the relative merits of craft shops

The other day, I found myself at a loose end in central London, and, catching sight of Liberty’s at the end of the street I was pottering along, I thought to myself ‘what better place to while away a spare hour?’, and headed straight for it, with a new-found sense of direction. I was in one of those moods when I felt that the whim might just take me to splash out on some extravagant home accessory, as if to give my day some kind of purpose (exactly what it lacked up to that point), and Liberty’s seemed like the kind of place where that kind of whim would most likely be satisfied. Naturally, as soon as I saw the sign to the haberdashery department, I made a beeline for it, knowing that this would be where I would find my satisfaction, and my purse its undoing.

But on the contrary, despite the unbeatable surroundings – and I really love the interior of Liberty’s – I found nothing whatsoever to tempt me. There was very little fabric to choose from, and an even tinier selection of remnants, and next to nothing in the way of what you could really call ‘creative’ or ‘craft’ materials. Everything came pre-packaged in kits, or in tiddly sample quantities of overpriced notions. None of it was aimed at people who actually make anything from scratch – it was all ready-made decorations for other ready-made items. It all just left me wondering where things went wrong, since once upon a time I have no doubt that Liberty’s really would have been the place to go to buy just about anything (and especially things of a luxury nature) for one’s haberdashery needs.

Then last weekend I went to Cambridge, and made my customary visit to the new fabric shop, CallyCo. (I still think of it as new, although it’s actually been around for nearly a year now. I guess it’s just a year I haven’t been around…) The difference was radical. Although this shop is a mere fraction of the size of Liberty’s, they have an enormous variety of fabrics, both dress and upholstery-weight, plus a selection of notions and kits that is plenty large enough, plus threads in all colours of the rainbow, and even paint! And, (what always gets me), an endlessly changing selection of remnants and fat quarters, which never fails to entice me whenever I go in. Fortunately that tends not to be more than once a month at present, but once I move back to that side of the country, there’s no knowing what might become of me (the photo above being the outcome of my latest visit).

Similarly, a visit to Oxford’s one and only dedicated (and also relatively new) haberdashery shop, Darn It & Stitch, was far more inviting than its capital city, luxury department store cousin. Although another tiny space, they really pack a lot in, and it’s always surprising how many cute or beautiful things I find in there to interest me – the bunny fabric above being a case in point. From locally-dyed wool, to vintage buttons and zips, to fat quarters and fabric by the metre, and that’s not all, by any means.

The moral of the story? There isn’t much of one, really, and I’m sure it’s been said before. But in order to find really interesting and lovely materials for crafty purposes beyond ready-packed kits, the biggest and most likely-looking stores rarely have the answer. Thank goodness little shops like these ones exist, or where would I be? (The answer? Probably a lot richer.)