FARNAZ FASSIHI Journal Staff Writer
PUBLICATION: Providence Journal Company EDITION
Tatters identifies a shop stocked with unique hand-made items by two Irish women who love the old, the chic and the trendy.
Draped in a bright pink wool wrap that she knit herself, co-owner Carol Riley, drifts among the goods with pride, softly running her fingers on a mauve satin cushion and straightening the wrinkles on an emerald green hat.
Her long pastel purple skirt brushes against the tile floor. She lifts the edge and says, “this used to be a curtain hanging in some house once.”
Her partner, Geraldine Purcell, looks up from behind her antique sewing machine where she is stitching her signature hats: “There are lots of little goodies here.”
Take, for example, a slip-on evening dress of velvet blue curtain fabric imported from France that Riley found in a vintage store in England; or the colorful sleeveless tops that were once part of a silk Chinese kimono found in a Boston flea market.
Like their creators, these items have traveled far, their mysterious tales unknown to those who marvel at them in the store or take them home.
The colorful chenille bedspread that once decorated someone's bed is now cut into tiny baby clothes. And the linen embroidered tablecloth used at garden tea parties in Italy swings as a full-skirt dress for a little girl.
Peeking into the store on her way home from work, Cindy Layton, an events designer in Newport, sifts though the antique rhinestone jewelry for a gift for her sister.
“I come here when I want to wear something that I know no one else will be wearing. This is not The Gap. In this shop there is only one of everything,” Layton said.
MAINTAINING A STOCK full of unique items presents a challenge for the owners, who handle the business as well as the creative aspects of their shop.
To satisfy customers and attract new shoppers, Riley and Purcell are constantly hunting for unusual and beautiful vintage fabrics in any shape or form. After the purchase, they spread the fabric in front of them and envision a design. Should it be transformed into a dress, a cushion, a wrap or a hat?
“We do it all,” Riley said, “hunt for the fabric, design it, sew it and then sell it.”
Like any work of art, occasionally the end result does not satisfy the ladies.
“Sometimes we make something and then look at it and say, 'What were we thinking?' Then we take it all apart and start again,” Purcell says.
The clothes are made to fit the regular small, medium and large size with a tendency toward full-figured women. The prices range from $20 for one of Purcell's custom-made hats to $200 for long Dickens's-style winter coats.
“Our customers are women 25 and older, who have the confidence to wear something different and stand out in a crowd,” adds Purcell.
The two women, who immigrated to the United States from Ireland in the early 1980s with their husbands and children, met 10 years ago while selling their hand-made goods from carts in Boston's Quincy Market.
Purcell was displaying her hats and Riley her children's clothing.
Sewing, they say, has always been a part of their lives.
Riley remembers making dresses for her dolls from fabric scraps her father, a fabric printer in England, would bring home. Purcell pursued the path on a more professional level, attending the school of design for pattern drafting and cutting in Dublin.
Their business together has flourished from a warehouse in Warren to a boutique in Newport, where regular customers screen the shop frequently for items they cannot find elsewhere.
Another frequent shopper has traveled from Middletown in search of a special gift for a friend. She finally settles for a satin black and white cushion with a Victorian style drawing on one side.
"'I come here when I'm looking for something special and different,” says Andrea Geas, 38, of Middletown, as she pays Riley for the pillow.
Riley presses a red button on the wooden antique cash register. The machine gives out a loud jingle and the door pops open.
“Like everything else here, this is also out of the ordinary,” Riley says with a chuckle.
TATTERS: Geraldine Purcell and Carol Riley have been sewing and selling recycled vintage clothing on Broadway in Newport for the past two years. The two women, who immigrated from Dublin, met 10 years ago while selling their hand-made goods in Boston's Quincy Market. FINE Journal photos/FRIEDA SQUIRES
Revival of the Fittest -
shop finds a new wrinkle on the old BYLINE:
FARNAZ FASSIHI Journal Staff Writer
PUBLICATION: Providence Journal Company EDITION:
NEWPORT - Tatters: rags, fragments, odds and ends.
The 3 R's: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Everyone should strive to honor this golden rule of environmental stewardship.