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The Gentle Author’s Spring Shirt

March 27, 2019
by the gentle author

I pulled this shirt out of my cupboard this week in advance of the arrival of  spring. If you look closely, you will see the collar is wearing through but this does not diminish my affection for this favoured garment that I have worn for years now, bringing it out just for these few months at the end of winter. Although most of the clothes I own are of undecorated design, there is a gentle lyrical quality about this pattern that appeals to me.

When I wear this shirt with a dark jacket, the colours really sing and I feel am doing my bit in participating in the seasonal change. This contrast of formal clothing with a sprigged shirt can express dignified restraint while at the same time revealing an attachment to flowers, plants, gardens and nature – a contrast that I recognise in my own personality.

I love the conceit of  having violets on my shirt when those in my garden are in flower and I enjoy the subtle tones of all the flowers portrayed, remaining as recognisable species while artfully stylised to make a pattern. The evocation of the natural world in this simple design touches a chord for me and, as with so many things that trigger an emotional response, I discovered that my passion for these floral patterns from Liberty goes back a long way.

When I came across the familiar photograph of my mother Valerie as a child, which you can see below, I did a double-take when I recognised the pattern on the dress. It was a Liberty print, very similar to my spring shirt which I hold in such affection. In that moment, I recalled that my grandmother Katherine bought fabric at Liberty in London and had it made up into dresses for my mother in the  nineteen-thirties. This was a gesture which made such an unforgettable impression on my mother that for her whole life she carried her delight in these cotton dresses, which were so magical to her as a little girl in Somerset. Floral prints fed her innocent imagination, nurtured by ‘Songs of the Flower Fairies’ and performing as one of Titania’s attendants in a school play.

A generation later, I grew up with the received emotion of this memory – a story my mother told me when I was a child. I thought I had forgotten, but I realised it was through an unconscious recollection of the photograph of my mother in the Liberty dress that I was attracted to this flowery shirt, without understanding the origin of my desire at the time.

The story was confirmed when my Uncle Richard moved out of the old house where he and my mother grew up and, in my grandmother’s dressing table, I found a small leather pocket diary from the thirties recording her London trip with the entry, “Stayed at Claridges. Ordered carpet and sideboard at Harvey Nichols and bought materials at Liberty.” My grandmother was the daughter of a diminished aristocratic family who married my grandfather Leslie, a bank manager, and adopted an autocratic manner to ameliorate her loss of status. Consequently, my mother, with admirable resourcefulness, ran away from home at nineteen to escape my bossy grandmother and married my father Peter, who was a professional footballer – an act of social rebellion that my grandmother never forgave.

Nevertheless, the taste I acquired for these old-fashioned designs reflects the fondness my mother carried for that special moment in her childhood which she never forgot, when my grandmother showed maternal kindness to her little daughter in the gift of flowery cotton dresses. An act which came to represent everything about my grandmother that my mother could embrace with unqualified affection, and she encouraged me to remember the best of people too, a prerogative I claim in this instance as the sole living representative of these characters.

Today, I wear my shirt as the sympathetic illustration of a narrative which extends over three generations, culminating in my own existence upon this earth, and as I button my spring shirt, before walking out to celebrate sunshine and a new beginning, I am reminded that I alone carry these emotional stories now, clothing me in the humble affections of my forebears.

The Gentle Author’s mother ‘Valerie’ in the nineteen-thirties

Liberty of London

You may like to read these other stories of The Gentle Author’s family

A Child’s Christmas in Devon

On Sunday Morning

1. A Discovery At Christmas

2. Christmas On The Moor

3. The Life Of Peter Stanley Brown

24 Responses leave one →
  1. March 27, 2019

    Dear Gentle Author, I’ve been reading here so long I feel like we’re almost blood relatives. Regarding your lovely spring shirt – do you have an unpicker and a sewing machine? Or know someone who does? If so, it’s an easy job to unpick your collar, turn it over and replace it carefully. This was part of every housewife’s skill set when I was growing up, and it’s still part of mine. Good luck. I bet you look very handsome int hat shirt.

  2. mlaiuppa permalink
    March 27, 2019

    You probably subliminally remembered with fondness your mother’s dress when you bought your shirt. And if you only wear it on the first day of spring and perhaps on Easter it should last you many more years.

    I have some “spring” sweaters and jewelry that I wear throughout the spring season that help me feel bright, sunny and fresh as the sprigs and buds coming up all over. I switch to a pink purse and shift my color palette from the darks of winter to the pastels of spring. Pink, lavender and green predominate.

