My Nan’s Sewing Basket

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My paternal grandmother was one of a generation brought up to believe a lady should have a well-equipped sewing basket and furthermore, be able to use its contents in the way in which they were intended.

Likewise, at my school, we were all expected to be able to sew a straight seam, replace a button, follow a pattern and know a reasonable amount of embroidery stitches.

I don’t think my grandmother and mother altogether approved of each other…

Shall I let the seams of those trousers out a bit, dear? They do look awfully tight…”

No thank you, Mrs. Murdoch, they’re supposed to be that way, it’s fashion…!”

My mother was more for the practical uses of sewing, like stitching up gashes in fetlocks, plaited manes, ready for showing… so it was left to my grandmother to teach me its gentler applications.

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Now, I am not the world’s greatest needlewoman – I still can’t follow a pattern and the finer points of knitting escape me – but I remember very clearly the delight of being able to have a look through my Nan’s sewing basket, and marvel at its treasures…

Reels of sewing thread, neatly aligned and in a wonderful spectrum of colours from black to red to pearl grey. A little packet of real gold thread, purchased solely for the mending of a ball gown; strips of a white bendy substance, that I found out was real whale bone, frowned upon nowadays but which had in fact been salvaged from one of her own mother’s dresses.

Soft skeins of embroidery silks, heaped and shiny like material jewels, ready to be used on the squares of cambric, I think it was called, that came with useful little holes for me to practise my stitches.

I loved the wheels of glass headed pins, and liked to re-arrange them in the order of the rainbow colours, and fiddle with the needles, arranged in size order, in their cotton case, stabbing little holes in the cushion shaped like a tomato…

Don’t do that please dear, it will end up being more hole than cushion…”

I loved hearing the stories behind the scraps of fabric and lace:

Well, that came from your uncle’s christening gown that I made, your grandfather brought me the lace back from a trip to Brussels…”

I would listen, spellbound, stroking the soft velvet ribbons, lilac and white, neatly coiled and fastened with a tiny gold safety pin.

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The button tin – well, that was a separate treasure all in itself. I think at one point it had been one of those tins handed out to soldiers in the First World War, and somehow, it had found its way back with the family member and been passed to my Nan as a keepsake tin. Most of its paint had been rubbed off and it was a little battered, but it did useful duty guarding Nan’s collection of buttons… Brasso-ed buttons dull with age that bore some indecipherable insignia on it, possibly from that same relative’s military uniform; tiny, dainty mother-of-pearl buttons, lost from evening gloves and never returned, horn toggles from my father’s childhood duffle coat, workaday buttons of plastic in shades of grey, black and white, jewelled buttons from various dresses that had long ago been cut up and re-purposed and my personal favourite, a menagerie of buttons shaped like animals, little ducks and giraffes and kittens of course, all of which at some time had been used on a dress or cardigan for me.

I was the only girl grandchild at that time, and Nan loved making the beautifully crafted frilly dresses, with smocked fronts and lacy hems, the delicately crocheted cardigans and jumpers…

She also taught me the value of having a decent pair of scissors in the house. She had several pairs, all for different jobs, all regularly sharpened and housed in their own protective cases. She never would have dreamed of using her dressmaking scissors for cutting hair, or her embroidery scissors for trimming nails…

I may not have been lucky enough to inherit my grandmother’s skills with a needle, but I was BLOODY annoyed the other day when I found my partner using my good sewing scissors to remove the fat from his bacon…

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77 thoughts on “My Nan’s Sewing Basket

  1. This is both nostalgic and terrifying in terms of a deeper hidden society message. Nostalgic in the sense that it takes me back to simpler times of pantries in cellars, a time of solutions, not problems. The time when my grandad (story passed down by gran) decided to clear a blocked chimney by dropping a brick down it from the roof. Alas he they lived in a terrace house and, while he managed the task, he selected next doors chimney in error.

