May 21, 2024

Haberdashery: I adore the meaning of this term as well as the Dickensian way it sounds. The word is really old; in fact, etymologists cannot agree upon where it originated. Some people think its origins stem in the Anglo-French term “habertas,” which means tiny ware. A haberdasher in the thirteenth century would offer a wide variety of goods, including textiles, buttons, pins, and weapons like mousetraps, swords, and hawk’s bells. With time, English haberdashers stopped dealing in falconry equipment and focused only on selling supplies for sewing, dressmaking, or knitting. In America, the term has come to refer to stores that sell men’s clothes.

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It’s becoming harder and harder to find a real haberdashery, with shelves full of button boxes and drawers full of thread. I read everything of Jane Austen as a teenager and daydreamed about how much fun it would be to select ribbons to adorn a hat. I treated myself to outings at VV Rouleaux, which at the time had enormous streamers of ribbon hanging from their Marylebone High Street flagship. I would love seeing the reels unfold along the measuring table and be cut with a decisive snip, spending hours selecting a brocade or grosgrain. Before I eventually had the courage to use my purchases, I would stash them away for months, unused in their cellophane envelopes. Around the corner on Marylebone Lane, VV Rouleaux is still doing strong and, to help with online buying, has prepared an exciting accordion-folded color chart that shows all the tones of its satin ribbons. Knitter’s utopia Loop London, located at 15 Camden Passage in Islington, also sells silk threads, books, buttons, darning mushrooms (delicious ones made by Hikaru Noguchi), needle punching tools, and needlework supplies.

With its classic oak shelves and glass-fronted counters, Wayward in St. Leonard’s on Sea resembles a picture-perfect haberdashery. It offers deadstock vintage buttons, ribbons, trimmings, and fabrics. My favorite online haberdasher, Beyond Measure, doesn’t have a physical location, but perusing their carefully chosen assortment of items, which includes anything from Sajou threads to Cohana fabric weights and Ernest Wright embroidery scissors, is a visual treat. If you’re traveling farther from home, Ultramod on rue de Choiseul is the crown gem of Paris, which is a true haverdashery enthusiast’s heaven. Situated in the same spot since 1832, it contains an impressive assortment of vintage ribbons, silk velvets, buttons, and threads that are in-demand. Another great store is La Mercerie Parisienne, located at 8 rue des Francs Bourgeois. They have a really nice selection of buttons and French sewing designs for kids’ clothing.

I used to work with a woman whose husband suffered from acute koumpounophobia, which is an agonizing dread of buttons. Before leaving for the day, she would change out of anything that had the offending articles on it. She had to save her cardigans for the workplace. I believe that I must have the opposite illness. My button tin has been with me for as long as I can remember. The heavily damaged cover of the tin, which I believe dates from the 1920s, features an image of a bizarre fancy dress party with people dressed as devils and butterflies. Its contents have been gathered over many years. Favorites include millefiori waistcoat buttons, metal buttons with seashell embossments, and a white glass button with a silver spider in its web. Sorting through them allows me to picture who they formerly belonged to and what clothes they were once attached to.

I went to see a textile artist once, and she had the most amazing collection of buttons, all secretly collected by a woman who went from place to place with a little set of scissors. She meticulously sewed buttons she had snipped from friends’ clothing to card slips in order to create her own bizarre catalog. Although I’ve avoided the temptation to do the same, I do periodically reward myself with a few rare buttons from the Vintage Button Emporium, a fantastic online retailer of unusual antique buttons.

In addition, I’ve accumulated an impressive collection of antique knitting needles in a vibrant rainbow of plastic colors. The sound of them jostling in a jar of cutlery brings back memories of my great-grandmother’s needlework, which provided the melancholic background music for my early years. Due to their sharp edges, outdated knitting needles are now considered offensive weapons and are no longer displayed in many charity stores. But if someone asks, they frequently find an unlawful cacheā€”a box dragged out from under the counter. Since the size of vintage knitting needles differs from that of contemporary needles, purchasing a needle gauge is strongly advised if you want to begin collecting them. Cocoknits are a biodegradable, plastic-free miracle that come in one size for every flower of vivid polylactic acid.

Not only are basic materials necessary for any well-stocked haberdashery box, but they may also be beautiful objects. The exquisite pins by Tulip in Hiroshima, adorned with dazzling glass spheres, are so tiny that they won’t puncture even the softest fabrics. Mine is kept in a pin cushion made by a Fine Cell Work tapestry woven by a prisoner in a British jail. I have a little red magnet, about an inch long, that I can use to search if I drop pins or a needle. I have a drawer full of scissors, each pair having a unique personality and function, and a silver thimble encrusted with stars. I often criticize myself for having so many collections in my home, but there’s no shame in having so much haberdashery since it’s so very functional.