Roads keep leading me back to crafts on Saint Helena, whether it is a painting, a song, a piece of furniture, an item of clothing.
On Tuesday 27th July 2021 I popped in to see Wanda who runs a small textile business at Forester’s Hall in Market Street, Jamestown. Wanda’s expertise spans many years and I can see by the organised chaos in her workroom that she is an extremely sought after service on this tiny island. There aren’t many now who ply the trade. I find this industry fascinating since I was absolutely useless at Textiles at school and I remind Miss Hazel who works in Needles and Pins that she tried her best in Pilling School to encourage me but the football always won.
Material of all shapes, textures and colours cover the tables, yet Wanda knows where to find everything. I didn’t know she also did upholstery, jewellery, table mats, bags etc. She unlocks the door to the little craft shop across the way, dust has gathered slightly where tourism has dipped. I reassure Wanda that her time will come again when tourists in larger numbers arrive to buy her wares. In a world where giant machines produce by the truck load, there is something authentic about her products.
On one side of the room sits the various machines which service her trade, one of them, I have seen the likeness of so many times in a huge sewing machine store on Portobello Road, London. The Singer. I can tell that this machine is more to Wanda than just a tool. There’s a special bond between all of the machines and Wanda, but this one, takes pride of place. Its metallic front plate is adorned with beautiful embossed patterns and similar decoration on the base plate. It is fascinating how so much detail has gone into a tool, yet when making this machine, the manufacturers must have also realised the benefits of beautiful creations for the end user.
Not only does Wanda provide beautiful creations, she also (when time allows) does group sessions and she suggests that it is here that she finds the real therapy in her job. Isn’t that wonderful that the purpose of sharing and passing on talent can be more satisfying? The only disappointment for Wanda is that much of these sessions are just for leisure and those who do take a real interest often leave the island and so the learning goes with them.
Her lacework is stunning. I ask her about a Ruby Cross which is so magnificently put together, the detail so rich, I would like to one day to gift a cross like this for a friend in London who is a Catholic and who I think may appreciate something like this.
There’s something about these tucked away workshops, wonderful energy persists within the four walls. Wanda is not about mass production or racing to get the job done. She wants to give the customer the best possible experience, so sometimes, with the demand, it takes time. Are we patient enough to wait? She can’t afford to employ people and there is the training which requires considerable time, time which would be lost in getting the work done, she has bills to pay like everyone. On occasions her family will offer her a hand and they have a giggle together at the same time.
Wanda likes her time alone, she enjoys people popping in and out but her lone working allows her peace to get on with the work, she only has her energy to navigate for the most part.
I like listening to Wanda. She speaks with so much passion. I ask her whether she has had any needlework disasters, like dropping bottles of liquid over particular fabric, she laughs. “There have been one or two jobs which have been tricky and I have had to fight with”, but no, generally, no disaster”, she confirms.
“I try to find a way, to get the job done to the customer’s request” she says. She speaks in second person as she says, “if the customer wants something then Wanda will try her utmost to get it done”. I gape when she adds mending sails for yachts to her list of jobs. That must take some heavy-duty needles and a lot of space.
Whilst Wanda has a Facebook page, she very rarely uses it as she is not completely comfortable with technology. There are so many of the older generation, especially in the wider world, who are being forced to embrace a system that they have long-since lived without. Their businesses rely on them knowing how to navigate the web. Some do not have younger generations to assist.
Thankfully, here on Saint Helena, Wanda’s services are rendered mostly through word of mouth. She ‘beavers’ away in her little room whilst the rest of the world tackles the uncertainty of e-commerce. The only tool that really matters in that room is Wanda, without her expertise, the machines will not go, the fabric will not move locations, and sails will not flap about in the wind. She reminds me that a business can run for many years when we keep our expectations in check, when we respect our customer base and when we preserve our energy for the things that really matter.
Thank you Wanda for a truly spiritual experience.
You can contact Wanda here
Read more blog post from @Addie Thomas https://www.thegirlfromtherock.com/