Listen to our second conversation for the The Kathleen Project. Through this project we are collecting stories about Manchester’s industrial past, in the words of those who lived it.
Our second conversation is with Vera, who started work in 1964 at age 14, along with her school friend Irene. They worked at a factory owned by Alan Rogers, a manufacturer of silk smoking jackets and school blazers.
In a room of 10-12 sewing machines, Vera learned how to sew silk and other fabrics using a treadle sewing machine. The silk was slippery and liable to snagging in the needle, while the blazer fabric was thick and bulky.
After six months of training, Vera was moved onto piecework, sewing the pockets and belts of the smoking jackets, and the pockets and badges of the blazers. The move meant that she was no longer paid for her time, but for the number of items she completed – this was difficult to achieve, because an older woman who checked the quality of work, would often bring back items for Vera to unpick and resew.
Shifts could be as long as 10 hours, with only one break for lunch. When she was paid, the wage packet would go home, unopened, straight into the hands of her grandmother, who she lived with. Vera’s grandmother would then determine how much money she would receive back.
Despite work and home restrictions, Vera enjoyed going out to clubs – it was in a basement club off Oxford Road, aged 19, that she met her future husband. After a year of correspondence, they were married. Vera left the textile industry to work as a childminder and support her husband’s kitchen cabinet-making business. She laments that despite her experience, her sewing skills didn’t set her up well enough to make clothes for herself or her family; at 73 though, she remains keen to learn new skills on a modern sewing machine.
The Kathleen Project, episode 2: In Conversation with Vera
Thanks so much to Vera for sharing her story with us! If you know anyone who worked in Greater Manchester’s textile industry and would like to take part in the project, please do ask them to contact us.
The Kathleen Project is led by Stitched Up and supported by Historic England.