Exquisite fabrics weave a family's pattern of success
Deirdre Noonan and Sinead Martin have brought an abundance of luxurious fabrics to The Cloth Shop, says Lucinda O'Sullivan
'I was a camerawoman for 25 years - but I was getting a bit old for it," says Deirdre Noonan, with a laugh, when I ask how she (along with her daughter, Sinead Martin) became involved in the fabric business at The Cloth Shop, at No 5 Johnson's Place on Dublin's South King Street.
"I worked in TV, between London, Belfast and Dublin. It was a very interesting career, I really enjoyed it, but the equipment is heavy, and it's a fast pace, carrying 25kg of equipment on your shoulder. I'll never forget a 14-hour day following Enda Kenny around during an election!"
The Cloth Shop was for me a revelation. Here, for the first time in many years in Ireland, I could see a feast of lush, luxurious, high-end fabrics, from the top mills of Europe, the Far East and Ireland.
All our chat of TV and fabric reminded me of the old 1960s' TV show Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width, which my parents loved, where the central characters, a Jewish cloth importer and an Irish tailor, played by John Bluthal and the late Joe Lynch, constantly argued over prices and the fabrics.
Luxurious fabrics, through the ages, have had an allure for people worldwide - with the famous Silk Road being so named for the wonderful exotic materials traded between China and the West along its 6,000km route.
Deirdre was brought up in London, her grandmother having emigrated there from Co Clare.
"I married an Irishman in 1987, and we moved over here in 1991. I bought the house my grandmother emigrated from, and Sinead and I lived in it for 12 years. Sinead is now the fifth generation from that house, and she has a great interest in its history as well."
Before going into a TV career, Deirdre studied fine art, and was always sewing. This talent passed on to Sinead, who went to Limerick School of Art and Design to study fashion design. "When I took my degree, we had to go to London to get a bigger selection of fabric than was available here."
In the old days, there was always a touch of Are You Being Served, with every big department store having a fabric department, with long counters with built-in brass measuring rulers, for rolling out, measuring and cutting the fabrics. In a thoroughly cool and contemporary way, Deirdre and Sinead have created this feel for their customers.
The staff wear the wonderful long aprons of craftsmen, there are big central work tables, the fabrics are clearly seen on pull-out horizontal rolls, and the space has been specially created for wheelchair users, or mothers with buggies, to fully circumnavigate the shop without obstruction.
They first opened in 2010, at the height of the recession, in a shop behind the Art College and the Senior College in Limerick.
"Sinead instigated the move to Dublin in 2012. The idea was to keep the two shops - but after a number of trips on the M7 we unfortunately let Limerick go," says Deirdre.
But the move to Dublin was a huge success. "We got a great reception, and we have built it and built it. We buy fabrics in Europe. Italy is wonderful," says Sinead. "We stick to family companies wherever we buy, because they are very proud of the quality they are creating. The sons and nephews are coming up, and regenerating it. They are very proud of what their fathers and their grandfathers did.
"New machinery for the old techniques is coming in all over Europe and they are just moving on. It mainly seems to be men involved in the production of fabric.
"Obviously, we keep basics. Silk has always been done very well in China, and they are proud of that as well. Chinese and Indian fabric makers come over nowadays and we buy direct from them."
The Cloth Shop is known for stocking Liberty fabric. They get the new collections at the same time as Liberty of Regent Street.
"Mulberry is very popular, as is Noblis, which is straight from Paris," says Sinead. "These are all companies that have been going for donkey's years, who have stuck to their high-standard quality criteria. They use the best technology, precision and designs."
They also stock Irish tweeds and linens. "We stock as much Irish fabric as we can," agrees Deirdre, showing me the prettiest pale-pink and apple-green tweeds. "We stock Irish tweeds from the Eadie family's Kerry Woollen Mills.
"Men come in and treat it like a hardware shop, because we don't just do the fancy lace and occasion fabrics - we do functional fabrics. The men love the wonderful leathers. They are making wallets and belts, reupholstering bits of car interiors."
They have very heavy non-stretch denim, which is apparently very popular with care workers. Some people can only sleep on 100pc cotton, so that's very popular too.
"People are also making silk-satin pillowcases to keep themselves young, and the students love the technical fabrics," says Deirdre.
"We are expecting a big delivery of Irish linen this week because we have all the Italians and South Americans buying our Irish linen for their suits.
"The funny thing is, we are buying from countries, and they are coming back and buying from us. We get what they're good at, and they get what we're good at. We have lots of Chinese customers who really appreciate European fabrics."
They also have a great haberdashery range, another thing that can be hard to locate. They stock pattern-drafting tools, as Sinead firmly believes, that while standard patterns are good, they are created to a standard shape, whereas, of course, people all vary.
"A lot of people are doing evening classes to learn pattern drafting. If you go from scratch, with your own pattern, you get a better result.
"Here too you can see the fabrics on a big scale, it helps the imagination, instead of little books. There are mirrors for people to see themselves with the fabrics draped around them. We also have a list of dressmakers that we stand behind.
"We don't organise it, it's a personal service between the dressmaker and the client. We also have a curtain-making and upholstery service."
Drop in to The Cloth Shop - you'll love it. They're located at 5 Johnson's Place, South King St, D2 and online at theclothshop.ie
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Finally, next Sunday, May 24, the '€10,000 Curry Dinner' is being held at Smock Alley in Temple Bar to raise funds for Nepal.
It's limited to 100 people (tickets €100) and guests will receive a variety of foods from Indonesia, Malaysia and Nepal, prepared by Kevin O'Toole of Chameleon in Dublin, Shamzuri Hanifa of The Cottage in Carrick-on-Shannon, and Lina Gautam of Montys of Kathmandu.
There will be great prizes, everyone is giving their time and produce free of charge. Booking at eventbrite.ie