‘Lovely shoes,’ said Fiona, ‘very classy. Roland Cartier, aren’t they?’
‘Yes,’ said Elizabeth, ‘she loves them.’
The expensive navy suede and gold shoes certainly complemented the elegant tartan skirt and the pale blue soft wool fitted jacket. And the twinkling little crystal earrings, ideal for a petite lady with understated chic.
Her mother’s hair was beautifully done, too, and her favourite scent wafted gently across the room. Not expensive, but her favourite. ‘Timeless’ by Avon.
‘I am proud of her,’ thought Elizabeth, ‘she is always a credit to me, always smart and unfussy.’
Elizabeth was grateful that she had herself inherited a little of her mum’s style and taste, yet made it her own. Plain colours, co-ordinating tops and skirts, tailored jackets and simple sleeveless dresses, all in tasteful fabrics that draped well or fitted smoothly, and the occasional interesting brooch, a short string of pearls and a neat pair of earrings.
Elizabeth’s mum hadn’t wanted to be a tailor, she had wanted to be a nurse. ‘Out of the question, pet,’ said her doting father, ‘you’d hate it, and no daughter of mine is going into a dangerous occupation. One coalminer in the family is enough danger for all of us.’
So that was it. At 14 a detested apprenticeship was found for her along with hundreds of other girls at Thomson’s the tailors in the new industrial estate in Gateshead.
‘How could I possibly succeed at this?’ Elizabeth’s mum had moaned. ‘I’m uncoordinated, useless.’ She hated sewing with a passion.
But there was no choice. She cycled the three miles to Gateshead and back twice a day in all weathers, and she applied herself reluctantly to acquire the intricate tailoring skills she was taught.
It changed her life.
A whole army of girls toiled to produce the stunning and expensive outfits in which Thomson’s specialised. It was a roller-coaster of bleeding fingers from working long hours at high speed, tears and tempers from unpicking and repeating unsatisfactory work, oil-soaked clothes from maintaining their sewing machines; and they all developed a thick skin to deal with the criticisms hurled at them from the professional tailors who taught the dozens of young and sometimes clumsy apprentices.
When the war came the glamour stopped. Thomson’s was obliged to cease turning out the lavish suits and dresses made from the no-longer-available costly wools and cashmeres – and they had to commit to war work, manufacturing scratchy officers’ uniforms from poor fabric, skilfully creating parachutes from silk, and crafting tailored flying suits for airmen.
By 1939 Elizabeth’s mum was good, as it turned out, actually very good at tailoring.
[… there is a lot more of this story but the writing is poor so I have edited it out]