Vale Stores

Patricia Selman

creative partner and reader Lana Citron

By the bedroom window, catching light, Mother works at her sewing machine. I cut threads to help. Her body bends forward as the needle yo-yos up and down with the familiar sound of ch… ch… ch….

We buy a house together. Not to live in but to work on.

Her name is Lily May Ashdown, tailor and granddaughter of the tailor, Charles Edrupt. This familial dedication to needle and thread runs back to the 1700s, to Timothy Scoot of Hammersmith. 

Seven tailors in all.

Edrupt Ashdown Haberdashers purveyors of fine fabric, ribbons, needles, etc. There’s a selection of collars for gents – lacy fronts for ladies. The shop window is dressed in Suffragette colours; purple for loyalty and dignity, white for purity, and green for hope. Owned by two spinster sisters, they live above with their widowed niece and her children; a boy, girl and guinea pig. Her husband recently killed in the Boer war.

Mr Mansel leases the sweet shop next door. Handsome he is with a Poirot moustache, dapper in his three piece. The younger sister suffers a sweet tooth, stops to buy a quart of fizzy centres. The elder deals with the administrative side.

England, London, near Russell Square, the First World War lies in the distance, Edward VII astride at the throne.

I bought my first house from a Tridias catalogue, a spur of the moment thing. Now, I have seven in several box rooms.

In the bedroom, sewing by the window, the younger sister thinks of sweet Mansel. There’s a crochet cover on the bed, an embroidered rug on the floor, both made by Mother. She is woven into the house. There is a linen box made from the salvaged wood of the Cutty Sark. Above the fireplace hang two framed pictures, scenes from Cricklewood, Wiltshire. Dad’s family home.

He lodged at my grandmother’s during the war and there met Mother. She was an officers’ waitress, soon promoted to tailor. Each jacket meticulously sewn. An exact measure of stitches to the inch or a razor taken to the seam. Brutal, like the boys in khaki, fighting and falling. The stitching slashed.

The elder sister serves local customer, Mrs Sybil Scott, in the shop. She asks after their niece and proposes a soirée. Mentions the bachelor who lives down the hall, above a toy shop in a bathroom cabinet conversion. Interiors done in the Arts and Crafts style. Walls lined with William Morris paper.

In the drawing room there’s a chaise longue with curved regency ends, a dresser full of thimbles. My mother’s own, now a plant pot, bears her favourite flower, the anemone.

In the kitchen the niece discusses dinner with the cook. A pot of peeled potatoes, pie to go with.  

Upstairs in the other bedroom, children play with the guinea pig.

This fascination began with an orange box –  two long makeshift rooms. 

Seven dolls houses, seven tailors in the family.

In hospital, Mum sent me to buy an embroidery set from John Lewis. She couldn’t bear not sewing. This house, an heirloom, will pass to my niece one day. In memory of Mother, a work in progress.

Patricia Selman

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