100% Perfect vs Good Enough?


100% Perfect vs Good Enough?

There’s a car advert on TV at the moment, which goes along the lines of ”you’re never done; when your balance is great, work on your strength, when your strength is great and so on…”

Running a small business feels a bit like this - you’re never done. When one task is ticked off, another 3 or 5 pop up on the to-do list. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming, as you think why can’t I do it all? Why am I always working late to finish something? Why do I have loads of ideas and only some come to fruition? Why am I a starter, then a procrastinator, rather than a finisher. Recently I’ve been feeling guilty that it’s taken me ages to plan a staff lunch. Or kicking myself that the workshop list hasn‘t been emailed out, or that I spend so much time at the shop working on the business that my home renovation hasn’t even got started etc etc. Yep, a constant hamster wheel of telling myself off.

Angel over the Houses workshop

Sometimes little things make a difference to this treadmill of doubt. On Tuesday I finally repainted a door and some woodwork in the shop meaning one long-outstanding maintenance job is sorted. (You might not even spot the new paintwork, but I see it on a daily basis and know that it’s done and that feels great). On Friday evening, fortified by banana bread and Jack Savoretti playing at top volume, I was inspired to install a bright, summer display. The front window now looks fabulous for passing customers, who are hopefully intrigued enough to venture inside our emporium, or sign up for a workshop.

Summer window at Hometown 2019

And on Saturday, popping in to see the new Boot Camp shop (a new venture by Platoon Stores), fanned that tiny ignition spark of - yay - I’m also a retailer and I love it. It was a reminder that after 11 years in business, Hometown may still be a small independent, but it is still here. We’ve moved from one shop to a bigger one and we’re still inspiring new customers to start sewing. Other changes are I now have 3 part-time members of staff rather than just me. And these staff have got my back and support me and Hometown 100%. Yes, Retail may be Detail, but I need to remember that small details can also be reassurance.

Today, a strange thing made me stop, act, then relax. All week, I thought I could smell gas in my home from time to time. Whilst working at home on Thursday I heard an ominous crack in the ceiling. Oh god, not only is the house going to explode, the ceiling’s also going to fall down - just which is first? What did I say earlier about procrastination? Well today, after phoning the emergency gas hotline, I’ve been reassured by a lovely guy at SGN, after a thorough inspection, that all is fine in the house and there aren’t any gas leaks. So, I’m on a roll and I’ve just typed a long, long list to give to prospective builders for all the renovation tasks that need a quotation. OK, the ceiling plaster may still fall in before the builder has checked what the problem is, but Marion, give yourself a break. It’s nothing you’ve done to make it happen…. what will be, will be.

Looking for some pictures to attach to the building list, I came across some old photos from the renovation of Hometown’s first shop at number 74 (now The Cheese Room). Plus others from 2013 when Hometown moved into Platoon’s old shop at number 62 (the hamster wheel that is retailing in Rochester High Street!). I’d forgotten all the late nights when I went from the first shop after work, to assemble an endless supply of IKEA cupboards and work my way through many a 10L pot of paint. And then I found a photo of my Mum painting the door, that I just repainted this week. Full circle indeed, especially as Mum popped into Rochester yesterday and loved the new window display!

So, what’s the conclusion? Well, perhaps I need to regularly remind myself that I’m doing my best and have come a long way, even if it sometimes feels like I’m standing still. As the 1930s catch phrase said, “now you’re cooking with gas”*. So however they cook our food at at Mama Mia on Monday, I’m already looking forward to our girls’ lunch. And I promise to send out the workshop email in the afternoon, even if the website’s not completely 100% updated. Good enough indeed.

* ”Now you’re cooking with gas”, meaning “you’re on the right track,” was heard on popular radio shows at the behest of the natural gas industry, as part of a marketing push for new-fangled gas-powered stoves.

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The Fabric of Society

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The Fabric of Society

Do you have a vision?

I think all creative folk are visionary sorts. After all, we often have a spark of an idea, which needs working into a fully fledged project with a master plan. Sometimes the catalyst is a piece of fabric or a colourful postcard. Maybe it’s an idea on Pinterest which you think, hey, I can change this, improve the technique, alter the quantities and make something even better. Perhaps it’s an exhibition which fires you up to put your own spin on things. And what about simply crazy ideas, a flash of inspiration, one of those what-if thoughts?

