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When Grandma knows better.

Cath’s homemade lavender bags. Not bad for someone who didn’t make it into the Guild of Seamstresses!

Like many children going through the education system in the late 70s and early 80s, I had little choice in which subjects to take in the early years of high school. Boys were sent off to do woodwork, metal work, and technical drawing. Meanwhile, we girls were railroaded down the Home Economics (Cookery, sewing, and laundry) and typing pathways. Can you imagine that happening today?

Each week, on my way to the Home Economics classrooms, I would gaze into the woodwork and metalwork rooms, longing to have a go at the machines. They looked way more interesting than staring at a cooker or a sewing machine. The objects the boys made seemed to be so much more fun to make than a pineapple upside-down cake.

I wasn’t the greatest cook in the class, but I wasn’t the worst. I was simply bored to tears. Even when I did finally get my hands on a sewing machine, I had to toe the line with what I wanted to make and how to put it together. Yawn!

Fortunately for me, I had an ally. My Grandma was a tailor, and a very skilled one too. Each week I would wander home from school on Home Ec’ day, via Grandma’s house, taking my latest effort to show her. She would inspect each notch and seam, offering advice on how to do each step more efficiently and above all, more easily, with excellent end results. We sat together, unpicking the schoolwork and redoing it her way and the following week I would take my garment back into school to show the teacher. She spotted the differences immediately and was less than pleased with me when I refused to undo it and start again.

The final straw came when it was time to insert the zip and make a buttonhole for the skirt. Having seen how my teacher wanted things done, I knew Grandma would be tutting loudly at the ugly result. I dragged my heels during that lesson, knowing that I would be asked to insert the zipper and make a buttonhole for my homework. After school, I raced back to Grandma’s house, eager to get started. Sure enough, Grandma was waiting for me, tea and cakes at the ready, and her sewing machine set up.

I wasn’t wrong about the tutting. Grandma inspected my tacked work and showed me one of her zips and buttonholes. Her version virtually hid the zipper and as for the buttonhole, it would last a lifetime. I couldn’t wait for the next lesson where I would show off my finished skirt to the teacher.

It wasn’t much of a surprise that yet again my technique was called into question. Teacher wanted to know why I deliberately did everything differently. And my answer? “My Grandma was a very successful tailor and knows more about making clothes than you do!” That probably wasn’t my smartest answer but it was true. Teacher told me I’d never make a great seamstress, an observation that makes me giggle today. It’s not as if I aspired to join the Guild of Seamstresses!!

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