That’s what my Mum always taught me and maybe I should have listened, but if I had then I would have missed out on a very interesting life experience indeed.
So, I am in my usual spec on the bar of the Willoughby Arms Pub one Thursday night, when in walks a stranger, wearing a waistcoat, hat and some rosary beads around his neck. I recognise a ‘proper’ traveller when I see one and whilst I smiled at him and said ‘hello’ quite a few of the regulars made a few disparaging comments about ‘pikeys’ and shuffled to the other end of the bar. Not me. I immediately had a soft spot for this gentleman because he was the image of my old Dad (without the hat and rosary beads) plus I could tell he also had breathing issues and my Dad had suffered with COPD for over 25 years before he died.
For the next couple of nights we nodded at each other, smiled and exchanged pleasantries. George and his travelling companion, Charlie had parked their traditional horse drawn gypsy wagon just down the road from the pub and set up their knife and tool sharpening service on the roadside.
Not forgetting Hercules the horse!
In came Walter, one of our local ‘characters’, who obviously knew George very well, sat down with him waved at me and promptly told George and Charlie about the beautiful tailored waistcoat I had made for him out of a pair of old breeches. (This is another interesting tale that I may well share with you another time).
‘So you can sew then?’ asks George. ‘Yes, I am not bad at it’ I replied. Walter goes on to extol my virtues. Another local tells him about the lovely cushions and curtains I made for her and he asks me to pop down and see him as he would like some new curtains for his wagon.
Now I could have done the sensible thing and forgot all about it due to the copious amounts of Pinot Grigio that I had quaffed, but curiosity got the better of me and the next afternoon I trot down to see George and his gypsy caravan. I was expecting just a few little frilly curtains after all there aren’t that many windows in the caravan and its not really that big. How wrong I was. Travellers take the decor of their homes very seriously and where ever there is a surface they decorate it with curtains and trim. I am talking, walls, bed curtains, around the door, even around the chimney. There was a place for everything in this tiny home that was absolutely spotless, but this was a bigger job than I had anticipated. It’s also quite specialised as these are no ordinary curtains.
George tells me that his 85 year old sister, Coral, has made all the Travellers curtains for their wagon’s for many, many years but he didn’t feel he could ask her to do another set for him as she only had an old sewing machine that was hand operated and to be fair, ‘she is getting on a bit now’. He looked me up and down and asked me if I thought I was up to the job? ‘Yes’ I replied.
The first hurdle was selecting the fabric and the trimmings for the edge. Travellers like a bit of colour, they don’t do plain. I had 40 odd metres of fancy gold trim that I had picked up in a clearance sale a few years ago, not sure why I bought it as it was lovely but a bit on the blingy side for me. George loved it. That was the trim sorted.
Next I took some fabric samples down for George and Charlie to have a look at. None of them cut the muster obviously a bit on the plain side. Then I took a lovely old set of colourful curtains from a designer range. George’s eyes lit up. He liked it but then looked at me askance and said knowingly ‘there’s not enough fabric’. ‘Don’t be daft – there is at least 8 metres in these curtains’ I replied. ‘Not enough’ he said.
He called his sister who said she had some fabric he could have. He rocked up to my workshop the next day with a huge bag of fabric. ’35 metres in there’ he said. ‘Should be enough’. A man of few words is our George.
The old curtains, made by Coral which I used as a template
So the following day I started on the curtains. Using Coral’s curtains as a template I started cutting out the 3 valances, 3 gathered wall panels, 2 sets of bed curtains and 1 set of curtains for the tiny window on the back wall. I was rattling through the fabric provided, OK it was only 44″ wide but I was eating into it at a rapid pace. The same for the trim. George was right and I was wrong – you learn something new everyday.
I worked on the curtains in instalments, which Charlie took away as and when I finished them and brought me the next set to work on. Every single set had trim attached to every edge and whenever possible a ruffle trim for extra decoration just in case the gold trim wasn’t enough. I swear there was smoke coming off my sewing machine as I sewed what felt like miles and miles of curtaining.
I was tempted at times to wear my sunglasses when the sun shone into my workshop and reflected off the gold trim. The fabric had a glazed finish to it which had turned my iron, ironing board and my fingernails bright pink. I went through 5 reels of cotton thread, 2 machine needles and my sense of humour. I was under a bit of pressure. George & Charlie were waiting for me to finish the curtains as they wanted to move on – that’s what travellers do.
I had used every last scrap of the gold trim and only had a few metres of fabric left, but by Friday evening I had finished the curtains! Hurrah! I sat in the wagon and watched as Charlie put up the last set of bed curtains. It did look rather lovely in there. The expensive gold trim looked fabulous and George had a smile on his face. ‘You have done a good job Ella’ he said. ‘The first non-traveller ever to make such curtains – pat yourself on the back’.
So I did.
I also made cushions and a pillowcase to match from the ‘left over’ fabric.
Even the chimney has it’s own valance – with trim!
The walls of the caravan are also decorated with the fabric.
I really enjoyed working with George and Charlie they were lovely clients – paid on the nose, thanked me profusely and obviously appreciated all the hard work I had put in and that this particular job was a little out of my comfort zone. Whilst I was back and forth with the curtains, George told me no end of tales about his life on the road and his travels – a very interesting man – I am so glad I spoke to him that night in the pub and I was sad to see them leave the village. Who knows, maybe I will see then again next year.