my mum and dad, smiling, and shiny and happy, in their best bib and tucker

The One About My Mum … Honouring Our Ancestors and Antecedents

Hey there! It’s good to see you here. My name is Lizzie, and I am the redhead who is always wondering! Wondering about life, about this beautiful world, about words and light and colour and form. And mostly about how I can be the best me that I can possibly be.

I am a creator of hand bound books and of art, in the form of cyanotypes and photographs. I am also an avid journal-keeper and I’d like to share some of my journal wonderings with you today ….

“We are the seeds of our ancestors’ dreams”

Climbing PoeTree

I’ve taken part in a few workshops run by Ali Mapletoft, who is a creativity, mindset and messaging coach, and she has taught me such a lot … about embracing my creative self, about telling my story, about getting my message out there.

She’s given me so many insightful questions to ask myself, and she’s given me so much food for thought over the last year.

In the first workshop I did with her, she talked about “honouring our ancestors and antecedents”.

I love the idea that we honour our ancestors by LIVING OUR CREATIVE DREAM and by celebrating the women who came before us. Ali said, and I agree with her, that when we step into our creativity, we are “living their wildest dreams“.

I’d like to share something deeply personal to me … I would like to tell you about my mum and I would like to celebrate her.

My Mum … The Liz Claiborne of West Lothian!

My mum was the most incredible dressmaker. She was entirely self-taught, starting out on an old Singer treadle machine, making clothes for me and my brother when we were children.

She went on to be the go-to dressmaker in our town, making literally hundreds of wedding gowns, bridesmaid dresses, and full trousseaux! (Not to mention hundreds and hundreds of fairy dresses and flower girl dresses for the Armadale Gala Days over the years!)

She probably also did alterations to the clothes of just about everyone in the town in a sewing career that lasted over 60 years.

My mum, Maureen, was extremely talented. Not only was she an excellent seamstress, but she would also almost always design the dresses herself … she had this huge box of sewing patterns, but she’d never just follow a pattern, it would be all … “I think you should have this neckline, that sleeve, this skirt” … she would advise on fabric and fit, and she was always spot on with what would suit the bride-to-be (or the fairy, for that matter!).

In a different age, in a different life, I really believe that she could have been a great designer.

my mum … at a dinner dance with my dad, and on the beach

She loved a dinner dance, my mum, and she’d make her own dresses. I’d say that she probably made the clothes she’s wearing in the other shot too!!

So, in this blog, I want to celebrate my mum and her gifts and her artistry.

The Folly of Youth (and, oh, what a fool I was!)

I am ashamed to say that as a girl, I didn’t appreciate just how amazing she was, and in fact, whenever she wanted to make me things, I balked at the idea of wearing “home-made clothes”. I know … what a fool I was!!

In my defence, you must understand that I was already very different from all the girls I went to school with. We lived in a caravan and not a house, like “normal” people. The idea of the home-made clothes was too much to bear.

Until, that is, the day that I was chosen to be a Flower Girl in the Armadale Gala Day. For those of you not familiar with the tradition, let me explain. As the National Museums Scotland says …

“For communities across Scotland, one of the highlights of the year is the annual ‘Gala day’, where a Queen and, sometimes, a King are crowned. From the old coal mining communities of Midlothian to the oil shale towns and villages of West Lothian, to coastal fishing communities, a royal coronation ceremony is the norm.”

Now, my mum had made hundreds and hundreds of fairy and flower girl dresses for the Armadale Gala Days over the years, not to mention quite a few of the Queens’ gowns, and they were always beautiful and much sought after, so I knew that I would have the best dress there.

Me and my best friend, Margaret, were both chosen as Flower Girls.

My mum made both of our dresses. Margaret’s mum chose Crimplene for her dress … poor Margaret … was there ever a material more disgusting than Crimplene?!

My mum did her best!

me in my Flower Girl Dress
me and my best pal, Margaret, bringing up the rear of the Flower girls

Mum let me choose the fabric, a beautiful pale blue with a border of flowers around the bottom. She designed the dress herself, and I have to say that I really was the prettiest flower girl of all! I think I even outshone the Flower Queen!!

Multi-talented Mother

Everyone who knew my mum knew that she was an extremely talented dressmaker.

