Monday, September 20, 2010


Written by Lorna Wood, published by Harrap in 1948,
illustrated by Susan B Pearce 1878-1980.
"I'll manage," said Mrs Stiggins, and taking down the muslin curtains from her room, borrowed Nurse Bobberty's sewing machine and made Ameliaranne a perfectly lovely party dress.
Ameliaranne Goes Digging was a present from my aunt Mauya in Australia when I was five and became one of my favourite early reads for two reasons - the  illustrations and the appeal of its ending:  the hero doesn't have a dress to wear for tea at the manor so her mother makes her one.
It's a timeless conceit. Erykah Badu uses it in one of her films, except a cocktail dress is made from a tablecloth.
The idea in that book has been perhaps one of the most liberating of my life - if you don't have it, make it. I don't have the skills to apply that universally. I'm no carpenter or builder, but I bought a sewing machine for my 21st birthday and haven't been without one since. In fact, that machine is right now at the mender's - it's an industrial size Singer, built like a tank and magnificently reliable. I think it's why we still have a dressing up box and why I'm currently manically making jam/chutney/jelly/cordials...I thought about Ameliaranne when my son was showing me the Erykah Badu song on YouTube and then again when my daughter showed me a picture of Julia Roberts with a bright, hippy style bag and asked where she could get one. It was handmade, a one off, so I said I'd try and make something similar.
We were talking about this on Saturday at Chesworth Arts Farm open day - the conversation touched on what value we give to what we make in relation to manufactured objects made valuable by branding. And yet I remember, a decade ago, while helping designer Rasschied Din with his book, New Retail, we interviewedVittorio Radice, then CEO at Selfridges, who was convinced custom-made, unique, one-off would become increasingly dominant.
Of course he was right. And that's where those skills learned from having to make do with what's around us might be valued again. Anyway, my daughter liked the bag. It came from the sewing box, a pile of fabrics I always mean to do something with, a broken necklace, the button tin, a cushion cover I couldn't throw away and a scarf I found in the charity shop down the road.
Chesworth Arts Farm:

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