"Ma Bille",Knowlton's Baby Boutique
By Nancy Helmuth
If our grandchildren would not all live on the other side of the planet, I would get frequent flier miles at Knowlton's Ma Bille baby emporium. Michele Dumas-Quesnel (47) started her boutique in 2003 and thankfully has many local grandmothers who frequent the place. Mothers as well of course because the store is brimming with the most beautifully handcrafted items for kids of all ages. Michele sources her fabrics with great care. "There are certain dyes that could harm a baby, there has to be issues of washability and softness and there is also a degree of government oversight as to what you can cloth a baby in. I love to make throws", explained the owner, "but with all the restrictions it is difficult sometimes. I could make a throw for adults that could be seen from three kilometers away".
Lately, she has added a line of ladies apparel as well, as she had been trained in Montreal as a woman's fashion designer but her love are the garments for babies and children.
"There used to be a workforce of some 35,000 people in the fabric and garment industry in Montreal and the city was a world leader. Now I have to buy my fabrics from the United States, Europe or China". There is a big industrial sewing machine in the basement and a smaller machine in an alcove of the store. "I work all the time" muses Michele, "Even during my morning coffee at home I might work on wooden pacyfier holders". These are lovingly hand painted and no two are alike.
And how is business? "It has been hard lately. We are being charged rents that would be considered appropriate for Westmount but lately Knowlton has become more of a Hochelage district with so many empty stores", she explains, "This is more and more becoming a 'gated community' and the wealthy owners of their summer palaces do not shop locally and most of them do not have young children".
However, I purchased a beautifully designed pair of earrings. Michele makes very original jewelry and her work is lovingly displayed throughout the store. If I just had a baby in my vicininity, I could probably not live without a pair of the cute hand sewn booties on the counter.
I was impressed that the owner creates her own patterns for all the garments she produces. She also knows how to scale the patterns to the different sizes required. This is serious design work for a one woman shop. "When people come, they often listen to me when I tell them that a particular color will match the child. When I tell them that this 'red" will work for the young boy, they mostly agree with me. And that's how you get them back".
Michele, even in adifficult economic time for Knowlton, still shines with enthusiasm for her work and her clients. Maybe I can rent a baby to have an excuse to visit her again!