What few people knew though, was that she was also a brilliant knitter. She’d make us these amazing Arran jumpers every year. My dad and my brother would have matching ones, me and mum would have matching ones. Seriously, we had tons of those jumpers.

the Arran sweater girls

A couple of shots of the family jumpers

Me and my mum, just sitting on a rock in the woods, wearing our Arrans … obviously from different years … she’s sporting a cream cardigan and I’m wearing a peacock green jumper.

And my big brother … Ace Angler … wearing one of the family jumpers (and holding up a conger eel and a skate!

my big brother and his catch

She’d sit there, cigarette in mouth, click clack clicking away, and boy could she turn out those really complicated cable knits quickly, and with such ease, and never a dropped stitch to be seen.

Every year, she’d present the Family Jumpers at Christmas.

Until she didn’t.

When I was ten years old, my dad died, on his forty-second birthday, eight days before Christmas.

My mum put down the jumper she was working on that day, and never picked up her knitting needles again.

She said she couldn’t bear to knit any more when she wasn’t able to knit for all four of us.

It always made me so sad, such a talent going to waste. But I guess her whole idea of “family” was wound through those intricate cables, so it’s kind of understandable.

I’m going to share something deeply personal with you now. I’m going to share the things I said at my mum’s funeral four years ago, because it tells part of my story, and I truly believe that by sharing our stories, we lift each other up

My Eulogy For My Mum

My mum taught me a lot of things.

She taught me how to play scrabble, and win.

She taught me how to dance the waltz (to Strauss) and how to do the twist, neither of which is easy when you live in a caravan!

She once tried to teach me how to Line Dance, but I think there had been a few too many Irish Coffees drunk (by her!) for the lesson to make any sense!

She taught me the right way to sew on a button, to make sure it stayed on. I was in awe of her talent as a dressmaker – I truly believe that in a different time and place she could have been a hugely successful designer.

(Oh, she’d be disgusted if she knew I used to use Wonder Web to take up my son’s school trousers!!)

She taught me how to make a good big pot of soup that would give you three days’ worth of dinners, and how to wrap a parcel properly … if in doubt, use a whole roll of Sellotape.

But I think the most important thing I learned from my mum, was how to be strong.

She had such a tough life; she got knocked down by life so many times, but she kept getting back up.

I grew up knowing that I’d had two sisters, who’d died as babies – it was part of our family story. What I didn’t know was just how awful that whole experience had really been for her and my dad.

I didn’t know all of it, until I had a child of my own. She told me then, what it was really like for her, when I was a baby – how she had lain awake night after night, terrified that I’d stop breathing. Only when you have a child, can you understand that fear, and the strength you need to get through it.

And then there was losing my dad. That was a blow she took a long time to get back up from. But she did it.

And she made a good life for herself.

My mum and I had our ups and downs; there were quite a few issues over the years that we didn’t see eye to eye on (don’t worry – I’ll save them for the best seller!!), but we always got past them.

In the last few years of her life, I’d become someone she could really talk to about things that were troubling her, and that felt good – to be able to give her some support.

Because the thing is, no matter the ups and downs between us, whenever anything really good happened and whenever anything really bad happened, it was my mum that I called first.

She was my sounding board. She always “told it straight”. She was the one person I knew I could trust to tell me if I was getting it wrong.

And she was the first person to be happy for me when I got it right.

She was so proud of the job I’ve done, bringing up my lovely son on my own; and she was so happy for me that I was loved so much by my wonderful husband. (She even phoned him once and said, “thank you for making my daughter happy”!)

And the feeling was mutual – I was so proud of her … even when she pissed me off … which she had a natural talent for … but hey … I think I probably pissed her off in equal measure!

I believe my mum would have been proud of me for setting up my business.

And I like to think that she would have been quite pleased with the fact that sewing is big part of what I do these days!

Even if I do still use Wonder Web to take up hems!!

(The photo at the top of this blog is one of my absolute favourites … my mum and dad, at one of their much-loved dinner dances … I love how happy they both look. This was probably taken in the year or so before my dad died.)

Me and my mum

Clockwise from the top …

on the farm

on a boat

with my granny at the Fauldhouse Gala Day

at the Brownies (she was Tawny Owl).

2 thoughts on “The One About My Mum … Honouring Our Ancestors and Antecedents”

  1. I really love hearing stories from yours and my Dads childhood ❤️ and seeing the pictures too. It’s so lovely to read the words you write about Gran and I so wish I could have met my Grandpa. Gran would definitely be proud you incorporate sewing into your work, and she sure was one hell of a seamstress!!

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