Carol O’Callaghan visits a unique retail gem in the heart of Cork City serving the needs of craft makers, homemakers, bookworms, and hobbyists — and one that should be visited for the experience alone.
My fairly recent purchase of a sewing machine, prompted by ambitions of running up some drapery and covering cushions to my own specifications, hadn’t really gotten off the ground until two things occurred.
First of all, I made a casual visit to Vibes & Scribes on Cork’s Bridge St. I’ve been a fan for years of the bookshop branch on nearby Lavitt’s Quay, as you’d be hard-pressed to find such an extensive stock of tomes on design, interiors, and art anywhere else — and every other subject, fact or fiction, for that matter.
I had no particular reason to frequent the craft hub on Bridge St until my near-dormant sewing ambitions were spurred on by a sense of awe at the fabulous creations being run up by a friend at a sewing course. Apparently, Mallow, or The Mallow College of Design and Tailoring, to be precise, is the place to channel your inner Reynolds Woodcock and realise your couture-making aspirations.
So, armed with nothing more than my beginner’s enthusiasm, I was lured inside Vibes & Scribes by an eye-catching stone frontage, framing a window display offering a flavour of what was to come.
Inside, and first up, are the sewing accessories, many of which I couldn’t identify, like ‘eyelets’ and ‘bindings’. It’s a foreign vocabulary, but with a few comfortingly familiar words like ‘pins’ and ‘hook and eye’. Lucky for me my sewing friend, who, incidentally, speaks several languages, is also fluent in haberdashery.
Drifting further into the shop I almost passed, but quickly rewound my steps to a millinery section offering all the paraphernalia to make your very own fascinator — if a trip to Cheltenham or a wedding is imminent.
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If that sounds a bit challenging, fret not, as the shop runs demonstrations during the course of the year on making millinery curios, as well as courses on upholstery, shoe painting, knitting, and furniture upcycling, making the shop not just a destination for established bookworms and dressmakers, but crafters as well.
From there it’s on to fabric, displayed on vertical rolls which run from floor to ceiling, and I found myself stalking a nun who not only knew the run of the shop, but spoke in an advanced form to the ladies behind the counter. I can only dream.
Slinking downstairs, I would warn chromophobic and koumpounophobics (fear of colour and buttons) to look away now, as it’s akin to entering the Pantone colour wheel in the form of balls of wool and buttons. It’s also the happiest shop basement I’ve ever encountered, and for a moment I wondered if I ought to abandon the sewing aspirations in favour of manipulating a few yarns into a sexy geansaí — just to spend time there. (Although, with my track record in school knitting projects, a cushion cover is more achievable).
In this kiddies’ sweet shop for grown-ups, quite a few enthusiasts browsed wool and patterns and edged past me on the stairs with armfuls of yarn. Some are clearly hardened knitters — you could tell by the confidence with which they pursued their quarry, while others were clearly dipping into the revival of knitting as a pastime made popular again with a little help from celebrities.
Snapped by paparazzi while caught in the act of two plain, two purl? Remember Sarah Jessica Parker getting intimate with a pair of needles and a ball of wool on the set of Sex and the City.
I certainly recognised the brow-furrowing looks among some shoppers, which I myself donned in the haberdashery section. It doesn’t last long, though, as an outreach to the smiling ladies behind the counter solves all problems.
They’re not the modern ‘wrap and cash’ shop assistants but a different and near-extinct species, with real enthusiasm for the customer’s project.
Fluent, if not native speakers, in haberdashery with a proficiency in the dialects of knitting, millinery, decoupage, paper craft, jewellery making and felting, their knowledge is extensive.
Have I left anything out? Probably, as the shop’s offering is ever evolving and its audience just as varied. It’s this which sets it apart from the insipidity of chain stores which clutter up the retail hubs of our cities.
With the announcement that Cork stalwart Liam Russell is closing after 100 years of trading in books, there’s solace in the prosperity of Vibes & Scribes. Long may it spin and weave its magic.