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Reel to Reel

March 20, 2014
Cotton reels from Surrey Arts Wardrobe Collection

Cotton reels from Surrey Arts Wardrobe Collection

The photo left, from Surrey Arts Wardrobe department, got me thinking about the other type of reel, the cotton reel.

Sewing is often depicted in film and books, usually as the pastime of a group of women. Now I’m not one who believes that sewing is ‘women’s work’ but in the right context there’s something comforting about female protagonists sewing and chatting. Sometimes we see sewing as a pastime, like with many of Jane Austen’s characters. Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park allows her needlepoint to distract her from her daughter’s education. In almost every adaptation of Austen’s work I’ve seen, sewing features somewhere, like in Pride and Prejudice (1995) when Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy pay an unexpected visit to Longbourn and all the sisters are sewing round the table.

For someone like Biddy in Great Expectations, sewing is a necessity. Something she has to do daily, a reflection of her standing in life, in comparison to Estella who is not mentioned sewing.

In How to Make an American Quilt (1995) Winona Ryder stars as a bride-to-be who is taught about love and relationships by the group of women making her wedding quilt. I love this representation of quilting, an expression of art and life through each carefully appliquéd square. None of the sewers are your stereotypical quilter but as you explore their lives and loves you begin to understand that no matter how different they all are, they are brought together through the cathartic process of creating a quilt.

Sewing can sometimes ease a crisis, like when Mammy sews an outfit for Tara from the curtains in Gone With the Wind. Or can help solve a mystery like in the Southern Sewing Circle Mystery series by Elizabeth Lynn Casey. Some protagonists talk about how much they hate to sew, like Laura in Little Town on the Prairie, who only carries on with her hated job of sewing shirts to help pay for her sister Mary to go to a college for the blind.

What if you don’t want to watch or read about other people sewing but just want to have a go yourself? Inspiration, help and instructions are in abundance in books like Cath Kidston’s Sew! Or try your hand at Creating Historical Clothes by Elizabeth Friendship or learn how to quilt with The Little Book of Simple Quilting.

Cotton reels are the golden thread running through so many books and films and sometimes that’s the only inspiration you need to get crafting yourself.

Holly Case from Surrey Libraries

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