AS BRIGHT AS A BUTTON
Rationing and recycling were among the solutions for a 1940s Britain suffering from the ravages of war. Clothes had to last longer and people had to become more inventive about reusing old fabrics and resources – prompting a high street full of haberdashery suppliers and converts to the art of knitting and needlework.
And despite modern life threatening to wipe out any notion of "make do and mend", the recession has given it something of a revival. With homemade items very much back in fashion, shops like Sew and Sew are once again doing a booming trade.
Spread over two sites in St Nicholas Market the shop, run by Karenza Britton, is an Aladdin's cave of goodies. From buttons, ribbons and wool to feathers, beads and patterns it offers not only the tools and raw materials but also the expertise and advice for any wannabe crafter.
Karenza started working part time at the shop 15 years ago and has gradually taken on a managerial role.
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She said: "There has been a craft and haberdashery on this site for more than 30 years. It was Evangeline's crafts up until three years ago and it was a haberdashery before then.
"We try and sell absolutely everything for people who are into crafts. One shop has haberdashery, yarn and wool and the other has paper craft, cross stitching and the little beads and buttons.
"We did a stock count of our ribbons last week and we had more than 2,000 different types."
And as the haberdashery counters that used to be found in large department stores have slowly been removed, places like Sew and Sew are reaping the rewards.
"House of Fraser used to do haberdashery but when they moved to Cabot Circus they stopped," says Karenza. "There are a few specialist shops on the outskirts of Bristol but I don't think there's anything like our shop in the centre. Despite that we still get customers who walk in and say they've lived in Bristol all their lives and only just discovered us."
The team of four staff who work in the shop have decades of crafting experience between them and Karenza says they try to keep on top of the latest trends.
"We noticed that more and more people were starting to make their own things, or repair their clothes, before the recession hit, but in the last few years that has increased. People like to embellish their clothes and young girls are learning to knit. We've seen a lot of men coming in asking about knitting too.
"We try and keep up to date with the latest things people are making. A lot of people come in for things and they say 'You might find this strange but I'm looking for...' but we often don't find it strange at all. And if we don't have the item they are looking for we will usually know where to get it.
"Last year we kept getting requests for red cord and we didn't know why. Then we found out that Kirstie Allsop had done a television programme about Christmas crafts using red cord. At Halloween we kept getting men coming in asking for zips and it turned out there was a video on YouTube showing how to make a zombie costume with a zip face. It can be quite random. "
Knowing her customers' shopping and crafting is something that has come with experience and helps Karenza keep the shop stocked with all the items people might want.
"When it comes to Christmas a lot of people like to make various things, like ornaments, costumes for plays and pantomimes, or jewellery for gifts, but because of the time it takes they start in September. By November we're all Christmassed out.
"People do makes things seasonally though. In winter it's scarves and woollen items, or cross stitch kits to keep people busy when they can't go outside, and then in spring people are making jewellery because they are baring more skin to show it off.
"When it was the Queen's jubilee last year people made things in red, white and blue. We had some items on display in the shop, too – we do get a lot of people coming in and telling us what they've made or showing us a picture and we like to encourage that.
"We have a bit of a show and tell at work where we show off what we've made. The others call me the knitting expert but they have their own specialist areas, too. When I first started here I could embroider and that was it but I've learned so much. For Christmas I made my dad a cover for his kindle and I never would have imagined doing anything like that 15 years ago.
"When Evangeline was here she had a wedding shop, too, and I used to make bridal jewellery, so over the years I've picked up lots of new skills.
"We're always happy to see the new things people make and it's great to see so many people interested in sewing or knitting and crafting. 'Make do and mend' is a well-worn phrase here."
Sew and Sew 58-61 Covered Market, St Nicholas Market, Bristol, BS1 1LJ. Tel 0117 925 7170.