Bryony Durand tweaked the last piece of the table display and stood back to check that it was now aligned. Happy with that, she walked to the door of her emporium to view the whole, as she hoped her very first potential customers would the next day, but hers was an overly critical eye. Finally satisfied she was just about to walk away when there was a knock on the door. She pulled back the blind so see her normally handsome husband pulling a funny face. Laughing, Bryony opened the door to let Luc in.
“What do you think?” she asked turning to face the store again. He rested his chin on the top of her head, his long arms encircling her.
“It’s perfect.” Just the answer she’d expected, but lovely to hear nonetheless.
“Come,” Luc added, “time to go home. You can play here all you want from tomorrow.”
“Play?” Bryony cried with mock indignation. “I’ll have you know this is a very serious business.”
Luc held up his hands in resignation, “I know, I know. I’m sorry, but you still need to come home and rest to be fresh for your multitude of customers on Opening Day.”
Knowing he was right about the resting and hoping he was right about the multitude of customers Bryony allowed herself to be shuffled out the door which she carefully locked and they walked arm in arm home.
Bryony Peters, as she was then, had no idea what she wanted to do career wise when she finished her final year at high school. University and further study held no appeal and she didn’t know what sort of job she would like. All she did know was that she wanted to travel, and having worked an after school job for several years had some money saved to do just that. With her parents blessing and an added injection of cash from them she set off for a few months of travel around the world.
The few months turned into several years and along the way Bryony gained some valuable skills, competency in several languages and a husband. Her parents were dismayed, in varying degrees, to learn of her marriage, Mrs Peters more so because visions of her daughter’s white wedding went up in smoke, Mr Peters less so at the thought of his intact bank balance. Their dismay soon led to great happiness though on meeting their son-in-law as this bear of a man, a talented chef, was charming, prepared to leave a lucrative business in France to come to a little place like Christmas Village, and most importantly, obviously adored their daughter.
With the money from the sale of his French restaurant, Luc bought an old café in the Village and transformed it into an elegant restaurant. Open for lunch Tuesday to Saturday and dinner Thursday to Saturday Luc’s unique menu and fabulous food soon drew patrons from the Village and surrounding towns and villages. While Luc loved to cook for others, he valued family life too and by setting these hours ensured he had time to spend with Bryony as well as being able to do his paperwork and ordering outside restaurant hours. Bryony picked up a job with Sylvester and Sylvester, the local solicitors, and was content to be back in Christmas Village with family and friends after her adventures abroad. Soon after the couple decided the time was right to start a family. But they had no success and went through all manner of tests and procedures, tried dozens of remedies and recommendations, even including Bryony giving up her job to try to help matters, but were left with disappointments, tears and rages. The diagnosis of “unexplained infertility” left them bereft and they came to accept, bitterly, that children were not to be. The one good thing to come of it all was that the bond between them became stronger.
After deciding not to pursue parenthood any further Bryony declared that if she couldn’t have a human baby she would need a substitute baby, a career of some kind, but “what” remained the elusive question.
Luc, after exhausting all the normal jobs/careers he could think of and having them rejected, started suggesting the silly and ludicrous. His latest was a career for Bryony as a Pirate. They’d had great fun trying to decide which type of parrot would look best sitting on Bryony’s shoulder, and Bryony wondered if she could start a trend amongst her new colleagues with embroidered and embellished skull-and-cross-bones. Luc had nobly offered to be the one to chop her leg off – he had the knife skills after all – and Luc would organise for their builder friend Zac to carve an intricate peg leg for her.
One Friday evening as Bryony was sitting up stitching and waiting for Luc to come home, the man in question burst through the living room door, throwing his arms into the air. “I ‘ave it!” he shouted, his normally impeccable English losing a little pronunciation in his excitement.
“What do you have?” Bryony looked up briefly from her sewing.
“The answer to your job search!”
“Oh good,” said Bryony, “because I’ve realised I can’t be a pirate – I forgot, I get seasick.”
“Non, non, I’m serious.” Bryony put down her sewing as Luc sat next to her and grabbed her hands. “You know how I like visiting.” At the end of each evening after last service Luc liked to forgo the kitchen and venture into the restaurant introducing himself to newcomers, getting feedback about his food, and most importantly catching up with regulars and hearing their news and gossip, all of which he called “visiting”. Bryony nodded. “Well, tonight Lorna and Keith dined with us, with a bottle of bubbles!” Bryony nodded again, not at all sure where this was going but prepared to indulge her husband. “Lorna has decided to retire!” With Bryony still looking blank Luc continued, “They’re selling the building and Lorna is closing down the haberdashery. But,“ Luc squeezed Bryony’s hands and gestured with his head at the room; it was filled with Bryony’s quilts, cross stitch embroideries, and cushions, “you could buy the business, you could run the haberdashery!” Luc sat very still and let the idea float around them.
