I love the sounds of industry. Especially when it is someone else being industrious.
A year or so ago, Tracy bought her first sewing machine. Now, in the evenings, after dinner, a gentle wheezing hum can be heard in the house. Whir, tac-a-tac, whir. Tac-a-tac, tac-a-tac, whir. In at one side goes a piece of material and out the other comes a cushion cover, a tablecloth, a quilt ... all right, I know it’s not that easy. Sometimes the machine is silent and Tracy sits on the sofa sewing one piece of material onto a larger piece that will become a quilt or a coverlet or a bedspread or whatever they’re calling them these days.
We spent last winter joining the small town dots of this state, Tracy visiting second hand shops in the search for interesting old materials. We were in no hurry. Like anything else, you turn over tons of rubbish before you find what you are looking for. I went off and browsed through bookshops (there are good ones in Castlemaine, Euroa and Echuca) or played in parks with the boys while Tracy was tossing aside acres of 1970s stretch in the quest for retro 1950s prints. Well, they call it ‘retro’ now, like anything else old and in favour again, but back then I suppose it was just what everyone had in their windows.
The car was tail heavy on the return trip, loaded with bolts of material, much of it checked gingham. We didn't quite need a trailer. You never do with a Volvo wagon.
I remember gingham. My first girlfriend wore it: it was the school uniform. We were in Grade Three. We were eight. Her dress was royal blue check with a white-edged scalloped collar, puffed white-trimmed short sleeves and a check belt with a white buckle. In a declaration of undying love before the year’s end, I swiped a gift I had earlier set under the Christmas tree for one of my sisters, re-wrapped it and gave it to the girl in gingham when the bell rang on the last day. It was only then that I realised I had no money left and would have to account for the gift. I was saved by my grandmother’s annual ten shilling note and Christmas card in the post that afternoon, Christmas Eve. I tore off to the shop before it closed. But I never saw the girl again.
Of course, my three sisters had worn the same uniform; then, many years later my own daughter – W. and T.’s much older sister – wore the same style of dress in the early 1980s that my sisters had worn in the 1960s, except it was green check, matching her green eyes. In the intervening years the only gingham I knew was the tablecloths I spilt wine on in cheap cafes. Carosello in Moonee Ponds (standout dish: Barramundi baked with lemon and capers) and La Botte in Pascoe Vale South (hottest vulcano pizza in Melbourne) come to mind. Acres of gingham both of them. The checks started merging if you drank too much wine.
And now gingham is about the house again. Tracy made the everyday coverlet (comforter, throw, counterpane?) below for William’s bed – and another for Tom’s - from some offcuts. She fashioned some motifs – jet, star, car - from contrasting pieces. Historical note: while the check fabric is second hand, the fillets of chenille in between the gingham blocks have a pedigree. They are taken from a single bed blanket given to my mother by her best friend in the early 1950s for one of my older siblings. The central motif of the original chenille blanket, a pale blue chenille mickey mouse, is intact and will be used in another piece. Don't look too closely at the stitches, Tracy said. It's an early effort. They look fine to me, I said. But what would I know?