This story is set in Australia and was written as a Christmas fairy tale for a friend who enjoys sewing.
In the tiny town of Adelaide, far, far, away from civilisation, there lived two young children who went by the names of Eliza and Henry.
Eliza and Henry were very poor. They lived with their mother and father in a little house surrounded by grass trees and wattles and banksias, which was very beautiful, but a great distance away from any fresh water. But they were well raised. They were obedient, kind and courteous, always dutifully listening to the adults around them and following instructions. When their parents asked them each morning to fetch water from the well some miles away from home, they did not hesitate — they rushed to collect the pales (which, when turned over, they used as dinner tables) and bounded out the door, calling out to each other as they raced. It was in this manner that they spent their happy, chirpy mornings: lining their pockets with eucalyptus leaves and bottlebrushes, munching on bush tucker and gulping down sweet, crisp water from the well after their long, exhausting journeys.
One morning, Henry noticed something peculiar — he had lost the bottlebrush he had saved in his trouser pocket for his mother.
“There’s a hole in my pocket, dear Eliza!” he exclaimed.
“Then mend it, dear Henry!” Eliza retorted, irritated at her brother for forcing her to stop. She was hungry and desperate to go home for some tea.
(Notice, here, that neither children used any slang — indeed, they favoured such words as “mend” over the rudimentary “fix”. Though they were poor, they were, miraculously, extremely well educated. It was as if they had been born into a Dickens novel a century and a half before our time.)
“But, dear Eliza, I know not how!” whined Henry.
Eliza huffed. “That I was born into the female sex does not necessitate that I should sew for you, dear Henry!” And with that, she charged down the hill, not caring that she was spilling water from her bucket because she was determined to prove to her brother that she could reach home quicker than he could.
Despite Eliza’s fierce attempts to remain true to her convictions, she was always a very curious child — she really did want to know how to mend a pocket. So that night, while the rest of the household lay gently slumbering in their only room, Eliza crept over to the chair where her brother’s trousers were draped and inspected the little hole. Being a talented young girl, Eliza soon devised a plan for how to sew together these two bits of wearied fabric. One only needed a bit of extra cloth, a needle and some thread.
But you recall, I should think, that Eliza’s family was destitute. There would be no extra fabric lying around the house, oh no. If there were any leftovers or remnants of items, they would not remain unused for long. Every piece of cloth, every string of fabric, had been reused and recycled several times over (yes, the Tiemans were, incidentally, a model family when it came to carbon emissions — but, alas, that is not the point of our story and I digress). So little Eliza resigned herself to bed, reconciled, once again, to the limitations of her socio-economic situation. It was simply not meant to be.
The next morning, Henry and Eliza woke early and dressed themselves for another trip to the well. Eliza was not her usual cheery self. She rubbed her bleary eyes and snapped at Henry when he nudged her to collect the pales.
“What’s the matter, dear Eliza?” Henry gently inquired.
“Oh, nothing!” Eliza grumbled, and trod off out the door, her confused brother tagging along behind her.
Trudging through the woods, Eliza was beginning to feel very tired, for she had not had much rest during the night, and the heat of the summer morning was beginning to make her very sleepy and grumpy. She noticed the bulbous banksia and had half a mind to collect some, when suddenly, a slender woman, carrying bits of ribbon and buttons and thread strode past her.
There was nothing so strange about this woman, except that she was wearing a combination of printed pleated skirt, tasselled waistcoat, bowler hat and pointy red shoes. It flashed across Eliza’s mind that she had never seen a person so splendidly dressed! And so she followed her, leaving her brother to marvel at a koala perched high in a eucalyptus tree chomping on some leaves.
Just as the woman turned the corner to her left, Eliza, astonished, noticed her fall down a hole! And delirious from lack of sleep, in went Eliza down the hole after her, never stopping to think of how unusual it was that a woman should choose to fall down a hole, nor how difficult it would be to get back out again (Eliza was talented, but sometimes lacked common sense).
