But where can I buy all the pretty???

Visit Vagabond Romantics shop now to browse and buy altered art, wearable collage, and lovingly curated craft materials unearthed from the farthest reaches of granny's attic.

Sunday 6 November 2016

Haberdashing in Italy

 I don't know if it's the sunshine, the "I'm-on-holiday" state of mind, the stimulating company, the free-flowing vino or the sugar rush from all the pastries and gelato, but it seems I can always find inspiration in Italy. Or perhaps it is just the excellent haberdashery.....

On my first visit to Italy, my hostess recalled a haberdashery warehouse of mythical proportions she had once visited. We set out on a quest to find it, and eventually we did - on a distinctly unpromising-looking industrial estate tucked away behind the main street in a particularly dull part of town. Stepping inside, we were greeted with racks of seemingly random and not-at-all noteworthy clothing, and my hopes subsided. But round the corner guess what we found?

Shelves and shelves filled with massive cones of yarn to be purchased by weight. Cubbyholes stuffed with skeins of high-quality wool-blend yarns. Round another corner and there are floor to ceiling shelves crammed with fabric bolts. And towards the front of the shop, drawers and boxes literally full to overflowing with every kind of braid, trim, lace, motif, and notion you could dream of. I had found my spiritual home.

This warehouse skyrocketed to the top of my Italian bucket list, and we plan our shopping trip carefully each time I visit to allow me all the hours I need to rummage through the boxes of braid and reels of ribbon. I am now recognised and much celebrated in said shop - apparently most customers do not buy in the quantities that I do! I could, of course, spend infinite amounts of both time and money if my schedule, bank balance, Italian vocabulary allowed, and airline and customs restrictions allowed, but I do my best to rein myself in. Luckily my friend is a great sport and rarely makes this particular pilgrimage on her own, so she is pleased for an excuse to have a look herself, and wonderfully patient.

Shopping here is a vastly different experience to anything similar in the UK. There are no shopping baskets - when we ask for a container to corral my rapidly accumulating purchased, a carrier bag is produced. There's very little signage and much of the stock is unpriced - one is safe in assuming the charge will be reasonable, and the proprietors have flexibility at the till. On this visit one assistant had recently had a baby, and a squawling infant was being passed round the staff. The fabrics and trims are crammed into their spaces in no apparent order, bursting off shelves and over the tops of boxes. At the till, the clerk and I are equally laissez-faire. I call out random metrage as we pull my treasures from the bag, the clerk shows me an inkstain on a broad silver-grey lace and shrugs as she unrolls another metre onto my length. I pause, considering how much of one braid I want, and in that moment the clerk chucks the reel in my bag, saying I must take it without
charge. I imagine the customers behind cursing me, but the shopkeepers are very happy and I am thrilled to be restocked - there really is nothing like Italian lace.

If you are the kind of person who knows what you want and expects to walk straight towards it, hand over your cash, and leave, this would be your idea of hell. For me, it's an experience to be savoured every bit as much as the wine we will sip over lunch: a friendly, creative chaos with pretty things everywhere you look and laidback assistance to just about keep the confusion under control. No wonder I am so at home here!

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