Two steps back

Never mind two steps forward, one step back – I seem to be moving in the opposite direction. My autumn plans seemed entirely reasonable at September’s start, but here I am, faced with a list which keeps growing rather than shrinking as the weeks flip by. Two weeks before half term and I’ve made half a jumper, one dress with bunny pockets and some wobbly wool on my wheel. That leaves two school dresses and a long-legged romper for Ilse, a new skirt for myself and another which needs relining, two eiderdowns which need covering again to keep the stuffing in and a blouse for myself which may or may not happen. What I want to sew is Ilse’s quilt, the pieces for which are all cut out, a Liberty fabric soft case for my flute, and tiny crumb quilt covers for Christmas present notebooks. But I’ve forbidden myself all of that until the other sewing is done, which is why I’m spending so much time knitting instead.

I took Ben’s jumper with me to the ballet studio on Saturday while I was waiting for Ilse to finish her lesson, and was pleased with the progress I’d made until I got home and spread it out and realised that I’d held a cable needle to the front and not the back five inches ago. Oh well, at least it’s chunky wool. And at least I know myself well enough to rip it out at once, lest it become a reproach, sulking in my basket. By lunchtime my funny feeling head had given way to a sore throat and nose full of sneezes, so I spent the afternoon strategically resting by the fire in the hopes of heading it off at the pass. No such luck: I woke up on Sunday to a full head cold and a list as long as I had left it.

Sometimes there is nothing for it but to grit one’s teeth and get stuck in. I retrieved the cut out pieces of Ilse’s grey school dresses from where I’d hidden them from myself and got to work, determined to complete the bodices at least. It only took me until the stay stitching to realise that I’d cut the back bodice wrongly: as a whole, instead of two half bits to button together. Thankfully there was just enough left over to cut it out again, and doctor the pieces I had. And thankfully Mrs P was here and chose that moment to appear with a pot of tea for two, emergency buttered scones and some well chosen words of advice. Thus bolstered I sewed on long beyond my goal of two neat bodices, making puffed sleeves with gathered cuffs, little button holes all down the back, understitched linings and pleated skirts until suddenly, nearly four hours later, I had two fully lined wool dresses, all finished bar the handsewn hems and buttons I have yet to buy in town. And when Ilse tried them on they even, miraculously, fitted.

Perhaps that counts as two steps forward – or one, at the very least? Yes, it rained off and on again all day yesterday so that the apples are still on the tree. Yes, there are still trays of winter seedlings waiting on the kitchen windowsill, hoping to be planted out. Yes, it’s getting colder and I don’t have a single decent skirt to wear. But those two dresses which were holding up my stitching are almost out of the way, and I feel a surge of productivity coming on as soon as I feel better. I finished the front of Ben’s jumper last night as I recovered in front of the fire and as I held it up to him this morning I noticed a tiny mistake in one of the ribs near the top. Time to start ripping again. What was that saying? Two steps forward and one step back? Oh well, at least that’s better than the other way around.

On the way

You wouldn’t have thought, yesterday, that we were halfway through September. The children were playing barefoot on the lawn, I’d taken my cardigan off by midday, and the windows were open to let the heat of our roasting dinner out. Summer came late this year but it’s making up for it now, hanging around until the very last minute, and nobody’s complaining. In the mornings, though, there’s sparkling dew on the grass. It’s just about dark by Ilse’s bedtime. It’s happening, much as I’d like to ignore it: autumn is on the way.

Most of us have enough to wear this year, should the first frosts suddenly strike. Fliss seems to have stopped growing, or slowed down at any rate, and Ben’s things are new enough to last a little longer. Seb’s trousers are a decent enough length to buy me a little time. But Ilse has shot up this past year and needs new everything. And while I can fill a few gaps with old things of Fliss’, she does need new school dresses and something to wear at the weekends. Not just any old something, mind you. Ilse knows exactly what she would like, please. My plans for some little dropped waist dresses were not well met: how does she know they belong to the 20s? They still look wonderful on little girls: easy and swishy and without an ounce of fuss. Happily, her own plans are equally practical and sweet. What she would like, please, are dresses with high yokes and full skirts to just above the knee, with three quarter length sleeves (so they’re warm, but they don’t get in the way) and possibly a peter pan collar. Three buttons at the back, like the pinafore  she loves so much, and definitely some pockets to keep her precious finds in. It took a bit of sketching and and explaining and pointing to parts of other dresses around the house, but we got there in the end, and are both pleased with the design.

