A feature on yet another revival of homely hand knitting reminded me……. At primary school, the girls’ craft classes were the bain of my life. Could I knit as a six year old? Much as I tried, sitting at an old wooden desk, with oversized knitting needles and a well re-used ball of wool, made the whole experience a clumsy affair with little to show for it. There were some loops on the needle and maybe I managed to put some wool through a loop or two, I don’t really remember.


I do know, that there were some stitches on the needle that did not seem to be very productive.  I was glad when the tortuous efforts came to an end and another lesson began.

Then there was the class where the better little hand-stitchers made bunnies with lovely fluffy cloth already cut to shape, probably by the teacher, a grandmother figure, who taught that girls’ class. Once stitched to the required point, busy little hands had lots of fun stuffing the bodies, arms, legs, hands and ears of their creations, (through a small opening left in the seam) with what I believe was Kapok. Polyester fibres were not in use all those years ago to stuff things. The opening was then closed up by each young  ‘creator’ with even and neat little running stitches.


We, the ones relegated to the ‘untalented’ corner, (the majority of the class) had a bit of rag each plus a needle and thread to practice with. I cannot say what others may have thought, but it seemed to me, the three or four bunny-makers looked more than a teensy bit smug.  Just a bit of me would have liked to have been with them bathed in their success.


A couple of years later, I discovered the Grandmother figure really was granny to two of the girls in her ‘better’ group.  Also, another teacher in the school, who was French, was her daughter-in-law.  By then, I was old enough to understand that a big war ended not so many years before, so, it was likely that the girls had no dad.  Mum and granny were supporting each other and the two girls on prescribed lower women’s salaries, much lower than their working male teaching counterparts.

From the amount of time we spent in church and on religious education, I wonder if there wasn’t some hope of recruiting future nuns and priests.


This primary school was certainly schooling the girls, for at best, domesticity, sweat shops, or, subservient jobs, and the boys, likewise, to be unskilled. We weren’t seen as having much potential.

Poppy Memorial Scott Monument

Scott Monument Princes St Edinburgh+ Poppy Memorial

When we all divided up to move on to our next secondary stage school experience, it was really surprising how many children started to thrive in a different educational environment, even though the development of domestic/service/cooking skills, was still a theme for girls.  Many of us as schoolchildren, were undervalued. Notwithstanding, many of my school friends, both genders, broke the expected mould.

YaY !!


  1. Ahh!!!! This brought back memories for me….YES!!!! I do remember ‘plain’ and ‘purl’ so well. Church and Sunday School? At least three times on a Sunday….Midweek as well. My! My! I guess all that and much more contributed significantly to the sort of person I became….. Childhood Hugs! 😇

  2. Oh Bushka, I could have done with quite a few of those childhood hugs. 🙂 I don’t suppose I would have to stretch my thoughts too much, to think about the contribution these experiences made to me.

  3. Oh gosh I remember those primary school days and stitching embroidery and Crosstitch on cloth to make useless book marks. Middle school was cookery, needlecraft and sewing as well as the delights of ironing; while the boys got to play with wood and metal, although there was a money revolution and for one year we females were allowed to do metalwork where I made rings from copper and enamelled brooches. it was not until high school that girls were allowed to do computer studies in its infancy.

  4. Our cookery was rolled up into the title “Domestic Science” , where we started with scrubbing wooden tables and ironing clothes, with live cabling arrangements that were hugely risky. No thermostats, we had to learn to spit on whichever digit we were content with and offer it with the saliva up to the sole plate of the iron. If it hissed it was okay to use, if it spat as well, that was only okay for pure cottons, constantly moving the iron. We were also taught the ‘proper’ manner in which to peg garments on a drying line. It’s a technique I still operate, ‘cos it works.

    Actual cookery didn’t begin for at least a term of our first year. Those old cookers and ovens….short-crust pastry, rough puff pastry, Christmas sweet mince, as we advanced, the arm-ache of hand-beating up fluffy meringues, choux pastry, fairy and butterfly cakes, all swallowed up today with ‘muffins’.

    Computers???? What were they? We’d only ever seen a gigantic commercial IBM one in situ on a school trip, in a room the size of a Wimbledon tennis court, producing binary coded tapes that we were shown. Printing arrived through typesetting etc. Manual typewriters were much in evidence and also comptometer apparatus.

  5. An interesting, rather nostalgic post. My mum was always knitting or sowing, Thanks to her I’m pretty good at cooking and sowing. Such ‘life skills’ are sadly lacking nowadays. xx

  6. Hi Mr F,

    The experience was life-skilling in certain ways and I don’t under-estimate that, however, it was not as affirming as it might have been. So many of us children were undervalued, so, we undervalued ourselves. I do feel that learning in a more positive environment, even with the craft and practical subjects, would have made a difference to how we kids felt about ourselves and how we developed in our school environment. One school I experienced for a short time was an eye opener for me. Domestic Science…humbug! Home Economics…and it was, including, understanding nutrition, cooking skills and budgeting.

    In my late teens and adulthood I took myself off to evening classes and other learning of all types. To this day, I have to motivate myself to do any craft, or, needlework; though, I have done quite a bit at various times.

    Your mum sounds like a lovely all-round skilled person. You reveal a great truth, we can learn much from our parents, if they demonstrate the skills. Like you, hubs cooks, he also wields a shuttle and a needle well.

    Thanks for comment. xxx

  7. A fascinating insight into your school life albeit not entirely positive. My experience was very different: living on the tiny island of Tristan da Cunha with mail arriving approx 4 times a year, if we didn’t make ourselves clothes then we didn’t have any. All the island women knitted all the time – walking along, riding sidesaddle on a donkey, whenever – except on Sunday when all the needles had a rest. From the age of 7 I learned to knit jumpers and hats and socks and baby bootees, and at school learned to sew my own clothes. I wasn’t very good at it but that didn’t matter there. We just took it for granted that it was necessary. I went on making our clothes well into adult and family life, but never got any better and was glad eventually of the arrival of cheap clothes in the shops with which to clothe my brood!

  8. The fact that you had an encouraging learning experience, Gilly, whatever your skills level, will have made a huge difference to building confidence and self-esteem. I set about ‘proving’ to myself I could do sewing and handifcrafts at night school classes. Learning to interpret the language of ‘loopy’ patterns with the guidance of kind friends broadened out the skills set. For all that, I think because of the earlier negative reinforcement, they were skills I was happy to park on a shelf when it was feasible.

    Thanks for your interesting comment and the wee insight into life on Tristan da Cunha.

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