This sort of blue-sky thinking shouldn’t just be kept for our sewing projects. What if you could tap into this pool of great ideas in order to improve where you live, work and shop? Well, now you can!

As owner of Hometown, I made a deliberate decision to set up shop in Rochester High Street ten years ago. I loved the fact that it was a small town, with lots of independent businesses, where history and present day sit side by side. Definitely not a clone town and hopefully a place which was supported as much by the local people, as well as being a destination for visitors. And so it is, and with your ideas, it could be even better. Quite frankly I want more people to use and enjoy our history, our town and support the local community and economy.

This month I went to a talk by our local MP, Kelly Tolhurst. In 2019 the Government are launching the ‘Future High Streets Fund’, designed to help reinvent high streets. There are millions of pounds of funding available for new and visionary ideas for our towns. There’s a special heritage category and Medway Council are putting in a bid for funding, but in my opinion, they need my help and your help. After all we’re the ones with a vision.

So the million dollar question. What would you do to improve the centre of Rochester? What would make it more vibrant, collaborative, more community-spirited? What follows, in no particular order, are some random threads in my brain.

* Could it be the availability of empty shop as venues for pop-up / start-up businesses?

* More community spaces for the young, the old, and all those in between?

* Ever considered a Rochester pound to encourage local spending?

* Maybe it’s a repair shop where we could all learn a bit more how to make-and-mend, rather than throw-away.

* What about an IT hub which runs workshops in social media or other modern day skills?

* Could it be a permanent space for a small cinema?

* Perhaps it’s regular small festivals for us, the locals - fibre festival anyone?

* What about changing an empty building into a town-centre nursery plus homes for the elderly (watch Channel 4’s ‘Old People’s Home for 4 year olds’ - it’s brilliant)

* More murals on walls, fairy lights in the trees, yarn bombing on the bollards?

* Maybe it’s having a good local website that’s the fount of all knowledge for local events?

* How about turning one of the surface car parks into a longer term 6-8 hours facility to help local staff and Hometown students who can’t park, because the multi story is full of commuters?

* What about insisting that landlords of empty shops make their shop windows available to local schools to display their art projects?

* Why not introduce town centre ’Boris bikes’ or more bike racks and dog tethering posts?

* Mobile bank, cookery school, packaging-free supermarket? Woah - OK, I need to breathe now! But seriously, what would you do to improve Rochester High Street?

Once you start to brain storm, the ideas simply flow. The filter can come later. You see, vision can be practical, inspirational, out of this world, simply common sense or a combination of all these. It could be something costing a few pounds or many thousands. So our town NEEDS YOU and your bright ideas! The funding will be awarded to those towns putting in the best plans and the Government wants ‘visionary ideas’. Initial interest has to be lodged by 22 March with final plans submitted by the summer.

If you have ideas, please jot them down on paper with your contact details. You can drop them into the shop, or pop them in a post box, or email me at hello@hometownrochester.co.uk . You can also add a comment to this post and be a pal, share this conversation with your friends. (Just as a PS I’m writing this to start the conversation. I’ve not been asked to canvass for ideas. My bright idea is to write this and ask you. After all as a team of visionaries, anything is and can be possible). Let’s DO IT!

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Colour Rush

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Do you ever get side tracked? I was hard at work, preparing orders and checking a supplier's website for a pattern reference, then promptly fell down a rabbit hole of colour.

One of the most common questions, I get in the shop is "how do I put colours together?" One answer is to look for a 'catalyst' fabric that you can use as a jumping off point to suggest a colour scheme. Simply analyse the fabric, see what colours it contains and then run round the shelves, pulling off these shades and tones to build up your palette. Sometimes once you've assembled a good stash of patterns, plains and tonals, the original catalyst might be discarded in favour of other designs.

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Well, Moda one of our fabric suppliers, have a really fun tool on their website www.unitednotions.com  called Palette Builder (find a link right at the bottom of their web page). Simply upload a photo and it suggests a range of solids. You can then alter the colours, so it's a really good exercise in looking at colour, balance and contrast (as well as a lot of fun). To say I have been distracted, would be an understatement! I now have colour schemes for at least a dozen new quilts... but I'd better finish my work first, before I start rummaging through my shelves of fabric...

