Greenfield’s beloved Textile Co. has colorful past

  • Joyce O’Bryan and Nancy Parody of The Textile Co. look over fabric patterns at the Powers Square location in Greenfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Lisa Hollister of Colrain finds some piano-themed fabric to make a gift for her father at The Textile Co. in Greenfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Sharon Smith helps Denise Schwartz find some fabric at The Textile Co., more familiar as “Eastern Textile Co.,” in Greenfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Nancy Parody helps Caitlin Sheridan of Northfield and her daughter, Maggie Sheridan, 6, pick out some canine-themed cloth for Maggie’s first sewing project at The Textile Co. in Greenfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Sharon Smith restocks bolts of colorful fabric at The Textile Co. in Greenfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Textile Co. in Greenfield stocks an extensive variety of printed fabrics. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Textile Co. in Greenfield stocks an extensive variety of printed fabrics. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Textile Co. in Greenfield stocks an extensive variety of printed fabrics. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/18/2019 5:56:54 PM

The tight warren of gray, green and brown houses between Greenfield’s Mill Street and the Green River gives way to kaleidoscopic colors when you enter the overwhelming 1840s home of The Textile Co.

More familiar as “Eastern Textile Co.,” the former name of the business that’s been in the same family on Power Square for 90 years, this is the home-grown fabrics superstore known to generations of sewing enthusiasts and quilters from around the region: Depression-era women who made their clothing for themselves and their children, 4-H club members working on projects, dressmakers creating prom and wedding gowns, mothers creating Halloween costumes, and on and on.

And on and on the bolts of fabric still fill the aisles in this 150-by-50-foot former Field Baby Carriage factory, which was a stagecoach factory before that in this part of Greenfield that was the original Franklin County Fairgrounds.

Some of the ancient wooden flooring is warped, and a few old fans hang off a low white ceiling that emphasizes the tight feel of home, rolling on like the fabric itself.

“When new people come up the road and see the building, it’s not in great shape outside,” admitted Joyce O’Bryan, who’s worked since 1967 at the store now owned by her brother, Fred Parody, and sister-in-law, Nancy. “But they walk in and they’re just dumbfounded. They can’t believe all the beautiful fabrics.”

O’Bryan said one of the employees tried counting all of the bolts of fabric several years ago and came up with more than 5,000 — “and that was just the quilting fabrics!”

‘One of Greenfield’s treasures’

It all started as a mail-order business housed practically next door in the home of O’Bryan’s aunt, Louise Bolger.

“My uncle told my aunt, whatever remnants there were, she could keep the money.” O’Bryan pointed out the office window toward the large stucco apartment building that took the place of the original house where the shop was. “She used to sell fabric out there, and the neighborhood ladies would come over: ‘Do you have any fabric left over?’ So she’d sell the remnants. It got bigger and bigger, and this place came up for sale.”

Today, in a business whose name dropped its “Eastern” when it was incorporated in 1987 and a now-defunct Boston company was found to have the same name, there are rows and rows of fabric bolts, like giant books in a library, stretching out in a warehouse where the past seems to live on for its mostly women customers.

They come with daughters, with mothers, families from far and wide who’ve made The Textile Co. their destination for generations.

“It’s one of my favorite places to go,” said Marjorie Reid, a 90-year-old Greenfield quilter who started making quilts as wedding gifts but now makes them to give to new mothers at Baystate Franklin Medical Center through the Second Congregational Church’s Mothers in Need quilting group. “When I was still driving, the car knew right where to go, it just took me there.”

Reid, who’s made more than 100 quilts, calls the iconic landmark “one of Greenfield’s treasures. They have the most wonderful collection of fabrics, all kinds of fabrics. The women who work there are just wonderful,” helping to plan out colors and other aspects of projects. “They’ll help you with anything. It’s like family.”

Imagine a fabric for your dress, shirt, tie — anything with any pattern, any color, any image — and it’s likely at The Textile Co., somewhere.

Arranged by color, there are cottons with repeated images of carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, garlic, cucumbers, peas, broccoli, asparagus and Brussel sprouts.

“You’ve got your martinis, your wines,” Fred Parody said, pointing to fabrics for any project.

But while the products do seem infinite, it’s in fact a fraction of what the building held in the days when both floors were stocked with merchandise including china dishes, measuring cups, Fiestaware dishes, nylon stockings and, of course, fabrics of all kinds. Now the customers are primarily quilters.

