SWITZERLAND | 2020
SECTION OF DRESS: Traditional English flowers
Honouring the memory of her late grandparents with a beautiful spray of tiny flowers.
Granny was born to a wealthy family of Manchester industrialists who owned a furniture department store in the town centre, so she had never learnt a profession, but knew how to embroider elaborately and was a champion knitter.
I grew up in Switzerland, but when I was little I often used to spend the summers with her in England, where she lived alone on a widower’s pension. She decided to teach me how to embroider so as to give me something to do. I first stitched bookmarks on coarse fibres, then, when she was satisfied, she showed me more complicated stitches, and finally allowed me to work on a masterpiece — a tablecloth — which had been started years ago by my grandfather, who I had never met.
She had loved my Granddad very much, but had lost him in 1954, when my father was 9 years old, to rheumatic fever, and she never married again. For some time before his death he had been ill at home and she had looked after him. To pass the time and I suppose to take his mind off his illness, she had taught him how to embroider and he had begun to make the tablecloth that I was now allowed to continue. It had a beautiful array of flowers: lilly-of-the valley, forget-me-nots, violets, pansies, clover — all strewn across the linen in a very loose swirling pattern. A beautiful piece. My grandfather never finished it, though he worked on it until he died.
I loved working on it. I loved the musty smell of the off-white linen and the original old anchor cotton threads I worked with. It felt like stepping back in time, as if somehow, I could still know my grandfather. I imagined him lying in his bed, loving my grandmother, sewing such a dainty piece with his big manly hands.
During the time I used to spend with her (I must have been around ten years old) I was completely absorbed in the work. What strikes me now is that Granny never herself worked on the tablecloth. She was hit by a car a year later and died, tragically, at the age of 70. I think the tablecloth is somewhere in my parent’s attic, still unfinished. If ever I find the time I should like to finish it, though I don’t have a table to put it on and its style doesn’t really fit into this time. Life is so busy.
For the Red Dress I stitched a few flowers, with some of the few stitches I remember. I think I made a cross between a violet and a forget-me-not, and in the background I intended to stitch some catkins. I am sure Granny would be pleased to know that some of this story ended up on the dress, though I feel rather out of practice.
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