    I digress, back then the sewing basket was part of a wider toolkit, for want of a better word. If something broke, with some ingenuity and know how, it could be remedied. Clothes, being the on topic example, could be repaired with some skill. These sorts of things became handed down background knowledge. Here’s the issue, think around it. From allotments to woodwork to mechanics. People could fix stuff.

    Is that true today? I tend to hear problems not solutions nowadays, the reverse of a time locked mantra that grew out of time and requirement.

    Now, it seems to be buy me, replace me, upgrade me…even my car mechanic needs a computer to plug into the engine management and THAT tells him what’s wrong and orders the part….progress…or an erosion of skills? It’s not just cars, that was merely but one example. Growing up we had one small dustbin, collected weekly by folk that came into your property and carried it to the truck and back….I now have THREE. I guess that tells the story. Social attitudes reflected in trash?

    I will now return to think on this post feel in nostalgia, with a slight smile of recollection….slow down and step away from the juggernaut rolling ever on…

    Ooh, wordless horror…

    See what your post created from a sewing box 🤔

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Love the story about your Grandad – totally brilliant! Whatever did the neighbours do..lol!
      I think we are definitely a throwaway society now rather than “make do and mend” and in this we are losing a lot of our social history, not the stuff that’s put in books, but the knowledge that makes us human and aware.
      I was saying to my son I was born 26 years after the end of WW II. It was still part of “lived” history in my lifetime whereas to him it is just facts in a book. He doesn’t have the immediacy of memory that I do from my mother’s stories… I kind of think the connection between people is dissipating in a haze of electrical energy…do you see what I mean or am I wandering again..lol!
      I think there is a certain safety and comfort to be had in memories from the past, a continuity of sorts as we take those memories forward with us into our own personal history.
      Hmm not sure I can match you with wordless horror – unless…unless

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      1. Alas the falls to said story was never related to me lol

        You re right though, all those centuries of unwritten know how lost in one generation. That said that same generation is the first to not know what it’s like with 3 tv channels, no computers, no wifi and no mobile phones. Not to mention social media! For them the above is indeed a wordless horror prompt 🤔 I like the idea of that social continuity though. Using knowledge that has stood the test of time and learnt by generations of experience. You don’t get the same gut satisfaction learning that from books.

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      2. That’s true enough…but it also depends on what sort of a learner you are apparently. My son did a test at school, a few years ago, and there are audio learners, kinetic learners and visual learners.. he is an auditory learner whereas I am visual. I read instructions but I also like to be shown how to do something. I suppose that’s another way of continuing the legacy…
        Wordless horror…20 days to go…

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      3. True, but the hand me down working knowledge used most of those…visual, by showing, audio by telling and kinetic by doing. Do you think trays world demonstrates the differences more because school is very visual and book oriented. That hands on practical learning is not really as common nowadays…well until they start moving up in school. Although we were taking more about lost social knowledge. I guess that’s what I really mean…
        20 days to go….they are deceased, but still come back each year…..

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      4. Ah yes..lost social knowledge…love that phrase might have to borrow it and credit you- ties in very neatly with a little piece I was planning about the countryside..birthplace of folklore and fables…WHO do they come back for?? Read that in your reply and it sent a shiver down my spine..!

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      5. Feel free, it’s a phrase that I think suits what we are talking about! Your piece sounds intriguing. I love that sort of thing…just saying, no pressure for anything profound 😊
        Who indeed…one option is they are waiting to add you to their annual pilgrimage…next time you engage in festivities, just take a moment to glance toward the shadows…..

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      6. Wow, I had that reflective mood descend when I went back to my hometown. Houses where once we ran under cross country duress as school kids in the snow and frozen mud, old haunts now under retail parks…I have synergy already!
        That’s why you must light up all corners of a room…and pray that one doesn’t go out….question…do I put a sample of The Bequest NaNo writings in my upcoming post??

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      7. Hmm, then I will dig out a test extract…if you lik that then I might recruit you to read the rest lol.
        Poking stuff is good way to find out what’s burried underneath. My writing mind is very visual. I see the scenes like a movie…sometimes I can get it across in words and sometimes…hmm, we don’t talk about those! I’ve always wanted to do an anthology of memoirs. I got the idea from reading Chris Yates on his carp angling exploits. Not so much the angling, but the atmospheres and nature.

