Monday, 5 December 2011

The Return of Shelf, by The Gentle Author


The lights were burning late last night at the former Ship & Blue Ball in Boundary St, one of the East End’s most notorious criminal landmarks. Here in 1963, the Great Train Robbery was plotted in the room above the pub. Today the building houses the Bold Creative agency, yet long after all the employees left yesterday, shadowy figures were still to be glimpsed inside by those hurrying through Boundary Passage in the gloom. Assuming the role of investigative reporter, I went round after dark to question the two women at the centre of this new conspiracy of an entirely innocent nature. They are Katy Hackney and Jane Petrie, and they were busy organising their swag in preparation for the return of Shelf.
Ten years ago, Shelf opened in Cheshire St and became an essential Christmas destination, never disappointing as a source of new trinkets and old tricks and artful wooden decorations from the Black Forest. When Katy & Jane closed the shop and took it online this year, I thought it was the end of my annual visit there to seek wonders, so I am delighted to welcome their return, taking over the Ship & Blue Ball each weekend between now and Christmas.
The blinds were down when I arrived and Katy hustled me inside where she and Jane were laying out their haul of new discoveries and old favourites upon a huge table. Now there is a nip in the air, Jane helpfully suggested I needed a pair of traditional Swedish mittens handknitted by their friend Bodil who lives in a tin hut by a lake in MellurĂ¼d. Strung up like kippers, these are available in adult and children’s sizes and there are only as many pairs as Bodil has managed to craft.
If you are looking for Russian dolls, wind-up birds that sing, characterful felt glove puppets, cuddly lions from Sri Lanka, happy chopping boards, kaleidoscopes, wooden molecule building sets, and unusual games and prints and children’s books, this is the place to come. In the last ten years, Katy & Jane have been all over Europe, Japan, East & West Coast America, and Dundee, collecting zany old stationery – jotters and labels and ribbons and printed tags and bags and tin badges and scraps and all manner of ephemera including hundred-year-old-butter-papers and fifty-year-old Italian lemonade labels and vintage orange wrappers and ladybird books and interesting packets of seeds. Previously, they hoarded their favourites in the basement of the shop for their own pleasure, but now they have decided to part with it all in medley packs.
While I examined all the swag minutely, Katy & Jane enthused about the novelty of weekends with their children, since since the Cheshire St shop closed. Yet the old delight was rekindled, to see all the strange and marvellous things at Shelf that you cannot find anywhere else. “Our elaborate hobby,” they call it.
Vist the Shelf blog The Other Side of the Shelf and Jane Petrie’s Costume Detail blog.


A wind-up bird that sings

Gift bags of stocking fillers.

Kellner figures, made by the same family in Leipzig since 1919.

Screenprint by Beyond Thrilled.

Paper mache stag by Rachel Warren.

Birds crossing Victoria Park by John Dilnot.


The essential map, drawn by Adam Dant with stories by yours truly.


Designs by Frerk Muller, an eighty-one year old beatnik from Berlin.


Kay Hackney & Jane Petrie with their swag – an innocent conspiracy.

Plaster letters dug up in the Californan desert, originally designed for titling silent films.

Photograph of Katy Hackney & Jane Petrie © copyright Jeremy Freedman
Shelf will be open at 13a Boundary St for the next three weekends, 3rd & 4th, 10th & 11th, 17th & 18th plus Thursday 22nd & Friday 23rd December, daily from 11am to 7pm. Artist Paul Bommer will be the guest exhibitor on the first weekend, knitwear designer Jo Gordon on the second and printmaker Beyond Thrilled on the third.
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The Gentle Author wrote this post, we are eternally grateful to him.
See his FANTASTIC blog here:
'SPITALFIELDS LIFE'