What I learned from the ladies of Coombe Down


Last week I went to give a talk on Laura Ashley to the Coombe Down Ladies’ Group in Bath.  It only dawned on me very slowly that this was not a sewing group, but a general interest group.  They had invited me because one of their members had heard me at a sewing group, but they were not particularly interested in the craft.

This called for a bit of quick thinking on the night.  I noticed a plant stall at the back of the hall, and that the raffle prize was a copy of one of Alan Titchmarsh’s books on bulbs.  So, I thought perhaps instead of talking just about sewing I should slant the talk more to creativity in general, particularly as planting and tending a garden is such a creative task and one that can consume your whole life like quilting if you let it.

So most of my examples were about gardening about which I know next to nothing, but which got approving nods so I must have been on the right track.  I was a bit surprised, though, when I heard myself starting to talk about creativity in general.  I am a career academic, and so I am loathe to speak in public about stuff that I can’t point to some sort of evidence for, and therefore making pronouncements is not my usual style.  That said, I do have a very deep conviction that our ability to make stuff, whether or not it distinguishes from the animals, is a source of real joy and satisfaction to us.  There is a school of thought that being able to make things with our hands gave us an evolutionary advantage and made sure that maker’s genes were selected for preservation, which would make sense if you want a mate who can build a shelter or get your rudimentary clothing to stay on.  Whether we buy into that or not, I think that people who have a creative outlet get to experience more of life than those who don’t.  I am probably bound to say that, but I have always had this gut feeling that stifled creativity leads to destruction – which is warped kind of creativity.  Expressing creativity – choosing which bulb to plant and watching it grow, decorating a cake for a special occasion, getting the right tie with the right shirt, or the right t-shirt with the right pair of nasty baggy trousers, all cause a little flow of creative energy which I think is part of being human and certainly part of taking delight in life.

I have no evidence from psychology or biology about this, but I do think it’s the case, and I do think that’s why making is having such a resurgence at the moment.  Just a bit surprised to hear all this come out of my mouth in a church hall in Bath.

6 thoughts on “What I learned from the ladies of Coombe Down

      1. Every now and then I’m all intelligent and insightful and shit. I dont like to do it too often otherwise I lose the element of surprise…

  1. I came to your talk at the Combe Down Ladies Group Meeting. I really enjoyed your talk and all the examples of quilting that you brought and the dolls and Laura Ashley dresses, some of which I had worn myself back in the 1960’s. I came to hear about quilting in relationship to Laura Ashley and was not disappointed as you are an excellent speaker.

    1. Thanks for this and thanks for taking the time to comment. I really enjoyed being with your group. Hope your outing goes well. Best wishes, Ann

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