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      8. I think that would be an extremely good idea, look at all the previous positive feedback you’ve had..*jumping up and down in silent glee…*
        I tend to see things like a film running in my mind, but with the “nostalgia” bits and pieces, sometimes even a smell can set the ball rolling…like warm raffia mats is the smell I associate with my grandmother’s kitchen…
        I think an anthology of memoirs would be great, I love that sort of genre…next year’s November novel..maybe..:)

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      9. What you being a beta reader or me chucking out an exerpt lol.
        See, you have the mind for scene building…now you just need to take them into words. I’m sure you can too by the way you craft blog posts. Have a bash and see where it leads 😊
        That’s nota bad idea for Nano…although memoirs take me much longer to compile. Though, if I had a plan of action rather than just diving into the unknown it might work 🤔

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      10. Well I have to say both although primarily an excerpt.. you keep feeding me these tempting morsels..NOW GIVE ME A HEFTY CHUNK!!
        Hmm, I have some past memory chapters I suppose you could call them, and also the framework of an idea…next November could prove very interesting! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      11. Define a hefty chunk…ooh, first time through auto-incorrect modified that to HUNK…a very different question that would have been 😱 Good job I checked it lol.
        There you go…a framework already, by November it will be cast around you like a web of intrigue waiting to be assembled!
        I have a list of projects that need assembling too. Some weave around the two I’ve written…well one and three quarters…and the other is a huge project involving Wayland, witch queens and sorcery…the opus magna if you like….oh and the anthology!

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      12. LOL.. I switched mine off-I didn’t know what it was talking about half the time…
        I do think an anthology would be good, as I said before, your style then is similar to Laurie Lee-“Cider” is one of my favourite books, although I also like D.H.Lawrence, mainly because of their descriptive passages…
        Um, Wayland’s story is sounding very…much like you need to at least post a synopsis!

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      13. I’m thinking the same thing here too…I just emailed friend asking if they had any tips to share…the word “tips” it seem became something mo nefarious…I’m dreading th reply now!
        Wow, that is some hefty praise…a similar style to such…you sure you turned auto-incorrect off !!
        Waylands tale is complicated. It’s the second book of the opus magna. Not sure how to assemble it all yet. In parallel with him is a sourceror that also travels the same landscape the Black inhabits, but in a different point in time. I need to edit the first book in order to get my chronologies right.

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      14. No no, my auto-correct is definitely switched off since it suggested a REALLY peculiar bedroom “pursuit” that I had to check …I had no idea what it meant and then I was a bit afraid…so yes. When I say stuff I generally like it to be what was in my head.
        Wayland’s story is sounding more and more epic…looking forward to at least a tiny taster!

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      15. Yes things can go very “tips” up. I’m leaning ever closer to switching mine off too. Can’t be doing with machines guessing what I’m trying to say.
        The book before Wayland drops in is unite different. It follows Emily, the residual twin from Half a Twin, Dave, the lollipop man hi was late that day, Rebecca, who is susceptible to blackouts that take her into another reality, witch queen that visits the pub (reference Blue Lady) in the brothers tales, and a really nasty antagonist. It drifts in chronomancy, a man who has a daughter before he is born, parallel worlds where magik flows and Wayland will walk. In fact in my separate book The Assent of Rose Marie a Gray, one of those characters features as a dragon rider and oracle. She ends the first book in a coma after a mental assault by the afore mentioned antagonist.
        I’m rubbish at synopses by the way 🤔

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      16. Love the inter-linking of characters and plot lines, I think it all sounds a cracking good read…and dragons too! Can’t go wrong..I’m watching “Game of Thrones” at the moment-couldn’t get into the book as I found it a bit..long-winded, but might give it another go. Thinking about dragons, you see…

