Goldenbridge: Needlework classes

Photo: new day of the dead/skeleton cottons now in stock!
I want to experiment with creating a simple fabric bag. I had been thinking of perhaps a shoulder bag made with Paisley, which I absolutely adore, or even washed linen or a Russian dolls, birds, butterflies, or some such feel good modern material, when I came upon this real funky patterned new fabric – courtesy of Murphy-Sheehy at Facebook. The shop is an old respected established fabric outlet situated nearby Grafton St. Dublin.
I think the skulls deign is so apt for this time of year. Besides, I’m not a conventional person at the best of times. I recall one day recently in town passing by a shop, and couldn’t help admiring a bag made full of skulls. It was not dissimiliar to the pattern displayed here. What specifically drew me to the pattern was the amazing sense of humour and the vibrancy of colours set against the black backdrop. The skulls rock!
I first learned needlework in Sr. Fabian’s class in Goldenbridge. The class took place in St. Patrick‘s – where all the flogging of children had systematically occurred in years gone by – by another nun. I think the needlework class work was part of requirements needed to gain the Primary certificate. I discovered that I had in fact passed it upon receipt of records from the Freedom of Information Act 1997.
The work done by inmates such as myself, indeed, was very intricate. We made children’s fancy knickers with delightful flowery patterns. The elastic parts were the hardest to come to grips. Safety pins were used to edge elastic into their rightful positions in appropriately narrow slotted folded material. The edges were finely top-stitched with exquisite lace. From what I’ve gathered the finished handwork products were placed in swanky tissue boxes – just like the pope’s attire is wrapped – and were sent off to a posh shop in the vicinity of Inchicore, where rich people frequented to purchase select homemade items for their posh children.
We also made beautiful handkerchiefs with lace trimmings. I always remember the corners being very tricky to contend with indeed. There was a knack in using the end of a large needle to tuck the corners in neatly.
We hand made fancy aprons as well. All without the help of a sewing machine. I think there may have been a Singer sewing machine encased in an old-fashioned bench with a black wrought-iron flat pedal. placed nearby the piano at the top left hand corner of the classroom. The classroom was situated nearest the main porch hall and opposite the parlour. It was the last class-room in the institution. It catered for 5th/6th classes. In normal outside schools children would have graduated from 6th class at 12 years of age to secondary school. Or, otherwise have left school to go to work at 14, which was the norm in working class areas in my day in the late sixties. We were still in 6th class at 16 years of age. Disgraceful. For the most part we were working in the laundry and the kitchen and scullery. We were incarcerated till we were 16, so were left with no other choice.
So from being in these needlework classes I’ve never forgotten how to do the various types of hand-sown stitches, such as blanket stitch, tacking stitch, top stitch, hem stitch, and many more types of stitches. Sr. Fabian was very expert. I can still see her with a pin stuck in her mouth. It’s such a shame that she did not make herself available to us in all of the classes. It would have helped us along the way. We were doing work equivalent to 10/12 year olds when we were grown teenagers.
So with the help of lessons learned then – which I’ve never forgotten, I’m embarking on creating a hand-made bag. They’ve been the rage for years.
The inmates in Goldenbridge also learned to do Aran knitting – which I adore. Their handiwork, I believe was so good that it was went to far-off places like America. It was slightly before my time. I also learned to knit men’s and ladies Aran stockings on four needles. We also made Irish wool carpets. Despite not learning to crochet – I have spoken about it elsewhere about learning how to crochet on one gigantic knitting needle from a little girl who lived overhead on the verandah of the Boyne host family at Boyne St. off Westland Row.

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