Wessex Film and Sound Archive

Evelyn Cozens

Evelyn Cozens was born 1905 in Sholing, Southampton. In her interview, she describes her early life and how she honed her dressmaking skills as a youngster in the work rooms of Tyrrell and Green. After a period away as an unwilling servant and nursery nurse for well-to-do families, she returned to set up as a dressmaker in 1927 in her parent’s home in the city. She recalls her clientele and the challenges and pleasures of this forty year-long career, including a dramatic accident with a needle during the blackout and bombing of Southampton in the Second World War. She made many of her own clothes and speaks vividly of what was involved.  In later life Evelyn became well known as a collector of antique textiles.

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First extract 1m 41s
Evelyn Cozens recalls how her mother acquired good materials to clothe her doll and the family during the First World War

“I never had a doll ‘cos it was early times in the First World War, you see, and we couldn’t buy things like that but she managed to get a doll for my sister, and the funny thing about it was it had a plaster face and it was dead white and Mum couldn’t bear it like that so she painted its cheeks with cochineal and made it a most beautiful blue satin dress. The blue satin we had because my great aunt Emma was a lady’s maid, she was in service all her life and in those days of course they had very little wages, the maids, but being a lady’s maid she had what they called a lady’s maid’s perks, p.e.r.k.s., perks, and occasionally a lady would give her a bundle of the clothes she no longer required and my great aunt Emma would send them home to my mother to cut up to make clothes for us and also my cousins who were about the same age as me, and I’ve often said we must have had the prettiest bonnets, little jackets, and pram covers in Sholing.”

Second extract 54s
In response to being asked if she had made her own clothes all the time she earned her living as a dressmaker or if she had bought ready-mades for herself.

“Very seldom. No, I made all my own clothes, oh yes. Even now I haven’t got a petticoat or a nightie that I haven’t made so I’m wondering if they’ll last me the rest of my life. They are getting a bit worn by this time but er, no, I’ve always done my own sewing. I was always an awkward shape, size, because I was too short in the back for a Vogue [paper pattern], Vogue was always, oh, about 17 inches back, my back was only about 12 and ½ or 13, you know, so you had to do a tremendous lot of alterations in patterns and that’s one thing I had to learn”

Third extract 55s
Describing her work as a dressmaker from the late 1920s onwards, with a clientele mostly consisting of young working women ‘without much money’

“whereas a woman’s body in particular is never two days alike, it’s always altering, you might think you got absolutely perfect one week and she’d come in the next week and put her wedding dress on and she’d either gone in or gone out a bit, you know, it’s not an easy job, not an easy job and dressmaking is not an easy job if you do it properly. The one thing I did hate was somebody’d come to see me and say ‘Will you run me up a dress?’ I’d say ‘I’ve never run up a dress in my life.’ That was degrading. You made it properly.”

 
Dressmakers tape measure