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At Lucy Sparrow’s Felt Corner Shop

August 8, 2014
by the gentle author

Lucy Sparrow

In 1993, there was Rachel Whiteread’s ‘House’ sculpture in Grove Rd, then Tracey Emin & Sarah Lucas’ ‘Shop’ in Bethnal Green Rd and now Lucy Sparrow’s ‘Corner Shop’ in Wellington Row. Each of these endeavours has succeeded in capturing the public imagination in different ways, as reflections upon the traditional East End landscape of terraced housing and small independently-run shops – and, in her witty and deceptively-ambitious creation, Lucy Sparrow proves herself a worthy successor to her illustrious predecessors.

For several years, I have been walking past the melancholy empty dry-cleaners in Wellington Row on my way to Columbia Rd, so it was a joy to return this week with Contributing Photographer Patricia Niven and find the place humming with life. As her most ambitious project to date, artist Lucy Sparrow has stitched the entire contents of a corner shop, down the minutest detail, in felt and the collective effect is quite overwhelming and beautiful.

Upon arrival, there is an infectious atmosphere of collective celebration as visitors delight in discovering familiar items of grocery recreated in felt and wonder at how these everyday things have been rendered strange and exotic. It is both a dreamlike vision of the world transformed into textiles and a poignant elegy for a culture that is passing away – as our corner shops, which once provided important social spaces for local communities, are closed or replaced by soulless and exploitative chains.

“I have been making things with felt since I was nine, that’s twenty years, and my first job, at fourteen years old, was in a corner shop,” Lucy admitted. Once she said this, the dramatic literalism of her endeavour became apparent, because this is the result of seven months labour on Lucy’s part, working fourteen hours a day to sew more than four thousand items by hand. It is touching when you recognise favourite purchases, whether chocolate bars, packets of cigarettes or cans of soup stitched so affectionately, and it unlocks a personal nostalgia, recalling your own emotional memories that are bound up with these modest objects.

So convincing is Lucy’s needlework that, a few times each day, customers arrive without realising they are entering an art installation and, even as I stood talking with her, someone came in and asked to buy a bottle of water. “We’ve got as far as me putting the box of cigarettes on the counter before they realised,” Lucy confided to me, “That was a proud moment!”

Locals make their own felt groceries at one of Lucy’s workshops

Lucy Sparrow with Saturday Boy Bradley Garrett and Shop Assistant Rachel-Anne Read

Photographs copyright © Patricia Niven

The Corner Shop is open at 19 Wellington Row E2 7BB, until 31st August from 10am – 7pm

You may also like to take a look at

The Corner Shops of Spitalfields

At the Shops with Tony Hall

Alan Dein’s East End Shopfronts of 1988

A Nation of Shopkeepers by John Claridge

28 Responses leave one →
  1. ROBERT GREEN permalink
    August 8, 2014

    Very clever, the attention to detail is meticulous and quiet skillful, I must pay a visit.

  2. Susan permalink
    August 8, 2014

    This is brilliant! (And an absolute ton of work!)

  3. August 8, 2014

    Great idea! What a labour of love, and a wonderful way to get together and be creative ! All the best to Lucy! Valerie

  4. Ellen Savage permalink
    August 8, 2014

    Dear GA,
    Thanks for your description of this delightful shop, in your tradition of honoring this vibrant, creative and eclectic part of London. Thank you for your discerning eye and thoughtful descriptions of the history and inhabitants of Spitalfields and the East End. Following your blog is a delight.
    Sincerely, ES

  5. August 8, 2014

    What a joy. I’m going to take some 11 year olds but not tell them about it.

  6. August 8, 2014

    I read an article in the paper recently about Lucy Sparrow’s wonderful ‘shop’. Great to have a fuller story here. Thank you.

  7. Dick Coombes permalink
    August 8, 2014

    Truly wonderful a true Pop Art Masterpiece!

  8. Susan Goldman permalink
    August 8, 2014

    Amazing, what a novel idea. The newspapers and magazines are my favourites!

  9. August 8, 2014

    Incredible. I scrolled down before reading the story and it was pic 6 before I realised they weren’t real!

  10. August 8, 2014

    Superb!! — My serious proposal for this is: Lucy Sparrow must take an active part in the DOCUMENTA of Kassel, which is considered the world’s largest and most prestigious exhibition of contemporary art!

    The 14th edition will take place in 2017, so there would be enough time for an application! — Try it! I would like to meet you here in Kassel!

    Love & Peace

    PS: What a burst of laughter: the excellent newspaper headlines!!

  11. August 8, 2014

    Haha. Fantastic. This was my second visit and who knew my Vespa and me would be in demand.
    It was a hoot.

    Here’s my write up of Lucy’s wonderful project…

  12. August 8, 2014

    This is amazing!

  13. August 8, 2014

    amazing and to have made all those wonderful items in only 7 months – hard work and dedication.

  14. Caro permalink
    August 8, 2014

    What a fabulous, funny, gobsmackingly brilliant concept! Can’t wait to get down there and see it for myself. And I love the magazine cover saying MY ART NEARLY KILLED ME.. Superb.

  15. Penny Dolan permalink
    August 8, 2014

    I can’t help smiling at the thought of this, even from a long way away. What a labour of love, Lucy! (Must also add, Gentle Author and all the contributors, that this blog is a real and daily pleasure.)

  16. aubrey permalink
    August 8, 2014

    I was completely underwhelmed by the pictures until I read the narrative. Really enjoyed the piece – made me laugh.

  17. DEBONAIR permalink
    August 8, 2014


  18. Elli permalink
    August 8, 2014

    WOW…………..Fantastic, it seems impossible that all this could be created in just seven months. A superb work of art and full marks for your dedication and skill.

  19. Isa permalink
    August 8, 2014

    So amazing I loved all of the shop contents very beautiful Lucy a joy to behold!

  20. Patricia permalink
    August 8, 2014

    How absolutely wonderful!

  21. Pauline Taylor permalink
    August 8, 2014

    What a labour of love and such fun, children will love this not to mention us adults!! I hope it will come to Firstsite in Colchester, our fabulous new contemporary art gallery.

  22. Neville Turner permalink
    August 8, 2014

    Once again we find something unique a fantasy world of makebeleive of real item’s in a real shop Lucy Sparrow’s shop shines of optmism, it’s great to see all that craft effort.

  23. August 9, 2014

    Oh my goodness! LOVE this! I really FELT it. (Oh deary me. Sorry!) Hope I can get to see Lucy’s incredible work before end of month.

  24. sarah ainslie permalink
    August 9, 2014

    This is wonderful and work around the corner, this old launderette has been empty for years and years and such a delight to see it in use again.

  25. Patricia Taylor permalink
    August 9, 2014

    Mind blowingly wonderful!! Can’t wait to surprise my 11 year old
    grand-daughter on a mystery tour visit during the school holidays.

  26. Ros permalink
    August 30, 2014

    I entered the magic world of Lucy’s Cornershop yesterday, just in time to catch it before it closes forever on August 31st. What a marvellous installation, made with such attention to detail and such humour. Loved the collecting box on the counter, made of felt of course, in aid of the Felt Cats Trust). Big round of applause for Lucy!

  27. October 27, 2014

    T’was Imaginative and brilliantly executed

  28. November 22, 2016

    Fantastic! I am so sad not to have been able to visit the shop.

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