Archive for September, 2009

Let There Be Light! — Sunset at Barrow, Lantern Procession at Ulverston

September 22, 2009

Barrow sunset 0052Ulverston Lanterns_0074We had a later-than-usual meal at Morrisons last week. I’m glad we did. When we left the building we were completely awestruck. The sky was ablaze with gold and reds. We took this snapshot looking across the car park towards the high-level bridge. You can just see a little gold beyond. From the top of the bridge the gold reflected in the water, along with the rest of the brilliant colours, but we were in the car and best not to stop on the bridge to admire the view. Although the sun was setting, the brilliant colours were with us all the way home, along with silhouettes of the changing landscape. My soul was uplifted with the joy of it. AWESOME!
Awesome too, but in a different way, was the Lantern procession through Ulverston last Saturday evening. Magnificent work done by adults and children in the creation of huge paper lanterns following the theme of Alice in Wonderland. A table complete with Alice and friends, the queen, hare, cat, and many other characters, plus hats galore and playing cards. Amazing what can be done with cane and paper with candle inside. The whole parade swept along by bands and drums. Literally, hundreds of walkers (including some on stilts) holding lanterns and forming a stream of bobbing light through the streets of the town. Amazing!
The beauty of it all was the family atmosphere — adults and children, babes in arms and in prams — a wonderful community spirit! Well done, all concerned.
A great firework display completed the evening, but even that could not outdo the wonder of what can be done through personal creativity.
VIEW the lantern procession video made by Northwest Evening Mail — fantastic!

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Clearing the attic — goodbye to the past

September 21, 2009

Wolfscotedale, Derbyshire

Wolfscotedale, Derbyshire

When I entered the exam for entrance to the Nottingham Secondary Art School at the age of thirteen, I was asked what job I wanted to do. I wrote down DRESS DESIGNER. I was told by several people that it was almost impossible to get into designing. So I crossed it out and wrote BOOK ILLUSTRATOR. I was told that I would never be able to get into that sort of business. Better to opt for dress designing. So I crossed out my illustrator option and wrote designer again. Whoever read the form likely decided I was good at dithering. How true! I dislike having to make choices — too bad, life is full of them.
I have written elsewhere how I got into designing and eventually, to suit family life and cut down travelling, decided to go freelance. I could never have done this at the start as I was unknown and untried. But I was able to carry on at the same firm, plus design and pattern cut for a lingerie firm, then take on the design and pattern cutting of nightwear and housecoats. Now I could see my designs on display in a large range of stores.
Three years after my third child was born I saw a notice asking for married women with experience of children to train as teachers. By this time I was quite interested in education and thought this would be an ideal occupation as it would fit in better with my family. We lived at a distance from the manufacturing cities and so I still had to travel when designing. But was I cut out to be a teacher? Did I have the qualifications to enter the local training college?
The story of how I accomplished this, plus the training and enormous problems when my husband became redundant and we had no choice but to move 220 miles to a totally different environment, will be the subject of another post. Enough to say here that I still continued to do a few designs and cut patterns for one firm for quite a few years. Such was my value to that firm — reliability is essential — that the manager would travel many miles from his factory in Nottingham to ensure he would get his perfect patterns. I recall on a few occasions, working in my workshop (a purpose-built shed in our garden) at five in the morning so as to get the patterns completed. It also enabled me to work while the children were still in bed. On another occasion, the manager relaxed in a deck chair in the sunshine, with cigarettes and cool drink, while I was sweating away in my workshop — I was heavily pregnant at the time. Such was my reliability.
Changes in garment manufacture, especially with the growth of imports, and a severe credit squeeze, forced many manufactures to give up and buildings to be sold. Nottingham’s mills, indeed mills all over the country, seem to have been turned into apartments. Britain has largely lost its manufacturing base. I can buy clothes cheaper today than the cost of material. Once I made most of my own clothes, all of my mother’s clothes, the children’s clothes until they went to school and needed a uniform, and clothes for relatives and friends. I made wedding dresses and bridesmaids outfits, I even made the carry cot for our first child. With industrial machines (lockstitch and overlock) and a Viking to do embroidery, there was little I could not attempt. Pram covers to fancy patches on our sons’ jeans!
Now with my diseased eyes, I only do essential mending. But I still had all my basic patterns in our attic. Pattern blocks are the tools of a designer-cutter. They were shaped and perfected over years of use. There was no pattern I could not cut using those blocks. A pile of them, all cut in Swedish Craft paper: basic blocks for all garments — knicker, cami-knickers, nightdress, slips, housecoat, coat, dress blocks of different sizes – my personal block and those of family members etc etc. A stack of them hanging up and in a large flat box. Once worth a lot but now completely redundant.
Yesterday, I took them all out, made a huge parcel of them, and took them with other rubbish to the recycling bins. I am still left with collections of designs I did years ago. Those were the days when dresses had to fit the figure. Soft drapes or neat collar, shapely bustline and waist, pencil skirt or mid-calf flowing skirts — all so feminine. I smile at some of today’s clothing — I had patterns for baby-doll nightware that would do nicely for what women buy today!
So my pattern blocks are gone — the end of an identity I once had.
Lots more to clear out of the attic yet — materials for teaching, especially art and reading. Amazing what I have hung on to. I have cleared out boxes of fabric — useful for many purposes. And old Nativity costumes etc. etc.
Still to go — and this brings tears to my eyes— my cassocks, surplices and cloaks, used when I was conducting funerals, services and when preaching or assisting with baptisms or with Communion.
Then what? I have already sold off books I used for studying with the OU and other courses. I once thought of writing novels associated with my fields of study, especially the Victorian age and maybe a Roman romance. Or a school yarn? It will not happen. So I have thrown out many essays and so on, although I have kept two long dissertations — well, I did get a distinction for one and just a few marks off a distinction for the other. Pride!
Now, about my writing…. Time to be realistic?

