, what was I thinking? Social suicide surely!! I would have shown you a photo of me in my creation but fortunately I couldn’t find one!
I’m laughing now a read back through the ‘My Learn to Sew Book’ at some of the promises – apparently if I made the Apron on p54, I would look both ‘smart and sensible’ – something I’ve never aspired to or indeed managed in 54 years!!
I’d lost the original book in the various moves from my childhood home, and am so grateful to my parents for finding me a copy of this wonderful book which brings back so many memories. As I sit up in the woolly garret, surrounded by sewing (not I’m afraid tidily put away in paper of polythene bags as the book suggests), I really do wonder if this was the start of The Woolly Pedlar. I’m so glad I learnt to sew, and I hope generations of children – boys and girls – continue to learn to sew.