In our final instalment in this first Remarkable Women series, Lea Bonnell, speaks about her favourite garment from her home in Forest Hill, South East London.
Lea, a 52 year old teacher and trade unionist, lives with her husband Simon, an antique dealer. Lea has two children, Chloe, 29 and Elliot, 24, as well as two scrumptious grandchildren, Arthur, two years and Cora, three months.
Lea reminisces warmly about her childhood:
"Mum is a Londoner and my Dad is Turkish/Cypriot. He was a Tailor at Mr Greens in Woolwich, London. I spent my childhood in the 70s sitting happily on the cutting table in his shop watching him work. Even during the school holidays when my mum wanted to take my sister and me out I would rather stay in the shop! The sound of scissors cutting bolts of fabric is still one of my favourite memories".
"Dad would bring his work to our home in Plumstead as well. (Fun free fact - Lea attended Plumstead Manor Girls school where I landed a teaching role 20 years later. We didn't actually meet until a decade after that, at Forest Hill School. Small world.)
"A-MAZ-ing people came to our home at night, most often Teddy Boys. He made wonderfully colourful Drape jackets. Our home was full of the most incredible velvet fabric. It was just great! Mum, like many mothers at the time, could sew too and made all of our clothes when we were small. The cutest outfits! We were easily the best dressed children in our neighbourhood."
"Dad didn't make clothes for us. Well apart from one exception. I remember it was my older sister, Emmas, 18th birthday. I longed for a new dress for her party. I had grabbed an old bed sheet and lay on the floor trying to cut around it with great difficulty. I had no clue what I was doing! Anyway dad must have been walking past my room and he caught me. Exasperate, he said, "Oh, give it to me! I'll do it!". In a couple of hours he made the MOST exquisite ballgown! It had a vest top with a really low scooped back and buttons all down the back of a flowing skirt. I thought I was so sexy! Quite risqué then too. But when my sister saw that it was better than hers she made me take it off!"
We stare at each other (I am terrible at Poker, so obvious are my facial expressions). The disappointment of that moment decades before, comes flooding into Leas kitchen.
Reddskin: "Did you take it off?"
Waiting…barely a breath...
"Of course I did! I always do as I'm told.""
"But I get it. I couldn't outshine the birthday girl, could I?"
"Somehow, despite my parents talents, I've never managed to master sewing. But I've always loved it."
"So this dress has a lot of sentimental value."
"My daughter, Chloe, bought it for me with money from her very first pay packet about eight or nine years ago. Just because she wanted to spoil me! I love the print and the fabric is soooooo soft - like a sort of brushed cotton, I guess". Lea offers the skirt hem to cop a feel, so to speak. Verdict: Affirmative.
"I love the elegant neckline (Lea has a neck like a gazelle) and the button fastening down the back. And I love the way the contrast grosgrain waist tie disappears into the structure of the dress. I don't like anything to cut away at the sleeves as my shoulders are least favourite part of my body so I LOVE the 3/4 sleeve length. As a Design and Technology teacher I never have to bother with rolling them up. Even the skirt hem length above the knee is perfect! I still wear it often".
Leas animated manner when talking about clothing, well about anything she's excited about, which turns out to be quite a lot, is wonderfully infectious.
"Cotton dresses are my most favourite thing ever! Especially in the summer when you don't have to worry about covering up with tights".
"I really like the idea of cutting it up when its worn out and making it into a dress for my granddaughter, Cora". Cue giggles.
"Perhaps I'll just get someone else to do that then".
We talk some more on the *joys* of clothes shopping as an older woman. (Tiny clue: NOT fun) Lea relates the story of searching for a dress for Chloes wedding for months. And a snide assistant in the Prada concession of Harrods who, when the fastenings of a dress in her usual size 14 wouldn't even do up, quipped "Oh we don't make them as big as you!". Lea turned to Reddskin Bespoke after this and hasn't looked back. But let's save that gem for another time, shall we?
Leas sound memories of her fathers tailoring scissors naturally resonate heavily. Sometimes we forget how deeply our pleasant childhood experiences are rooted until we are urged to remember them, often years later.
Mother and daughters have a special bond. The revelation that Leas favourite garment was gifted by her only daughter is lovely, especially using her first hard-earned money .
We hope that you have enjoyed reading the posts in our Remarkable women series. Missed the first one? Catch my younger sister Amanda talking about her wedding dress here.
Do you have a favourite garment that makes you smile? Perhaps you have a happy childhood memory that resurfaces with a certain sound or aroma? We'd love to hear from you so comment below.
We will be continuing to celebrate women with a new series 'My daughter and me'. Join our mailing list to stay up to date with the latest posts.
Thanks for reading.