Watching a programme on Africa with many butterflies reminded me of a nightdress I had in my twenties.

I had one of those jobs I quite often had in those halcyon days where I had very little to do other than smooth some harassed, ambitious businessman’s life;  be a sympathetic companion;  look good;  deal with whatever presented itself and not alot else.    In fact I could spot trouble coming from afar off and could counsel when to act and when just to sit tight and although that doesn’t look energetic, it is quite a valuable skill.   I was really quite good at apparently not doing much with some style, and I could always exert myself when the need arose.   I’m not sure in today’s leaner times whether such jobs still exist.

But this particular job had even less to do than normal and I had hours on my hands.   So I embroidered.

It took 6 months of labour at about 3 – 4 hours per day to make a white cotton nightdress trimmed with lace and with mother of pearl buttons, entirely hand worked, French seams and all, and embroidered with a cascade of butterflies.   I used a book which belonged to my brother and had life size paintings of all the butterflies of the world and which I copied carefully and matched the thread colour  exactly so that the embroideries were accurate in size and detail.  (I have recognised in North Australia and South Africa butterflies which I had embroidered. )   I worked perhaps 30 butterflies overall, no one repeated, over the front, back and sleeves of the garment.   Those wings which have a diaphanous sheen, I partly embroidered to suggest that fleeting colour.

I knew this nightdress was impressive when I saw the care with which the chambermaid would drape it across the bed in hotels.   I was offered, and declined, £50 (in the early 1970s) for it by a wealthy and avaricious Edinburgh lady who had only heard of its beauty from a friend who had seen it.       I was offended with the friend for even discussing it;  and when the would be purchaser obtained my unlisted telephone number and rang me up and doubled her offer, not only did I decline once more, quite decidedly;  I wrote the former friend who had supplied my number off my list of acquaintances.

In those days when young mothers had babies, they were not cast out of the hospital at the earliest opportunity.   I wore that nightdress on some of the days spent in hospital with each of my three children and it attracted a great deal of attention.   No-one had anything like it;  nor even had seen anything like that before.

In the end of course, though it had laundered beautifully and given years and years of wear, the fabric became thin and could no longer be repaired.   But the embroideries themselves were good, and they were cut out and appliquéd to children’s garments, to tray cloths, and to a cushion that I made for my mother.

I enjoyed making it, and I enjoyed wearing it.   It did not occur to me at the time that it represented both my idle existence, and my industrious application.


About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.

2 Responses to BUTTERFLIES

  1. Eugene Windsor says:

    I never took much interest in clothes as a boy but I do remember that unique nightdress. I think the book is still around here somewhere, in case you want to do a 50th anniversary digitally remastered edition!

  2. adhocannie says:

    Unfortunately I am no longer paid to do nothing much for hours on end!

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