Nine Days – Day Nine

This evening sees the end of this nine-day blog. Writing the poem has been a good way of looking back with love and affection and looking ahead with hope and humour. If you’ve enjoyed following these nine days, please share the link or send me a comment.

My Mother’s Book of Hours: Novena


But keep the beech-wood box itself for memory—

For our two grandmothers’ sakes, even for poetry’s sake—

And maybe take

One small bright thimble

For faith & hope & love (all three).

Go on—

It fits your finger—see?


© Lizzie Ballagher



Nine Days – Day Eight

Only a very short post today, but with a couple of big questions in it. Shall we go to the local tip? Shall we hire a skip (for the North American reader, a dumpster)? A time for keeping and a time for throwing away! The old sewing box contains almost everything but the proverbial kitchen sink…


My Mother’s Book of Hours: Novena


Look, love! Is it time to haul the whole lot to the city tip?

Nothing in the box will mend/amend the mess we’ve made!

Long-cherished rubbish here would fill a skip.

© Lizzie Ballagher



Nine Days – Day Seven

Unravelling muddles isn’t always good, and sometimes the memories are as sharp as the hat-pins of a previous blog. Equally, though, there are corners full of colour and joyful remembrance…

My Mother’s Book of Hours: Novena


This box, I tell you—with all its forlorn jumble-jangle of bright stuff,

Its tangled pick-up-sticks of hooks & needles,

Of buckles & bangles & dancing-skirt spangles,

Of patchwork pieces—is all yours now.

No longer shall I calculate with frayed measuring tape

(It lies, for sure);

Or cut with rusting shears,

Or mend with reels or spools or bobbins

From this box.

No longer shall I read my mother’s Book of Hours—

This needlebook bibled in downy blue felt.

© Lizzie Ballagher



Nine Days – Day Six

I had forgotten the sachet that I hem-stitched and embroidered for my mother as a child. It was a surprise when it surfaced among the clutter in the sewing box at the end of her life. I suppose she prized it, as I still prize the things my own children made.

My Mother’s Book of Hours: Novena


From chalk & talk in Needlecraft, off-cuts of fabric rustle out:

Triumphantly you hold aloft the soft velvet cord

Of a coat I sewed you for school plays;

And the Irish linen of a sachet for white handkerchiefs—

What on earth is that? you ask.

It is a thing I sewed for Mum, I say, in tiny, pin-prick hem-stitching,

The hankies folded, redolent of peachy face-powder

And other relics of a bygone age,

A bygone stage.

© Lizzie Ballagher



Nine Days – Day Five

Who would have thought that the clearing out of an old family sewing box would discover so many trinkets, bits of trash, and treasures? Here is the fifth poem of nine for you.

My Mother’s Book of Hours: Novena


Granny’s antique cigarette tins (tightly shut

For forty years) still smell—so faintly—of tobacco.

You inhale; you read the lid & scoff,

Will not affect your throat—ha-ha!

Inside: a hook that Allison & I both used

To crochet curly, swirly tea-cosies:

It rests with Granny’s lethal hat-pins.

How often Mum derided those!

Hats? Not for me! So daft. And hat pins?

Murder weapons, more like!

While we (who love to wear huge hats

And wild, exotic fascinators for a laugh)

Would never think of pinning them.

© Lizzie Ballagher



Nine Days – Day Four

“Make do and mend” was a favourite saying of my parents and others in Britain who lived through World War 2. The ingrained attitude meant that in my teen years I spent many hours in a sort of darning purgatory. So I feel nothing but dismay as I review the darning paraphernalia that was left in our family sewing box. Yes, I can still “mend hosiery” (as the cards used to say so quaintly), but it will certainly never be a favourite occupation. Give me a poem to mend any time!


My Mother’s Book of Hours: Novena


From just below the open lids

A humble darning-mushroom surfaces—

Rough-scuffed by all the years of cloth stretched

Over it by Granny, Mum & me (& now perhaps by you)

And scratched by needles flashing in & out

Tugging miles of Mending Thread for Hosiery

Unreeling yarn from those quaint darning cards

That no one uses in this century.

© Lizzie Ballagher


Nine Days – Day Three

As I post the third part of this nine-day poem, I am chagrined to admit that I am the only woman in my family who is useless at knitting. Ah well!

My Mother’s Book of Hours: Novena


At the bottom of the second drawer I’m shamed

By boxed-up sets of dinky (show-off!) books for knitters

And (for me) a dummy’s guide to knitting.

Not even page 1’s careful diagrams could help me knit.

The family dropped a stitch with me.

Yes, Granny knitted, cousins knit, Mum knitted

(Needles clicket-clacket, click, click, clack)

And so do you. But I?

Lost cause! I never got the knack.

© Lizzie Ballagher


Nine Days – Day Two

You can read the first part of this nine-day poem on a post made yesterday. I hope you will enjoy this entire series.

My Mother’s Book of Hours: Novena


From the first drawer we pluck out a little basket, full

Of buttons, beads & even dried-out melon seeds.

I treasure still those bracelets that you made for me,

While Mum, it seems, kept samples of the tatty trinkets

Allison & I created out of seeds

Then painted with our poster paints

In lurid pinks & purples.


(c) Lizzie Ballagher



Nine Days

My mother was no more enthusiastic about sewing than I am, but she sewed well and encouraged me to learn from her. It’s only now that she’s not around any more to support and advise that I appreciate just how knowledgeable she was, and just how many hours she spent each week sewing because – in a time of scarcity – there was no choice but to sew one’s own clothes and furnishings…and mend them, too.

Over nine days, I’ll be publishing short extracts from a new nine-part poem. It begins here.

My Mother’s Book of Hours: Novena


Double beech-wood covers yawn wide as a cathedral bible

To yield their treasures,

And suddenly we’re unearthing from the sewing box

The scriptures of our family history—

Here, in all their muddled glory.

(c) Lizzie Ballagher