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      17. I read the books then couldn’t get into the v series 🤔 One day I might get published then you can decide properly if it’s any good lol

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      18. That’s it though….ebook publishing is easy(ish), but I want a book book, and have no intention of going down the vanity route. Decision making is not my strong point here 🤕

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      19. Absolutely agree. But getting discovered is hard. I’m going to look at POD too. That way people can order print copies as well because the printer prints on demand….added that in case POD made no sense. Still, that means I have to write you off my beta reader list then….that’s all email variants 😱

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      20. Ok, read the other bit about wanting to…bug where in the beta chain would you like to rest? Normally I throw an early unedited draft in word out to see if the story works. After that…I edit myself before sending it out to a pro, then proofer. By that stage readers have kind of missed the boat 🤔

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      21. It more to do with knowing if it reads through as a story…keeps pages turning of goes off plot. I can give you a list of questions that might guide you through it…or just read it as if it were something you picked up on a whim.

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      22. I have to types of reader. Ones who critically appraise and ones who are asked just to read it and say what they think about the story purely from a readers viewpoint. Early drafts tend not to be fully edited until I’m certain they justify the time and cost to get edited and proofed professionally. I often have moments of serious self doubt so the latter reader is often more important than the former 😱

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      23. From the pieces I’ve read on your blog, I would LOVE to be a story reader, rather than a critical reader. I mean, I have a ..reasonable command of the English language , but I’ve enjoyed my introduction to a new genre so much I don’t think it’s my place to criticise in that way. If that makes sense.

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      24. Absolutely it does. Critical review in terms of story arc and cohesion are quite a challenge. However, just hearing a readers view on reading is valid too. I tend to want to know if it works before I put loads of effort into editing and tidying things up before sending to an editor proper. If the story is not quite up to the job as an idea then there’s little point spending an age on something I’m not happy with.

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      25. Absolutely, critical acclaim I’ve seen on many a post…beta readers must answer these twelve questions….I tend to think OK, but they are not there to do the job of an editor. All I really need is yes, I like it because….or…no I don’t, because….

        The nuts and bolts of sorting it out I can do in three revisions and then off to a pro editor followed by Julia, my pro proofer. I don’t really see much value in half a dozen beta readers trying to critically assess a piece of work when it’s going to go to a professional anyway. To me it’s does this story hold any merit worth investing more time in?

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      26. It’s a real evolutionary process.. I’m very impressed by your organisation…I must catch up on emails…
        But I mentioned before, the Carmichael brothers have a lot of potential for a series…just putting it out there…:)

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      27. One tries…although email catching up jus went the shape of a pear…joined good reads today and set up a bio…then found it was off to Twitter looking for followers with accounts there….with over 5000….it’s just played havoc with my emails 🤕

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      28. Settings…the fine line between limiting them and not missing anything important….I have considered creating different email addresses for each site though. That at least would keep them separate and, in some strange way, filed lol

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      29. I shall not pass comment upon the blonde insinuation…merely sit here and nod wisely….I tend not to use my phone at all for social media…it’s about the only way I an disconnect from it all…go out and smell the freedom, or something like that 🤔

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      30. Or was it taste the rainbow..? My phone was previously the only way I could use the Internet etc. without pestering my son for his laptop, but now I have my own, the possibilities are endless..ooh two advertising slogans in one reply!

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      31. Skittles wasn’t it? Not that they helped you work, rest and play or provided the snack you could eat between meals without ruining your appetite. 🤔 I shall turn to you now for slogans to advertise my book 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah … mother-of-pearl buttons and needles stuck in little leather cases! Stork scissors and wooden spools of faded cotton thread. Velvet pincushions that leak sawdust, and all manner of tarnished passmenterie. A treasure chest, indeed! My great-grandmother had a similar sewing box at the island cottage which every generation since has used. (I have plans to post about antique sewing implements and one of my hobbies, cross-stitch.) Thank you for writing such a lovely tribute to your grandmother.