  3. David Tarrant permalink
    March 27, 2019

    Delightful article. It put me in mind of family catch-phrases and their origins. Here’s one passed down from my wife’s grandmother: “Stick the buggers back on the wall Sydney!”. This utterance is now occasionly used in our family to refer to an improvisation or “bodge”. Granny was very poor and used to take in washing to survive. She also tried her hand at decorating, assisted by her son Sydney. On one occasion, pasted wallpaper in hand, Sydney noticed some tiny bugs on the wall. “What shall I do?” he cried and granny confidently coined our family catch-phrase.

  4. Helen permalink
    March 27, 2019

    A loving story beautifully recalled, thank you

  5. Mem permalink
    March 27, 2019

    I love your shirt . As a dressmaker I immediately thought of liberty Tanya lawn . You could get a new shirt made I am sure .

  6. Hayley Bell permalink
    March 27, 2019

    What a charming story. And your mother looks totally adorable in that photograph. The dress and her haircut are just perfect.

  7. March 27, 2019

    Beautiful shirt. I’ve always loved the Liberty patterns. Have a wonderful “Spring shirt day”.

  8. Greg Tingey permalink
    March 27, 2019

    The marvellous waistcoat for the Mayor of Gloucester comes to mind.
    Was there enough twist for the buttons?
    Like this, perhaps?

  9. March 27, 2019

    Thank you for sharing this GA. A personal memoir that is as much for your soul as it is for me to be privileged to read it.

  10. Patricia Taylor permalink
    March 27, 2019

    What a beautiful posting – thank you as always.

  11. March 27, 2019

    I love this line: “I grew up with the received emotion of this memory.” What a great story!

  12. March 27, 2019

    Those Liberty prints are timeless…..what a delightful, thought provoking post today reminding me that we all carry ‘emotional stories’ through photographs and objects left by our forebears.
    Love the shirt Gentle Author!

  13. March 27, 2019

    Thank you for this intricate story I can instantly see the intelligence and character of your mother . It’s already all there in the photo. The coming of Spring is indeed something to be celebrated !

  14. Lynn permalink
    March 27, 2019

    This is just lovely. Touching, bitter-sweet, and lovely.

  15. Coralie Mattys permalink
    March 27, 2019

    This reminds me of the surprise I had when I was nine or ten, and my father came home with a soft, floppy cotton fabric covered in little sprays of flowers and coloured yellow, black and white. The surprise was, for me, that it changed the two-dimensional concept I had previously had of my father and caused me to see him as having more layers. I loved that fabric, and ever since, I’ve been drawn to the colour combination – although I’ve never found a pattern close to the original. Thanks for the reminder. My mother made dresses for me and my sister from the fabric. Unfortunately I only have a black and white picture of them.

  16. Adele permalink
    March 27, 2019

    Charming story GA. I love the facade of Liberty’s.

  17. March 27, 2019

    A lovely post today, as always. The fabrics for the shirt and dress are both so attractive, and have a distinct family resemblance.

  18. Jill Wilson permalink
    March 27, 2019

    Lovely shirt! I hope you have had the chance to enjoy some of the spring sunshine this year..

    My sister and I had a couple of Liberty fabric dresses although our poshest ones came from Harrods (a special present from our indulgent grandmother). They were striped fabric with smocking at the chest and big excitement – matching knickers!

  19. March 27, 2019

    Really nice that reading. Thanks for this entertaining report!

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  20. March 27, 2019

    A most excellent shirt.

  21. Linda Granfield permalink
    March 27, 2019

    Liberty still makes that fabric “Mirabelle” — here’s the link

    https://www.libertylondon.com/uk/mirabelle-tana-lawn-cotton-1000615109.html?dwvar_176691_color=C#sz=60&start=181

    Perhaps a quarter yard and a friend who sews a new collar (cuffs too?) can let that shirt greet spring for a good long time more! A beautiful print.

  22. Susan Martin permalink
    March 28, 2019

    Lovely shirt! Wonderful story!

  23. Claire permalink
    March 29, 2019

    That’s a beautiful post Gentle Author. The dear photograph of your mother in her frock is very like one I have of my mother dressed in a white lacy confection, same hairstyle, probably contemporary I would think.
    Thank you so much.

  24. Marcia Howard permalink
    March 29, 2019

    What a delightful insight

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