Continuing the stories

Introducing Vicky Thompson, member of One Stitch at a Time and rescuer of sewing boxes

Where are you from, where do you live and how long have you been sewing?

I live in Carnoustie Angus, although only been in Scotland for 5 years. Prior to that I lived in Worthing near Brighton. I’ve always been a crafter, but usually work with paints or drawing mediums. I did textiles at secondary school and I have dabbled with cross stitch over the years, but it was only really this year where I became a bit obsessed with hand sewing. My sister bought me one of Fiona’s stitch kits and showed me the Facebook group and I was instantly hooked. I was so inspired by everyone’s creativity and kindness.

You have a real passion for rescuing old sewing boxes. Why is this?

I decided that I wanted my new hobby to be a sustainable one. I can get a bit crazy when I start a new craft and buy a lot of new things and I wanted this to be different. I wanted to do it differently this time and decided I would do my best to use second hand or remnant materials. As we have been in lockdown since Christmas, I have been limited to looking online. It was there I came across my first sewing box.

I saw the photos and was mesmerised by all the little treasures that someone had carefully stored away and protected. It also made me a bit sad that this box was being discarded and didn’t see the beauty in the stories behind the objects inside. I also love the mystery of it. You never really know what you are going to get. I then ended up on a bit of a spending spree, trying to rescue all of these discarded boxes in the hope I could use items from the boxes to create new pieces of work and therefore continue the story.

Two bird pictures

Have you found any special treasures in these boxes?

I think my favourite item was a tiny stub of a dressmaker’s pencil. It was only about a 1cm. I loved that this pencil was so important to the previous owner that it was kept and worn down right to the end. I love to think of all the garments that had been made after the patterns had been drawn out with it. I also have a coronation special edition pack of needles and some beautiful old wooden bobbins. I was also gifted some stunning silk skeins from Pearsall’s that are over 100 years old. A friend of mine showed photos to a lecturer who works at the Royal School of Needlework who confirmed they were indeed from the 1920’s and that if I was willing to donate some, they’d love to preserve some. That was really special.

You've shown us some of your work on the Stitched Stories FB page (One Stitch at a Time) which you have created using the contents of old sewing boxes. Can you tell us a bit about this?

I made a wee brooch using the pencil stub. This was originally for the 2 x 2 inch stitches conversation project, but I wanted to turn it into something functional. All the items on the brooch I found in the same sewing box, including a little wooden heart, some vintage embellishments and a tiny metal casing that was maybe from a bead or a Christmas bauble. I liked that individually these items could have easily have been thrown away but the previous owner of the sewing box had saved them. I liked giving life again to these forgotten treasures to continue the narrative.

The other piece I made recently was a hoop containing a pair of scissors that were in one of the boxes. They were slightly discoloured from use and had a few scratches on the blades. I absolutely loved them as each mark told a story about how loved and important these scissors had been to the previous owner. I included a bobbin of red thread, which I wound around the scissors to hold them in place but also to make a heart shape.....the thread continued by being stitched into the background into another heart and I finished it with the needle going through the heart like an arrow. I love that it’s all one continuous piece of thread, from the bobbin right up to the needle. I thought it representative of the ongoing narrative of the items used in the hoop. Like a life line spreading through the decades.

[PIC Vicky T Hoop]

Without giving away your actual sources, where do you find the baskets and the bits and pieces you reuse?

At the moment I can only get things online which has been a combination of auction sites and for sale sites. I have also placed my own adverts up offering to uplift sewing boxes or sewing materials that are being discarded. I’m hoping to get to some charity shops when they open once again.

Have you inherited any of the skills involved in making the creations, or are you self taught?

My grandma used to sew a lot when my mum was young. She used to make a lot of clothing I believe, but sadly this wasn’t a skill that was passed down. I have been teaching myself different hand embroidery stitches by researching online resources. There are heaps of online tutorial videos and step by step diagrams to use. I really like slow stitch techniques though as there is no right or wrong. It’s about the journey you go on whilst creating that’s important.

Have you any particular plans for continuing or developing your heritage work?

I’m making some wee bits to sell, but that’s mainly so I can rescue more sewing boxes. It’s become a bit of an obsession. I think I have about 10 at the moment and many more bags containing discarded contents of sewing boxes. I’ve recently set up Facebook and Instagram pages, and an Etsy shop.

I’d like to help encourage others to continue the narrative behind some little treasures they might have kept. I think there is something really special about stitching using treasured items, like a special button or a bit of fabric that holds memories. I think adding your love, time and energy into remembering the stories behind the treasures, and allowing those memories to live on through the stitch project you have created to honour those stories, creates something really emotive and moving.

Vicky Thompson interviewed by Charlotte Treglown from Ribble Recycled.

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