As I See It: Catherine Drea’s fortnightly column as published in the Waterford News & Star
ALL through my life I’ve observed the people around me making and creating in their day to day lives. My Mother, playing her beloved piano, my Grandad making beautiful wooden furniture in his workshop, my Grandaunt crocheting hats although blind and frail.
The older generation, born into simpler times, had so many skills. They sewed and fixed their own clothes. Socks were darned when they frayed and patches were put on worn elbows. Shoes were brought to the menders and cracked cups were mended with glue until they could no longer be.
The only exception to this mend and do attitude was the annual shoe shopping for back to school. In fairness to the parents in those days, there was a very strong Clarkes’ Shoes advertising campaign about damage to children’s feet. I reckon they spent a fortune getting us all those brown laced up brogues every couple of years.
‘Luckily none of this put me off making stuff. I put that down to the creative women around me who sang while they made pastry or used scraps of cloth to fashion exotic hats or tent dresses.’
I’m sure they were good for growing feet but I was always ogling those two tone Spanish shoes in the shoe shops and wanting a pair very badly. “Sure they are a quarter the price,” I would suggest to my Dad. No way was he budging on the sensible shoes, “They will be in flithers in a week!” Buying something new and flashy is still something we can all get sucked into!
In those days, there was a compulsory class in school called “sewing.” It literally taught us all the hand stitches you could do for different situations. Button holes, hemming, running stitch for seams, tacking for temporary joinings. You made little samples of all of these and stuck them into a book. It sounds like the 1900s but this was in the 1960s.
I hated this class. I had notions about fashion but couldn’t make the connection between all these little bits of cloth and my dreams of designing. To make matters worse I would get very anxious trying to “keep the material clean” and my small sweaty hands would put wet patches on my samples.
My family moved to a small town in the midlands where the sewing classes were way more advanced than what I was used to. I couldn’t keep up with the top stitching and embroidery so, for the first and last time, I was slapped with a cane on my already sweaty palms for shoddy workmanship. Sounds barbaric but it was perfectly normal in convent schools in those days. I was about seven years old.
Luckily none of this put me off making stuff. I put that down to the creative women around me who sang while they made pastry or used scraps of cloth to fashion exotic hats or tent dresses. My Uncle the Monsignor was an impish cartoonist, publishing his work in the comics of the day. My Aunt worked designing interiors for some of the newest big buildings in Ireland. Another Aunt went from selling peanuts on the streets of New York to founding a crisp factory in England.
Although I would never recommend going back to the oppressive environment of sewing samples, I wonder if we are losing hand crafts and the joy of making in all our wonder at the online world? So I’ve decided to only buy second hand, hand-made and slow made clothes, crafts and other necessities. The world doesn’t need any more stuff, so all I’m allowed to buy are hand-made, sustainable or long lasting items.
Buying second hand and mending will soon become the shopping of the future. So I am now a fan of a BBC programme called The Repair Shop to brush up. Ordinary citizens bring old and damaged items of sentimental value to the workshop. Individuals with the skills to fix and restore are paired with these items. It could be an old table, a trumpet, a teddy bear. What is so fascinating is to see the skills and the craftsmanship of restoration up close.
It’s useful to have skills in your memory that can be retrieved and built on. I probably won’t go so far as darning my old socks, but I will certainly look after the old leather chairs which I bought for €5 each in Ballybricken about 25 years ago. I immediately spotted them lined up in an old warehouse there. I bought 10 which were used for years in our office meeting room.
It was only recently I discovered that they were designed by Richard Rogers, a famous English Architect for the River Cafe in Brighton. The address was stuck to the underneath of the chairs. Some similar ones are housed in a museum in San Francisco. Probably not worth anything as they have been so well used, but a bit of quality nonetheless.
I must find out what kind of spit and polish I should use and give them the treatment they deserve.
Catherine Drea blogs at Foxglovelane.com