One Millie, All Nations
We are based in Paisley - 'the town that thread built', so it was befitting that for the Refugee Festival Scotland 2022, in partnership with Journeys in Design: Our Linen Stories, Sewing2gether All Nations reflected on the rich textile heritage of Scotland and that of New Scots, with an exhibition of hand sewn ‘Millie dolls*’ representing textile workers from all over the world, and the legacy of grandmothers, mothers and sisters who have passed their sewing skills down from generation to generation.
*Linen mill workers – ‘Millies’ – formed the backbone of the first industry to emerge from Scotland and Ireland and much of Europe: hard-working, multi-tasking and super-skilled. At the peak of linen trading in the early 20th century, tens of thousands of women were employed to support the economy of a continent. Though a tiny fraction of jobs persist, many of us have a Linen Millie amongst our families or those of friends. (Our Linen Stories)
We held a series of workshops to sew and personalise the dolls, created using the linen tea towel pattern designed by illustrator Sue Shields. We gathered stories from across the globe of our memories of family and homelands, and the creative traditions we still hold dear to our hearts.
Our Exhibition of over 30 completed dolls was hosted in Paisley Central Library. There were also Talk and Walk events associated with this project; 'Creative Journeys For New Scots' talk and 'Linen Routes Through Paisley' walk with The Urban Historian.
In Afghanistan, we all learn to hand sew. We decorate our outfits by a technique called shisheh, embroidering small pieces of mirrors or reflective metal onto the fabric. We design our own outfits and ask a dressmaker to make them, often in traditional colours of red and green. My mother in law would make clothes for my children. When I came to Scotland I learnt how to use a sewing machine at Govan Community Project with Gabi, and then at Sewing2gether All Nations.
When I was a nine year old child in Iraq I went to visit my big sister who was married. She warned me not to touch her sewing machine. But as soon as
she was busy in the kitchen making dinner I took my chance! And so I started as a secret sewer, teaching myself. Now after many years of practice I can make dresses for myself and my daughters. I love to create my own hijab headcoverings, chādor and bisht and dishdasha.
My older sister in Iraq was the sewer in the family. Buying imported fabric in the city centre, she would make house dresses (abaya) and chādor which includes a head covering, and the dishdasha, the long shirt worn to the ankles by Iraqi men and boys. We wear different colours for celebrations such as Eid. To mourn for our mother, we wore black for 40 days. My sister has taught my sisters and her daughter to sew. But I learnt to sew when I came to Scotland and joined Sewing2gether All Nations!
As a child in Venezuela my mother made outfits for all the family, including hand embroidering flowers on to my dresses. Even all my brothers can sew! My homeland is famous for chinchorro colourful woven hammocks which are perfect for when we sleep outside. I crocheted one myself! Normally they are made of cotton, but often now they can be nylon. The best however are woven from rope made from the moriche palm. They take 12 weeks to weave, and last for years.
As a little girl in Syria, my mum was a tailor. As she was cutting and designing for other people I would collect her scraps of fabric and copy how she made things. Often I would have to wait until she went out so that I could use her machine. I got into so much trouble when one time accidently broke it! It didn’t put me off. I love to sew and help other people to dress up and look beautiful.
My homeland is famous for handmade Persian rugs and carpets, in strong colours and elaborate designs, often woven by women at home. Some extremely expensive ones are created for the wall from silk. As a child my mum would sew my dresses for parties, and my sister has skilled at making wedding dresses for brides in Iran. She is now a sewing teacher, providing private classes. I have learnt to sew since coming to Scotland. I love all forms of creativity, I taught art, and I sell my own work in pastels and oils.
My grandmother had a sewing machine, and as a little child I would help her to thread it. She made me and the rest of the family many multi coloured Nigerian outfits, for example a gele, a headscarf made from firm fabric that we may wear when we celebrate many important life-cycle events such as naming ceremonies for babies, engagements, weddings, important birthdays, chieftaincy title ceremonies, and funerals, as well as the major festivals and holy days.
I love living in Scotland, reflected in my Millie wearing a kilt. But I have special memories of wearing the cordillera to weddings, a traditional handwoven tribal dress from my home in the north of the Philippine islands. I have heard the big weaving mill in Sagada, in the Cordillera Mountains has closed now, but I hope our traditions can continue down the generations through Filipinos like my cousin who is a dressmaker.
I am the first to sew in my family, and I was interested from an early age in making my own clothes. I started making dresses for other people when I was twelve, they would bring their fabric to me. I started a shop in Kalar, a city in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, when I was just thirteen, making children’s clothes and bedding for babies, decorating Moses Baskets, using fabric imported from China and India. I now teach people all over the world how to sew, crochet and knit on my YouTube channel.
I'm a freelance Sewing Tutor. My Dad is half Polish and my Mum half Ukrainian. My Millie Doll represents Olha my Ukrainian Great Grandmother. Olha is my mum's middle name, also mine, and now passed to my daughter. My mum never got to meet her Grandmother but as a child received letters from her, often very few parts of the letter remained due to the censorship of letters from the Ukraine during the cold War after WW2. Very unexpectedly we recently met for the first time a relative of my Great Grandmother who arrived in Scotland through the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.
I started sewing with my grandmother when I was ten years old and made my first dress when I was eleven. Even then I was upcycling clothes to make them more fashionable and fit better. I studied fashion design at university in Bulgaria. Now I am a self-employed seamstress, making bespoke designer children’s clothes and doing various alterations for clients. At home in Bulgaria every district has a different colour of dress; with red, black and white used most commonly. My Millie’s dress has rickrack on it, a flat piece of braided trim, shaped like a zigzag which is popular as a decorative element.
Weavers, cotton spinners, flax dressers, calico printers, mill workers, and even tailors feature in my family tree in Renfrewshire and Ireland as far back
as the 18th century. My great aunt Jean started in the Mill aged 14 in 1918, then enjoyed her retirement in 1978 for 32 years! She had many stories about the workplace, including Skittery Winter - the last member of staff to arrive on Hogmanay would be greeted with shouting and clattering of cotton bobbins and would unfortunately be known as Skittery Winter for all of the next year.