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My Spring Shirt

March 13, 2022
by the gentle author

Thanks to your magnificent support, we have reached our crowdfunding target to launch THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S TOUR OF SPITALFIELDS. The booking website will go live at the beginning of next month and tours will commence at Easter, running throughout the summer.


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

21 Responses leave one →
  1. Lauren Fabian permalink
    March 13, 2022

    I am more than delighted that your Crowdfunding drive has reached its target plus you win the prize for the coolest spring dresser in the East End.
    My very best wishes

  2. Joan Isaac permalink
    March 13, 2022

    Love these personal insights GA – always beautifully emotionally charged.

  3. Tanya permalink
    March 13, 2022

    Thank you. What a lovely tale you tell about your shirt and your family. Enchanting.
    I believe we should form relationships with our clothing and other favourite belongings and treasure them more rather than disguarding them at a moments notice.

  4. Fiona permalink
    March 13, 2022

    Good morning, Just in case you didn’t know this you can unpick and turn a shirt collar over, extending the life of the shirt. A small job which could give you more years of wear of your beautiful shirt. There is a good tailors on Hanbury St opposite the big vintage clothing shop. I haven’t been there for a while and hopefully he is still there, very reasonable and skilled.
    Thank you for your lovely posts and stories. I have enjoyed them even more in these unpredictable and turbulent times. Your words are very grounding and calming and all the stories fascinating. I enjoy them tremendously.
    Thank you and best wishes,

  5. March 13, 2022

    Fantastic news! Congratulations and what better way to celebrate than with your lovely Spring shirt. I love your piece about its connections with you mother: you have her smile.

  6. Joanna Bacon permalink
    March 13, 2022

    I love this post, I love you and your work more every day! X

  7. Andy permalink
    March 13, 2022

    It is interesting that a mother’s taste is passes on to her son
    A unique article Gentle Author. Well done.

  8. Richard permalink
    March 13, 2022

    Thanks for this family memory. Reminds me of your Christmas one. I have a paisley liberty shirt, too small now, but I hang onto it. Such quality material. Shops like Liberty and Harrods have gone so far up market that they have lost some of their old appeal, for me anyway.

  9. Sue permalink
    March 13, 2022

    Love Liberty and that shirt is a beaut. Charming post as always. ?

  10. Linda Granfield permalink
    March 13, 2022

    Great news!!
    But I can’t say I’m surprised you achieved your goal–your world-wide readers know and appreciate quality and obviously stand behind you and the new venture/adventure.
    I look forward to taking the Spitalfields Tour one day.

  11. Helen Breen permalink
    March 13, 2022

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, I love that story and your spring-like shirt too. Continue to wear it in good health to herald the coming of the season.

    I am not a shopper at all and have never even ventured into Harrod’s during my many trips to London– not interested. But I have visited Liberty’s because I love their fabrics and accessories. Also enjoy strolling through Fortnum & Mason, Her Majesty’s provisioner.

    That is a darling dress on your Mum. Lovely piece of writing too. Enjoy spring!

  12. Jill Wilson permalink
    March 13, 2022

    Great news that you have reached the target – well done!

  13. Marcia Howard permalink
    March 13, 2022

    What a beautiful insight into your family. I feel I know you just that little bit better. I also love Liberty and was last in the store about 3 years ago. The price of a mere scarf made my eyes water! I’ve always adored lovely materials, despite the fact that I usually had to make all my own clothes. Being so petite, the fashions of the day swamped me. I was wearing a M&S duffle coat during my late teens/early 20s which was for a child Age 8!

  14. Penny Gardner permalink
    March 13, 2022

    May I point you to James Meade ,whoses website proliferates these patterns in Liberty Print .
    I knew that I had reached maturity as I developed a penchant for them . They remind me of Stevie Smith’s ‘Lion Aunt’ ,who wore dresses in seedpacket pattern , with the satement ‘they all came up’.
    You may find they button on the wrong side but tant pis

  15. Gail FARROW permalink
    March 13, 2022

    What a lovely recollection

  16. March 13, 2022

    Liberty!!! We’ve made many trips to London over the decades, and our very first visit (mid Seventies) included a little sidebar trip to Liberty. Well. I was dizzy with the possibilities……what to take home, what to take home?………and settled on a gorgeous Morris print shawl (rust/cobalt) and a matching oil cloth tote bag. YEARS later, I still use them. At the time, I don’t think I thought of such purchases as “legacy” belongings — but its turned out that way. And my library of books about Morris has grown and grown. It seems that every time I research an artist the phrase “was heavily influenced by William Morris” is replete. But, of course.
    Thank you for sharing the endearing photo of your mother — it is a keepsake for all of us.
    Stay safe, all.

  17. Yvonne Cheyney permalink
    March 14, 2022

    Congratulations to GA on reaching your goal. Your mention of Liberty’s in London reminded me that my father-in-law, Alfred Cheyney, worked at Liberty’s in London as a tailor for many years before he emigrated to the States in 1957. He made suits and dresses for the “stars.” He loved to tell the story about Joan Crawford – remember her suits with the padded shoulders? He made some of those. Alfred was an East End boy born and bred. He passed away in his mid-80’s in Southern California never forgetting his origins.

  18. March 14, 2022

    Lovely story, thank you. You can turn the collar of a shirt — it isn’t difficult to do with a sewing machine.

  19. Peter permalink
    March 14, 2022

    Good morning.
    If you’d like the shirt to live a little longer it may be possible to turn the collar.
    The underside should be plain- no channels for collar stiffeners; t can be taken off, turned and topstitched back in. In tiny recompense for the delight you’ve given us over the years I’d happily do this for free, by post.

  20. Edith Elizabeth permalink
    March 14, 2022

    I love Liberty Tana Lawn cottons!
    As Fiona mentions, the collar of your shirt can be unpicked and turned over.

    Have just finished sewing a dress in Liberty Tana Lawn ,with identical Peter Pan collar, the same as your mother wore as a child, for my great granddaughter.

    Congratulations on a successful crowdfunding! I look forward to joining a tour.

    A bientôt!

  21. Albert Premier permalink
    March 14, 2022

    Dear G.A.
    I like the concept of wearing garments that have a special meaning even as they are a little worn through.
    In the years after ww2 we had worn-out clothing repaired . I remember my sisters having suits made from the fabric of old bussiness suits that the male members of the family could no longer wear to their offices without loosing face. Having learned long ago to “turn” worn-out shirt collars & cuffs, I still do it, even when no longer financially necessary, just for sentimental reasons, to prolong the life of a beloved garment.
    I saw a generous offer from a person named Peter to turn the colar for you!

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