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Sweet Dreams

Cakestand quilt, C19-20, Illinois, USA

One of the things I love about being a quilter, is that despite the snow and cold, I'm always toasty warm at night because of the quilt on my bed. Sometimes it's a quilt that I've made, but currently it's this beauty - a Cakestand quilt from the late 19th / early 20th century which I recently bought. It's called a cutter quilt, because several blocks have perished fabrics, but it's still gorgeous, with superb hand quilting and has come up a treat after a recent wash.

So, this thought has inspired a Hometown competition. Follow my feed on Instagram or Facebook (just click on the links at the bottom of the page) and like the competition post. Then simply post a photo of your own bed and quilt with the hashtag #quiltonmybed. I'll pick a winner on 31/3/18 and you'll receive a £20 Hometown gift voucher to spend as you like.

T&C: The quilt can be one that you've sewn or that you've bought from another quilter (please then credit the maker) or an old quilt. And if you swap quilts mid-month, you can enter again! All entrants give permission for their photo to be published on the Hometown website, Facebook page and/or Instagram page.



It'll all come out in the wash

Like all of us, there are some chores I loathe and others I quite like. (I won't say love, as that makes me sound very 1950s housewife!). I hate ironing, but quite like washing, or to qualify that statement, I get great satisfaction from a line of laundry in the sunshine. During the summer, the fine weather also means it's a chance to get my old quilts laundered.

I'm often asked how to care for old quilts, so here are a few tips that I find work for me. The photos above are a selection from recent laundry sessions, ranging from dirty 'rag' to clean Apple Core quilt.

1. Don't even think about it during the winter, or your home will smell like a damp dog as you attempt to dry a heavy double quilt over a 3 foot radiator over several days. Choose a fine day, especially when you have time, as it's not a 5 minute task.

2. I always hand wash old quilts in the bath. I find the soaking and washing is less violent than the shenanigans of a washing machine. Use gentle hand wash such as non-Bio Fairy or a specialist textile detergent like Soak. I also put at least one Colour-Run sheet in the first wash, to catch any loose dye (especially important for quilts containing red fabrics). Gently concertina the quilt into the bath, making sure it's all covered by water and suds and leave for at least 30 minutes. When you come back shoosh the water around and don't be surprised if it's the colour of Yorkshire tea! Leave for another 30 minutes. Do more shooshing around and drain, squeezing out as much water and dirt from the quilt as possible.

3. Refill with clean water and detergent and repeat, this time adding some Glo-white (or equivalent) and another sheet of Colour-Run. This time I keep popping back, say every 15 minutes and really start to wash and agitate the quilt (do use rubber gloves if your skin is sensitive - although the water shouldn't be too hot). I think of it like treading grapes, trying to squeeze all the dirt out. You may need to repeat a third time...

4. When you've had enough, drain and rinse with clear water. Now the fun part. If you're feeling brave, squeeze out as much excess water as possible, as wet quilts are incredibly heavy. Now put it on a quick spin in the machine. Eek! I turn the spin speed down to 800, never leave the machine unattended and usually chicken out after 3-4 minutes. It really does help to remove a lot of moisture and speed up the drying, however, there is the risk that the spinning can further shred any worn patches or popped seams. So it's a judgement call as to whether you're thinking of repairing the most aged blocks and fabrics.

5. Finally lay the quilt over the line, peg it well and leave to dry. If it's a sunny day, always lay on the line so the backing fabric is uppermost. I'll also rotate the quilt around on the line so there's no undue strain on any one part. I'll then turn it over later in the day, when the bright sun has gone, so there's no risk of sun bleaching.

Result? One clean, sweetly smelling quilt, ready to be used and enjoyed.

Foot note: old quilts may contain some marks or rust spots that won't come out. I've found that specialist rust stain removers aren't very effective, but if you have a secret 'ages-old stain-remover' tip, let me know!



One Potato, Two Potato ...

Do I have to count how many dots or how many metres?

Don't be surprised if when visiting the shop you hear us chanting 20, 40, 60 whilst looking intently at a bolt of fabric. We've not lost the plot (well, OK that's debatable in my case!), we're just preparing for our annual stocktake. And with 1700 fabrics in-store and a trillion other products it's a lot to list and count. We've been hard at it for weeks. D-day is on Sunday 2 October, when we do the final listing and if you're free for a few hours, why not join us?