Bryony too sat very still, a little shocked as Lorna’s haberdashery shop had been an institution in the Village for decades, but gradually her mind captured the idea. During her travels she had worked in retail, had managed some businesses, learnt basic bookkeeping skills and, too, she had always sewn, well, maybe not so much when she was travelling, but she had picked up needle and thread again of late. She did know the difference between pins and needles, knew something about threads, and it would be such a pity to see the shop close.
Luc could see all these thoughts going through Bryony’s mind and he waited patiently to see what she would make of the idea.
“I could,” she started hesitantly, then, “I think, perhaps, I could!” Luc cheered and enveloped her in one of his bear hugs. They spent the rest of the evening discussing this exciting prospect, and Bryony spent a fairly sleepless night thinking of everything that could happen.
The next morning Bryony set off for the haberdashery shop, half hoping there would be no customers so she could talk to Lorna without interruption. There were, however, several customers in the shop (no bad thing, thought Bryony, need customers for business) but once the last one had been served and seen to the door, Lorna turned the sign over to “closed” smiling at Bryony guessing why she was there. The two women discussed the matter comprehensively and came to an arrangement. After shaking hands on the deal, Lorna declared that she was delighted to be selling the business to Bryony and approved wholeheartedly of the new direction it was going to take.
Contracts were drawn up and signed, monies exchanged hands, plans were made and builders, namely Zac, employed.
The first thing Bryony did was put paper over the windows to keep prying eyes out (though that was probably futile in a place the size of Christmas Village; word would soon get around) and hopefully whet the appetite of potential customers. The first thing Zac and his crew did was to take down the wall Lorna had had put in when she felt that the floor area was too big for the amount of stock she had. This immediately opened up the shop and flooded it with light as there were French doors at the back of the shop leading out into a sheltered courtyard. Next Zac gutted the rest of the downstairs, put in a new kitchenette and small bathroom, then painted the whole place a vanilla colour and started putting in shelving and a counter. Meanwhile Bryony, not able to do much on the construction side, set about putting the courtyard to rights, weeding, replacing and repairing wonky pavers, and adding colourful pots of flowers and perennials. She found some old garden furniture at the second hand store, sanded it back and painted it in turquoise and it looked so inviting set out under the shade of the tree in the corner of the courtyard.
Having made use of Lorna’s contacts boxed soon started being delivered and with Zac putting in the final touches Bryony was able to start unpacking them and filling shelves. When Bryony answered a knock at the door late one morning she saw Zac’s wife Daisy carrying a big bag.
“Zac forgot his lunch this morning,” Daisy explained.
“More like you’ve come for a sticky beak,” replied her husband with a knowing grin as he came towards the front of the store. “Since when have you been making me lunch?”
“Ok, I’ve been found out,” admitted Daisy as she proffered the bag, “but there’s enough for everyone.”
Bryony laughed and invited her friend in.
“Oh, it’s like Christmas,” exclaimed Daisy as she spotted the boxes in varying stages of openness. “Need some help? Essie’s playing with her Auntie Celia, so I have plenty of time.”
“That was well managed,” Zac mumbled with an exaggerated eye roll as he passed by again. The two girls grinned at each other and after partaking of Daisy’s excellent lunch, they soon had a system going to check off invoices and lay out the stock.
“Well that’s made the job much quicker.” A grateful Bryony stretched her body after crouching over the last box.
“It’s all looking so very good!” exclaimed Daisy.
“Mmm, nearly there,” replied the owner.
The last thing to happen was the arrival of the sign writer, who climbed his ladder and painstakingly began his task.
Opening Day of Red Thimble Quilt Shop was, as Luc had anticipated, a huge success with customers flocking from near and far in response to a letter drop box (thanks to Colin and Stevie Evans who crowed over the amount of money they earned for the job), flyers up all over the Village, and word of mouth from Luc to his patrons, and general gossip.
In fact, the shop was so prosperous that within a week Bryony knew she’d have to have some help. She had similar opening hours to Luc’s restaurant – Tuesday to Saturday 10.00am to 4.00pm – so they would still have time together, but even still, she wasn’t going to manage on her own for long. As she was pondering this very thing Celia Evans walked in prompting Bryony to put the proposition to her. With three of her four offspring at school, and Auntie Daisy well able to look after Celia’s youngest a couple of days a week, Celia jumped at the chance.
