Betty’s Sewing Box moved into the old library in Ashbourne in April 2014 and I started to hear good reports very quickly. I finally got round to visiting.
The building is lovely on a sunny spring morning. It is full of light and first impressions are terrific. I was greeted by a beaming member of staff and started to have a look around. The front of the building is a shop with lots of beads, buttons, wool, fabric, cotton etc. when I spoke to Jackie the owner she pointed out that everything in the shop is locally sourced and produced wherever possible – she clearly takes pride in this. She has greeting cards from Ashbourne, dolls from Sudbury and so much more. This is also a vintage shop and there are vintage buttons and recycled fabrics to choose from. What makes this a great shop rather than just a good shop is the attention to detail and the obvious understanding of local needs. Jackie pointed out the jars of small pieces of fabric which helps local students who need fabric for projects but only in small quantities. She also said that she regularly will get things in which people ask for and can also sell smaller quantities than you would be able to buy from anywhere else.
Of course this is a big building and through the back is a workshop. This is a teaching establishment as well as a shop. When I visited two people were learning how to use a sewing machine. There are six machines in the back and Betty’s Sewing Box runs lots of classes throughout the week which range from cushion making, using sewing patterns and appliqué. At Half Term there are classes in a similar vein for younger folk. This is a very welcoming place and if you just turn up to get out of the rain there are bags hung around the walls with craft projects in. You can do a bit of impromptu knitting while you have a cup if tea.
This brings me to the tea room. The walls are festooned with vintage certificates and posters. The sun streams in to the large room and there are tables decked with vintage cups and saucers. It all has a bit of a 50s theme running through it. On a piano against the wall there are some lovely cakes made by Jackie and I can attest to the quality of the lemon cake. The menu focuses on tea and coffee, cake, afternoon tea and cream tea. Tea is served from vintage teapots in vintage cups. There are salad and soup specials on the board but the emphasis is on simple food done well.
Why wouldn’t you Try Ashbourne First with locations like Betty’s Sewing Box? The Marks and Spencer’s cafe is very sterile and dull compared to this. It begins with the essential business model which makes money and then adapts it to Ashbourne. The support of local crafts people and the needs of local students and customers is exemplary. I also like the fact that this is a round-the-year attraction which is likely to appeal to customers on a rainy winter day as much as a sunny day in the height of summer. There is no real price comparison with unique vintage products but Betty’s Sewing Box’s attractions cleverly lie elsewhere. Go and give Jackie a visit – I think you’ll enjoy.