Sewing seeds of inspiration
Being a successful woman in life has nothing to do with living in a big house, driving a big fancy car or earning “big money”.
Success is about taking your humble beginning and arriving at a comfortable point in your life where you are proud of who you are and what you have become.
Needleworker Pauline Waterman lives by this mantra, never forgetting the valuable lessons that have taught her how to live a virtuous life.
As a child, Waterman aspired to becoming a nurse, but that career goal was never achieved.
“I didn’t have the qualifications because all of us had to stop, go in the canefields and help my parents load canes. Everyone of us had to go along, according to the age, and load canes. I spent very little time within secondary school because every crop time you had to stop and load cane until the crop finished and then you go back to school. You wouldn’t pass your exams and stuff. I use to be [ashamed]. When the bus pass[ed] with the schoolchildren, you used to hide.
“You had to tie the cane together and when the trailer come, you frightened as hell to go up on the ladder. You worked fast because you want to get ahead of the other people,” she told Barbados TODAY, recounting elements of her life’s journey.
Sitting in a chair at her Cheapside Market-based workshop, Waterman also recalled that her father had died before she was ten years old, leaving her mother to raise 11 children on her own.
Nevertheless, according to the 59-year-old, “growing up was good because yuh had to have manners and yuh had to live good.”
“Upwards till this day we live good. We don’t fight, we don’t quarrel, nothing like that. Yuh had to do with what yuh had and neighbours would share,” she said.
The needleworker, who is mostly self-taught, described her ability to sew almost any piece of clothing as a gift from God, which has allowed her to earn an honest dollar.
Her first sewing job came when she was just ten years old. It took place on a grass bed at her humble St Joseph abode.
“Dey had this needleworker woman that she didn’t like me because of the mere fact that she use to stand up at the side of the road and question children about home. She couldn’t question me; so she didn’t like me.
“My godmother gave me this black and white cloth to wear to my church harvest and all of my other sisters went after me [to the needleworker] and get them dress. I keep going and tell her that my mother say send the dress and she would always tell me it ain’t finish. I came back from Sunday School, and she tell me come back, that it ain’t done; and I just make two steps forward and went back and tell she that my mother say to send the cloth.
“And I went home and went in the grass bed. I could remember my mother saying, ‘What you in there doing? you very quiet’. But my mother didn’t know I tek back the cloth from the woman and I make that dress with my hands. Yuh know now I gone to the harvest, but I can’t sit down with the rest, because I only long stitch.”
Waterman’s efforts for making her own dress for the church harvest caused her some licks, which she received from her mother after she found out that her ten-year-old daughter had collected the cloth from the needleworker. “Now that is the difference between then and now. Yuh ain’t know I still get lashes because I tell she that my mother say to send the cloth. My mother come home and ask me, ‘Who send you to get back that cloth from Hilda?’
“And I turn round and tell she, ‘But she wasn’t making it and I tell you every since that she didn’t like me’.”
My mother lick me and tell me that I is too much blasted woman. At that time, doing something like that you was a woman cause yuh ain’t had no right carrying out no message unless yuh mother send it.”
Nevertheless, that was the beginning of Waterman’s making her own little clothing. Soon she would become known around the neighbourhood as the wedding dressmaker.
She recalled: “There is a vine that does grow, yuh does mostly find it round the grave yard. Every evening when I come home and I done do my work, I use to go in the graveyard and pick that and choose a boy and girl from in the district, and I used to dress up the girl as the bride with that. Now, I can make a bridal gown faster than I can make a skirt suit. I love making bridal wear.”
“Things come natural to me. Things that even people that went to the [Barbados] Community College and did designing can’t get put together. If you call me I could just look at the angle of the cloth and tell you if it was cut wrong or what should go where,” she said.
She believes that her talent was a gift from God, and according to her, that was proven to her some years ago while she was making a wedding dress for a customer.
“I get up the morning and sweep the house and mop and everything, and I sat down by the machine and I did not know how to thread the needle. Everything was erased from my mind. I didn’t know if the cotton was to go through the top or bottom of the needle. I woke up my son and my daughter and they said, ‘Mummy, how you mean that you don’t know how to thread the needle?’
“I started to cry. I just stopped and started repeating that I can do everything through Christ who strengthens me. And it come back to me. You know what I learnt from that? That needlework is a gift that the Lord gave to me and He can take it back whenever he is ready.”
Thankful for that gift and wanting to share her blessings with others, Waterman pointed out that
she did not let a day go by without carrying out a good deed, “free of cost”.
“Let me tell you right. I have a girlfriend that she and I went way back. She took sick last year. She has a teenaged daughter here and one daughter away. She doesn’t have no husband, no sister to help her. She was really sick.
she was hospitalized I went to the hospital twice a day. And she is no family to me. She is just a friend. She is better now.”
Waterman describes herself as a simple individual who does not go after everything that life has to offer.
“And I closed my workshop and took care of her for not a cent for almost a year. She couldn’t help herself, she couldn’t bathe herself. When
“You see where I is now, that I could look at you, that is the proudest time that anybody could be,” said a smiling Waterman, shaking her head in agreement throughout her testimony.