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The Beautiful People

My mother sewed all of our clothes. She cut up her wedding dress and made dressed for my sisters and I. She was a beautiful dressmaker – even though she insisted on making them one size too big so that we had room to grow into them.

Before her dementia was diagnosed and before she gave away her sewing machine and her overlocker, she called me into her sewing room and asked if I could help her sort something out.

My niece had given her a dress to repair. The hand stitched belt keeper had broken and she had asked mum to fix it for her. She had forgotten how to do this simple repair.

I was surprised. Surprised that she couldn’t remember how to do the simple knotting stitch she had taught us to do when we had learned to sew, but even more surprised that forgetting seemed not to bother her.

She explained that she did not have the right colour cotton to do the job but that she would get it when the haberdashery shop opened on Monday. But if I could just show her she would fix it then.

I went through the stitch slowly, demonstrating the four strands of cotton and the loop and pull through that she needed to do, careful to play down her forgetting by pretending I had to think hard to remember it.

“ This is weird mum. Remember when you taught us to sew? I remember I would get to a tricky bit – the collar or cuffs on a shirt – and just hand it over for you to do.” We made light of her forgetting and laughed.

“I haven’t sewed a belt keeper for ages … It’s quite tricky.” After a few tries … “That’s it now I remember.”

I demonstrated the stitch a couple of times and then asked her to show me. Just to make sure she could do it when she got the cotton the next day. Neither her head nor her hands could repeat the stitch. I told her to get the cotton and that I would call by on Monday and fix the dress. It didn’t seem to bother her.

Mum was a beautiful dressmaker. When she married dad she quit her job and never worked outside of the home again, but she worked from home.

She made bridal gowns and we often had the bride and her bridesmaids at our house for fittings. I remember once she laid a bridal gown on her bed ready for the bride to come for a final fitting. Our cat Minka, came inside through her bedroom window and walked across the dress, her paws muddy from the garden. Mum had to buy new fabric, recut the front panels and resew the dress. Sometimes we would go to the wedding so that she could make sure the dresses sat right.

She always boasted that she paid for the trips she and dad made to America after my sister moved there. This was from her sewing.

She went on to make blouses out of Liberty Fabric, very popular in the 1970s. She was in her element sewing for, as she called them, the beautiful people. They were the people in Geelong who had money and status. Mum bought bolts of Liberty fabric and sold not only the shirt, but the fabric it was made from. She was so busy that she employed her friends to help. Every week-day morning, except for Thursday, which was shopping day, they would arrive and set up their machines in our rumpus room. They took a break at ten and ate cake or biscuits that one of them had brought, stopped for lunch at noon then sewed until we got home from school at four. If mum had a lot of orders she would sew again after dinner.

When her friend Paddy opened a cheese shop in Geelong mum made quiches. The rumpus room was turned back into a family room and a vacated bedroom was converted into her sewing space.

As I wrote this I remembered that I had included her quiche recipe in the cookbook of family recipes I made for her 80th Birthday. I thought I should get it and copy the recipe into this post. Here is what I wrote:

For a while mum made quiches to order for a cheese shop in Geelong run by her friend Paddy Leach. Our kitchen was converted into a massive production line for quiches. She perfected an easy reliable pastry recipe and papa McDonald made her a special slide out box for transporting them to the shop. She had lots and lots of quiche tins of many different sizes (Our Family Favourites 2012).

Makes three 18 cm Quiches

Use pastry to line 3 greased 18cm (small) quiche tins


4 rashers of bacon chopped and fried

2 onions chopped and fried

3 big eggs

½ cup cream

¼ cup milk

1 ½ cups grated cheese

salt, pepper and nutmeg


Mix the bacon and onion and spread over the unbaked pastry

Mix eggs, cream, milk and season with salt pepper and nutmeg then pour over the bacon and onion

Spread the cheese over the top

Bake in a moderate oven for 40 minutes or until the custard has set.IMG_0008