The daughter of a humble tyneside dressmaker, Melissa Dornay has always loved to watch her mother create beautiful gowns for her wealthy customers. When her mother dies suddenly, Melissa is offered a home by a wealthy dressmaking client, Lilian Winterton. But Melissa's relief turns to anguish when Lillian reveals her true colours, treating her not as an adopted daughter, but as an unpaid seamstress.

Resented by the servants and ignored by the family, Melissa finds a friend in Rene, a kitchen maid, and the two girls snatch a few moments dressing in Lillian's cast-off clothes. Whilst in the park with Rene, Melissa attracts the attention of James, a handsome artist, but in her elegant garb she shies away, worried he will guess her true status.

Yet scandal soon follows and Melissa is cruelly thrown out by the Wintertons for a crime in which she was an innocent victim. She finds herself on the street, penniless and alone, with nothing but her needles and thread. Are her mother's dreams for her destined to end in despair? Or can the rags of her life be sewn into riches?