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Education News

The bias is no longer on sewing

Needlework has disappeared from the curriculum. Margaret Leeson reports

A quiet revolution has been taking place in our schools and no one seems to have noticed. But search through the timetable and you will find needlework has disappeared.

It may be masquerading as textiles, of course, or be hiding under the technology umbrella, but it will certainly not be compulsory. Indeed, in the girls' school where I teach, it is now many years since anyone did any sewing under any name whatsoever. The subject has simply been dropped from the curriculum. Computers hum, coping-saws go to and fro, but the sewing machines stand unthreaded and idle.

Is this the end of an era? For women have plied the needle since the dawn of time. "When Adam delved and Eve span ..." - it would seem the female role was fixed at Creation.

So does it matter that this long tradition of the spinster and her needle may be drawing to a close? That a generation of girls is emerging that is unable to sew on a button, let alone recognise a flat-fell seam? Are we depriving them of an essential skill?

It was, perhaps, an inevitable development, once the mass production of ready-made garments began. It is no longer an economy to make a cotton dress, and the art of sewing has ceased to be a necessity. Who now would sew her husband's shirts by hand? And how many working mothers have enough leisure time to smock their daughters' dresses or embroider tablecloths for afternoon tea?

Afternoon tea? The very words conjure up a fading picture of wealth and elegance, a life free from the pressure of time. Perhaps those fine arts of needlework - embroidery, tapestry - have always been leisure pursuits, producing articles of luxury rather than necessity.

Yet it is as a leisure pursuit that sewing will surely survive. There are many young women who now turn to tapestry kits and needlecraft magazines to satisfy that instinct for homemaking they have inherited.

In school, however, we must accept that lifestyles have changed and life skills must therefore follow. Car maintenance is surely more use to the modern girl. Those who want to learn to knit and sew will do so - although it may not be their mothers who teach them.

So it is not that needlework has been banished, but rather that other doors have been opened. Fretsaw or needle: for the modern girl the choice is hers.