In Praise of the Midlands

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In Praise of the Midlands

Postby Richard Coombs » 11 Nov 2012, 22:46

In the current chat thread with Cood starting to assemble a show , Chris again suggested making your own puppets , and Les suggested Cood got some cheap second hand figures and give them a make-over. I also suggested perhaps getting an old 'Doctor' or the like and turning it into a Joey the Clown.

I think perhaps those of us that do make our own stuff are apt to forget that not everyone does - or indeed can.
Some folk say that they cannot imagine being able to repaint a figure or make a new costume --and that they really mean it .

What is simple and second nature to us , is only so because we have doubtless been doing it since we were very little kids , making our mistakes and learning our methods along the years.
What we were able to do as kids was make those mistakes when ( a) it didn't matter a jot ,as nobody was 'judging' our efforts ( b) we were young and impetuous enough not to care .

Learning something new and perhaps alien as an adult is far harder , we are more critical of our shortcomings , and more paranoid in assuming other people are critical too.

So I dont think seasoned Makers often appreciate what they are asking of first timers when they say "Just try making your Own"

Anyhoooo ..this wasnt quite the point I wanted to make .
I guess that seeing Cood being offered what might be difficult advice , just made me very glad to be a Maker myself IS nice to just be able to make stuff to add into the show willy -nilly as your imagination takes you.

We are lucky if we can make heads , by carving or papier mache , can paint them up to look Ok , and know our way around a sewing machine well enough to run up a nice little outfit too.

Performers can be excellent Performers without the need to ever do any of this ...some folk buy all their stuff.
No reason why they should not .

But they do miss out, I think, on some wonderful fun times in the workshop putting stuff together.

And a big part of that Joy for me - is shopping for Fabrics and Trimmings to make the costumes.

For a single 'one-off' puppet character I always try to find the fabrics I need in the Lichfield Charity shops .
Like most Towns these days there is a choice of four shops , and between them I always find the colours and texture of cloth I need , either as clothes , or cushion covers , sheets , bedspreads or soft toys --- all destined to be cut -up and recycled.
As the costume never needs to be repeated, in theory any fabric will do the job , and it becomes a delicious game hunting round the Charity rails to find an item that will make the perfect puppet costume.

Easy for a single , never to be repeated puppet.

But I always buy new fabric for any puppet that I know I will want duplicates for ( and anyone who has seen my show , will know my penchant for 'duplicate' or 'trick' versions of puppets like Punch Joey and the Crocodile )

And for this I am SO glad I live in the Midlands.

Yes I love a look around Londons Berwick Street Fabric shops if I am down that way - and when I lived in Wimbledon many many ago , places like Borrovicks were regular haunts.
But they are expensive ( where in London is not these days ?)

And in recent years I have found the choices of interesting cloths there not so plentiful.

But Birmingham ...oh Birmingham !
Just wonderful for fabric and haberdashery shopping !
(yes I know Manchester is also ..but I dont have regular enough reason to go up there , and am not that familiar with where all the cloth shops are there anymore )

A day trip to Brum would be well worth considering if you are searching out stuff for a special puppet . The savings you will make on the prices of a few meters of braid , will go a long way towards a train fair.

--- If you want a lot of material for something non Punch related , like making up some large curtains or bedding , then you may well find the savings you make will fully cover train or petrol , and buy you lunch too --- and that is no shallow boast .

And best of all for any 'first timer' to Birmingham , is the fact that all of its' wonderful cloth shops are all in one area ...and very near to New Street Station.
Just come out of New Street , walk all the way through the adjoining Bull ring Shopping Centre and out the other side and you will be at Both the Indoor Shopping Market and the edge of Chinatown ( so combining an afternoon Fabric shopping with a Chinese Buffet Lunch is two guilty pleasures at once for me !)

Thed Indoor market has a couple of fabric shops and one very large Haberdashers for nice ( but fairly pedestrian ) Braids ..but great for gettting a whole 25 meter card of braid cheaply if you already know you will need lots

But next to the Indoor Market is the 'Rag Market" ( not open Monday or Wednesday or Sunday ) ..but all other days there are a wealth of fabric stalls in the huge undercover Market hall.
Also an 'embarasment of riches' in the haberdashery department ..many of the stalls being Asian run , and specialising in sequinned and rinestoned braids of every colour an shape .

There are even more fabric stalls in the outside section.

In addition to the Market stalls , the road adjoining has 2 amazing specialist fabric shops - The Fancy Silk Store more than gives Londons "Borrivicks' a run for its money ( fabrics there can be pricey ..but you can find virtually anything somewhere on in its 4 floors ) Also despite being Birminghams most Pricey Store is still cheaper than London . Each floor has different types of cloth , Very sparkly theatrical stuff on the ground floor , other floors have brocaids and velvets , fur fabrics , satins and taffetas ....everything except very heavy-weigh upholstery fabrics .

-- But that is Ok as the other shop in that road specialises only in heavy weight upholstery cloths.

All these shops are , as I have said , in the same 2 street block , and would easilly be found by any first time visitor to Birmingham coming out of New Street Station and asking for the Indoor Market -- exploring by eye and on foot would find you all those purveyors of fabric delights easily.

And the chances are that what ever you had come looking for would be found in one of them.

But there is one more treasure trove "Barrys Fabrics" that you would not find if you did not know about it . It is only about 3 streets away from where all the rest are located ..but you would need to know how to find it .
Worth seeking out tho as it is a vast building with amazing stock of both regular favourites and also some great end of line ,never to be repeated 'finds" .

Barrys has a Manchester outlet too apparently , and I guess that is another reason why I dont venture to Manchester to shop - there would be little point as Im sure Barrys dominates the scene there too , and would have the same choices as in Brum.

More to follow , but will pause here. Richard
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Richard Coombs
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Re: In Praise of the Midlands

Postby Richard Coombs » 11 Nov 2012, 23:21

Paused , to keep it from becoming a novel !

I had a trip to Brum this week and found some wonderful green cloth for making a new crocodile(s) , which I plan to be doing in the spring. But I had gone looking for some cloth to redress my new Joey(s) .

I looked around all the places i have just described , and did find ( and buy ) some cloth .
But when I got home I decided it wasnt quite right . Good thing is it is in a great colour to make a winter beadspread , so it wont be going to waste.

But on friday I took a trip to nearby Walsall , having exhausted even Birmingham I figured I would try "The Hole in the Wall " fabric shop.

It has been a few years since I had been there , they always were good , but now they have really upped their game. the choice of unusual fabrics and braids there in one ( very large ) store ...more than rivalled all of Brums stores put together.

Its a vast rambling old building on several levels on a steep sloping street ( you park and go in on one level - but go down a couple of floors and come out on a different street at another street level ) there is a floor above where you go in at the top too . lots of different rooms off different staircases , a real labyrinth . I found a room I had never been in before this time with wonderful discontinued fabrics ...I really had to stop myself from buying more than I had come for .

I thought I would snap some pictures to give you a look at some of the rooms:




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Richard Coombs
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Re: In Praise of the Midlands

Postby lesclarke » 12 Nov 2012, 00:28

True, making figures is not for everyone I can only manage it as I get others to do the sewing side. Never got on well with sewing machines, not sure why...

Great to hear that the Midlands has a healthy fabric supply, even with my lack of sewing skills I can get fascinated especially by the huge range of fabric made. We are lucky up here in West Yorkshire, still has a few thriving Markets who have visiting fabric traders selling end-of-lines material, and not too far away, Dewsbury has a couple of big clearance shops with an amazing range, and equally important at good prices.
As if I haven't got enough to do today, with all I've got to do today.
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