Catherine Davidson – Needleworker

What I do

I help with maintaining the uniforms used in teaching sessions. That is, I mend rips and tears, repair worn buttonholes, replace missing buttons and generally patch up damage with needle and thread. The Access & Learning team’s wardrobe of RAF uniforms works very hard as a teaching aid. It is available for visiting schoolchildren to handle and try, and it is an ongoing process to keep it all in good condition. I am currently re-sewing some buttonholes on a couple of post-war jackets and patching some tears in the underarms of a First World War battledress jacket. I have mended all sorts of things, even darned a pair of woollen underpants!

What I love

I love getting something that looks a bit woebegone and giving it a second life. It is mostly done by hand, so it is a chance to slow down and work at a gentle pace. It gives me time to reflect on who wore this garment and what they might have seen and done. It is quite an intimate thing to repair someone’s clothes and you do feel quite close to the person by the time you have finished. I love history and there is nearly always a story to go with it. If there is a bit of research to be done to find out a new sewing or repair technique too, all to the good!

What I get

It has really improved my hand-sewing skills! It is a privilege to be able to work with historic uniforms so closely, and to feel that you are helping preserve something that gives such direct and immediate contact with the past, to younger generations.