Making the pattern turned out to be a breeze, and not at all the afternoon of careful calculations I’d built it up to be. The block I made for her this summer was still in the drawer and, thanks to the fact I made it a size up, still big enough. So it took less than an hour to adapt it, and not much longer to cut out the fabrics she’s chosen. We’re starting with a Saturday dress in blue corduroy, the yoke lined with an old gingham shirt of John’s she’s always liked. It’s a bit of a relief, really, to have got to this stage. What with the cutting done, the rest is easy: I’ve made enough dresses now to sew a quick seam here, seam there in odd pockets of time. Dress number one is on the way.

As is the grey wool I’ve ordered for her school frocks, and my new spinning wheel, and the knitting fair next weekend. Autumn crafting is upon us. As is the season itself, though you wouldn’t know it by looking out the window. Stick with us, summer, for as long as you like. But when autumn comes my little girl will be ready with something warm to wear, just like the rest of us. And just as importantly, I’ll have a basket of wool to knit up, as well as two fleeces to learn to spin with. I have to admit, autumn does have its compensations.

Oh crumbs

It only took one day of the new school year to send me to my sewing machine for a little distraction and comfort. There’s something about September, lovely as it is, that gives me a sinking feeling and for some reason it’s worse than ever this time around. I suppose that’s the other side of having such a lovely summer: it had to come to an end sometime. And end it has, and that now what shall I do today? feeling has been replaced with long lists of chores and uniform requirements and pesky timekeeping. It’s the busyness that gets to me – so many things which must be done that I never seem to get to the part of the day when I sit down with a book or a spot of sewing and just switch off.

But when the days spit me out, frazzled and ever so slightly cross, the evenings are there to pick me up again. Every night last week found me sewing: sorting through the scraps too small for Ilse’s quilt, wanting to make some order out of chaos. And thus a little crumb quilt was born. I’ve been meaning to make something like this for a while, to run down the centre of our kitchen table for the butter and pepper and water jug to sit upon. But I wasn’t meaning to make it just now, when so much else is new and demanding our attention. Not when Ben is going into his last year of school and making choices about what comes next. Not when Ilse is just moving up to the juniors. Not when there is a new schedule of music and dance classes, swimming galas and tennis lessons. Not when I have a garden to bring in and bottle, and windowsills of overwinterers to put out. Despite all my protestations, though, it appears that an hour or so just playing with fabric was exactly what I needed each and every night last week.

This promises to be quite a year for us, one way and another. There will be lots of things to balance. Everything is jostling for position, and some are already in danger of being squeezed right out. I’m keeping a close eye on the important things, like family meals and story time and long walks to think things over. After last week, half an hour in the afternoon with nothing more important on my plate than a scone and a cup of tea has become the most critical part of my day. I can’t lurch from one peaceful Sunday to the next, missing the weeks in between. I know much better than that.

Last week? Well, thanks to that little quilt, balance was restored, and it was bound and on the table in time for our Sunday roast. John says it looks like a story in a comic strip, just waiting to be written. Seb likes the little octopus in its wonky log cabin. And I? I only put in the things I thought should be there. It’s a bit chaotic, a bit colourful and mad, but it’s all quite carefully chosen. I’ve spread the fabrics out with a little bit here, a little there. And if you look closely you can see that there are seven blocks, in a pattern, connected with strips of this and that, and held together with something bold enough to set the requisite boundaries. A bit like last week, really, and the weeks to come. Oh crumbs.