I looked through the photo album to find a photograph that seemed the most relevant at this stage of my life. I decided on this one. Looking forward. I am standing alone, and that is the way it has been in most of what I have done and achieved — academically and in the workplace. But I am not alone in my life. Does our work define who we are? To me that is a side issue. I am a wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, a homemaker, friend and neighbour. If we cling to what was, what might have been, to faded hopes and dreams, the ‘stuff in the attic of our lives’ then we miss the scene around us and the joys that may well lie ahead.

Factory Life 1952

September 9, 2009

Factory Life 1952/3

One of the jobs I took on after losing the design post at the dark ‘Dickensian’ factory, with its low beamed ceiling and shortage of windows, was as a cutter at a single-storied modern factory stuck out in the middle of nowhere. I was supposed to be there as an assistant designer but agreed to helping on the cutting benches while they had a shortage of cutters. I did not want the job but neither did I want to be out of work drawing ‘dole’ money. Most of the cutting was for the sample ranges and specials. But before long I was using the rotary cutting machine for bulk production. (One of the girls would show off when we had visitors in the factory. She would leave the cutter’s safety bar high up and keep her fingers close to the blade. Dangerous, because sometimes the fabric would catch on the blade and pull it. Me? I kept the bar down as far as possible!)

Once again I was in a difficult position: offically staff, but really no different to the workgirls. I was shown where the staff ate their lunch — in a corner of the workers’ canteen, screened of from the lesser mortals. I felt like a fish out of water. I found a spare seat at a table with managers as my eating companions. One hardly spoke the other talked management issues. One day he mentioned that one of his workers had caught his thumb in the machinery. The machinery had to be taken apart to release the thumb. The man was taken to hospital. That did not help my food go down. I was asked if we had a garden. (I was living at home then.) I said yes and that I had got it into shape over the years. Then I was told that the (quiet) companion sitting at our table had one and a half acres. The man smiled but said little. Was he shy of girls? Maybe but I did not stay in the staff dining area for long to find out. Being a shy person I felt my lowly position keenly. After all, I might be paid monthly but to them I could be no more than a cutter on the benches. What’s more, after eating their lunch they went their separate ways and I was left to drift at will. Hardly surprising that I joined the girls I worked with — in the workers area of the canteen. There we chatted and eventually I took embroidery to get on with.
Fifty seven years later I still have the cloth I busily stitched. The cloth was paid for with a pound note given to me as a reward for finding a gold watch and seeking its owner in the local pub near the factory. It was a Saturday, snow was on the ground, and I had been working overtime. I happened to see the watch on snow near the factory.
Snow was not the only weather to contend with. Although a bus could skid, fog could be worse. Sometimes I thought I would have to have to walk home. But I don’t recall the weather being an excuse for not attempting to get to work.

Cutting samples was easy enough, whether according to pattern or grading up a size or two. Far more difficult was dealing with the fabric, especially a check pattern. All the squares and lines had to be matched. Cutting one at a time was not too difficult if the fabric was perfectly finished. Trouble came when I was expected to cut several garments at once. Laying the knitted fabric for checks to match in both directions in unison with each layer was impossible. So I had to carefully cut one at a time, making sure any adjustment for extra sizes was done in a manner that would keep the checks and lines matching. Not easy with pockets and design details involved. I informed our overseer that the checks were not even-spaced due to fabric stretch, but nothing could be done. The production manager was furious because when he read my work card he saw how little work I had done. He bellowed at our overseer — a gentle soul — rather than at me. Did he think I would walk out? Too right, I would. We had all done our best. It should have been forseen that such fabric is not suitable for mass production.
Some of the knitted fabric arrived with a bad crease down the middle, which in places came up like the shape of a certain female sex organ. Not knowing how to cope with it we called the overseer to look at it. He stood looking at it and then pressing a finger on the ‘organ’ to see if it would flatten. It just bobbed up again. He kept doing it. The girls could hardly contain their amusement. He looked up at grinning face and then at the shapely blobs in the fabric, turned scarlet and walked quickly back to the office. We burst out laughing. The fabric was returned.

I was given a chance to do a few designs but doubt they would have got anywhere. The only garments they sold at that time were plush-fabric sweaters. It was really an extention of their underwear business. The designer had a rail of dresses but I do not recall cutting anything other than samples. But then, I was not there for long. The sample dresses were sold to the workgirls and I got a couple that did me nicely for my honeymoon.
The designer was able to get me fabric for my wedding dress, and bridesmaids dresses, at greatly reduced prices. I had a pale yellow taffeta and white lace overlay, with yellow underskirts. Brighter yellow for the bridesmaids. My dress cost me £2.50 and our reception was done by my mother with help from friends. Yes, it was an inexpensive wedding, but the churchwarden was heard to declare that it was the best wedding they had that busy Saturday! We had a weekend at Buxton and then back to work. It was impossible to get a flat or house. The council waiting list was incredibly long — being childless kept us near the bottom. But we had no intention of having a baby to get a place of our own. We lived at my home in a bedsit for three years. Then we bought a house for £1900 and we had to get an insurance to cover the loan. Only one income was allowed for calculating how big a loan could be had. And that was restricted to two and a half times the annual salary. Good thing really as it kept the price of houses at an affordable level.
More to come… other factories…