Sew up the story of your life. The needlework autobiography which is central to this book is obviously an impressive piece of work, tightly structured into 73 circles (with extra bits for the edges), and its 112 cm length stuffed with curious detail. It began as a personal project, so the individual roundels are more or less coded for private meaning, and Jean Baggott found herself writing notes for her family and friends, and now for the public too.
The chapters are written with an intentional naïveté in harmony with the cross-stitch designs, because, as the author is keen to point out, she has had a very ordinary working class life.
It is time which has made her story fascinating, and she focuses on her youth, though all her decades are represented. It is curious to see what facets of life she thought should have their own circles: Christmas, street games, and rationing, certainly, but there are also circles for patent medicines and house fires. The stories which reveal family members’ characters are good too. Just before Jean was married, her mother armed her against all eventualities with the following advice: ‘Never let your husband know that you can move the wardrobe single-handed.’
And I learned things: for thirty five years I’ve been puzzled by an elderly relative who proclaims facetiously that he will put the millock in the tea. Belatedly, I now know where the expression comes from.