I’ve always been surrounded by raw materials (paper, wood, fabric, thread, buttons, glue and needles) but I’d never really thought about where I got my love of making things from until I started hanging out with my gran every Saturday, very much like we used to when I was wee.
I’ve always been aware that I like to create things, to the point if I’m not making something I feel a bit lost in life. It’s something we have always done, with a strong family motto of ‘don’t buy that, you can make it’ which has been passed from generation to generation. We’re very lucky my mum sews and my dad is a joiner by trade, so be it fabric, wood or brick we’re pretty much covered on the Trade side of things.
My gran however is a dark horse when it comes to the old sewing game. Her creative career spans over 40 years. Growing up I was always aware of random women coming to visit my gran on weekends or in evenings (nothing strange or illegal – I promise) and feeling a pang of jealously that they were encroaching on my precious ‘gran-time.’
Turns out they were all brides-to-be usually with a gaggle of bridemaids in tow. To me, and I’m sure my Granda, it was perfectly normally to be sitting on a Saturday night watching TV, eating chips after an afternoon on the ice-rink, only to be ushered quickly out of the living room and into the kitchen with the words ‘They’re here for a fitting’. I’m sure it all sounds very strange to someone not used to such a situation.
I must also say, seeing so many different body types standing about in their underwear (directly in front of the TV) as my gran took their measurements definitely helped my body confidence growing up.
I didn’t realise just how many women, and their half-naked bodies, had passed through my grans living room. It got me thinking about how many people my gran’s dressmaking skills have touched over the years. Creating such a personally unique item for that ‘one special day’ is a very intimate thing between bride and maker. Trust and communication is essential to ensure that the outfit will reflect what the bride-to-be envisioned. Astonishingly, my gran was never professionally trained in sewing techniques or dress-making but over the years she taught herself different stitches, embroidery, beadwork techniques and how to alter or create a pattern. Keep in mind, this was way before the wonders of the internet so she used trial-and-error to figure out how to create cut-work pieces or how to make basic hooped underskirts.
I started to count everyone my gran has made a dress for (including myself, sister, mum, aunts and cousin), not only wedding dresses but also prom and communion dresses…and I quickly lost count. So, over the last week I put a call out on social media to see if anyone wished to share their photographs of their dresses made by ‘Betty Murray’. To be honest I thought I would get one or two but I’ve now manged to collect over fifteen stories of my grans dressmaking skills.
Contained within this post is a small section of dresses from the 1970’s up until recently. The photographs not only document the immense talent and skills which my gran has but is also a great document of fashion history through the decades.
I was very surprised at people wishing to share their photographs and stories so-much-so I’ve decided to add my gran, Betty Murray, to our list of Influential Women of the Southside lecture. Over the next couple of weeks we shall be doing short posts on the women we will be covering in our upcoming talk at House for an Art Lover on the 8th August.