Friday 15 March 2013

Crafting Credentials

I learnt to sew before I was even seven. We were a hand-picked group of 3-4 girls who every friday traversed the churchyard from our little village school to the Old Post Office Cottage set on its edge. You can just see its little roof peeping out from behind the church. We duly paid our 40p to Mrs. Hinton; who then embarked on teaching us all she knew. It always felt like stepping back in time when we entered her house.

Old Postcard of Speldhurst Church

In the Summer she would open the front door with a view over the tombstones and the giant yew and we would sew and chatter on the front step. In the winter we would sit in the tiny kitchen huddled around the old pine table.

Old Post Office Cottage, Speldhurst

Mrs. Hinton was an expert. She worked on all the tapestry church kneelers, made the embroidered banners and her attention to detail was unrivalled. She knew everything about sewing and I can remember her sitting with her grey hair in a bun and her silver thimble on her finger berating us for not concentrating or chattering too much.

Smocking diagram from 'Educational Needlecraft'

For it was there in the parlour of her 18th century cottage, with the view over the churchyard , that I learnt everything possible: to sew; to smock; the tapestry art of bargello; of embroidery and how to manoeuvre a sewing machine. 

Example of Bargello work  from

We would rifle through her box of wool offcuts from the carpet manufacturers, choosing each tone and hue very carefully. Here I fell in love with colour and discovered just how much I love the process of selecting and putting colours together to form a palette.

And at age 7 & 3/4's I made my first skirt. I vividly remember running home that day, up the hill, in my new skirt, laughing and asking my mum if she noticed anything different about me. For this was a crafting rite of passage.

I don't know where said skirt is but myself and Katya, a fellow student, often reminisce about our early creations. My mum had chosen a peach floral from C&H Fabrics with matching thread but I secretly coveted Katya's jumble sale find; a deep scarlet red with tiny black polka dots. And it turns out, I discovered years later, she coveted mine.

I never forgot Mrs.Hinton. In her 90th year, a short time before she died, I wrote to her; to thank her. Then, freshly graduated, with a First class honours degree in Textile Design from Chelsea; I felt I owed her a lot of the credit. Her patience, knowledge and her ability to instil in a group of giggling girls a lifetime love affair with textiles, craft and the handmade was a priceless gift. She wrote back to say how proud she was. I am so glad I wrote that letter.