If you can help out from 10-1, we'd love some extra hands. The only qualifications are the ability to look very important whilst writing on a clip board and multi tasking with a cup of tea and a Kit-Kat and a biro. In thanks we'll give you a £25 Hometown gift voucher. Give Marion a call on 01634 838880 or pop into the shop this week if you'd like to join the fun.





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Flowers and Quilts, Quilts and Flowers

It's a natural pairing like strawberries and cream, Fred and Ginger or tea and toast. On fabrics, there's a floral pattern to suit everyone. Whether you like the blowsiness of a peony or parrot tulip, the retro-jolliness of a reproduction feedsack, the miniature prettiness of a ditsy print, or the sophisticated graphic quality of a Scandi pattern. For me, these are all must-have categories of floral fabrics in my stash. Be brave and put the large florals all together for a gorgeous clashiness, or give them room to breathe in a modern quilt with low-value coordinates or a white solid - the choice is yours.

My Mum gave me a glorious bunch of old fashioned roses from her garden today. Placed on her brightly coloured tablecloth, it was like a super-charged still life. Back home, their glowing colours, reminded me of an equally vibrant WIP quilt, that just needs the binding to be completed... And it made me want to start a new project with pinks and oranges ... together! Hot, hot, hot!

So, whenever you're suffering from colour-block, just look in your garden for ideas and quilt colour schemes. Or, if you're not green-fingered, head to your nearest flower shop (I'm very partial to Slinders in Rochester, only 3 doors down from Hometown), and treat yourself to a bunch of inspiration. Stocks, Alstromerias, orchids, gladis - just think of the quilting possibilities.

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Taking it Slow

"Summer time and the living is easy". This is a lovely song and a powerful thought, but it's sometimes hard to do. Whatever stage of adult life you're at: a parent with children, wondering how you're going to fill the next 6 weeks, whilst juggling work commitments and childcare; maybe you've just had a student returned from Uni and are despairing that the house is overtaken by boxes and your sewing room is now back to being a bedroom, so you have no space to play (which let's face it is vital for our well-being); or are you a commuter endeavouring to survive hot tubes and buses? Think of the self-employed worker without a holiday in sight and a slew of deadlines that can't be postponed, even if your brain is muggy; possibly you're working with the general public who are more than a little cranky, because of the hot weather; or maybe you're a pensioner uncomfortable and out of sorts in this heat. For some of us / all of us, sometimes it's not so easy.

A very wise woman (one of my sisters) sent me an article yesterday written by Caitlin Moran in The Times Magazine. I have now read and re-read it several times. It's about being a carer and learning to breathe. To paraphrase and quote from Caitlin's article,

"So we loll our heads, and breathe. We just ... breathe. We are, for the first time in months, in the moment. And there, in less than a minute, is this sudden, deep, black, beautiful rush - black like space, or the sea at night - through the body. ... This is the only thing you want. ... When you breathe this deep, it is impossible to be unhappy or rigid, or fearful any more. Those tiny, automatic shallow breaths we make do with in our day-to-day life? They make us feel slightly deprived; as if we were slowly drowning. They are the panic and the anxiety. But ten breaths like this, and you feel as if you have had an afternoon off. Twenty, and you've returned, tanned, from Corfu."

So my one wish to you all this summer - friends, family, colleagues and customers, is to take time. Be kind and smile at strangers in the street or the elderly neighbour that you don't really know. Don't complain to shop staff and public transport workers about the heat (we do know, we are present too!), seize whatever small moments you can for yourself, dabble with small crafting projects which just keep you this side of sane, and the biggest one of all - just breathe. Take it easy now.




Aaah Bisto.....

I redecorated my office/sewing room last weekend (more on that to follow as the before pictures are hilarious) and walking into the room this morning I was struck again by the sense of "mmm, fresh paint, lovely". It got me thinking on what other smells this week (and memories of scents) had me thinking the same. So here's my top 7:

New paint (especially satinwood as it lingers...!)

