The Block Island Times

Picky Judy's Picks, Of Beads and Stitches

By Judy Tierney | Jul 12, 2011
Photo by: Judy Tierney Jewelry by Shelley Topf at Golddiggers on Chapel Street

My friend Shelley Topf has more energy than I can conjure up in a whole week. Shelley complains she can’t sleep, and I figure it’s her amazing reservoir of energy that keeps her awake. When she isn’t baking or sewing at her house on the Neck, she is gathering up a group for a mah jong lesson. She often recounts her daily activities on Facebook, and reading them, I realize how much she accomplishes in the space of one day.

Recently she began making jewelry. She started this new craft last winter when she became bored in Florida where she and husband Norm spend their winters. As a crafter in general, Shelley is no amateur. Her father owns an interior design business, and she grew up sewing curtains and bedspreads, and making her own clothes. Turning a hem is no chore for her.

I have much admiration for Shelley’s ability to use her hands so skillfully. My mother was like her, knitting and sewing and baking. When I was a kid and money was tight, well- to-do women would come to our apartment to have my mother alter their dresses. She did work for dress stores as well, and once she took me with her to Westport, Connecticut, to the exclusive Ethel Wally shop, to pick up some work from her friend Mila who was the seamstress there. I remember it clearly because it was not like any store I’d ever been to before. At Ethel Wally’s, women sat in a drawing room on a couch or an easy chair, and the clothes were brought to them by a saleswoman to try on, one or two at a time. Mila stood by ready to pin a hem or mark where to rip a seam or take in the garment. In those days, seams on high-end clothes had a lot of material so the dresses could be taken out and resized. A big woman could end up walking out of there with a dress two sizes too small and look good.

My mother must have realized when I was still a tot that my fine motor skills were sorely lacking, because she never had the patience to teach me how to follow her in doing handywork.

Shelley has those skills. Though jewelry making is a new avocation for her, she is already making pieces that are flying off the shelves at Goldiggers jewelry store. Goldiggers owner Ila Manner is a friend of Shelley’s and when she saw Shelley’s jewelry, she convinced her to bring some down to the shop. Every day Ila gives her a report on how many bracelets or pieces were sold, and Shelley expresses amazement.

When I visited the store this week, Ila held up one of Shelley’s bracelets to show me how good her work is. The beads are snugly next to each other, no extra lines of string (or wire) showing between them, and not jumbled up on top of each other. There are bracelets with beads of uniform color, and others with a multitude of them. My favorite looks like small square primary-colored candies, though everyone else favors the beige one that feels good when it’s on.

Of course, while I was in the shop, I lingered to admire all the diamonds and gold pieces that fill Ila’s jewelry cases. There are serious pieces as well as Block Island jewelry souvenirs, some of which Ila crafts herself. I already own a ring with the map of Block Island she made for me several years ago, as well as a silver bracelet with an anchor clasp that I wore every day for an entire summer. I’m resisting buying more for myself, although I am going to get some of Shelly’s bracelets as family birthday gifts.

Golddiggers is a great place to browse, and it’s right across my most favorite shop on the island, East of the River Nile. Next blog will be about treasures I have found there.

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