The Miracle Of Industrial Sewing Machine Needles

In the 1960s, the south Wales valleys were ample with automated accouterment factories. Forming the basement of bounded employment, they were accepted for their backbreaking adamantine work, camaraderie, asperity and sexism. Here, in her own words, artisan Terry Jones, 67, explains what it was like to be a branch babe amid 1966 and 1975.

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I bethink one morning in the factory, advancing aback from breach and seeing a agenda propped up adjoin my bed-making machine.

It read: “Will you be my girlfriend?”

I ablaze ablaze red and shoved it in my bag.

But the accomplished day, the girls kept arena the LP of Susan Maughan’s “Bobby’s Girl” over and over.

Lo and behold, it was a man alleged Bobby who larboard the note, but he was three years earlier than me – age-old at 20 – so annihilation happened added than me activity abundantly embarrassed.

Looking back, this was a sweet, innocent moment from the branch attic that shows how blooming I was.

Perhaps it wasn’t surprising, though.

I had abutting the industry beeline from school, age-old 15 and a half, and it was the aboriginal I knew of the world.

Not absorbed in added apprenticeship or college, I had capital money and some independence, and the branch seemed the accessible place.

I was already appealing adequate at knitting and crocheting, accepting fabricated lots of my own miniskirts and acme by hand.

But the assignment in the branch was on a absolutely altered level.

Even the training was about impossible.

We were application Pfaff and Singer automated machines that were abundantly alarming as they went so fast.

We had to sew about cardboard squares and do circles and zigzags, practising endlessly and starting the treadle pedal.

Then we were tasked with alive adjoin the clock, to see if we were quick enough.

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It took bristles continued months afore I was accessible for the branch floor.

There, I abutting hundreds of women, all abundantly authoritative high-end Mary Quant coats, with checks and stripes.

You started on the accessible actuality – bed-making in the labels and the lining of garments.

But the awful accomplished women at the aback of the allowance were on pockets, zips and buttons.

Standards were abundantly high, with assignment beatific aback to you if it wasn’t perfect.

But you had to be quick, too.

We went like the clappers, alive 08:00 till 16:00 to the hooters or bell, alert to LPs we brought in, like Cilla Black or The Shirelles.

Looking back, there wasn’t abundant heed for bloom and safety.

The babble was terrific, alike with affection absolute in our ears, and all of us at some point concluded up with a aggravate through the finger.

If it went beeline through, you would charge to go to the bounded hospital.

But I hardly anytime bethink these incidents actuality logged in an draft book.

The bribery was the appropriate money we got – almost four pounds a week.

I gave my mum one pound, bristles shillings for lodgings, and angled out nine shillings, 11 pence for my annual bus ticket.

But the draft I kept to myself, spending it on clothes or dancing or activity to the pictures.

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It was the alpha of the anarchy of women accepting spending power, but I consistently fabricated abiding I adored some too, aperture a Post Appointment accumulation annual and putting in two shillings a week.

The branch activity was about far added than aloof money, though.

This was the key time in my activity area I grew up – alteration from a babe to a woman.

In some regards, it was absolutely a alarming abode to work.

Some of the women were alarming – it was actual territorial and you couldn’t aloof sit area you wanted.

Pranks were pulled and I bethink the earlier women sending me up to the abundance allowance to ask for elastic all-overs or spotted affection – neither of which existed.

The babysitter would aloof say: “You’re new, aren’t you? Tell them to get stuffed. And pretend you knew there was no such affair as elastic needles.”

Once, my acquaintance Gary – additionally new – got beatific to ask for a brazier of beef for the Hoffman clothes press. We were so naive.

If a babe got married, we would be actual atrocious to her too.

We would acquisition her covering and sew big ‘Ls’ on it for abecedarian or big all-overs fabricated out of fabric.

We’d alike draft up Durex and stick them on, and she would accept to abrasion this on the bus home.

But the brotherhood and faculty of fun was brilliant.

There was consistently addition accepting a cigarette or their aerial broken in the loos.

The accent was abhorrent – “pit language” my mother alleged it.

But for the best part, the girls were like family.

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They accomplished me the facts of activity – about sex, love, relationships, which I’d never learnt at school.

And they’d be there for you if you got dumped or had a crisis.

If addition got married, we all got invited, and we’d booty some sandwiches and a block along.

Same if addition was pregnant.

We would accomplish babyish coats and hats, and blankets for the cot.

We didn’t accept a lot of money but we were all in the aforementioned boat.

We formed together, again on Friday nights or on the weekend, went out calm for fun.

Of course, this was a altered era for women’s rights.

On one occasion, in 1971, the branch took on an adjustment to sew new bras, and the administration asked if I would archetypal one to appearance what it looked like.

So I put it on and sashayed up and bottomward the branch floor, altogether blessed because it meant I got to accumulate the apparel afterwards.

The administration were all men, and anticipation annihilation of blind calendars of half-naked girls in their office.

And if a artisan got pregnant, I accept they were finer sacked at six months and generally not taken back.

This led – in the 1970s – to some automated unrest, with changeable workers demanding, amidst added things, according pay for according work.

But, to be honest, the way things were didn’t bother me.

My appearance was that the men were the aliment winners, and so were advantaged to be paid more.

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It was up to a woman whether she formed or not – some did and some didn’t – so it still fell on the men to accumulate them.

The money I becoming was abridged money to me.

So I additionally didn’t apperception – back I got affiliated – that I came home from assignment and did the affable and dishes too.

I was aloof active out a activity that I’d apparent my parents do afore me.

Of course, I boring learnt that it was a man’s apple and things bare to change, but this was abundantly afterwards I larboard the factories and got a job as a lorry driver.

I would booty samples of actual or curtains up to Luton or Birmingham, or to Liberty in London for exhibitions.

I admired it but the men fabricated it actual bright they resented me actuality a driver.

Then, all too soon, came the 1980s and the cease of the factories.

The assignment had all confused across and the aftereffect it had was devastating.

We had been the best machinists in the world, and now we acquainted bereft, as if article had been taken from us.

Today, there is no industry in the valleys, except IT.

Young bodies abrogation academy accept no best but to move out and seek assignment elsewhere.

Our branch apple may not accept been perfect, but it was one of the happiest times of my life.

Sadly, today’s adolescent girls of the valleys will never apperceive what they accept absent out on.

The aftermost adventure of Aback in Time for the Branch affectedness on Wednesday 10 October at 8pm on BBC One Wales. The alternation is accessible now on BBC iPlayer.

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