Before the advent of cheap ready-to-wear clothing mass-produced in offshore factories, dressmaking was an essential and versatile skill in women’s lives, something they could deploy to feel like a million dollars, or use to earn a dollar or two. This feature probes the role of dressmaking in the lives of Australian women across the generations, as a domestic economic strategy, a female accomplishment, an aspect of technical education, a livelihood.

Some weeks ago Catherine Freyne, a researcher for ABC Radio National’s marvellous social history program Hindsight, emailed me saying she had found this blog and wanted to interview me for a program she was researching on dressmaking in Australia. We had a long chat on the phone, and a few days later I went down to the ABC’s studios in Dickson to record an interview.

Recording was a very strange experience – I was in a tiny soundproof room, with Catherine’s voice coming through the headphones as clearly as if she was in the room with me. I tried my best to be as animated and articulate as I could, though I’m afraid I was a little flat – it was early in the morning (no coffee!), and there was a strange sense of having told Catherine all of this before, and finding it odd to be asked the same questions over again. We recorded about half an hour of me answering questions about sewing, blogging, how they fit together and how they play a role in my life. Catherine assured me she’d use at least 3 minutes of it!

The program, A stitch in time, is going to be broadcast this Sunday on ABC Radio National at 2pm, repeated next Thursday at 1pm. Frequencies for ABC Radio National are here, and if you’re overseas, the podcast and audio are usually on the website a few days afterwards (you can also find the podcast in iTunes by looking for Hindsight ABC).

(I do feel a bit shy about being listed on the program website as a ‘sewing blogger’ – partly because my blog’s so infrequently updated, and partly because I feel there are other people, like six and a half stitches or NikkiShell, who have a much greater claim to the title than do I)


saturday struedel

17 October 2010

Yesterday morning it was unseasonably cold and I had an urge to bake something (not least to help warm the house). The cupboard was fairly bare of baking necessities, and I had no desire to battle the freezing winds and rain to bring any home.
What I did have were apples, sour cream and frozen pastry. And what came to mind immediately was the easy apple struedel that my mum used to make and sell on cake stalls to raise money for the school.

In the small town where I grew up, there were cake stalls most Saturday mornings on the main street. Two trestle tables would be loaded with home-made cakes and biscuits and the occasional craft object; there would be a raffle for a meat tray* or a hamper**; and all the money would go to some good cause or other, a school, a sporting team, the senior citizens centre and so on.

A baking bonanza would take place in our kitchen the night before and the morning of the cake stall. My mum used to make dozens of these struedels because they sold well and were easier and quicker than cakes (though she did make many cakes as well).

This is what I could remember of the recipe. It turned out fine.  If you wanted to be more authentic, you could make your own pastry, but if it’s a cold rainy Saturday morning where you are, use the frozen stuff.

:: saturday struedel ::


1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, defrosted

1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1cm cubes

3 tbsp sultanas

3 tbsp sugar (any kind)

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground coriander (yes I know this seems odd, but trust me on this)

200 ml thick sour cream.

A little milk, for brushing

Preheat the oven to 180 C

Mix the sugar and spices in a bowl.

Add the apple and sultanas and toss until the apples are well-coated in sugar and spices.

Pile the apple mixture into the centre of the pastry in a rough rectangle.

Spread the sour cream over the top

Brush round the edges of the pastry with milk.

Fold the pastry to meet in the middle and pinch the edges together firmly.  Fold and pinch the pastry together at the ends.

Prick the top of the struedel with a fork and brush with milk.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the pastry is puffed and golden.  The strudel might split along the top seam, but this doesn’t matter.

Allow to cool a little before eating.

* for the uninitiated, a meat tray is an Australian raffle tradition. It is a polystyrene tray of all different cuts of meat and a bunch of sausages. It is only worth winning if you can get it home pretty quickly and you’ve got a freezer; or if you were planning a big BBQ that night anyway.

** ‘hampers’ at my school consisted of a plastic washing basket, filled with all the tinned goods that everyone’s mums wanted to get out of their cupboards. I can imagine that if you won one, you would get a lifetime supply of things like spam, condensed milk, tinned peas, and tuna. I suspect that some hamper contents had been part of several hampers in their time, and were on an endless cycle from the back of one pantry to a hamper to another pantry to another hamper and so on.

to do list

9 October 2010

:: to do list

Today I cleaned out all those corners and cupboards where the unfinished projects lurk.  That picture you see above shows the ones that I decided were worth finishing.

In order to avoid their becoming yet another tidy pile of things in a dark corner that I’ll get around to at some point, I’m making a sort of public commitment.  I’m going to finish ’em. I’ve written a list.  I’m going to work through it. And one day it will be empty.

:: to do list of things that want to be finished

  • The top I started three years ago, decided I didn’t like, and have now decided I do like after all
  • The skirt I started last winter and lost heart with when I did something stupid (but fixable) with the zip
  • The corduroy jacket that stalled when we moved house (yes that was over two years ago. Stop judging me!)
  • The hem on that tweedy thing you see there
  • A cardigan that stalled when we moved house (ssshhh!)
  • A scarf that just took more time and patience that I though

And I should add

:: things that I’m committed to or would just like to do

  • Another version of this, in dark blue and cropped
  • Something for my impending nephew (due to enter the world in February) and his big sister
  • A hand towel for my nanna for Christmas, because I promised it
  • A Betty Draper skirt, because I want one, dammit
  • Turn that funky spotted silk from Reverse Garbage into a scarf
  • Frog this top, because it’s too big and the neckline’s wonky and the yarn could become something else
  • Dye a shirt a different colour
  • Hem pants that are too long, instead of improvising with safety pins as I have done for the last two summers
  • Make that fabric from Formosa into something for my mum for Xmas
  • Shorten this tunic which I’m not wearing much, because every time I put it on I take it off again because it’s just a little too long
  • Keep working on green is beautiful (I’m up to the sleeves)
  • Refashion my former favourite winter skirt into a new favourite winter skirt

Too much to do?  Probably…. But none of it is overly complex or difficult. It’s funny how it’s often little difficulties or things that get in the way of progress, no?