28 - The Stitching Elmers
This blog has been about walks from my own front door. The premise is that, when you walk with no aim in mind but the walk, who knows what you will see when you look, even down the most familiar streets. Having ventured between 0.5 and 8 miles in the past, I have decided to narrow this new series of feetmap walks down even further, to just a quarter of a mile stretch at the top end – some might even say the unfashionable end – of Ryde High Street, uphill of the Star Coffee & Ale House. I have a suspicion that this quarter mile may hold some wonderful adventures in store. Let’s face it, there are few ordinary shops in Ryde, but I’ve been guilty as anyone of frequenting the lower end of the High Street, and so I will be venturing into the unknown in some cases where my shopping at the top end has been largely confined to window gazing.
Today I broke my rule. I did have an aim in mind. I needed a toggle for my blind cords and The Stitching Elmers seemed the obvious place to try first as they have absolutely everything haberdashery. I’m guessing that the graduated procession of three elephants trunk to tail in their window represent the three generations of this family of experts in everything you can do with thread, fabric or wool. I stood at the opposite side of the street and took in the fabulous autumnal colours of the Elmers’ ingenious window display. Bare branches created from coils of brown fabric cleverly echo the stitched autumn tree in the handmade quilt that forms a backdrop. Above, a short transparent curtain supports a shower of autumn leaves and a cute knitted rabbit perches one leg each in a giant pair of wellies against the most gorgeous autumnal fabric I’ve ever seen. And visible beyond, oh beyond, baskets, shelves, racks, reels, bobbins and skeins of pattern, colour and texture to make your head spin, all expertly curated by Hayley and Stephanie who run the shop. Inside, pandemic-permitting, this shop isn’t just a shop. It’s a hub of community industry, a place for people to come and learn, knit, stitch, quilt and make friends, with regular workshops and events encouraging, not just old hands, but, as they say, “our future generation of crafters”. The sense of community stretches out beyond the shop. Hayley spoke to me with affection of her neighbouring shopkeepers at the butcher’s and the Polish shop opposite. In the past, Stephanie has helped me find not one, but three different shades of electric blue embroidery thread to embellish a stitched artwork, and given thoughtful advice on the problems of hanging it. Going in such shops is a risky business, easy as it is to be seduced by a big, soft muted hand-crocheted blanket for just £15, a Liberty fat quarter for just £3.50 – you need to go in and find out what one of those is, or look up their international mail-order business online (see below the video) – or any one of those mouth-watering arrays of colour-coordinated fabrics. Today, searching for the elusive toggle, I wandered into “The Penthouse” at the back. There was a toggle – a beautiful stainless steel one, far prettier than the lump of plastic that had previously organised my blind cords, alas too small, but there, propped up against the wall of the penthouse, was an unexpected invitation in the form of two big coils of neat mesh. I caught my breath, hardly daring to believe what I’d found. “Is that…is that…for rug-making?” “Yeah,” said Hayley nonchalantly, distracted by her determined search for the elusive toggle. Little did she know the stir of longing that burned deep within my breast. Every so often, since childhood, I’ve had intermittent but passionate bursts of creative rugmaking, loving the textures and colourful possibilities of this craft… I went out the shop. But the day had taken on a new perspective. Those penthouse coils are calling me back.
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