The old doors of the lift rattle open before I prop them wide with a green and white weave basket filled with eight sewing machine peddles and two coiled extension leads. Out come the machines, two by two, and then the bags of sewing notions and left over sewing projects from a class I taught that morning. It might only be one flight up but the lift makes my weekly workout just a little bit easier. Inevitably, I will open the door to the first floor of Block T and Chris will take one look at my stack of machines and immediately offer help with moving everything down the hall to the studio. Chances are that I probably had collected the machines that morning on my own, taught a two hour sewing class and have just lugged everything back again. With each week the machines get lighter as I get stronger and my appreciation for Block T grows.
I was a latecomer to Block T but an early enthusiast for sewing. Following a run of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in secondary school my drama teacher told me that I should really take up costume design as a career because I came alive while doing it. “Yes,” I said, “but there is something I love more.” I pursued the first dream while maintaining and developing my sewing skills as part of my oasis of self-care. I would sew dresses for friends here and there while up-skilling in courses that were relevant. In my visits to Canada I began to take up quilting too and was adopted into the great big quilting family that is somewhere in every Canadian town.
Two years ago I found myself in a fairly important transition time and was looking for a way that I could contribute to the community as an act of love for it, no strings attached. Generosity that is genuine and wholehearted changes places, it changes people and it can change communities. Sewing came to mind even though I had never taught a class before in my life. When I told family and friends they confirmed what I had been thinking – this made sense! It was a natural progression from some of the community work I had been doing before. At the same time, I was terrified. Theoretically, it made sense. Practically, I was recovering from some emotional wounds that left me afraid of anything I thought I was good at before. I was even having panic attacks when sitting in front of a sewing machine about to stitch a straight line. Friends patiently walked with me as I breathed through fear and took a courageous step in asking a local school if they could do with a sewing teacher. Within a month we had scrounged together ancient sewing machines and a diverse class of students. Soon I was getting calls from other local services asking if I could teach a group with them as well. Some generous people donated money for me to put together proper equipment for classes and in summer of 2015 all of this moved with me into Block T where I began sharing studio space with my good friend, co-founder of C Squared and visual artist, Laura Pettit.
Sharing a space with a visual artist is inspiring. Each week I enter into a space that is charged with eyes that see differently and shapes and colours that express intangible realities that resonate deeply. As I drift through the hallways of Block T, I am reminded that the world can look different. This old probation office building has been a Petri dish where new hopes and dreams for the future are given a chance to start incredibly small in order to become something that grows big enough to shape the culture of a city. Our practices interact with each other. During one Tuesday evening before Christmas I was in the art classroom with a sewing class. Paint was splashed across surfaces and well used easels stood as our backdrop – a room well loved with the lingering affects of art. Our gift in return was the calming smell of lavender from making scented heat packs. On evenings that I have ended up staying late to prepare for a class the next day, Kevin will knock on my door and ask if I have listened to this artist or that song. He helps me find them on my computer and they become an unexpected and very welcome soundtrack for my work. It has been an absolute honour to teach basic machine sewing skills as a part of their skillset programme as well as in the community. It is one way that I have been able to exchange generosity for the environment, opportunity, plasters (for when I cut my fingers open by being careless with a rotary blade) and helping hands every week.
Block T is a generous place. A dreamer’s place. A culture maker’s place. I, for one, will be sad to see it leave Smithfield Square in the coming months as it seeks a new home. Homelessness is a problem in this city. Meanwhile, I will be thankful as I think about my love for Smithfield and the role that Block T has played in strengthening many things that have been weak.
Dreaming of days where you can just tuck yourself into your favourite corner? That place where the world disappears as you meet with friends, or where you don’t feel like anyone is watching you spending quality time with story-lines coming alive off a page? That corner where you can hold onto your cup of coffee or tea and have someone bring you something fresh from the oven? Take a walk to the north end of Smithfield, to the corner between Brunswick Street and Grangegorman. A two story, old brick building stands there with its dimmed old florescent light sign “Italian Restaurant” is scrawled across the top and weather beaten menu hangs beside the window. Cibo Creative Kitchen has found its home here for just less than a year now, thanks to a couple of warm-hearted Italians who have made this city theirs.
Soft twinkly lights shine their welcome from inside. Step into the entrance and open the door to your left. Warmth encloses you in a coming home sort of feeling. The music and cosy feel lend to sharing a smile or few words with strangers and unknown neighbours. Behind the tall, beautiful, carved and polished counter Rocco or Stella wave their hello. Small eclectic tables are covered in colourful oilcloth. Lights are covered with old soup cans. There is a corner nook with a round coffee table made of an old bicycle tire. Two small couches are pushed against a bookcase full of inviting and inspiring shared reads. This is that place of comfort – that corner of this house of Dublin that just feels right. From the kitchen come seasonal pastries, soups and sandwiches. Stella shares her creativity with something new every week, an invention of inspiration. If looking to have something warmer, you might just find she has made her grandmother’s lasagna that day.
On Wednesday afternoons if you arrive around 2:00 you will find Rocco helping us move two tables together so we can set up colouring books for the community. Colouring books for children, colouring books for adults, dot-to-dot and blank pages sit on the corner ready to be used by anyone needing a moment of downtime. Chairs surround the tables with jackets hanging off the backs of them. Young, old, rich, poor, local, international – the space is filled by anyone who adventures into the comfort of this hideaway. Conversation flows. They have given us a generous welcome into the treasure they have created for the community. They have become friends.
Since writing this post, Stella and Rocco have both moved into other endeavours in the city. We were so thankful for them and look forward to hearing about what they are up to next!
“Good morning! How are you?”
Eyes shine behind a genuine welcome at Sparks Bistro whether it is a busy day or a quiet day. “It is good to see you. What can I get for you today?”
Service is laced with the joie de vivre of staff who love their place of work as much as the regulars do. It is a beautiful little gem in Smithfield where elegance is understated in the simplicity of the open plan cafe. Decadent sauces sizzle from the kitchen on the other side of the counter while the lunchtime crowd fills every inch of floor space. Chef, Guiseppe Cipolla, creates daily specials that intertwine an Irish style with exotic influence: sea bass, Wicklow lamb, steak, chicken, salmon, cod … all paired with veg and sauce that melt in the mouth. With good food in front of you and lively conversations you could forget the world for an hour.
In the morning, afternoon or evening you might just find a quieter table to have a more intimate conversation or get some work done. That is how I ended up in Sparks for the first time. Laura and I met at the table beside the window shortly after Sparks fully opened in January of this year. Comfortably situated, we began putting together plans for C Squared – the community creative project we are working on. It didn’t take long before I began to bring everyone who came to visit or suggest to friends that we meet for coffee, lunch or dinner either in the main room of the bistro or, on a special occasion, in the beautiful tea room in the back.
On a long summer evening, Sparks takes on the feel of a classic European local in the making, situated in its perfect corner of the world. Confident in good food, good wine, good service and good friends – what more do you need unless you are searching for the chaos of hurried crowds searching for a night out. And in this city, Sparks is affordable with a two course dinner menu for under €17. You’d be hard pressed to find something equal in quality of flavour or service off Grafton Street for twice the price.
Perhaps Sparks is a small influence on the city that Dublin will become. With rich hospitality and excellence in the smallest things, Hassan Higazy and his staff take the finest things of local community living and create something extraordinary.