Flecks of Yarn and Story Telling.


The need to bring money into the house was always present and whilst I never remember her going out to work in a factory , at frequent times Sylvie would take in home overlocking.

A factory would supply an overlocking machine, an ugly looking industrial sewing machine type contraption, mounted into a table with a large foot pedal and this would be installed in a room in the house somewhere, taking up a large amount of space. The machine would make a tremendous amount of noise and vibration around the house when in operation and the dust and flecks of yarn it produced would float around the house and coat everything within reach.

When Sylvie took in this work I would have to spend many hours assisting her. Bags were delivered loaded with cut sections of knitwear; front and back sections, arms, collars, cuffs, the long frontal strips for buttons and button holes etc. These would need to be unloaded, counted into dozens and placed ready for machining.

Whilst I was preparing these, Sylvie would expertly thread the machine with the appropriate matching coloured yarn and then begin the process of producing the garment, a fascinating process which she carried out with obvious skill.

Items such as cuffs and collars would often need to be folded over and overlocked along the edge to keep them folded; she would do a dozen of these in one long run so they would come off the machine in a strip in a bunting like fashion. I would then have to snip them apart with scissors whilst Sylvie moved onto to the next section such as overlocking the seam of an arm piece to make a sleeve. Again these would be produced in a long strip of sleeves that would need to be snipped apart and then pulled the right way through ready for the cuffs to be machined on and then expertly attached to the body pieces.

When the garment was completed they would need to be turned the right way and counted into dozens and piled up into bundles, loosely tied and labelled and placed into boxes for collection. Sylvie was paid by the dozen for this work and often it was a valuable source of income and meant that she could work from home.

Whilst Sylvie expertly carried out the machining part of the work, the rest of it largely came down to me. My sisters sometimes helped but I was deemed more capable of it and so I spent many hours cutting, tying, labelling and covered in the fine yarn and knitwear particles that floated off from the machine. I could often be stood for many hours (when I wasn’t already occupied with other chores or dog grooming), longing for some respite, some time to play outside or watch TV, but I would never dare complain or suggest that the others took their turn. 

I have mixed memories of these hours spent assisting; these were times when, according to her mood, Sylvie could be berating me for something I had done wrong, with hours of tongue lashings, often detailing the circumstances of my adoption and parentage in a cruel and vindictive manner. At other times, she would happily be relating stories from her colourful past, some of which were really not suitable for young ears. Her elaborate gestures and candid story telling could have me if fits of laughter no matter how many times I heard the many tales. 


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