The Lost Art of Rummaging
A few days ago I paid a visit to my local craft shop in Glossop, this being the Glossop Craft Centre based in Smithy Fold near the town centre. In fact here, let me show you a picture of it:
As you can see from the array of tables, boxes, bird tables and parasols outside the front door, this is no modern craft superstore (such places shall remain nameless though I’m sure you know the kind of store I mean ;))! Tucked away in a cobbled side street, this little shop could not be accused of attempting to lure the unsuspecting crafter through its doors with promises of shiny wrappers, pristine shelves and grossly overpriced merchandise. No, Glossop Craft Centre has not succumbed to trickery and superficial gimmickry, or possibly even to the 21st century! Instead, upon passing through its doors one finds oneself gifted with the now increasingly rare pleasure of ‘rummaging’.
The stone walls and cabinet tops inside this barn-like structure are lined with a vast range of tools, materials and objects in small plastic bags. Tiny drawers and jam jars abound, full of beads, buttons, applique pieces, satin flowers. Wicker baskets full of ribbon offcuts and old reels of cotton nestle on top of mesh crates of fabric remnants. A shelved wall clings to its load of ribbons, cords, thonging, trims, laces. Below the shelves is another set of drawers containing items as random as a single music box mechanism that will start its stilted bell like tune if you manage to so much as nudge it against the top of its little hiding hole where it has been crammed so secretively and so preciously. I can easily spend a happy hour or two rummaging through this crafting mecca, investigating all those little drawers and jars and the items that lurk at the back of shelves, or are concealed in a stack of little bags hanging from a hook on the wall.
Now, for fans of the aforementioned craft superstores, such a place would doubtless hold little joy. Chaos is the name of the game and if you need structured order and nice straight shelves all lined up with nicely printed price labels then such a place is a direct route to frustration. This is its downside. However, I would argue that this shop gives us something far more valuable than ‘order’. It transforms shopping into a voyage of discovery. Every time I visit this shop I find myself looking with curiosity at items I have never seen before, tools whose purpose is a complete mystery to me. While the craft superstore may buy in such bulk that their prices for some lines are competitive (though by no means all, my jaw is constantly dropped in horror as I walk around those places), they are, by and large, limited to a mainstream range in order to guarantee they can sell the volume. They simply cannot compete with the sheer obscurity of a little shop such as the Glossop Craft Centre who seem to acquire very small quantities of less common items which sit happily alongside the day to day lines.
Being exposed to all these items, all these possibilities, in an environment free from sterile shelving and the overwhelming presence of straight lines, stimulates the creative imagination. I always find myself wandering around this place looking at things and thinking about how I could use them in a project; wanting to use them because they are beautiful or unusual or strange or have just taken my fancy. I always, without fail, come out with more than I went in for. Last week was a case in point. I went in for this…:
…and came out with this (incredibly priced as well, where else could I buy double sided velvet ribbon for 25p a metre?! Or black silky cord for 10p a metre?! It might be gone next week but that’s okay, something else will have taken its place :)):
But these were only the items I bought. More importantly I came out warmed by the pleasure of rummaging.
Now I know that perhaps I might seem to have a rosy tint in my eyes but how often do we get to have this kind of shopping experience nowadays? As a child growing up in Prestbury, a small Gloucestershire village, I was used to little, independent shops: sweet shops; knitting shops; a grocer; butcher; chemist; post office. You can get the idea of the lovely mix of buildings from this old picture of the High Street from YourLocalWeb:
Each one was different inside and out. Each one had an identity – not a corporate, faceless identity that could be exactly repeated a thousand times across the country, but a personal feel – and friendly staff who liked to have a chat, who knew and cared about what they were selling because 9 times out of 10 it was their own business. They had some constant stock but there was no rigidly defined range or catalogue; new things would appear as randomly as others disappeared. They could try out small quantities of new products without having to buy a million units to keep the price down and their customers could browse contentedly around homely meandering trails instead of marching up and down a vast grid of grey metal, grey carpeted aisles which seem designed more to maximise the effectiveness of the watchful eyes of CCTV than out of any other consideration.
Unfortunately our High Streets in the UK have, as a general rule, largely been taken over by corporations and chain stores. Glossop is a rare place in this respect, blessed as it is with a range of independent retailers who carry on these traditions. You can find everything from book shops to delicatessan, to butcher, grocer, jeweller, gift shop, fabric shop, clothes shops, coffee shops, bakers, restaurants, florist, garden centre, health food shop, pancake parlour and many more. Most of them survive on the support of a community which values these unique establishments and appreciates the relief that they provide from the souless onslaught of retail ‘development’. In Glossop, and towns like it, you can still find places to rummage to your heart’s content. Alas, it is only in such places that this now largely lost art can survive.