Today’s post is about economy in the use of materials. The other day I found this in an old sewing box:¬†Needlecase

It’s the first piece of sewing that I remember finishing – a needlecase. When I was in the first year at junior school (in the English school system at the time you started in infant school at age 4-5, then moved on to junior school at age 7), and was therefore 7, everyone had to do needlework. This included all the tough, scary, boys who tended not to like it one little bit. In fact, as far as I remember, I was unusual amongst both girls and boys in actually enjoying this activity. Class sizes were large in those days, and Mrs Howe, our class teacher kept an iron control over 40 of us, even in needlework lessons which were a natural cue for rebellion in the ranks.

Materials were very carefully controlled and we were not allowed free access to them. The way it worked was this: everyone in the class was issued with their little bit of Aida fabric, then you had to queue up at the teacher’s desk. You were allowed to choose a colour you liked from the box of cotton perl√© in front of Mrs Howe, then she carefully cut off a length of thread and started the line of sewing off for you. You then went back to your desk (serried ranks of desks all facing the front) to complete the row. When you’d finished, or if you needed help with it, you joined the queue again to see Mrs Howe. She carefully judged each piece of thread issued to a child so that once the row of sewing was finished there was only the tiniest piece of thread left over. She would then secure this at the back for you , and trim off the half inch or so that was left over. All this was done with the strictest regard for economy. Mrs Howe was of an age to have been through shortages and rationing during the war and the attitudes such experiences engendered were still clearly current many years later in the schools system.

This system ensured that only one pair of scissors was required in the classroom, and these were under the control of Mrs H. Quite right too. You wouldn’t want the tough boys getting hold of scissors. Looking back, I really appreciated the control and order that existed in the classrooms then. I’ve been into infant and junior classrooms more recently, and it’s a lot different now. But I think the old way was better for some children – those who tended to be fearful and/or introverted.

Of course, there was only one Mrs Howe, and forty of us, so I think you can probably spot the flaw in the system: if you were quick at sewing you spent virtually all the time standing in the queue waiting to see the teacher. But oddly, this whole experience confirmed a view that I had already formed, i.e. that I very much liked sewing.

A few years ago I made myself another needlecase and stopped using this one. But it’s one of my most treasured possessions, and I love it’s clunky choice of colours and its various mistakes. You can see that one of the ends has come undone in the purple cross stitch (maybe Mrs Howe was being a bit too economical) and the blanket stitch around the edge is a bit wonky in places. I still love it and I often think of Mrs Howe, who is presumably long gone, when I fasten off a loose end.


  1. You had a good eye for colour then, Catherine!

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