Sew Good

Beyond the Bolt in Bristol is a fabric store, a crafting school – and a dream come true


Not long ago, a family visited Beyond the Bolt – one mother, one father, two daughters, one boyfriend, and one boyfriend’s mom. They came for one reason: They wanted to learn how to make handbags out of cork. The material is thin and textured, more like sequins than Portuguese wood. Sew the swatches together, add a zipper, and voila! The perfect purse!

“It’s really cool hearing what people want,” says Colleen McFarlin, a bubbly young craftswoman who owns Beyond the Bolt with her mother, Lisa. “People learn the type of art they like.”

Driving past the building on Metacom Avenue, you’d think that Beyond the Bolt was a run-of-the-mill fabric shop. But the Bristol location, which opened only two months ago, is also a community classroom with a range of creative courses. There are classes for quilting and stitching, paper crafts and perler-bead decor. An “open sew” is free and open to needleworkers of any level. You can even learn how to paint portraits with local artist Sara Breslin.

“Colleen proposes the ideas, and I rein her in,” quips Lisa, who spent 10 years working for her family’s real estate business, among other positions. Mother and daughter complement each other well; Colleen holds a degree in fiber arts from Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), while her mother is skilled at business and bookkeeping. “We’re freakishly close,” Lisa adds.

Lisa and Colleen are both native Rhode Islanders; for a change of pace, they lived in South Carolina for three years. When they returned to New England, the duo struggled to find meaningful work. Colleen had long yearned to open her own enterprise, and they decided to start Makers Art Collective in Portsmouth. The workshop thrived for a year, but they needed a better space – and a less generic title. They dreamed up Beyond the Bolt while lazing in Lisa’s backyard pool, but finding a storefront proved more challenging.

“We looked everywhere,” says Lisa. “We were getting very discouraged.”

Eventually, Beyond the Bolt settled into a former flower shop; classes are held in a converted barbershop next door. They stopped counting students when they surpassed 100 enrollees, and classes are now selling out months in advance. Much to their surprise, the students “aren’t just grandmothers,” but a healthy mix of ages, genders, and persuasions.

Giddy with their success so far, Colleen adds, “I’ve got lofty goals, sometimes.”