Wearing the gown my mother sewed

By sh850 2min read

When Rashida Haque was growing up in Cambridge, her dressing up costume of choice was a graduation gown. Not because, at that stage, she harboured academic ambitions, but because her mother, Shirin, sewed them for the Colleges.

After moving to Cambridge at the age of 19 from Bangladesh, Shirin worked in a garment factory off Mill Road, where she made her living as a seamstress. Much of her work came, via a supplier, from the University, for whom she made countless gowns and College scarves.  

“I have vivid memories of going to the factory, and of this woman who would appear with these enormous bags of gowns for stitching,” says Rashida now. “My mum also had a massive sewing machine at home, and I still remember the humming and the noise. Lots of South Asian women did that job, as it allowed them to work at home while bringing up children. I used to play dress up with the gowns and scarves and my mum would snatch them away so they didn’t get damaged. So much love and care went into the making of them.”

Rashida remembers regular sightseeing walks around Cambridge with her family, and grew up aware of the role of the Colleges. However, it wasn’t until after she had completed a degree in English Literature at Anglia Ruskin, and spent a year as a teaching assistant, that she became part of collegiate life herself.

After undertaking her PGCE at Homerton in 2018, she began teaching English at Impington Village College. While teaching, she took on the additional challenge of a Masters in Education, which she completed mid-pandemic last year.

“It was quite full on. We were providing online teaching throughout lockdown, and hybrid teaching from November onwards. I was also completing assignments and submitted my thesis in October 2020. I was studying Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature, and the Faculty of Education was full of people who were really understanding and supportive.”

Last weekend, Rashida’s parents joined her for her graduation ceremony, at which she wore one of those familiar gowns for real.

“My mum was quite emotional on the day. She kept checking the material and making sure it was all hanging right. We’re full of gratitude for how God has blessed us and brought this story full circle."