Thank you so much for stopping by!
This blog post is a little bit different to previous posts but I hope fellow sewists will appreciate it. A few months ago I attended the launch of Lucy Adlington’s latest book, The Red Ribbon. If you haven’t heard of Lucy, I suggest you look her up straight away. Lucy is a fashion historian, writer, actress and vintage clothing collector who runs her own business, History Wardrobe. She and her colleagues tour the country staging fashion history presentations, which are so fascinating and entertaining. To be honest, I think I want to be her!
When I heard Lucy had written a novel based on an actual sewing workshop set up in Auschwitz during the Second World War, I knew it would be a gripping read.
The workshop was established by Hedwig Hoss, the Auschwitz Commandant’s wife, who loved to wear fine things. Hedwig drafted in prisoners from the camp to sew for her, starting with two seamstresses in her house. It didn’t take long for the wives of other Nazi officers to want in on the action, and so, in 1943, Hedwig opened a workshop at the camp. Known as the Upper Tailoring Studio, 23 prisoners/seamstresses were employed there. However, they were not working for money, they were sewing to survive.
Every dress she makes could mean the difference between life and death…
Lucy talks about her research at the back of the book, and in special presentations, which are taking place in various locations throughout the year (click here for dates and venues.) Her research not only saw her interview Auschwitz survivors but also led her to reflect on her own past, including her grandmother’s passion and talent for sewing. For although the Upper Tailoring Studio did exist and many of the events and conditions described are real, the characters in the book are fictional, and Ella, the main character, is named after Lucy’s grandmother. Just like the author, the novel’s 14-year-old heroine grew up watching her grandmother create patterns and clothing from scratch. Ella’s grandmother passed on all of her skills to her granddaughter, and it is these skills that secure Ella a position at the Upper Tailoring Studio.
When a story is good, all I want to do is retell it but I wouldn’t want to give anything away. However, I hope by writing this review I will encourage people to read The Red Ribbon. It is without doubt one of the best books I have read in years. Gripping from the outset, it informs and entertains but, more importantly, it makes you feel. It is an emotional rollercoaster – sadness, anger, joy, fear, frustration – you will feel them all. The beautiful friendship between Ella and Rose is at the heart of this book, representing hope, love and humanity. I was rooting for Ella and Rose throughout and I certainly shed a few tears along the way.
The Red Ribbon is a book I would recommend to all but I would especially urge people who love sewing to read it. The detailed descriptions of the fabrics and sewing processes are wonderful to read, but it is the way Ella feels about sewing that really strikes a chord. Just like the young heroine and her grandmother, I am constantly daydreaming about sewing and planning my next dressmaking project. And while I can never begin to imagine what it must have been like to live through the horrors of the holocaust, I can understand how sewing could have helped Ella to cope. For sewing is a means of escape; it lifts the spirit and heals the soul.
l liked hiding in the workshop. Inside the sewing room the world shrank to a set of stitches. I curled over my work so only the knobbles of my spine showed – I was so skinny I could practically feel them grazing the rough fabric of my striped dress. Needle in, needle out, thread pulling. This was how I would survive till the end of the war. Then I would start my dress shop and never see ugly things again.
The Red Ribbon is available to buy on Amazon.