Cultivating a Culture of Sewing

During my trip to Ireland and Scotland, I was delighted to see how cultures of sewing and quality craftsmanship were still going strong. I was on the lookout for this, yes, because my plans included shopping for lovely wool fabrics. But I did not have to look far at all to see so much more. Here are a few objects that tell the story:

American flag sewn by hand on Islay to honor sailors who died at sea

On Islay, off Scotland’s western coast, there’s a little museum to the history of the town. You know the type of place – the candle molds and butter churns, the arrowheads and stone tools, the old-time photos and other bits and pieces donated by the community.

And then there was this flag, in a place of honor. It was sewn for the funerals of American sailors whose ship, the Tuscania, was sunk by a German U-Boat off the coast. Islanders nursed the wounded and retrieved bodies for days, then prepared those who died for burial.

The museum’s plaque explains the story of the flag better than I could, so here it is:


I examined this flag for a long time. You could see how different women sewed different parts, based on the skill and style of stitches. Some stars are a bit off-kilter. I could imagine them pushing through to complete the project. But it’s sturdily made to withstand Islay’s wind and weather. The islanders are proud of this flag, and rightly so.

In Glasgow, the city of Scottish industry, the museum had a sweet exhibit on sewing.

Exhibit on the Singer Sewing Machine factory

The museum also had a hands-on exhibit where you could tread the pedals of a sewing machine. I enjoyed trying to film it, but I confess my video skills suck, and I am too cheap to pay for the video upgrade on WordPress. Imagine the squeaky foot pedal anyway:


Every morning, I tuned in for a few minutes to a quilting show on TV, and reminisced about the days when PBS regularly aired several sewing and needlework shows.

Ireland abounded with sewing treasures too. Besides the ancient Viking distaff, there were exhibits about weaving and knitting. And loads of sheep, of course. We also visited a shop that sold 100% Irish-made goods. There are plenty of cheap stores selling tourists junk, but we sought out the real thing. The shop had bolts of fabric in the back, and I was sorely tempted, but I’d already budgeted out my sewing money. My husband bought this cap, thoughtfully labeled:


My husband has worn it almost every day since we got home. I can’t wait to go back.

Author: shoes15

I live in Connecticut, USA with my husband and my dog, in an old house outfitted with a sewing room, a garden, an orchard, and a big liquor cabinet.

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