Sally Project:

Elsie Redman, my mother, who was born Elsie Wootton, grew up in the east end of London and was evacuated during WWII to a farm in Northampton, away from the bombing, where she took care of the farmer’s young children.

At 15, after the war was over, she was the oldest of three siblings and had to go to work to support her family. She got an apprenticeship working in Groves Street for a private dressmaker. Her very first task was to sew on buttons on cardigans.

Elsie went on to work for the Marshall and Snellgrove department store on Oxford Street, sewing haute couture ballgowns.  I remember her telling me how she had to sew hundreds of sequins on dresses by hand.

After she moved to Huddersfield, West Yorkshire with her family, Elsie met my dad, Bryan Redman.

As a young mother, Elsie was told by my father that she could only have children if she stayed at home with them and that they weren’t latchkey kids.  She did work part time for a tailor, making alterations to suits as a way to supplement their income.

Elsie was always learning new handcrafts for the fun of it, and she made great fancy dress costumes for myself and my brother. As we got older, she became interested in lacemaking as a hobby and taught herself how to make traditional bobbin lace.

As Elsie aged, her eyesight diminished and she developed macular degeneration. When she could no longer work on very fine lacework, she took up other crafts such as beadwork and fine embroidery, which were less demanding on her vision. Then, as her eyesight continued to diminish and it became impossible for her to work comfortably on these fine crafts, she asked her sewing friends how to quilt, and during this time she made me two wonderful quilts for our home, which I cherish.

As my mother’s eyes got worse, quilting became impossible, so with the help of her friends, she began to knit. The thing about knitting, which was perfect, was she could feel her way through it. She made my son (young at the time) some beautiful sweaters, and this was very meaningful to her and me, as we lived in different countries and she didn’t get to spend enough time with her only grandson. At a certain point she could no longer do this, either.

I have such appreciation of my mother’s high level of skill, adaptability, diligence, and patience, as well as her continued desire to make beautiful things with her hands.  She taught me to sew my own clothes when I was young and to sew well by hand.

I am grateful and indebted to my mother, Elsie, for being  such a role model, not only for the skill and fine work she made, but also for getting older and having to adjust my own creative work accordingly as my body changes. She showed be how to adapt to what is possible and to find ways to accept limitations as I age, to find joy, to find learning and meaning in this dynamic process of change.