Want to make creations as awesome as this one?


This dressmakers dummy or mannequin is one of four that my mum owned. They ranged in size from a petite size 6-12, to 22-28, to fit the smallest or the most voluptuous of my mums customers. This is the most sturdy one, ranged in size from 14 - 22. My mum was a professional dressmaker and continued her craft even whilst training to become a nurse. One of her first jobs on arrival in England was in a hotel, where she worked in housekeeping, mending and sewing, being commended on the nimbleness of her fingers and the fineness of her sewing. My memories are the dressmakers mannequins being adorned with all manners of clothes for all events, from parties to weddings. But also how mum would take measurements and recycle old newspapers into pattern blocks fitted and draped onto the dressmakers dummy before being repositioned onto the cloth and cut.

Canadian smocked cushion panel. Work in progress - the panel for a cushion in gold cotton velvet is waiting to be finished. What begins to become visible is the making process. What I found out whilst reproducing this cushion sample for the installation was that the women who made these for the church Dorcas club never actually purchased a pattern. What they did was buy a cushion from a local shop, undo it, and work out from the reverse how to reproduce the pattern. This was retraced onto brown paper and then shared. They all did not have a sewing machine, but all attended sewing evening classes at a local college and would bring their cushions to be made up. The cushions would then be sold at local Dorcas events, with funds raised to support mission causes and local community events.

Making clothes for yourself and the family showed thrift and fortitude. Here is an example of a skirt made by a Dorcas member circa 1962. Made from a dark blue/navy fine woven wool fabric. This would have been an everyday work day skirt.

Singer Sewing Machine - this is an old hand model. The one I remember using is the table model with a treadle that could run with or without electricity. But for many women, owning a sewing machine offered the opportunity for self-improvement, upward mobility and independence. The singer sewing machine was very much an important part of sewing history and of the feminine practice of engaging with self worth and making. An essential tool, it was used not only to support the clothing of the family, but for some not able to go out to work it provided the opportunity to take in sewing work as a form of out-working. For many women this afforded the opportunity for childcare and supporting others from the community when they often found childcare lacking.

The women I spoke to rarely used crochet stitch from pattern books. What they did was to look at patterns and replicate them. One interviewee said, "We were taught to recognise each stitch and pattern in school. Pattern books were seen as a waste of paper". The ability to replicate a pattern just by recognising stitches and their formation is a formidable skill, which when unleashed allows a maker a range of creativity and prowess. This is actively seen in the crochet pieces in the personal archive that is on display in this collection.