I’ve been sewing in a minor way, embroidering a bit more, and reading. Reading and embroidering work better when stationed in front of a fan. I read something recently that I want to pass on, because not only was it a really fun read (think vacation – I’d have loved this on the beach) but it had sewing in it. How often does that happen?
The Time in Between, by Maria Duenas, is set in Spain and Morocco leading up to and during WWII. The main character, Sira Quiroga, grew up in a successful fashion house, starting out as an errand girl and becoming an accomplished seamstress. She leaves Madrid with a man and finds herself stranded, penniless, in Morocco. At first, she is at a loss as to how she can survive, but then she realizes that her salvation is in her hands, in a skill that is so second nature to her she doesn’t even think of it at first as a means of rescuing herself from the situation she is in.
One of my favorite bits from the book, when Sira takes up needle and thread again and it all comes flooding back:
"I took a big basket of bed linen out to the balcony and sat down to mend tears, strengthen hems and tidy up frayed edges.
And that day something unexpected happened. I never could have imagined that the feeling of a needle between my fingers would be so pleasing. Those rough bedspreads and coarse linen sheets had nothing in common with the silks and muslins of Dona Manuela's workshop, and the mending of their imperfections was a world away from the delicate backstitching that I had dedicated myself to in order to assemble clothes for the fine ladies of Madrid. . . . But the rhythm of my wrist was just the same, and the needle was once again moving before my eyes as my fingers toiled away to get the stitches just right, just as they had done for years, day after day, in another place and for other ends. The satisfaction of sewing again was so pleasing that for a couple of hours I was taken back to happier times and managed temporarily to dissolve the leaden weight of my own miseries. It was like being back home."
Sira quickly establishes a customer base in Morocco which, prior to the start of WWII, is full of Germans and Spaniards and Italians and everyone else, all jockeying for position and power in an unstable world. She is content to build her business, but she makes powerful new friends in Morocco, and when one of them volunteers to help bring her mother from war-torn Madrid, she discovers that there is a lot more going on in the world than she ever imagined.
Soon Sira is back in Madrid, setting up her own fashion house, with a new name and very similar clientele. But there’s more to her business than making dresses; Sira listens to her high profile clients and reports on their activities to the British government, which is very interested in the direction Spain intends to take in the war.
And her reports are written in code, on pattern pieces – how cool is that?
The Time in Between is a fairly hefty book, but it turns out, a too-quick read. I thoroughly enjoyed, and would have happily followed, Sira’s fashionable – and dangerous – exploits for a few more years of the war.