As the seasons slip one into the other, our rhythms change. Morning gardening has been replaced by time indoors, chipping away at those bad-weather jobs. These days the garden has a single weekly slot: a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon, time enough to plant some fruit bushes or fork over a bed. More often than not it’s Ilse who joins me out there, while the others stay close to the fire with their books and board games, or slave away at prep in the study. Last Saturday she helped me turn a full three cubic yards of dense almost-compost into the next bay, shovelling the brown gold with her seaside spade and gleeful at the thousands of naked wriggling worms. I had a paper bag of sugared almonds in my pocket and fed these to her each time she suggested we were flagging.
If this were spring, Sunday afternoons would be spent in the garden, too. Being winter, though, Sundays are for sewing. For making inroads into serious projects, three or even four hours at a time. For bringing together the cutting out and dart-placing of the odd snatched moment in the week, to form something tangible, something finished.
I’d been looking forward to last Sunday. The plan was to settle myself into the dining room with my sewing machine and the wireless and the tea tray laid for one. I was going to construct a shawl collar for the very first time, and given that I’d drafted the pattern myself, I had no set of instructions to follow. It was to be time to think, with the quiet of a well-known classic serial in the background, and no intrusions of any sort.
I had just laid the pieces out to puzzle over when Ilse’s face appeared around the door, pink-cheeked from walking her doll around the garden. Ooh! she exclaimed in delight. Are we sewing today?
It took some effort of will to smile and take her to choose some fabric from the scrap pile. Can you make something all by yourself? I asked, doubtfully. I really need to concentrate today.
She was so quiet that I almost forgot about her, until she appeared at my elbow with a piece of embroidery for me to tie off. I showed her, again, how to do this for herself. She put her head to one side, thoughtful, and I heard nothing more from her until a request was made for two buttons from the jar, snipped off an old school cardigan. Don’t worry, Mummy, she said, anticipating my concern. Buttons are easy.
There was a long silence then, broken only by Silas Marner in the background and the clackety whirr of my machine. Eventually she reappeared, to ask once more for help. Together, with my sharp dressmaking shears, we snipped armholes into the piece she had been working on, and it was done.
I could describe it as an elongated shawl, made from a bit of old white sheeting. There’s a butterfly on one side, with blue wings and green antennae. It fastens around her doll’s body with two green buttons, held shut by loops haphazardly stitched on with more embroidery silk. The top of the shawl flops down to form a sort of collar, and there isn’t a hem in sight.
I could describe it thus, but I won’t, because that isn’t what it is. It’s a coat for her own baby girl, richly embroidered and beautifully finished, stitched with considerable skill and flair. It made me much, much prouder than my own careful collar. You see, my girl made it all by herself. She can make anything, you know.— February 4, 1931