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    1. I forgot about the stork scissors! I love the way certain items are passed down and added to as the years go by and the little stories attached make the people more real and present..
      I shall look forward to your posts about the antique implements-why do I have a picture of a black enamel sewing machine with flowers on in my head…? Lol-thanks for commenting! x

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this post Samantha, so nostalgic. I used to have a Singer sewing machine but gave it away when our house got flooded several years ago. My mom sews her own dresses sometimes. She has a quaint Singer sewing machine too that is still good until now.

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  4. Such a familiar feel, and the little details are the same…safety pins to fasten reels of ribbon for example. I had forgotten about that. But when my sister bought me a new sewing box a few years ago, she included loads of safety pins and I had no idea why. Now I see they were for taming my ribbon stash! Did your Nan have one of those odd mushroom-like things for darning socks?

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    1. Ha ha ha! Yes she did! Also a wooden cotton reel thing with four little nails in to do French knitting, is it? Where it comes out in a tube and you can sew it into circle mats..what a thoughtful present from your sister 🙂 Even in the 21st century I think every house should have a sewing basket…if only for the tape measure!:)x

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  5. We have similar memories of our grandmothers! Mine was born in Italy in the early 1900s and began working on her trousseau from childhood. She always had exquisitely embroidered napkins, tablecloths, sheets, handkerchiefs, etc. from her stash. My mother was less enthusiastic about needlework and hemmed trousers under protest. I can barely sew a button! Oh well… 😦

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    1. Fascinating about your grandmother, her trousseau sounds beautiful 🙂 I read somewhere that ladies were judged on the quality of their needlework as an advertisement for their suitability as a wife…not quite sure how I would be graded! 🙂 x

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  6. The end of your story made me laugh! My own mother has a special set of sewing scissors she’s had my entire life, and still to this day she makes it a point to remind us all that when they are out, they are “just for sewing!”

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    1. Ha ha ha! At the moment, we have one pair of decent pair of scissors in the house-my sewing ones, so I hide them…the other day I put them on top of the unit..thinking they would be out of reach there but also forgetting that my son is 17 and a lot taller than me!
      Thank you for commenting 🙂

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  7. I love your post…maybe the book (that I constantly nag you to publish) should consist of the beautiful stories from your childhood…they always take me to some wonderful world of little Samantha, different from mine – and similar at the same time. I don’t remember either of my grandmothers, but I inherited the knitting gene from one of them-I could probably knit as a toddler! Funnily enough, sewing is my newly found hobby (and as with everything I have been obsessed with it for some time, turning one of the bedrooms into a ‘studio’ and buying 2 sewing machines: one fancy computerised, smarter than me- the other industrial type, heavy duty one ). It’s almost like you knew what I’m up to! Spooky!
    And seriously: I’m sure all your readers can relate to your posts. And this is a sign of a really good writer…just saying 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, thank you very much 🙂 and I would have to say that you are actually not far off in guessing rightly in what one of my writing projects is about…lol!!
      Childhood, to me, was an almost magical time where my life was populated by animals and adventures and everything seemed more brightly coloured somehow…
      I am actually slightly envious… you have sewing machines! I am currently hand stitching organza bags on my son’s behalf… although I’d probably be afraid of a sewing machine! Hand sewing is quite therapeutic though. And guess what.. I have a new laptop that I am currently getting to grips with, an early Christmas present from my partner, so not only can I “write” more (still love my nice biro and notebook ) but I can reply more fully to your wonderful comments instead of sitting hunched over my phone peering at the biscuit-sized keypad…!
      And thank you- wonderful compliment 🙂 xxx

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  8. My grandmother had a jar of buttons that I used to be infatuated. I understand the concept of sewing scissors and their specific use. Please tell me, how did you handle the “bacon cutting” incident? My heart skipped a beat reading this.

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    1. LOL…I was actually quietly furious! My partner apologised but I don’t think a non-sewer really understands the importance of a good pair of scissors! However, I did learn one thing…it’s always better to have a pair and a spare!
      Thank you for your comment 🙂

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