Since the 1970s, when quilting took off in popularity, “It’s gotten bigger and bigger,” said Nancy Parody. “I can’t believe it’s still going on!”

Come one, come all

Customers continue to come in from Connecticut, from New York, from Vermont looking for material to make Halloween costumes, placemats, table runners or aprons as Christmas presents, or dresses. Gone are the days, though, when fabric was so cheap you could make a dress for under a dollar.

The Power Square store gets visited by The Hartsbrook School’s students from Hadley, who each get three yards of flannel to make pajama bottoms for themselves and for younger students, as well as from Williams College students working on intersession quilting projects, and even by a busload of German women returning to see what one of their group members was so excited about after someone suggested she stop in during an earlier visit to New England.

“When they came here, they were amazed,” O’Bryan remembered.

No wonder. There’s every fabric imaginable, featuring patterns with bicycles, rainbows, softballs and footballs, dinosaurs, clouds, piano keyboards, guitars, musical symbols, pizza, beer. There’s Thomas the Train Engine, Horton and other Dr. Seuss characters, dragons and sailboats.

You want farm animals? There are herds of cows, horses, chickens, llamas and sheep on fabrics in one section. There are entire seasonal fabrics with autumnal leaves, with snowmen, with green ferns and candy canes.

There are hunting fabrics, fishing fabrics, jungle animal fabrics. And of course, fabrics with cats and dogs.

That’s where 6-year-old Maggie Sheridan of Northfield heads — exhibiting a combination of nervousness and excitement — with her mother, Caitlin Sheridan, as the two plan the girl’s first sewing project: a pillow.

When O’Bryan asked, “What kind of dog do you have?” Maggie pointed to a black Labrador Retriever fabric, exclaiming, “I want that one!” before heading off with her mother to select thread.

There’s already-hemmed toweling material to make your own towels, nylon to make backpacks, or flags with images of seagulls and pirates.

There’s also make-your-own-first-book fabrics for children, and fake fur that becomes a popular item before Halloween. There’s a host of burlap, screening fabrics, plastic material for making tablecloths, foam rubber and vinyl for repairing car, motorcycle or boat cushion seats. And then there’s canvas, which O’Bryan said a Greenfield Community College art student uses for paintings.

Changing with the times

Carol Barnes of Millers Falls, who worked in the store for 47 years and is now a frequent visitor, said while shopping for quilting material, “I just never left. That’s how it goes.”

She traveled to Franklin County from the West Coast, and said she’s never found a fabric store that compares to The Textile Co., or that at least had the variety the store had in its heyday, when it was “a complete fabric store.

“Things change, but you go with the flow,” she said. “(People are) just not sewing as much as they used to.”

Those were also the days before the price of wool skyrocketed, before the selection of wools was replaced with an assortment of artificial fleece.

“People would buy wool by the half-yard for braiding rugs,” Barnes recalled. “When I think about what we used to carry!”

Pat Shearer of Northfield, for 51 years the leader of the Northfield Meadow Maids (later “Meadow Maids and Men”) 4-H Club, remembers bringing the young members to Eastern Textile Co. to pick out fabric, or at least to get a sense of different kinds of fabrics for projects, before the group grew too large.

“The amount of fabric they have for such a small place is just amazing,” she said. “It’s just a feel-good place. This has a community feel and everything is shoved in so closely. There’s so much stuff that if you can’t find something you can use, you’d better move on.”

Shearer admitted, though, that her husband prefers to sit in the car — a theme that O’Bryan said rings familiar.

But, she remembers back in 1969, “when the state made hunters wear fluorescent orange, you couldn’t find it anywhere,” and her cousin, who was running the store, found rolls and rolls at a dance costumer in New York.

“We had so many people buying it, we set up tables outside, and the cars were going around the whole neighborhood just to buy it,” O’Bryan said. “It was an unbelievable amount of people. Then people were coming in and buying for their dogs and for their property.”

Most other family-owned fabric stores are gone, O’Bryan said, and while the internet may siphon off some business, it’s hard to know the exact color you’re getting and the quality that you can feel with your fingers.

“Some of them say, ‘It’s so cheap!’” she said of fabrics people say they find to buy online. “I tell them, ‘Go for it! You’re going to get what you paid for.’ What are you going to do?”

Senior reporter Richie Davis has worked at the Greenfield Recorder for 42 years. He can be reached at rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 269.




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