Freshly cut grass

Toast and/or cinnamon buns and/or freshly baked bread (I loved having a part-time job way- back-when in Sainsbury's bakery)

Coconut shampoo (it always makes me think of a holiday to Greece years ago with my sister, sitting on the beach and listening to Chris Rea from the beach bar)

The smell of hot air (daily memories of living in the UAE) and also arriving on small planes abroad and that first breath as you step down onto the tarmac

Fig and pear candles for summer and orange and winter spices for the colder months

Hyacinths - sad that they're over for another year - but it's an excuse to go to the flower shop today almost next door to Hometown and find an in-season substitute.

So these are mine, what are yours? Let me know...



A little goes a long way

Saved by second-hand books and sewing skills...

In the winter sale, many Hometown customers donated and/or bought second hand craft books from us. The money raised was donated to several charities and £120 + gift aid found its way to Cambodia. This is what happened next.

Marion's sister, Janet, is a retired teacher who supports a charity called Mission Direct. She's part of a team who recently worked alongside young Cambodian teachers in community schools in Phnom Penh. Janet and the other volunteers were there to team-teach and run training workshops for the local staff who are not formally trained. The Hometown money paid for much needed dual-language books for their school library.

Janet also visited several NGOs in Phnom Penh who retrain women who have previously been sex workers. Two NGOs in particular focus on teaching sewing and administration skills, thus providing women with the ability to run their own businesses. Janet came home laden with beautiful examples of clothing and bags created by "Daughters of Cambodia" and "Women of Worth, Cambodia".

So thanks to everyone for your support ... books and sewing skills really do change lives!



Trains and Boats and Planes

It's almost here - yes the long-awaited new 'Rochester Riverside' multi-story car park is due to open this Friday, 29th April This will make car parking in Rochester so much easier. I know these past few months have been 'challenging' for parking; now there's an understatement! And we thank all of you, customers and workshop students alike, for your perseverance in getting to the shop.

Now unlike Henry Ford who was obviously not a quilter (as he only seemed to like one colour on his products), we enjoy the entire spectrum. In celebration of the lighter evenings we painted the haberdashery department a gorgeous sky blue last week and have hung loads of new colourful workshop quilts in-store. And finally to mark the new opening of the car park - race over to our events page for details of an opening discount - beep! beep!


A word in your ear ...

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A word in your ear ...

I love words. Walking home this evening, it dawned on me that I'm always looking and reading - whether it's seeing a graphic in the greengrocers, a sign-written shop name, banners outside the comedy club or the beautifully written pub chalkboard advertising tonight's folk band. And that's not including the signage on this particular pub which I adore reading, 'Style & Winch Fine Ales & Stouts'.

When I used to travel a lot for work, graphics in other countries were always a delight. Sometimes it was the use of words, not as originally intended..., the gaudy hand painted bill boards of India, or simply the place names and style of the road signs. Isn't arondissement simply a lovely word to say? Living in Sweden I learned to appreciate the simplicity of pared-down graphics, plus of course the delight of extra letters to learn and pronounce.

So here in celebration are a few of my favourite photos. This is just the first tranche - there are plenty more, so let's just call this 'chapter 1 - the blue corner'.

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Labelled with Love

The lovely thing about having a shop is you never know what stories are going to walk in the door. Last week a lovely lady popped in to show me an old quilt from her husband's family. Amazingly she knew exactly who had sewn it, plus where and approximately when (her grandmother-in-law, Immingham near Grimsby and around 1900).

This type of provenance is rare for quilts from the nineteenth and early twentieth century. At a time when quilts were generally sewn as functional bed covers, the last thing on most quilters' minds was recording their details for posterity. The priority was warmth at night for their families! Of all the old quilts I own, only a handful can be pinned down to specific makers, towns or years.  So it's lovely when a little bit of history can be celebrated.

One of the patchwork papers showing the copperplate handwriting

Unfortunately I have too many old quilts providing insulation in my own home to justify buying yet another quilt right now. However, if you would like to be the next step in this quilt's history, the Grimsby quilt is for sale*. This postage stamp style patchwork is hand sewn in 2 1/2 inch squares in a variety of cotton (and possible wool mix and silk mix?) fabrics. It measures 213 x 248cm (84 x 98in). Interestingly it was pieced over papers as the outer row of patches are crinkly and still contain the templates, a technique known as English Paper Piecing. It does not contain wadding, so would make a great topper on a duvet or as a throw for the sofa. A handful of the patches (mostly the lighter weaves have some shredding (as seen in the red patch above), but generally it is in good and clean condition.

