My grandmother was a sewer. Inevitable with 6 children, the eldest born during the Great Depression. My mum was the baby, and often tells how every stitch of clothing she owned until she got her first job at 16 (including her underwear!) was made by Nanny. One of my aunts became a professional seamstress, and my mum always had a sewing machine set up in our house.

One of Dad’s birthday or Christmas gifts for Mum was a proper sewing desk/cupboard contraption that he picked up at a clearing sale. Mum made my sister and I a lot of outfits, usually in coordinated fabric. One of my favourite outfits was a retro circle skirt. She made it from her old honeymoon dresses. She sewed us coordinated bike shorts outfits in the early 90s, and I think the last thing she made me was a blue pinafore dress. I wore it to our Year 7 disco and copped such horrendous teasing I never wore it again. I’m trying to remember the last time she sewed us something, and I’m thinking it was probably as I entered high school, and my sister and I started complaining that she was making us look daggy and embarrassing.

Mum used the sewing machine as an office after that, typing up church flyers and newsletters. I spent most of 1995 in Mum’s sewing room, making costumes for a Christmas play. I made outfits for my baby cousins. The effort this required my aunts (from the other side of the family) never fully understood or appreciated. I think this was my final sewing project. After that I started senior high school, we got a computer and the room became my assignment room.

I don’t know where any of the clothes she made are now. Probably handed down to the cousins, and subsequently discarded. Shame.





Back to my idea of blogging the good, bad and ugly of China.

GOOD: Taobao

Wuzhen indigo fabric. We visited Wuzhen last time we lived in China.

Taobao is China’s ebay, except cheaper, poorer quality, and all in Mandarin. Taobao requires a significant level of dedication, but once your account is established it can prove mightily addictive. I’m not even going to go into the drama that was involved in setting up my account (or the Alipay account that goes with it for payment), but here’s a handy blog post for foreigners on doing this. I followed their instructions in September and it was all still relevant (things change quickly in China).

I find using Taobao on my phone can be easier, and it has more functionality (the QQ chat function works but I can’t seem to load it to my  laptop).

I managed to purchase a sewing machine soon after we got back in August, but it has taken me since then to finally locate fabric. I searched: material, cotton, linen, fabric, cloth, sewing cloth, blanket, curtain, diy, dress, sewing, dress making, clothes… and finally stumbled on “fabricotton”, which produced most of what I required (rather than wads of small pieces that seem to be used like doilies to cover tables).

I have to search with my brain wired like I’m Chinese – what words might they use to describe the product (it’s never what we’d use). Once you lock on to 1 sample, it becomes very easy, as there are 3 or 4 different levels of adverts that are calling you off into the depths of Taobao. I followed the same procedure trying to find printmaking equipment and materials. I managed to locate the rubber roller, inks, and woodcarving tools, but for love or money could not find linoleum. Our art teacher told me it wasn’t available in China (although I did find Aliexpress offering minimum orders of 1000 pieces). Even having Chinese staff search for me produced nothing but random plastic carpets (who? why? argh).

So, now we have fabric, a sewing machine and no excuse… (except no tape, no tracing paper, bias binding, zipper or fabric scissors…)

My only sewing book (so far) is Simply Sewn by Michiyo Ito, reviewed here and here by proper sewers (i.e., not me). Came across it in Asia Books, Bangkok and was drawn to the simplicity of the design and seemingly easy instructions. I’m aiming to use some of the trashy linen I’ve found from Taobao to sew the summer wrap dress (below, centre):