Cuttings

As many of the flowers begin to fade out of doors, those indoors are getting our attention. Oh, there’s still plenty in the garden, and to be seen on hedgerow rambles. Into the house come cuttings of sweet peas, and anemones, and umbellifers. There is hibiscus by the armful, and the grass is full of buttercups. But on a rainy day, when the first of the woollens are called for, there’s a great deal of pleasure to be had in pulling out old shirts and frocks and cutting them up for quilting.

In the mix, this time, is Ilse’s romper from last summer, and an old green dress of mine. There are a number of shirts for plains and stripes, from Father and John and Ben. There’s a blouse Fliss loved but splashed something on in a chemistry lesson. And there’s a little Liberty, too – spared from a length I bought in London to make a new case for my flute – a splash of something special to bring the quilt to life.

I’ve had a lot of company on my afternoons of cutting. Not just the customary Poirot on the wireless, and the tray with its pot of tea. Seb has been hovering, picking bits out of the scrap pile for some puppetry project or other. Ilse has been snipping off the buttons for the jar. Fliss wandered in and out, casting an eye over the proceedings and glowing quietly with pleasure as she noticed each new fabric in the pile. I’ve had helpers to count the 63 white squares cut from a worn out sheet, and the 32 setting triangles. The multicoloured strips have been arranged and rearranged in various colour combinations. It’s been a lovely way to pass the rainy summer holiday afternoons.

We’re just about finished now, with all the cutting. Next comes the stitching together of the long strips, before they are cut into short trios of squares and resewn into nine-patch blocks. Then the whole top can be pieced and set on point to create a diamond effect: a Jewel in the Crown quilt.

But not today. Today, the sun is shining, and I know a green lane where the hedges are groaning with blackberries. Today is a day for stained lips and prickled fingers and baskets heavy with fruit. The quilt can wait for another rainy day. I have different cuttings to take: from the anemones in the garden to give to a friend of mine, which I hope will bloom next summer.

That’s the thing about cuttings: they grow into something wonderful. A whole new plant from a length of root. Crown jewels from cotton chintzes. And in the kitchen this evening, jam from unbidden brambles.

Sewing for mermaids

Well, who would have thought that those old dance recital costumes would come in so handy? A waistcoat, a 20s style flapper dress, 45 minutes and a sewing machine et voila! One happy little mermaid, ready for family camp.

In the meantime though, the enthusiasm for all things aquatic continues. Penguins? Dolphins? Killer whales? Picture books are pored over. I know more about giant squid than I ever thought I would. The boys keep disappearing to the shed, asking for more string and nails and bits of board. There’s a seahorse in the making, and I swear I saw some frontal fins attached to an old potato sack. They’re busy, and I’m happy, being too busy myself in the garden to worry about the fact that the holidays have begun. They know how to make their own fun, my children.

There was a day last week, though, when despite the shining sun and endless array of jobs I felt listless and worn out. The past week or so I have fallen asleep nearly every time I’ve allowed myself to sit for more than a few minutes at a time. I would have done so on Thursday, had it not been for a little project I have been saving up. Ilse’s passion for mermaids won’t last long, and once it’s over that will be that, for me. My days of sewing children’s fabrics are numbered, as are her days of wearing little girls’ clothes. And what could be more little girl than a romper covered in mermaids, with hair as brown as hers, sea horses at the ready for a quick jaunt around the reef? I spent a while cutting it out, placing the creatures just where I wanted them. Sewing started post tea and was done just after my littlest’s bedtime. She did some secret reading, at my behest, and quarter of an hour after she should have been asleep she sneaked downstairs to admire the result in the long hall mirror.