And finally, a call to all modern day quiltmakers out there - don't be shy - be proud of your craft skills and label your quilts with pride. Believe me, future generations will thank you when they are trying to piece together their own and other families' histories.

* Sorry, this quilt is no longer for sale. However, we do have other quilts for sale in-store. Call 01634 838880 for more details.




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Quilting mojo

I'm never at a loss for quilts to make, but like many of us, time is at a premium. But sometimes you see a fabric and just have to sew. On Thursday 2 huge boxes of fabrics arrived, just in time for our Moda Month promotion. It's a lovely new range of 20 graduated solids called Ombre. During the afternoon I was busy cutting a zillion fat quarters for our bumper packs (yep, all the cutting is done in-house at Hometown!) and I think the colours literally just seeped into my brain. So at 11pm last night I started a new quilt in combination with a Canyon Charm pack. I'm returning to an old favourite, Log Cabin, but with a new twist I've been wanting to try. Think I could have sewed all night, but I did need to consider the neighbours and working today! So the sewing machine and fabric is at the ready on the kitchen table for the next round this evening...

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Falling off the Wagon...

Oops... confession time. I've just bought another quilt. How on earth did that happen? Well, I've been sorting through my old quilts in preparation for a talk to a local quilt group in March. And I was doing some online research ... which led to a well known auction site ... where there was an old quilt up for grabs ... and the bids were finishing in 18 minutes. Need I say more! I'll report back when the box arrives from Scotland.

Meanwhile, trying to sort through my quilt collection and just pick some (I am thinking about the available space and suspension in my little car) is like trying to pick your favourite child - they are all nice and all have their merits; even if others don't appreciate them! I think I've narrowed it down to twenty - I don't want to bore the socks off the quilters present. In the meantime the picture here is of a small cutter piece I have, appropriately called the 'Wheel' pattern. This little beauty dates from the 1930s. It's such an unusual design - all hand pieced with tiny hand quilting. It's an intriguing pattern with 4 blocks arranged around an octagon. The solid apricot spokes are surrounded by wheels in a variety of floral feedsacks. And before you ask, cutter pieces never count as quilt purchases; since they're only little, usually a bit worse for wear and someone needed to give them a good home.



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What the Dickens?

Yes it's that time of year again - the Dickens Christmas Festival is on this weekend. It's always fun when costumed characters come into the store - mostly it's to buy more bonnet ribbon! Two of my favourites were these 2 folk several years ago - the haberdasher had a wonderful tray full of lace trimmings and thread spools. And no, before you ask, I will not be bonneted and wearing a crinoline - otherwise, there's a high probability that I'd get my hoops tangled and would be wedged behind the counter, rather like a pin-tucked and calico-sprigged beached whale! Far better to be in modern dress and adorned by one of our jolly Christmas aprons as I race around the shop floor and rotary cut at the speed of light...

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Where are the fairy lights?

The elves will be hard at work this week installing some lovely wintry quilts and bunting in the store as part of our Christmas display. We've been inspired by this trio of quilts sewn by Elisabeth Beighton-Delille. Elisabeth's sense of colour is glorious and her workmanship is superb. We're delighted that she will be back at Hometown in the spring teaching more workshops. In the meantime head down to the high street this Saturday and you could meet The Snowman as he switches on the Christmas lights.


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Wrap up Warm

OK, don't try this at home children! Yes this is a gratuitous use of small kittens, but it made me laugh on a day when the central heating is cranked up and I am a not very catwalk-chic version of the layered look.

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New winter workshop list out now!

Yes it's finally here, just click on the workshop page  - to book just call the store on 01634 838880 or pop in and see us.

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Bring an old bag to the store!


Bring an old bag to the store!

Take the title of the blog how you will! As you know large companies are now charging 5p for plastic bags in England. As a small company Hometown is currently exempt from this charge. However, as a passionate recycler I also want do my bit to encourage Hometown's customers to get into bag-carrying habits. So here is a link to making your own fabric tote (all the materials and haberdashery can be bought at the store). www.hgtv.com/design/make-and-celebrate/handmade/make-an-easy-to-sew-lined-tote-bag

And you could get an extra loyalty card stamp for your efforts - see our Offer and Events page for more details.