Helping Turners Falls to flourish: New business offers workshops, crafts

  • Paulina Borrego of Northfield, in the foreground, works on repurposing several old garments into a new one during one of Alison Williams’ sewing workshops at her new Turners Falls store, Flourish. Williams calls the workshops sewing parties, during which she teaches her pupils everything from threading a bobbin to repurposing clothes. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • Paulina Borrego of Northfield works on repurposing several old garments into a new one during one of Alison Williams’ sewing workshops at her new Turners Falls store, Flourish. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • At Alison Williams’ sewing parties, people with various skill sets can learn to sew. She teaches her pupils everything from threading a bobbin to repurposing garments like she does. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • Paulina Borrego of Northfield sews a jacket using Flourish Owner Allison Williams’ technique during a sewing workshop at Williams’ Turners Falls business. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • Flourish Owner Alison Williams teaches her pupils everything from threading a bobbin to repurposing garments like she does. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • Flourish Owner Alison Williams hopes “to help the town continue to flourish while maintaining its grit” through her new store and gallery. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Flourish Owner Alison Williams hopes “to help the town continue to flourish while maintaining its grit” through her new store and gallery. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Flourish Owner Alison Williams unrolls one of her paintings at her store and gallery in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Owner Alison Williams speaks to a customer reflected in a shop mirror at Flourish in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Flourish, a new business in Turners Falls, includes a store with miscellaneous items, from postcards to handmade jewelry and blankets, as well as a gallery space open to the public. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Flourish, a new business in Turners Falls, includes a store with miscellaneous items, from postcards to handmade jewelry and blankets, as well as a gallery space open to the public. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Flourish, a new business in Turners Falls, includes a store with miscellaneous items, from postcards to handmade jewelry and blankets, as well as a gallery space open to the public. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Flourish, a new business in Turners Falls, includes a store with miscellaneous items, from postcards to handmade jewelry and blankets, as well as a gallery space open to the public. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Jess Wissemann walks through the gallery at Flourish in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Flourish, a new business in Turners Falls, includes a store with miscellaneous items, from postcards to handmade jewelry and blankets, as well as a gallery space open to the public. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Flourish store and gallery in Turners Falls features repurposed clothing made by Owner Alison Williams. She says, “I’ve always loved being environmental and I grew up with a sense of having to use and reuse.” Staff Photo/Dan Little

Staff Writer
Published: 4/12/2019 1:49:33 PM

Flourish is a verb, meaning “to grow luxuriantly, to achieve success, to be in a state of activity or production, or to reach a height of development or influence,” according to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary. It’s also a multi-purpose Avenue A business run by resident Alison Williams.

To Williams, not only is “flourish” a great term, but she found it’s also an old Scottish word for embroidering, one of the many things she does through the Turners Falls business, which opened in October.

“When I was speaking with the owners of the building, who also own Loot, about what I wanted to do in the space, I told them I wanted to help the town continue to flourish while maintaining its grit,” she said. “And that’s where I got the name of the shop.”

Flourish includes a store with miscellaneous items, from postcards to handmade jewelry and blankets, as well as a gallery space open to the public. Also available for purchase are Williams’ handmade repurposed clothes. The garments fall into two categories: clothes that start as a base for Williams to work from, and clothes she created from a combination of materials.

Finding a gentle art form

Williams began sewing when her parents bought her a sewing machine for her 10th birthday, and her first project was a rag doll and its wardrobe. The creation allowed her to make clothes, a practice she’s done on and off throughout her life.

“I started making baby clothes, and the other day I laughed because I realized I’m back making little clothes again,” Williams said. “You come full circle and you don’t realize it sometimes.”

After moving to New Hampshire in 2004, Williams said she wanted to be more creative, so she bought a sewing machine and started sewing, but it wasn’t until 2011 that Williams started making upcycled garments.

“I felt like the conversation around art was heavy, and so I sat down and thought about the things I like to do,” she said. “I love to look at fabric and I love to find a bargain. So instead of painting or having a garden, I could bring aesthetic to the clothing.”

The work served as a “gentle art” for Williams, providing an outlet and relief after working as a landscaper throughout the day.

“I’d come home in the evenings and on weekends to make these delicate fabric things,” Williams said. “It was a real juxtaposition; it felt meditative in a way. Creating landscapes is a really hard, physical labor, then I would create these gardens on fabrics.”

