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Sewing with my Mum

Threads #216, Winter 2021

Growing up, I never sewed with my mum. It seems somewhat odd now, given that we both had a great interest in the craft. It was at school in England in the 1950s and ’60s that my sewing education occurred. Between the ages of 11 and 18, I was taught to sew for four hours a week, and I loved it. My mother, Betty—who had four children, ran the bookkeeping side of my Dad’s business, and did homemaking and gardening—managed to sew for us all. 

When I was 21, I married an American. He was working in England and it never occurred to me that we would eventually be living in America. What a wrench it was to move 6,000 miles away from my family. Mum and I wrote to each other once a week. Due to cost, there was no question of using the phone back then, unless it was for the birth of a child or a death in the family. Our letters were filled with daily life and, of course, our latest sewing adventures. When Mum got a new Bernina, I got one. When she traded up to a Pfaff with a walking foot, so did I. We were finally sewing together, even though we were far apart. 

There were many visits over the years. One that stands out was in 1988 when we both attended our first Sew Expo in Puyallup, Washington. And what a time we had. It was magical. I have been attending each year since, and Mum was right there with me, even though she was not always physically present. When she couldn’t be here, and as phone calls became affordable, there were long discussions about which seminars I was going to take and, afterward, about what I had learned. She was eager to find out about the latest sewing gadgets and notions that we both had to have.

When Mum went into a retirement home, I helped clear her sewing room. I made sure she had all that she wanted from the room and then brought some of her pastel-colored, pearly pins home to America. 

Sew Expo was difficult for me in 2018. Mum had just passed away, and her funeral was scheduled for my planned day at Sew Expo. For a variety of reasons, I couldn’t go to England but didn’t want to disrespect the day by attending the expo. Everyone encouraged me to go. As one of my brothers pointed out, Mum wouldn’t be at the funeral. She would be right alongside me as I went to classes and shopped at booths. I went, talking to her as I set off in the dark at 4 a.m. It was 11 a.m. in England, the time that her funeral procession was starting.  

She was with me that day, and we have been sewing together ever since. I mixed her pearly pins in with my plain, white ones. They are a daily reminder of my mum, as I sew and randomly pick up one of her pins. I think of her and she is there with me. I think about what I would be telling her about my latest sewing adventure.

Elizabeth Robertson sews with her pearly pins in Cle Elum, Washington.


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