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My dressmaking story…….


Last week I did a half day workshop on how to make a couture jacket. Now you may be wondering why would someone living in rural Dorset, where I cannot even wear heels due to the uneven ground, Dorset hills and of course our Jurassic coast line, would go on such a workshop? The answer, fashion and dressmaking became part of my story before I was even born. My grandmother was a self-taught dressmaker. In 1938, she brought her first Singer sewing machine. Did you know that Singer sewing machine company were one of the first companies to organise credit on consumer goods? My grandmother was only 15, and working in service not earning much, I believe due to both those reasons she couldn’t get credit in her own name and her mother, my Grand Great mother took out the credit on her behalf. I found the payment book in a handbag after my Grandma died in 2002.

Payment book for Singer sewing machine.
Payment book for Singer sewing machine.

This sewing machine was hand operated, and after the Second World War her father added a motor, so becoming electric. Grandma mainly made clothes for herself, but somewhere along the line she started to make clothes for models on photo shoots. One big contract she had was to make the outfits for the models fronting the opening of a new TV station in the early 1970’s. One of the bedrooms in my grandparents’ house was her sewing room, I loved going into this room. Her new modern 1970s sewing machine set up, fabric piles and the cupboard of coloured thread. I don’t know if I showed an interest in dressmaking and fashion, or being the first granddaughter my Grandmother was going to make sure that would be a big part of my life. I only remember always wanting to design and make my own clothes. I had my first fashion design kit at six years old. I can’t remember the first time I used the sewing machine, or the first time I thread a needle. It’s more of a case I can’t remember when I wasn’t. I learned on that first Singer sewing machine she had brought, (wasn’t allowed to use her modern one) and remember her putting the iron board as low as it would go so I could iron my pieces as I went.

Grandma with me at six months old, in a coat she had made.
Grandma with me at six months old, in a coat she had made.

Over the years, I came more interested in fashion, slowly developing my own style and dreamed of being a fashion designer, as well as a writer and ballet dancer as you do. So, you can imagine my excitement when on an open evening at the secondary modern school I was due to go to, I walked into one classroom and a dream came true. The sewing room at this school was amazing in my eyes. I stood in the doorway of the room smiling ear to ear thinking of the designs I could make, and wondering if I would be able to use the room during lunchtimes. I said to the teacher showing us around that ‘This would be my favourite room’, she looked down at me and said ‘And why is that’? and I said full of enthusiasm ‘Because I’m going to be a fashion designer’, she looked down her nose at me and sarcastically said ‘So that’s what you think you’re going to be’. I froze, I had been brought up to believe if you worked hard enough you could be whatever you wanted to be. That was the last time I mentioned it while I was at that school.

Me in my Grandparents Garden, right little trendsetter.
Me in my Grandparents Garden, right little trendsetter.

Back to today, or the reason for doing the workshop last week, I did go on to do a diploma in Fashion in my twenties, and become more interested in jewellery and lingerie (more about that in later blogs), but we didn’t cover tailoring and because life gets in the way sometimes, I need to refresh my skills and finally get back to designing and making, I hope………


6 thoughts on “My dressmaking story…….

  1. I love your grandmother’s story. That payment book is quite a keepsake. My Aunt was quite elderly when I was born – so we called her “gramma”. She didn’t mind, as she never had children of her own. She bought her first Singer when she came to this country. I now have her 1952 Singer and could never part with it. I had heard about the credit plans as sewing machines were always so expensive back then no one could afford to buy. I am envious of you for your sewing courses. Oh perhaps some day I shall have the time!


    1. Thank you for your lovely comments. Like you I do still have my Grandma’s 1938 Singer sewing machine. It’s packed away at the moment, so couldn’t take a photo of it. I hope you do manage to find time to do a course at some point, even if its only a short or evening course. In the meantime good luck with all your sewing projects. Best wishes Caroline

      Liked by 1 person

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