Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Material World: The Local Haberdashery Shop Was Once a Magical Place

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Material World: The Local Haberdashery Shop Was Once a Magical Place

Article excerpt

Who remembers the little haberdashery shop? Sadly, I don't remember having a local one on my high street (John Lewis was and is my local, although its haberdashery department has been removed from its prime spot on the ground floor). I thought of this as I read a Ladybird book to my daughter: Shopping with Mother. Delightful 1950s children living cosy 1950s lives with their beautifully dressed mother, going shopping with her open basket, which she carries in gloved hands. And there on the high street, in the wonderful illustrations by J H Wingfield, is a butcher and a fishmonger and a toyshop and a draper. It's enough to make you weep.

The haberdasher's is a place of magic. As a teenager, I would spend hours, intent on making my own clothes, looking at the rows of ribbon and maribou that could be cut to order. I would giggle at the foam bra-cups (I never worked out what these were for; I guess making your own, very sophisticated swimwear). The cotton-reel display would teach me about colours beyond the primary wheel we had at school. I remember thinking that Gutermann sewing thread must be the most sophisticated you could get, as it came in so many shades.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

It was there that I bought my first scissors, where I experimented with Velcro, and where I would browse through doorstep-sized pattern catalogues for inspiration. Many hours were lost at the button counter, where you'd pick a card, sewn over with buttons of a certain "family" in different sizes, and take it to the lady behind the counter, who would count out your order from tiny plastic drawers. …

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