Williams’ upbringing and love for fashion, as well as her concern for the environment, combined to result in her style of garment-making.

“I’ve always loved being environmental and I grew up with a sense of having to use and reuse,” Williams said. “I decided I wasn’t going to buy anything new for my apartment, aside from a mattress. I bought everything secondhand. That’s when it really started. There’s such beautiful fabric, and I decided I’d buy it and make it into something.

“My art has an environmental aspect to it, but I’m not an activist,” she added, referring to her interest in painting. “It’s a part of my work, it’s a part of who I am. I am really careful; I don’t like waste.”

Another aspect of why she makes upcycled clothes is that each piece has its own history.

“Every piece of fabric has a little story,” Williams said. “That’s a really precious part of what I do, having things with history, either a personal story that someone told me or cultural history, like a 1970s dress.”

Twenty years ago, Williams taught art and outdoor education at Northfield Mount Herman School, and said she wanted to return to the area. While living in Vermont about three years ago, a friend invited her to bring clothes she had made to a craft fair.

“I sold lots of clothes to people I didn’t know, did that and still made money landscaping,” Williams said. After selling clothes wholesale to some shops in Turners Falls, Williams found the store space that would house Flourish.

More than a store

With items like lights, pig salt and pepper shakers, journals, jewelry, vintage tables and teacups, it may be difficult at first to see the theme Williams has cultivated in Flourish.

“I want the shop itself to be a hub for the clothes and some handmade artisan items,” Williams said. “I have items from friends, that I love what they care about or their aesthetic. Most of the items are handmade and functional recycled items.”

Part of the reason Williams decided to have a gallery alongside the shop is her love for curating.

“I enjoy creating little environments in the store,” Williams said. “The objects aren’t very expensive, they’re just found things I want to have a new life.”

Flourish also offers opportunities for local residents to flourish by providing learning experiences. Since opening in October, Williams has hosted a lamp and doll-making workshop, as well as sewing workshops.

“The workshops are more about what people want to learn,” Williams said. “There are really great places around that are already teaching great things and I want to add to that, not compete with it.”

Williams calls her sewing workshops sewing parties, during which she teaches her pupils everything from threading a bobbin to repurposing garments like she does.

Paulina Borrego of Northfield said she decided to participate in a sewing workshop because she came to Flourish and saw Williams’ clothes.

“I saw what she made, and I wanted to do the same. So, I gathered some clothes that needed to be reworked and she showed me how,” Borrego said. “She has a great eye for texture and patterns.”

Borrego said she already knew how to sew, but needed help visualizing the garment.

“She helps you figure out how to take things apart and put them back together in a different way,” Borrego said of Williams. “She works with you to be open to different options. She’s like a sewing mom.”

Borrego said the workshop reminded her that something can become better.

“It reminds me of the spirit of the Pioneer Valley,” she said. “What I find unique about the area is the self-doers. It used to be people building their own homes or working in the mills, but now it’s the idea of doing things for ourselves, coupled with the idea of the DIY movement. We really rely on the expertise of people like Allison.”

Williams said she enjoys having Flourish’s interchange between art and retail space spur the workshops.

“It’s not just about having something, but also learning something,” she said.

The workshops are just as varied as the items inside of the shop, with upcoming workshops focusing on writing and early summer health and wellness. Still, each topic is in the theme of creating a space where people are free to play and create.

“There’s a gentleness to learning. It’s therapeutic,” Williams said. “I really feel people desire to create and it’s difficult to make on your own. There are a lot of things that get in the way and making art comes last. It’s seen as a luxury. These workshops aren’t expert classes, they’re for anyone.”

Staff reporter Melina Bourdeau started working at the Greenfield Recorder in 2018. Her beat includes Montague, Erving and Gill. She can be reached at: mbourdeau@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 263.

Upcoming workshops and events

■Saturday, April 20, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. — Learn to paint a crazy spring garden with Alison Williams

■Thursday, May 2, 6 to 7 p.m. — Literature reading with Edite Cunha and Trish Crapo

■Thursday, May 16, 6 to 8:30 p.m. — Writing workshop with Edite Cunha

■Saturday, May 18, and Sunday, May 19 — Early summer health and wellness workshop with Liz Mitchell and Alison Williams

■Sunday, May 26, 2 to 4 p.m. — Doll-making workshop with Belinda Lyons Zucker


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