Padmaparna Ghosh planned her last visit before she knew the shop was closing.
“I’m so sad, I saw your post on Facebook,” she said, to the woman behind the counter of Sew Dublin on Saturday, as she entered off a small street in Rathmines.
Ghosh nudged past some customers. She browsed the rainbow of threads on a spinning tower. Sometimes, she works with the wiry metallic ones, but they’re harder to use. This time, she picked through the many shades of green.
She needed them for the embroidery she hopes to make. Something to remind her of Dublin after she moves to New York.
It might show her first house number, perhaps. And the Dublin Bus logo and angry seagulls. “There’s a lot of personal memories,” she says.
Ghosh hadn’t sewed much before she came here, she says, now holding some skeins of green and golden-brown floss. “It’s only in Ireland that I actually started, really started, out of loneliness you could say.”
Eilish Murphy remembers the first time Ghosh came into her shop, she says. “You wanted to learn how to make all this stuff.”
It was two years ago, says Ghosh. She had just moved to Dublin.
Together, they went around the store and picked out what she needed. She tried a bit of everything, says Murphy.
Ghosh went home with simple embroidery kits and some hoops and fabric. She made cross stitches for other students in her master’s class at Trinity. One for each of them, she says. “Just of the animals that they like. We were doing conservation.”
She had sewed a little before but always from kits. Now, she learnt to draw on her imagination and to trace from photographs. She made a wobbly red-and-white lighthouse, her first freehand piece. And a colourful toucan with a giant orange beak – that one as a present for her sister.
Ghosh says again that she is sad the shop is closing.
“It’s the rents, the rents are higher,” says Murphy. “The shop isn’t busy enough.”
Ghosh sorts through the basket of fat quarters near the counter, the cuts of fabric that make up quilts. She pulls some out for a closer look.
“They’re so cute, look at this mushroom one,” says Ghosh.
“Even the little hedgehogs,” she says.
When she started to sew, she hadn’t thought too deeply about it. She didn’t yet know how it might help in anxious moments, that it might dampen the stress of setting up afresh, or searching for a job, or worrying about work for her biodiversity degree.
Later, she started to read up online. On sewing forums, others would share links to historical papers or research.
“I’m generally curious about everything,” says Ghosh, who has been a journalist for 14 years, writing about science and the environment.
In the sixteenth century, Mary Queen of Scots found comfort in embroidery while she was imprisoned in England. After the First World War, doctors there taught soldiers to embroider as therapy for shell shock and dealing with the trauma of war. As they did in Australia, and New Zealand.
When Ghosh has time, she flicks on a Netflix series or a podcast, and starts to sew. “I love botanical drawings. Older drawings of species,” she says. “And there are so many, there is no way you would run out of inspiration.”
There are thick books that show the many stitches that exist. She first mastered the simple ones: the running stitch that is used in hems, the lazy daisy stitch, and the seed stitch. “They’re very nice names,” she says.
Now she knows how to needle paint too, taking a single strand of floss to shade an image – as she did for the fine orange fur on the embroidery of her cat. “It’s very delicate and nuanced,” she says. She’s taking an online course in stumpwork too. That’s three-dimensional sewing.
Ghosh rarely sells what she makes. Friends have asked, she says, but it’s tricky to navigate.
Embroidery works in strange ways, says Murphy, who has come out now from behind the counter.
She heard not long back from a man whose mother had died. As family sorted through the house, they found more than 100 quilts, said Murphy.
“She obviously spent all of her time doing that,” she says.
Yet nobody seemed to have known. “Which is the saddest thing,” she says. “There’s people making amazing things that nobody sees.”
Ghosh nods and she says: “That, in a way, is such a story of loneliness, and the companionship that needlework can give you, you know?”
“The amount of people who said to me that it’s what keeps them sane,” says Murphy. People can lose themselves in needlework.
“Yes! It really kept me sane,” says Ghosh. “So many people say that.”
“So many people do,” says Murphy.
A day earlier, a man had dropped by to show what he had made, says Murphy. His occupational therapist had encouraged him to sew. He makes football logos, she says. “It’s a guy thing.”
That’s how you turn “feminine” work into a guy thing, says Ghosh. She makes air quotes with her fingers, as she says the word “feminine”.
Ghosh was married once before. Her first husband had traditional ideas about the role of a wife. She saw things differently.
“Since I was a kid, I always wanted to be a guy,” she says, later over coffee. She wanted to ride a bike and to climb mountains. To wear tomboy shoes and sleeveless clothes.
“Everything that I would be asked not to do,” she says.
Ghosh says that she resisted “feminine” activities. “But I’ve come around,” she says.
The greatest act of resistance, after all, is to do whatever you enjoy. “Nobody can tell me otherwise, nobody should tell me otherwise,” she says.
She married again four years ago. This time it is different, she says.
If your partner and family give you true liberty, you don’t have to think about these things, she says. “You don’t have to react, you don’t have to respond to that.”
Murphy rings the threads through the cash machine. Ghosh puts them into her canvas tote bag, and insists on a photo together before she leaves.
The sky outside is washed-out blue and the air is warm. A burglar alarm disturbs the quiet of Wynnefield Road.
Ghosh stands across the street and takes a photo of the shopfront, cursing a street sign that blocks the shot.
Embroidery has been a big part of her time in Ireland, says Ghosh. “One of the lasting things.”