I guess every house had one and some still have. The sewing tin that was part of my growing up was round, blue and battered. It wasn’t very big but it was like a bottomless pit. Needles, pins, frayed pin cushions, thimbles, yellowing measuring tapes, threads of all hues, some with their beginnings waiting to be extracted from the little crevice on their wooden spools, others in a rainbowed tangle, buttons, buttons and more buttons, some still attached to small pieces of old shirts and blouses, others long separated from duffle coats and school blazers, darning needles, slick little needle threaders, thin wools intermingling and waiting to be used to darn socks, a scissors, well-chewed little pencil and crumpled bits of paper with crossed off To-Do lists in Mother’s slanty writing, a non-functioning but intact light bulb that played its full part in the sock darning that went on, especially late at night or very early on school mornings.
I had full access to the sewing tin from a young age and you’d be forgiven for thinking that I would have made a good fist of sewing when we were introduced to it in Domestic Science Class in Secondary School. I even had high hopes for myself but soon realised that our sewing tin bore no resemblance to the way domestic science teachers expected things to be organised. As a kid, I had actually embroidered hankies on wet days mixing colours like an artist and rather liking the spikey threads that stuck out at interesting angles.
School sewing, on the other hand, required that one master a variety of tasks before moving on to get to use the sewing machine and make a floral skirt for the summer at the end of first year.
It took me until Christmas to get passed Task One which was to hem a square – first by darning and then with genteel little stitches. I simply didn’t do genteel and the neat stitching ended up being done by the frustrated teacher who needed to be able to write something on the dreaded Christmas report.
Task 2, which was to make a buttonhole defeated me and I can still see the little piece of bloodied material on which I tried and tried and tried until it was so frayed and filthy that I couldn’t even see what I was doing. I’d look around me and most of the others were either holding their flowery skirts up to their waists just before putting in the zip. Imagine a zip. There were loads of them in Mother’s tin and I’d even managed to put one onto a nightshirt for my precious teddy bear. But, I was never going to be putting one into a floral skirt like all my friends.
Summer Report on Domestic Science sang my cookery praises and suggested home practice with sewing. Mother chuckled when she read the report and said we must darn a few socks but first that we’d make some fairy cakes.
I opted out of Domestic Science in Second Year and still love thinking about the old blue sewing tin. I was complete tomboy so the floral skirt wouldn’t ever have been worn or could it have changed my style forever?