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My Spring Shirt

March 6, 2024
by the gentle author

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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 Claridge’s. 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

20 Responses leave one →
  1. Dave Phillips permalink
    March 6, 2024

    That’s just Beautiful. Your words absolutely do justice to the fabric; the ties that bind. Carry on.

  2. Paddy (Patricia) Kerr permalink
    March 6, 2024

    What a wondferful story – so affectionate in regard to your mother in particular and so optimistic and cheerful regarding the dawn of Spring. Lovely to wake up to as firsty thing to read on my lap top – thank you Gentle Author!

  3. Gabriella permalink
    March 6, 2024

    This is such a sweet post, thank you for sharing your memories.
    Gently worn collars could be undone and sewn in reverse (basically just turning the up-side down, and stitch it back in place). I have done it for shirts that were special, or of a good quality, in order to extend their life.

  4. Simon Walker permalink
    March 6, 2024

    A wonderful piece of writing. Thank you!

  5. Arabella Warner permalink
    March 6, 2024

    This wonderful piece of writing evoked memories of my own trips with my mother to Liberties as a child to buy yards of flowery Liberty Lawn. My mother would make matching mother and daughter dresses. She was a brilliant seamstress, a skill taught to her by her grandmother. Thank you for reminding me of these happy times.

  6. Greg T permalink
    March 6, 2024

    My first thought was: “The Tailor of Gloucester” – & the “Potter” book – sewn by mice …

  7. March 6, 2024

    I adore Liberty fabrics and have a small collection of items. I remember visiting the store, along with several others nearby, with my mother. We always came to London during the January sales, to buy fabric for her to make dresses both for herself and for myself and my sister. We were the best-dressed in our primary school.
    Floral prints are a favourite of mine too but I was reminiscing with a friend last weekend that I still have, and occasionally wear, a polka dot top in fine cotton, that I wore to various 18th birthday parties of my school classmates. Clothes can always be repaired and made fit for wear again, we just tend not to.
    How lovely that you recognised the fabric that tied you to your mother as a little girl. It makes your spring shirt all the more precious. A lovely post dear GA, thank you.

  8. Howard Lewis permalink
    March 6, 2024

    I was interested to learn your father was a professional footballer. Who did he play for and in what position? Thoughtful article.

  9. March 6, 2024

    lovely piece about the charm and power of Liberty prints…hope you have sent a copy to their p.r. -they’ll be pleased .

    It’s the same world as Morris after all.

  10. Sally permalink
    March 6, 2024

    Your beautiful! Scary though, because I was just looking at Liberty London’s latest, which I very rarely do. Then,…I decided to read your latest post. What a funny coincidence!

  11. March 6, 2024

    Loved reading your cheery memory on a dull day about a precious garment with fondness and attachment to wear for Spring. Especially as I used to enjoy wearing have a very jolly Liberty print shirt that always raised my spirits because of it’s beautiful print and tactile cotton😃

  12. Jill permalink
    March 6, 2024

    So Charmingly put, full of hopefulness of spring and qualified by ‘thinking the best of people’

  13. Wendy permalink
    March 6, 2024

    That is indeed a lovely shirt for Spring. To make it last longer you could unpick and turn the collar over. I’ve done this to some of my 94 year old father’s favorite shirts. I love that you’ve subconsciously bought your young mother’s dress in shirt form. I hope it can be preserved for many more springs.

  14. Sue permalink
    March 6, 2024

    How such memories stay with us. Your story triggered the memory of going with my mother up to London when she returned her home sewing to Bond Street and being shown round the sights of London and being taken to watch the clock strike on Liberty’s shopfront. I don’t think I ever went into the shop until I was well in my teens and thought I’d found an eastern Bazaar of material and carpets etc.

  15. Marcia Howard permalink
    March 6, 2024

    I love the shirt print, and love that you too appreciate the prints of Liberty! Even more wonderful that you have a picture of your mother in a liberty print dress. I walked around Liberty’s lovely store in London at New Year about 4 years ago, but decided I couldn’t justify the cost of even a mere scarf which I confess were pretty expensive! I am already in ownership of many scarves – although only probably wear 2 or 3 ‘favourites’ of them on a regular basis. With father and 3 brothers in the house as I grew up, I recall many a time when my mother ‘turned the collar’ of their shirts.

  16. Dorothy V. Malcolm permalink
    March 6, 2024

    When I lived in England, one of my favorite places to go to was Liberty of London. What a great store and to this day, I still have beautiful fabric and three Liberty scarves–all as good as new. Love this place!

  17. March 6, 2024

    Thank you for sharing this lovely photo of your mother. My mother was a gifted seamstress
    (among so many of her gifts…….she could knit, crochet, quilt, embroider, make slipcovers and drapes, and sewed many of my prom gowns). She was devoted to what-we-call “conversation prints”, and adored making summer shorts and tops for me, in vivid prints that depicted —
    scotty dogs, calypso dancers, travel postcards, heraldic shields, gigantic flowers, etc. It was endless. Her love of themes extended to decorating efforts (thankfully, I was invited to join in) and our living room was a festival of rotating themes, including Chinese dancers-and-junks, Spanish matadors, Mexican donkeys and serapes, and more. Dizzying! And so fun. Everything was done on a do-it-ourselves basis. Whatever we could find or re-appropriate was used and re-used. With flair!
    I so appreciate the gentle floral Liberty print — It is a different kind of “conversation print” and is full of story-telling and memories. My thanks.

  18. Albert Premier permalink
    March 6, 2024

    LOL! To a foreigner (from the Netherlands) like me “Stayed at Claridge’s. Ordered carpet and sideboard at Harvey Nichols and bought materials at Liberty” positively screams 1930’s British “U” people.
    You are probably to young to remember that an adquate seamstress can restore the worn through collar of your spring-shirt by simply detaching, turning & than restiching it. This was regular practice in the years after the war.

  19. Penny Jane Day permalink
    March 6, 2024

    Mending is a huge movement now. You could find a friend that’s good with a needle and thread and get the collar reimagined. Don’t ever throw it away, as I am sure you wouldn’t anyway.
    You could get some new or contrasting fabric, it would be fun to have a look in Liberty’s.
    Penny x
    An avid follower of your blog who also spent a brilliant weekend on one of your blog writing workshops…

  20. Cherub permalink
    March 7, 2024

    How could anyone not be cheered up by that lovely shirt?

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