“You know,” started Celia as they opened up one morning a few weeks later, “I was saying to Daisy the other day that with the shop so busy we really don’t have time to talk and with our renewed interest in sewing we wondered if we might get together every so often to sew and chat.”
“That sounds like an excellent idea,” Bryony thought for a moment, “and I did tell Lorna that I’d keep her up to date with the shop’s happenings so maybe she could join us too. How about Thursday night? Luc’s at the restaurant that night so that works for me if it’s ok with you.” So plans were made to meet at the shop at 7.30 and the Red Thimble Stitching Group, as they named themselves, was started.
Later that day after Celia had left to collect her children from school, the shop door opened and Bryony was surprised to see her erstwhile teacher, Mrs Watson, walk in.
“Oh my!” exclaimed Mrs Watson involuntarily stopping just inside the door. “It’s so…….colourful!” Collecting herself, Mrs Watson continued, “Oh Bryony, I do apologise. Good afternoon, how are you?”
Bryony stifled a giggle, “I’m very well Mrs Watson and you?” At that moment the phone rang. Bryony made her apologies to Mrs Watson and answered the call.
From the corner of her eye, while dealing with the phone customer, Bryony watched Mrs Watson walk toward the fabrics. Down the long wall on the left side of the shop were triple tiers of shelving; the first few held the very latest fabrics clearly labelled with the designer’s name and the range name and from there on the fabrics were arranged in colour ways. In three places along the wall the triple shelving dipped down to just one and the space left was filled with a quilt hanging from an ingenious pulley system designed by Zac for ease of changing the quilts. On the self of the remaining tier under the quilt sat the pattern or book from which the quilt was made along with colour co-ordinated fabric packs and gift wares. In the shelf itself sat the fabrics to make the quilt hanging above. Adjacent to the fabric shelves and dotted along the length of the shop were square box structures about waist high, with shelving for fabrics and smaller items and a table top upon which sat a variety of colour co-ordinated fabric bolts and packs of fabrics cut from those bolts. About a third of the way along was a larger, long rectangular shaped structure, again with room for fabrics underneath, but with the top bare ready for customers to lay out their chosen fabrics to help with decision making. Another of these appeared at the other end.
Bryony was fascinated to see Mrs Watson’s hand tentatively reach out to touch the fabrics as she walked along the tiers, stopping now and then to inspect a bolt more closely or to look intently at the hanging quilts.
Her call finished, Bryony walked over to Mrs Watson and asked how she could be of help.
“My mother,” confessed Mrs Watson, “was a blue stocking, so anything like mending was not done by her, and consequently not taught to me. Mrs Mitchell, Lorna, very kindly used to mend my clothing – for a fee of course – but since she’s now sold the business, and with more time on my hands since retiring, I do think it prudent that I learn this skill. So, Bryony, I was wondering if you were thinking of holding classes of that kind?”
“I’m not at this stage, however,” Bryony did some quick thinking, “I’d be happy to give you a one-on-one lesson. Would Thursday evening at 7.30 suit?” Mrs Watson found this to be most agreeable and they wandered over to the short wall on the right side of the shop which had narrower display shelving on either side, and a huge peg board in between. The shelving and peg board were filled with a multitude of haberdashery items and Mrs Watson was soon furnished with needles, pins, threads, scissors and thimble.
Celia was horrified when Bryony told her the next day whom else she had invited to join their group.
“But she’s an old tartar!”
“She’s actually not,” replied Bryony who had always liked Mrs Watson, as a child seeing beneath the gruff exterior and instinctively knowing there was a kind, gentle soul underneath. “I think she’s just a lonely, shy lady.”
Celia shook her head. “I know she’s a good teacher, the children definitely learnt their lessons with her, but she’s so…….straight up and down and………and off-putting.” Celia struggled to find the right words.
“I really think it’s just her shyness. You should have seen her with the fabrics yesterday. Someone who obviously appreciates all this colour and movement can’t be all bad.”
Celia shrugged her shoulders and further discussion was stopped as the shop door opened and the first of the day’s customers came in.
Thursday night came around quickly and Bryony had asked the others to come to the shop a little early so she could word them up about Mrs Watson.
“Hope you don’t mind,” whispered Celia as she arrived, “but Aunt Molly called unexpectedly and we’ve brought her along too.” Bryony smiled and turned to greet Celia and Daisy’s Aunt Molly whom she’d known all her life and was like a pseudo aunt.
“Aunt Molly,” she greeted the older woman, “how lovely that you could come.”
