On the quiet Pepper’s Lane off Portlaoise Main Street, creative women are turning decrepit bits of furniture into “humble works of art.”
The women are turning heads too, of people walking past the little shop where they are working.
There is no name yet over the door of ‘Shabby Chic’, because the owner, artist Sarah Holden, fell seriously ill just three weeks after she opened it last March.
Ms Holden, a Welsh native living in Portlaoise, is now receiving treatment for leukaemia.
She had already invested into starting her shop and stocked it with the best of materials that any art and craft enthusiast would need.
To keep it ticking over while she recovers, her fellow ‘upcycling’ women have volunteered to hold their workshops in the shop every Tuesday and Thursday.
Crafter Kate Ramsbottom said they were happy to help Sarah because she has been a source of advice and inspiration to many in Laois.
“Sarah is such a positive woman, her mantra is to ‘pay it forward’. She is so creative. She does pottery, papercrafts, box cards, as well as upcycling furniture. We all work in our own craft clubs, but twice a week now we have our workshops here, to sell her stock and keep a presence in the town,” said Kate, a ceramicist from Ratheniska.
Once Sarah recovers, she will hold classes in the shop.
Upcycling furniture has become a quiet phenomon for women all over Laois.
They use decoupaged printed paper, and chalk paints, stencils and varnish to turn old furniture into bespoke pieces of art.
One club called ‘Shabby Chic’ meets on Monday mornings at 10am in a room above Mulhalls SuperValu.
“We have a room at the back, a community space. We bring small pieces to work on, and have our cuppa and chat, putting the world to rights. You’d forget the time when you’re in there. It’s like a women’s version of a men’s shed,” said Mary Gorman from Ballacolla.
Another club called ‘Crafty Ladies’ also meet on a Monday from 10 until 1pm in Treo Nua in Knockmay.
“There are about 20 of us. We expect to get busier now that the kids are back to school,” said Betty Bland from Portlaoise.
Anything can be upcycled, even jam jars, and the women say no artistic skill is needed, but techniques are taught.
Kate explains the attraction of upcycling as a group.
“It is good to get together with other people, like minded people. We learn from each other. You do get a buzz from it. We share ideas and critique each others work, and there is other support too, when you are worried about something,” she said.
“The enjoyment is you are starting with something plain and boring, destined for the scrap heap, and by the time you are finished, it is a humble work of art. All my kitchen chairs are like this, people who come in ask where I got them,” Betty said.
Criona Higgins Spyrides from Camross got hooked when she decided to try and make her own wedding table decorations.
“I made everything for it, that was three years ago, It is very therapeutic, relaxing and calming,” she said.
Upcycled kitchen chairs sell for about €70 in the shop. There are up to 13 stages and hours of work in each piece.
“One guy, a hairdresser from Rathdowney, bought loads of chairs for his salon, just to have something different that you won’t get anywhere else. The interest in it is huge,” said Caroline Conroy from Portlaoise. See ‘Make and Create Laois’ on Facebook. The shop is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10am to 3pm.