To her utter surprise, Eliza felt herself floating. How odd, she thought, for where was the force of gravity? (I should remind you that Eliza was a child here and had not yet experimented with hallucinogenic drugs.) As she drifted down the hole, she noticed that the most exquisite fabrics were gliding along beside her: some shiny and vibrant; others soft and slick; and ones that were even ruffled and textured! “Have I died and gone to Heaven?” she puzzled.
No, indeed, she was not in Heaven, for what a sorry end that would be to a jolly Christmas tale! She had, instead, fallen down the sewing hole, and minutes later, she found herself sailing softly onto a bedding of satin, her feet barely making a sound as they touched the floor. It took her eyes some moments to adjust to the golden gleam of the coven. But blinking, she noticed a room stretching to infinity, filled with row upon row of seamstress working away behind a sewing machine. One of the women paused to introduce herself.
“Hello, dear! I see you have found your way to our little workshop. Would you like me to show you how to work one of these machines?”
Eliza couldn’t believe her luck! She was so overcome with excitement, she could only nod her assent to the woman, not daring to speak for fear this might all be a dream.
“Here you go,” crooned the woman, handing Eliza a sewing machine. “This is yours, and yours alone. Guard it well, for it will keep you in times of trouble”.
So began Eliza’s tutelage into the spellbinding art of sewing. The kind and gentle woman, who Eliza learned was named Anne, took little Eliza under her wing, guiding her through the basics of stitching, sewing and adjusting patterns. Within hours Eliza was off on her own, beginning with mending garments, progressing to finding suitable patterns, until eventually Eliza was such a well versed and skilled garment maker that she was creating her own designs and patterns. She fashioned new clothes for her brother and parents, and made extraordinary outfits to share with friends and family.
Lost in all of this exquisite joy of tailoring, however, Eliza neglected to take note of the time, for it was hard to ascertain in this room that always shone just when it was during the day. Before she knew it, she had spent days and days deep down in the sewing hole, forgetting that she had left her brother in the woods, or that her parents would be frantic with worry for her.
Suddenly snapping back into life again, she exclaimed to Anne, “Oh dear, oh dear! I’m late! What of poor Henry and dear Mother and Father? I must leave, for they will be in anguish over my disappearance!”
Generous Anne understood well but did not allow Eliza to leave empty handed. She produced, out of thin air, a wand, and with the flick of a wrist, shrunk Eliza’s sewing machine and garments into a little coin purse that Eliza could swing over her shoulder. She bid her prodigy farewell but not goodbye.
“Do not forget us, young one. We will always be here. If you ever need a helping hand, or a friendly face, just think of us down here in the sewing home. We promise you will find your way back to us”.
Eliza waved a teary goodbye to Anne, who tied around Eliza’s neck a cape she had designed for her journey back home. Propelling her arms forward, Eliza flew threw the tunnel, past the fabrics that had welcomed her, through to the light at the other end, finally returning to the woods where she had left her brother. To her amazement, Henry was standing in the very spot she had left him days ago.
Eliza rushed over to hug him. “Oh Henry!” she shrieked, “How I’ve missed you!”
“Whatever’s the matter with you, Eliza dear?!” Henry replied, bewildered. “Oh darn, you’ve scared the koala! What in the world are you wearing?”
“I know how to mend your pocket!” Eliza giggled.
Henry frowned, but seeing the glow in his sister’s eyes, he couldn’t help but laugh along with her. “What in heavens has cheered you up?” he asked.
As they made the rest of their way to the well and back home, Eliza recounted her adventure in sewing wonderland. When home, she pulled out of her coin purse the garments and sewing machine in their correct size. Her parents were delighted! They finally had new clothes to parade around the town with. All who met them were awed by the elaborate hand work and inquired about where they had found such refined costumes. News got around of Eliza’s wonderful talent and famous people from far and wide began to arrive at Eliza’s doorstep to request her handiwork. Alas, Eliza’s family was poor no more! They had money to spend on food and clothes and running water!
Still, Eliza never forgot dear, gracious Anne, and every now and then, she would find herself back down the sewing hole, in the trusty company of her mentor and confidante. But we shall wait till next Christmas to hear about those adventures. Until then, goodbye, dear friend, and Merry Christmas!