“Wouldn’t miss out on this fun,” boomed Aunt Molly. She was a large woman with a heart of gold but who called a spade a spade.
Lorna arrived not long after and the group were soon settled at the table and chairs that Bryony had hurriedly purchased the day before and arranged at the back of the shop in the open area behind the kitchen and bathroom, which one day, she hoped, would become the class room.
Promptly at 7.30 there was a knock on the door and Bryony went to let Mrs Watson in and take her down to where the others waited silently.
“Oh,” Mrs Watson was surprised to find others there.
“I hope you don’t mind,” Bryony quickly explained, “but a group of us were getting together and I thought you might like to join in.”
Mrs Watson seemed to hesitate, in fact she wanted to bolt out the door, but Aunty Molly quickly intervened. “Come and sit by me.” Fearing there was nothing else to do, and not wanting to look foolish, Mrs Watson did indeed sit next to Aunt Molly. Bryony made the necessary introductions and sat on Mrs Watson’s other side. They all knew each other in passing, of course, but had never socialised.
As the others started a conversation, Bryony quietly asked Mrs Watson what she’d brought. Slightly ruffled Mrs Watson, who had found an old wicker work basket in which to place her sewing, dug into the basket.
“The hem, regrettably, is coming undone,” she said pulling out a serviceable navy skirt that Bryony recognised from her own school days.
“Easily fixed,” Bryony assured her and was soon showing Mrs Watson how to sew the hem back into place.
The conversations ranged far and wide around the table, as did the laughter, and even though she was concentrating hard and only listening, Mrs Watson found she was actually enjoying being in the midst of these women, something she’d never experienced in her lonely life.
“So, what do you think should be done, Mrs Watson?” Aunt Molly asked as they pondered the vexed question of repairs to the Town Hall. Without waiting for her reply, Aunt Molly continued, “I can’t keep calling you Mrs Watson, I’m older than you! Now tell me, what’s your first name?” Around the table the three younger women drew in their breath. And held it.
On the back foot again, Mrs Watson hesitated. Then a little voice in the back of her head said, “what could it hurt?”
She cleared her throat and started to say Euphemia, as her mother had always insisted she be called, but quickly found herself saying instead, “It’s Effie, Molly. You may call me Effie,” this last to them all. To her surprise Mrs Watson, Effie, felt a great weight fall from her shoulders. As she finished off her hem, under Bryony’s guidance, Effie found a voice and started offering her opinions and comments much to Bryony’s delight and the shock of Celia and Emma.
“You know, young Bryony,” Aunt Molly looked over the top of her crocheting at her quarry, “I’ve always wanted to learn quilting.” She turned to the woman by her side. “How about you, Effie?” Aunt Molly had noticed Effie’s gaze wondering from time to time to the quilts they could see hanging on the opposite wall.
“If you think I could?” Effie looked enquiringly at Bryony. “They are very lovely.”
“Of course. That would be great fun.” Bryony was delighted that Mrs Watson, er, Effie had come so far out of her shell in one evening.
“I, on the other hand,” said Lorna, “have never quite got the knack of crochet. Yes, I can knit, “she held up the jumper being knitted by her competent hands, “but for some reason crochet eludes me. How about it? Prepared to take me on?” she challenged Molly.
Soon they were all working out who could teach who what, with much laughter and ribbing accompanying the discussion. Quietly Effie rose from her seat and walked over to the fabrics, studying the colours and patterns intently. Bryony came to stand beside her. “Need some help?” Effie turned to smile at her former pupil. “That would be most kind.” Together they worked out which pattern would work best for a beginner and then started the delightful task of choosing fabrics. “My favourite bit,” Bryony commented to the daunted Effie. Soon they had the fabrics chosen, Bryony cut them, then packaged them up prettily in one of her special Red Thimble bags.
Effie Watson walked back to the table proudly holding her purchases. She set the bag down in front of Molly and boldly challenged her, “Well, I’m all set for class, Molly. How about you?” The others all laughed and not to be outdone, Molly declared it was her turn with the shop’s owner.
As Bryony started turning off lights at the end of the night with Celia keeping her company, she commented that it looked like she’d have to start investing in yarns with both Molly and Lorna offering to teach their skills in a class situation.
“And you’ll have to schedule some patchwork classes soon too”
“Just let me see how I go with Molly and Effie,” Bryony decided. “If I can get through that, I’ll think about it more.”
Laughing, Bryony and Celia finished locking up, Bryony surreptitiously patting her shop’s door in thanks, and headed home.
The Red Thimble Sewing Group along with Red Thimble Quilt Shop was definitely going to be a success.
©Pomegranate and Chintz 2018