Apparently this little outfit comes with certain conditions attached. It must be worn with the hair down, like a real mermaid. It must hang on the pegs in her bedroom, so that she can see it when she wakes. But my favourite, by far, is that fact that she tap dances everywhere she goes. With white pointelle socks, summer sandals and her straw boater, she thinks she’s Shirley Temple, and heel-shuffle-hops all the way to the bus stop. Tap dancing mermaids? Potato sack squid? Gangly sea horses and fierce she-pirates? Welcome to the wonderful world of home made summer holidays. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Banking it

Clearly two plus one does not always equal three. Take bank holidays, for instance: adding just one day to the weekend more than doubles the time off work. Everything that can closes down for the full three days, leaving Saturday curiously like Sunday, that lovely day of peace. And then the real Sunday comes, and then Monday which, with all the banks and shops and schools and factories shut down, is Sunday yet again. And three Sundays are worth much more than three of any other day, which makes the break far longer than just three turns upon the axis.

Add to that the fact that everything seems just that little bit easier in May and well – what are we to do but spend a lazy three days pottering around at home? Getting back into bed with the tea tray and a good book for just one extra hour. Helping Ilse with her latest project (involving tissue paper and a great deal of paste) before even thinking about the luncheon. Finding myself with an army of eager garden helpers, which dwindles to just one within five minutes, but which is still one more than I am used to. Getting round to some of the tasks I’ve been avoiding: repotting the tomatoes for the last time, lifting the netting off the peas to get at those marauding weeds – because it’s ten times more fun with two. Thanking John for doing the tasks I find heavy going, like cutting the hedges and mowing the lawn. Seeing a break from Ben’s revision become a carpentry session, at the end of which the hens have a new playground to get fit on.

Caught in this little time warp there is a chance to slow down, take stock, and get started on ventures new. Time to pair a pattern with some soft and variegated aran, and see a cabled bobble hat fly together in a swift row here, row there. Looking at my fast dwindling skeins of wool and choosing some to crochet into granny squares. Opening the cupboard with the fabric in and, with Fliss, choosing all the cottons for her quilt. Poring over design books together, and asking if she’s sure. Sitting and chatting while we snip away at old shirts and dresses, cutting squares two and a half inches wide for an Irish chain in washed out pinks and greens. And then, when we pause, finding that it’s only ten to three, and not quite time for tea.

There have been trips to the park, and to a friend’s to play. There’s been music practice, and preparation for exams, and learning lines for a school performance. There’s been a long letter from Meg, and one written in reply. A shop popping up in the shed, selling all manner of groceries at outrageous prices. A garden centre with a cafe and two keen delivery children scooting up and down the paths. Leisurely lunches which melt into leisurely teas. A bit of a tidy. A lot of sitting in the sun.

I’m half expecting to find that a whole month has gone by, while we were having our bank holiday weekend. We’ll go back to the real world and find that there’s a row of little absent Os in the school registers, that John’s desk at work is dusty. That Mrs P has been knocking at the door, and the children and I have missed our holiday by the sea. They go on forever, these bank holiday weekends, always giving more than seems quite possible. Soak it up, I say. Save it, store it, bank a bit of this for later. Because – believe it or not – it won’t go on forever.

Home from home

So much of this winter’s sewing has consisted of little things: shoppers and cushion covers, bookmarks and pencil cases – bits and bobs. Gifts, and the odd thing I’ve needed for a while, but have been loathe to buy. A simple set of pyjamas. A new toilet bag. Things which can be made out of the scraps left over from our new shirts and dresses, costing nothing more than a Sunday afternoon. What with the rain we’ve had lately I’d rather be inside anyway, across the hall from the fire, with the wireless for company.

Most often, though, I find I have other company, usually in the form of a certain six year old. She makes me feel like a conjuror, with her oohs and ahhs and general excitement. The simplest hemmed handkerchief appears, through sleight of hand, where minutes earlier there was a only a square of cloth. It is enough to inspire even the most reluctant sewer.

I can’t help laughing, just a little, at her enthusiasm, and yet… Creation in action is magical. Seeing something appear where before there was only a piece of paper, a stick of charcoal. Watching someone use their hands to turn something mental into something tangible, accessible to all.

It happens even when we think we are in charge. It was I who showed Ilse how to cut and stuff her teddy bear, and how to form a blanket stitch. I thought I knew what she was making. Yet even I was surprised by tiny Tabitha Bear, with her little blanket, ready for nights away. Ooh, I said when presented with her, she’s wonderful!

