Kia ora Koutou,

Well. That’s the first in 93 birthdays that I’ve ever been sick. In all those decades I’ve been happy, sad, angry, cold, ecstatic but never sick. I suppose it had to happen once.

Lying in bed gave me time to think about those nine decades and other birthdays. In 1939 I was ten. There were 103 males to every 100 females but war was coming very fast and the next decade those numbers would change as young men scrambled to join the armed forces and march off to their Blue Smoke days along with a group of nurses. The ones who came back four or more years later were not only older but changed forever because of what they’d seen and done, because of what had happened to them and their mates.

And all of a sudden I was about to celebrate my 14th birthday and without a moment’s hesitation I decided I would give myself a birthday present. I would make a dress. Rose had an old treadle sewing machine so why not?

I wanted a new dress. Needed a new dress. I was going to a dance. My brother had agreed to double me on his bike the five miles into Napier to the Forresters Hall dance on the Saturday night.

I knew I had to buy a pattern and some (not fabric, that term came later) material. Shops sold material.
I’d hated sewing class. I did not want to learn blanket stitch, I got very cross indeed doing cross stitch and my sewing teacher got very very cross when she saw the results. I had no patience. I did not want to learn, I wanted to do.

I looked at the pictures on front of the pattern packets and chose one with a round neckline, not too low or Rose would put a kibosh on the whole thing, and I bought two reels of cotton, the zip (small word — large bloody sodding shouting effort), then I went home, spread the material on the table, sorted the pattern pieces, pinned them to the material and began cutting. It might have been easier if I’d decided to climb into a Boeing 17 Flghting Fortress (or whatever), turned on the key and taken off for a nice Saturday afternoon fly over.

Fortunately the material was plain because it would never have entered my head that I should match the front and back seams if the material was spotted or floral. I put the cotton reel on the little stick thing, threaded it around the hoops and into the eye of the needle and then, watched excitedly by my sister Val, I managed to treadle the needle down and it caught up with the little reel underneath and all was ready. I put my foot down gently and the machine began to sew.

Fitting the sleeves, I have to say, was a bit of a mission, but after one go when I sewed it to the garment inside out, I finally got both sleeves sewn on. The dress had a round neck so that needed to be lined and between us, Val and I eventually worked it out. So that was that, except for hand sewing the hem.

‘It has to be invisible sewing,’ said Val. Helpfully.

‘Who the hell gets down on the floor and peers at hems?’

‘They don’t,’ said Val, ‘they can tell by looking. Hems have to be hand sewn. They have be invisibly hand sewn.’

I got a needle, threaded it, and sewed the hem. Sadly the stitches were not all invisible but I decided I would just dance faster. I ironed the dress and tried it on. It was too long.

‘I think I’ll just cut it off,’ I said, ‘no-one will notice.’

‘They will,’ said the Voice of Doom.

So I unpicked the damn thing, cut some off, hand sewed the hem.

‘Its too short,’ said Rose, finally looking up from her book.

So I unpicked it again and made it an inch or so longer. Ironed it, put it on, waited…

Rose looked at it for what seemed like ages.

Finally.

‘All right,’ she said. ‘You’ll pass with a push.’

Renée