The Spirit of Beatrix Potter Lives On
It was the telephone call in the 1990’s that did it.
Having retired early from teaching, due to ill health, I had filled my time with reading, water colour painting (no natural talent, but fun learning the skills), and bird watching.
“I thought you might like to join me on a patchwork course for beginners in The Lake District”, said my friend, who had taught needle work for 30 years.
“Well thank you for asking me, but no. I’m useless at sewing”.
Several phone calls and three weeks later we were on the M6 en route to The Lake District. The course was held in a church conference centre. It was comfortable, with good food, but I was worried about the sewing. At the first session we each got out our sewing machines. Mine was a simple ‘Jones’. It did straight stitch and, I learned later, zigzag. On either side of me the ladies had ‘Berninas’, others had Japanese machines with names which sounded like car varieties. Their machines all had whistles and bells and seemed to do everything, except cook a three course meal.
The tutor, Anna, asked who had never done any patchwork. Mine was the only raised hand. She briefly explained the course using words such as `piecing’, `measuring accuracy’, `Ohio Star’, `Irish Chain’ and `Bargello’; the latter would be important later. My heart sank. I was more familiar with ‘Bunsen burner, `photosynthesis’ and `test tube’.
Anna indicated boxes full of material, pure cotton of course, plus reels of thread. “You will only need straight stitch, ladies”.
I breathed a sigh of relief. After that things looked up. Anna, my friend, and all the group, helped me whenever they could. We worked all day until ten p.m., taking as little time as possible for meals. I should have known it was going too well.
“This is our last day, ladies, so we will do Bargello, and tonight we will have an exhibition of all the work you have done”, said Anna.
Even the word `exhibition’ didn’t deter me. But, oh dear, the Bargello was my downfall. I wrestled with it all day and finally all the pieces were sewn together, after a fashion, and I hid it away under my other work. After dinner we laid out our patchwork for all to see and admire. No one commented that my Bargello wasn’t on display. I went to bed early.
After breakfast next, day I was surprised to see my Bargello on my chair. I picked it up and was quite pleased with the result. I commented that, compared with last night, it looked quite good. It is amazing how a nights rest can alter ones view of life. There were smiles and nods around the breakfast table.
After `goodbyes’ were said, and thanks expressed to Anna, we packed, loaded the car, and headed for home. I enrolled in a patchwork class, gave up bird watching and became an enthusiast. My friend never did any more patchwork. She took up marquetry which, I think, is patchwork using wood.
About three years later she revealed the group knew I was down hearted about my final piece of work so, while I was in bed, several of them had unpicked my work and sewn it back together as best they could. Just like Beatrix Potter’s mice, in “The Tailor of Gloucester”, three of them had stayed up until midnight to complete my Bargello. Aren’t patch workers kind and generous people? But then, you already knew that didn’t you. If any of those ladies are reading this, please know that I am so grateful for that hidden kindness.
A few years later, we moved from Hertfordshire to Sidmouth and I joined the `Sidmouth Patcher and Quilters’. I’m still learning and making mistakes, but again surrounded by kind and generous people. Naturally I have upgraded to a better sewing machine. However it’s not the machine but how you use it that makes the difference. My telephone still works well, and I am quite good with that.
Margaret Rourke, Sidmouth