A Stitch Back in Time

Display: “A Stitch in Time,” Room 116, Metalware, Level 3

For those who have not seen this display, it simply is a must!

When I heard about this display, I thought what a good way to learn about my family history, as most of the women (if not all) were Seamstresses by trade. My Nan was one of these women, and I thought it might inspire me to take up proper sewing lessons after a few previous tangled events!

As my Mum and I strolled through the display, we began to understand the importance and the use of domestic objects and tools, whilst discovering how even these objects that we regard as domestic and regular, can also be beautiful and a form of interior decoration. During a time when knitting and sewing were established as everyday tasks for women, these tools also signified their accomplishments.

Within the display, we came across an exquisite piece, which was the Sewing Machine created by Edward Ware in 1875-80. A cast iron sewing machine japanned and ornamented in black and gold. The contrast between black and gold made the intricate details and design stand out for me.

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Ware, E; “Sewing Machine, 1875-80”; Image source: V&A Collections Page

As I continued to admire this beautiful piece of equipment, my Mum began to tell me the story of when she and her family immigrated to the UK from the small town of Masaka, Uganda. It was during the reign of former Ugandan president, Idi Amin, from 1971–1979, that they were forced to unfortunately evacuate their homes and leave their lives behind. I couldn’t begin to imagine what it must’ve felt like at 11 years old to suddenly be told to just get on a plane and begin a new life in a new country. When my family came over to this country, they were classed as refugees, placed in a detention camp for one week with only the bare necessities to survive. After a few months went by, the entire family had reunited and were staying in a 3-bedroom house all together. During the day, whilst the men would go out to work, the women would also work from home, whilst maintaining a household and caring for the children.

She described a front room, containing four small worktables and wooden chairs, lined exactly in front of one another. The only lighting was the natural light coming in from the tall windows through the handmade linen curtains. In this room, the women of the family would take it in shifts to create all types of cotton, linen, silk, etc. products to sell to shops and trade. They would also create local business by mending household fabric for people in the local community. This was how they generated income to begin a new life in the UK.

After hearing what life was like during these times, I felt somewhat closer to this display and had made a personal connection. I understood more about my own family history. Throughout my nans life, her main occupation was listed as a Seamstress. She had a similar sewing machine; black, cast iron, with gold decoration and subtle coloured stones to create gem-like effects. I remember it sitting in the conservatory, where the natural light touched it, displaying a shine across the top and the stones quietly twinkling. It would be the first object you see, becoming the star feature of the room and a true element of decoration.

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A handmade knitted wool blanket, made by my Nan.

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A handmade silk cushion cover; recycled Indian Sari cut-outs

Whether you enjoy the practicality of such objects, or their significance in history, the pieces in this display are truly beautiful works of art and are what I think another hidden treasure in the V&A.

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