A little familiar company is what is needed, sometimes, to make a home away from home. Someone to whisper to at bedtime, after the last page of the story has been turned and your light has been switched off. Someone to tuck in and reassure that everything is fine, in this strange house with its funny noises. Ilse has been staying with Mother and Father from time to time, as a treat, when Seb is away with the Cubs. Much as she loves it, she has been dreaming up a few home comforts to make it even more special. A new teddy bear to mother in the dark, and a grown up toilet bag – just like Mummy’s, please.

Thus passes another showery spring afternoon. A bit of pink corduroy for the outside, with a little bird stitched on, to distinguish it from mine. A pale blue zip to match the bluebird lining. Then another zip, to a smaller, secret pocket. One day she might keep her jewellery in there, as I do mine. For now, though, I think she might just unzip it to look at the fabric it is made from: a scrap from my peonies dress. A little bit of home away from home, at toothbrushing time, that no-one else need know about.

[whohit]homefromhome[/whohit]

Sunlight, starlight

The sky has cleared. I think Ilse did it, early last week, with some sort of magic only six year olds can muster. Well, perhaps not. But whatever the reason, the blanketing cloud has lifted and we have been given sunlight, starlight, and frosty mornings.

I finished Ilse’s new summer dress and gave it to her, fresh from the machine, to twirl around the house in. She had her little missions: to show it to Daddy, then Fliss, then Ben and Seb, before remembering to glance in the mirror and see how it looks for herself. Everyone satisfied her – and my – need for admiration for this simple little creation, and she was delighted. She’s an easy girl to please, really. She loves everything I make for her. So I wasn’t really surprised when she asked if she might wear her new dress for the rest of the day.

Some mothers might not let their little girls wear sleeveless cotton frocks on chilly February days. Away from the fire, the days have been grey and damp. I couldn’t brave it, myself. But really, how could I say no to so delightful a request? I shuddered, smiled and said a deliberate yes.

It turns out that Ilse couldn’t brave it, either. She lasted all of ten minutes before reappearing in corduroy and wool, with (hopefully) some thermal underwear beneath. She handed me the dress, to fold gently and lay away in the drawer of waiting summer clothes. Then she marched to the window, pointed to the sky and commanded: Hurry up, sun!

And hurry up it did. It was there to greet us the next day, presiding over a glittering street. It stayed all through the long morning, luring me out of doors. By the afternoon it had swung round to the front of the house where it lounged on the armchairs, cat-like, warming the seats. It has stopped with us all week, transforming the end of February into something March-like, something joyful.

I took advantage of its presence to finally dig my new bed, turning the lawn over and under itself. At last there is new ground for plants to grow in. I let the hens out of their run while I worked, and we were outside for so long that even the giddy one gave up her running and flapping and turned to pecking at the earth around my feet, before finally settling down to fluff her feathers and bathe in all that yellow goodness.

Because really, after this winter, a little sunshine is pure goodness. Everything it touches turns to gold. This spring sunlight has magic in its fingertips: King Midas with a happy ending. And at night, when it goes to bed, the moon follows suit and coats everything in silver. Without the clouds, the night sky is full of diamonds once again. I feel another night walk coming on, with telescopes and star charts and overexcited children.

But that’s had to wait, because I’ve been having fun elsewhere. On Friday Mr White had arranged for members of our soup club to see Cosi Fan Tutte in Leeds. We caught the train home, humming cosily through the night in our own little compartment, remembering this aria or that. I said my goodbyes at York station and cycled home on my own. As I pedalled, I could swear the spheres were singing to me, keeping time. My dynamo swept along the midnight lanes, but it wasn’t really needed. Thanks to Ilse, the world was awash with starlight.

[whohit]sunlightstarlight[/whohit]

Peonies

Am I more eager than ever for spring, this year? Perhaps. I scrutinise the garden for signs of life. I note when the sun goes down, later and later. I am getting tired of the same old pullovers, the same old skirts. And yet it’s only February, and much as I would love March to be spring it isn’t, really. Spring begins in April, and takes hold in May. Every year I have to relearn this lesson in patience. To not be disheartened when the mercury drops again after a few warm days. To not expect sunny skies, just yet.

