June 11, 2008

Here's one I prepared earlier....

I wanted to write about the sewing shops I've seen on my travels. In fact, I did write about the ones in Italy, and then I failed to get an internet connection for more than few minutes to upload it, so I here it is.


Sewing scenes, Italian style

Travellers tend to notice the things that relate to their interest: bird spotters mutter about species in trees, bike fanciers remark on unusual grades and gearing. Perhaps nuns collect sightings of street shrines or saints’ altars? Kids definitely have a laser beam for zoning in on gelateria.

So, what goes through the mind of a rabid sewer as she traverses the streets of Italy?

At first I couldn’t see any sign of sewing shops. I know that different countries hide them in different places: in Canada, the fabric store is often a box store in a strip mall; in the UK, it’s a little shop tucked away on the cute but slightly less fashionable side of a country village green, and in Australia the best ones to be found are in the Italian and Greek neighbourhoods, where quilting cottons nestle up with wedding silks and Italian suiting wool, and where bargains can be found for those who rummage.

Italian shops in Italy - well, they seem different again. I finally spotted one - a hole in the wall - and popped in, only to shoot back out like a cork out of champagne, much to the amusement of my husband. “It’s scary in there,” I wailed, needing encouragement to have another go.

Why? Well, imagine if you will, a lovely old arcade, let’s say for argument’s sake, it’s a row of arches some 500 years old, and under each arch there’s a wooden shop front and shiny windows with carefully arranged, enticing goods on display. So far, so good.

(Aside: Below is a metal representation of embroidery on the wall of a hill town caled Montefalcino - these plaques illustrated the traditional crafts of the town. - And this is the deserted place where we came across a man, making a pair of leather sandals, using the top of this city wall as a work bench - 20 meters down if you drop your tools.....)

But back to sewing shops....
On the inside, sewing shops are small cupboard-sized rooms with shelves to the ceiling, each one filled with closed boxes – just like a blank wall of shoe boxes. There’s a counter of well-polished wood, and the ubiquitous gang of toughs – I mean – trio of old ladies – standing around talking….. and the moment you pop your head in the door, they All. Stop. Talking.

- “Pronto!”

One of them, the major duomo, says. That’s polite shorthand for, 'what do you want?'

The other three stare.

And if your Italian is about as fluent as a 1972 cinqucento with one gear and a flat tyre, you tend to sputter a bit and turn pink. Or at least, that’s what I did.

The thing about these shops is that they know their customer, and if you are one of their ladies who makes beautiful curtains and comes in with the measurements of your windows and an idea in mind, I bet you could have a lovely long cosy discussion about what kinds of tassels to buy. (Oh, they have tassels, pinned on one wall are samples -- rows and rows of silk, frogged, multi-layered tassels, tassels in every colour).

But if you don’t have a plan, and you love to browse and ogle the fabrics and trimmings, you could find yourself out of luck.

Speaking of measurements, I haven’t mentioned the one other thing that makes the experience intimidating:

It’s the undies.

Now, I’m not the kind of girl to come all over a blush with the profusion of lacy delights that make up the Italian obsession (it is an obsession), with underwear shops. Most of these fancy lingerie shops display prancing dancing mannequins swirled in the barest wisp of gauzy g-things, the most cut away of cut away bathing suits, in gold lame, no less, and even one pink rubbery silky creation that prompted my husband to say, "My goodness, her bubblegum seems to have exploded all over her body!”. These shops are everywhere, and they are also manned exclusively by short tough-looking grandmammas.

(This unfortunate woman appears to have sprouted little angels that hold up her bra. How awkward.)

Now, I don't have the uge to buy undies the way I want to check out the fabrics and ribbons (sorry). However, they are often One and the same shop!

Proof: The House of Buttons.

I'm not sure why. Probably because they make their own. I discovered that when I wanted to find the sewing shops, all I had to do was to look for the very scary advertising of the bras, the bra-making bits and a gaggle of grandmammas....


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