The Sewing Room Girl

Written by Susanna Bavin
Review by Simon Rickman

This story is as much about English Northern grit as it is sewing, with needle a-plenty! Victorian teen Juliet Webster is already “a competent little needlewoman” who can design and fabricate all manner of garments.  She aspires to become a top seamstress running her own fashion salon, but circumstance, family and others consistently conspire to hinder her progress with malice and violence.  Whatever did she do to deserve such treatment? “There was nothing wrong that darned hard graft wouldn’t get them out of.”  This mindset, however, exemplifies Juliet’s steadfast resolve, which underpins an uncomplicated narrative that whirrs along like a well-oiled treadle sewing machine. The finished article’s eclectic cast enables us to explore child labour, male authority, women’s rights, adult responsibility and various abusive behaviours including what’s now known as ‘grooming’.

A strong illustrative examination of the greatest shame of all, those born out of wedlock in the late 19th century, runs throughout.  Threads of love and loyalty constantly cross swords with hate and treachery.  Never far from the surface, the latter are always ready to pounce when Juliet least expects.  Nevertheless, she continues to search for that which every seamstress, indeed every human, requires: “good light.” Just how she stitches together the attitude, strength and bravery it will take to transport her from village slops maid to pursuing her dream is a tale told well. Noticeable, too, is an appealing and authentic nod to the natural world in almost every outdoor scene, whether country path or town garden; skies are the blue of harebells or cornflowers, the year’s turning is described through a variety of wildflowers, shrubs and trees that blossom then fade as the seasons pass. Prepare for yearnings, spite, redemption and sewing, with a nice touch.