Good things come out of impatience. The spring sewing is well underway, and my peonies dress hangs, ready and waiting, in the wardrobe. The day after I finished it I was stirring the porridge in my blue wool skirt, calling the children to their breakfast. Ilse came running in and stopped short when she saw me. Why aren’t you wearing your new dress? It’s my dress for spring, I told her. For when the sun is shining.

I don’t think I’ve ever finished anything this far in advance. Normally I sew for the children first, putting off the more fiddly tasks of darts and fitted waists until the weather has changed and I don’t have enough to wear. Normally I would be wearing something new the day after completing it. Enjoying glancing in the hall mirror every time I wander past. Getting used to this new skin, until I put it on without looking once at it, all day. Until it has become part of me.

Instead, I am looking forward to wearing it. Looking forward to how I’ll be, when I am wearing peonies. A little more feminine, perhaps, but still happy to weed a bed or shoo the hens into their house. Practical and purposeful, in short sleeves and a comfortably fitted bodice. Able to bend over the sink, or a bed for a good night kiss. Soft enough for cuddling, and crisp enough to cycle into York and meet John for a picnic lunch, on a rug in the shade of the minster.

It isn’t how you look in a garment that matters, but how you feel. It took me a while to work this out, obvious though it is. When I first started to make my own clothes I would gaze at fashion plates, seduced in my teens by straight dropped waists and later by impossibly girdled style lines. I stitched things in silk for summer garden parties, beautiful and barely worn.  Sleeves dangled and got in the way, or were too short and left me goose bumped. I would have looked lovely, had I felt it. Instead I felt no more like myself than a child in a party dress, all the fun starched out of the occasion.

Now I plan the other way around. What do I want to feel like, when I am in these clothes of mine? I want to feel lovely, yes, but also able. Able to do all the things I love, and still have a slight twirl to the hem of my skirt. I want to feel free, but structured enough that I don’t need to pull at a neckline or tug at shoulder straps. I want to be able to fling on a cardigan and find the eggs for breakfast, leaving a trail with my wellingtons on the beaded lawn. I want to be able to throw on my pearls and be taken somewhere smart for tea, just John and I. I want to be able to cycle alongside Ilse, to keep her safe. I want to be able to tuck my toes under my skirt in an armchair at the end of the day.

I get a little closer to this, every time. Each spring’s dress is my new favourite, surpassing all the others. I look at the one I am retiring, shapeless and faded. Four years ago that was my favourite, the very best I had ever made. That year I wanted no sleeves; I wanted the sun on my shoulders. I wanted no collar, but a plain neckline easy to change with jewellery. I wanted a ditsy pattern, in blues and whites.

This year I wanted a simple shawl collar, and cap sleeves. A bolder print. A self-fabric belt, to be loosened and pulled in as the occasion demands. The best design yet, I think.

Next year’s dress will be the best, too, and the one after that, and after that. It is a thing no more static than myself. We are not the same people, from one summer to the next, although we might like to think we are. This year I am peonies: a little bit pink. Next year, who knows? I’ll find out when I start stitching.

[whohit]peonies[/whohit]

Something new

We are each having something new, for spring. As a result, things are shifting and changing around here. The cushions from the kitchen chairs disappeared for a while, then reappeared, clad in new covers. New cottons are unfolded from brown paper packages, and draped over tables and the back of the settee and around Fliss, in front of the mirror after school. She appears in the kitchen while I am peeling potatoes, awkwardly clutching a little pattern of blue spring flowers to her front. May I have this one, Mummy? Once supper is over we sit together at the cleared table, and she describes the type of dress she would like: the collar, the hemline, what sort of sleeves are ‘in’. I make a little sketch and label it, to be sure I know just what she means. I will tweak the waist a little, to flatter her long legs, and set the collar slightly higher so as to frame her face, but otherwise it is a lovely design, and simple enough to make. Then we put it aside and she distracts herself with a book or six during the long wait until it is ready.

