Secrets of the Sewing Bee by Kate Thompson
Published: 10th March 2016
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Available in Paperback and on Kindle
Orphan Flossy Brown arrives at Trout's garment factory in Bethnal Green amidst the uncertainty of the Second World War. Flossy is embraced by the colourful characters working at Trout's, who have turned their sewing expertise to vital war work. They fast become the family that Flossy has always longed for. Dolly Doolaney, darling of the East End, and infamous tea lady, helps Flossy settle into wartime life. Peggy Piper, another new recruit at the factory, is used to the high life working as a nippie in the West End, and is not best pleased to find herself bent over a sewing machine. But war has the ability to break down all sorts of class barriers and soon Peggy finds the generosity and spirit of her fellow workers difficult to resist. Dolly sets up a sewing circle and the ladies at Trout's play their part in defending the frontline as they arm themselves with their needles and set about stitching their way to victory. But as the full force of the Blitz hits London, the sewing bee are forced to shelter in the underground tube stations. In such close quarters, can Dolly manage to contain the secret that binds them all? And how will Peggy and Flossy cope as their lives are shaped and moved by forces outside of their control?
Secrets of the Sewing Bee by Kate Thompson is set in 1940s Bethnal Green in London and follows three girls working at Trout’s garment factory, Dolly, Flossy and Peggy. Each girl is hiding secrets about their past, as the war draws these girls closer will they be able to confide and comfort each other?
Dolly Doolaney is the factory’s tea-lady and was just brimming with love for all her girls. She was the perfect mother hen figure helping many of the girls out with various problems. She seemed to be the eternal optimist even in the middle of the bombing blitz she tried her hardest to look on the bright side. She’s determined that her life is going to mean something so sets up the sewing bee so she can do as much as possible to help her country. Flossy was the youngest main character and she was probably my favourite character as I loved how much she changed throughout the book. When we first meet her she’s timid, shy and a devout rule-follower after being brought up in an orphanage. As the war progresses she becomes braver and stronger and begins to break free of some rules and fight for what she believes in. Peggy was the final main character and initially I wasn’t too keen on her she seemed to be above joining in with the girls believing she was better than them as she came from the West End of London. After a few months she realises the war is not going to end so soon and her old life is gone. When she joins the rest of the girls in the sewing bee she became a much nicer person.
I found the Secrets of the Sewing Bee to be a very enjoyable read. Kate Thompson has done her research well and this book felt very real. It portrayed the east end as rough, dirty and perhaps a forgotten part of London during the war. Despite the area being pretty dismal the spirit of the people that lived there comes across brilliantly. I loved reading about the comradery among the women in the factory and those living in Bethnal Green. They stick together, look out for each other and never seem to give in, even when they’ve lost everything. It’s a spirit to be very much admired given the circumstances.
Secrets of the Sewing Bee is a novel of friendship, family, tragedy, hope, loss, fighting spirit and never giving up. It’s a novel which had me laughing, gasping and crying as I got caught up in the lives of Dolly, Flossy and Peggy.
I’d like to rate this novel 4 out 5 stars and I would also like to thank the publishers for sending me a copy to review in exchange for my honest opinions.