Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Making Jessica’s Stocking by Rosemary Johnson

Rosemary Johnson is ACW Competitions Manager.  Do you have a story set before 1970?  If so, our current historical fiction competition is for you.  Our deadline is 31 December, so best get it submitted to us before Christmas.  Our judge is Claire Dunn (of the Secret of the Journal series).    For more information, visit the ACW website competitions page.

In September, my daughter Rachel said to me, “Jessica doesn’t have a stocking.”

Stockings Author Made in 1990s.When Rachel and her brother, Alan, were small, I made Christmas stockings for them both, with their names appliqued on to Christmassy fabric, using the zig-zag stitch on my sewing machine. Did I really?  I couldn’t do that now.  A few years ago, Rachel made one for her son, Max..  (Cop out, that - only three letters.)

Last Christmas, Rachel’s daughter, Jessica, was only six weeks old, but, this year, she’s walking around, saying ‘Hello’ and determined to do everything like her big brother.  Rachel is back at work.  She’s a writer too, editor of a highly-technical energy publication.  At half term she appeared with a bag, containing materials to make a Christmas stocking (also a half-made wigwam for Max, but we won’t go into that.)  Would you make Jessica’s stocking, please, Mum?

November came and went and then December.  I know you’re busy, Mum. 

Oh, yes, sorry.  I'll around to it… Come on, we’ll start now.

Sunday before last, before our breakfast but after my granddaughter’s, Rachel cut out the letters in ‘Jessica’ in red felt and I cut out the stocking and lining.  Immediately we finished, we put it all in a bag which we placed on top of the piano (out of reach of little fingers).  On Monday and Tuesday, I teach.  On Wednesday, I received an email informing me that I had a learning observation (which I will have had endured by the time you read this).  After panicking and raging and swearing, I spent all day preparing for it, and nearly forgot to write my monthly post for the Insecure Writers Support Group.  (I did it eventually, at eleven pm, but it wasn’t my best effort.)

Letters Stitched on to the Stocking.
On Thursday afternoon, my mind still churning about how best to teach this lesson to suit an observer with Ofsted breathing down her neck, I spotted the bag on the piano.  I picked it up.  I pinned the letters to the stocking.  I tacked them in place.  Less courageous (and less skilled) than before, I began hand-stitching them on to the stocking fabric.  It took two hours.  What peace came with the rhythmic movements of my fingers.  For the first time for many days, I was able to think and to pray, slowly and with my whole heart.  Praying done, my mind moved on to the novel chapter I was writing, to go through dialogue in my mind, to properly involve myself in characters and scenes.  Then I remembered Elijah finding God, not in the earthquake nor the fire but in the gentle blowing wind.

I recalled how, at the ACW Writers Weekend at Scargill House last June, half-knitted blanket squares, on knitting pins, were left around the lounge area, for us to add a few rows, if we wanted to.  I realise that these were put there as much for our quietness as the neo-natal unit for which they were destined. 

Stitching the Stocking Lining on the Sewing Machine
Next day, I tackled the seams of the stocking and lining, also the bias binding at the top.  With the sewing machine clattering away - and un-threading itself just to annoy me - it wasn’t the same.  I need quiet and still time.  Not completely still, though; I’ve never been able to pray in front of an altar or statue.  I need to do something with my hands so I can write and pray and pray and write.

Rosemary Johnson has had many short stories published, in print and online, amongst other places, The Copperfield Review, Circa and Every Day Fiction.  In real life, she is a part-time IT tutor, living in Suffolk with her husband and cat.  Her cat supports her writing by sitting on her keyboard and deleting large portions of text.

Jessica's Stocking.  The Finished Article.


  1. Lovely post, reminding us peace can come in unlikely ways. Your are talented to be able to sew as well as write! Hope your ob went well x

  2. I really enjoyed reading this, as I relax with a hot chocolate, feeling thankful I've just made it through my last teaching day this year! Phew! You are certainly multi-talented! X