The vanishing cushion covers will be a dress for Ilse, and a new shirt for Seb. That fabric, four co-ordinating patterns, was too lovely to cut into last spring. I had ordered it to make things for the children, but cut down some of John’s worn shirts instead, so that by the time it arrived it wasn’t needed. Spread on the kitchen table, fresh from its wrappings, it sang against the apple green cupboard. Fabric isn’t meant to languish in a pile for a year, waiting to be wanted. Instead I folded it carefully, so as not to have to make a cut, and sewed four simple cushions for our chairs. Two more were made from the skirt of an old dress of mine. We’ve enjoyed them all year long, but now they are unpicked and washed again, ready to be made into a pretty frock and a smart new shirt or two.

Even John and Ben are having something fresh to wear to mass on Sundays, and to parties, and for when they want to feel their best. Something simple and straightforward, either made up to a bought pattern or sent to the tailor. Fine shirtweight cottons, in pastel shades of their choosing. And for me there are peonies, pink and faintly fanciful, on a background of blue. Enough blue to be right for me, enough pink to celebrate the spring. A perfect balance.

I know we all see different things when I bring a parcel of fabric home from the shops. I don’t think that Ben or Seb or Ilse see much at all, beyond some tweed or cotton, pretty or otherwise, which may one day reappear on their shelves. Fliss sees something that might just possibly be for her, and a long wait as I work my way through sewing for six. I suspect John simply sees something that brings pleasure to me, which it does. Not the ownership of the material, but the time before me, ready to be filled with planning and drafting and, finally, sewing. I can admire beautiful things in shop windows and walk away, happy to have seen them. But things unmade, unfinished, are another story, just waiting to be written.

It is this whole story that I see, these days, when I unwrap a piece of cloth that I chose so carefully from all those spread on the shop counter. A couple of yards might be, at first, a dress. It might be worn to the church fete, or on a sunny stroll around town. That is all I used to see, when I was Fliss’ age. Now I see around the edges, and into the future, too. No matter how carefully you lay your pattern out there will be scraps, all tricky curves and narrowness. They will be good for appliquéing names onto the front of children’s shoe bags, or snipping tiny hexagons for English paper piecing. There might be a square, large enough for a ladies’ handkerchief. They might sit well alongside other scraps I am saving for a quilt.

One day, three or four or five years from now, I’ll take the dress out of my wardrobe after its long winter rest and see how worn it is around the hem, and how the colours have faded. I’ll cut it up, into a play dress for Ilse, or linings for shoebags, or covers for the cushions which get dragged out to the treehouse. And in time, when Ilse grows still taller or we are past the age of plimsolls, or when there are just too many rips for it to be called a cushion cover any more, I’ll cut it up again. It might be a quilt, this time, for a doll or a friend’s new baby or even a wedding bed. Something old and something new, rolled into one.

A friend came round for tea the other day, bringing her baby, a sweet and clever and smiling boy, and I showed her my Devon quiltI like this square, she said, pointing, as her boy kicked his sturdy little legs on the bed beside it. Thank you, I said.  It was a dress of Fliss’ and before that, John’s shirt. I could see them both in it, lovely with youth and nostalgia. I could see John’s back as he climbed Embsay Cragg, and Fliss, mooching round the house on a wet Saturday, bored until I found her a book to read.

Long after the clothes are worn out, the handkerchiefs left on trams and the quilts reduced to the rags they once were, little scraps remain. There are some from my own childhood, in the dolls’ coverlet made by Mother at the same time as their curtains. There is a bit of a baby dress of Meg’s, in a pinwheel cushion cover which survives on Ilse’s bed. At some point even these will reach the end of their story, and be taken away by the rag and bone man when he comes calling. They will be washed and shredded, used to stuff sofas or the seats of automobiles. Perhaps they will be made into shoddy, bright and affordable. Maybe. And just maybe it will be bought by another woman, wanting to make something new.

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