— observations from the Blue Mountains Design Bureau —

All hail the Queen of Jam!

interior shop shot with toadstool c/up

Sometimes wandering into an actual bricks and mortar shop, the act of opening the door can feel like the gravest of impositions. Unwittingly, you’ve interrupted the assistant’s post weekend debrief or there’s some sort of crisis that requires all hands on deck. There’s nary a smile to be seen, let alone the sincerity of an embarrassed, I’ll be with you in a moment and then, as if by magic, they actually are.

west highland terrier lamp in the bootie forest

Crossing the threshold of Cathy Armstrong’s Princess Pantry Ladies Guild, however, feels like a return to the civility of yesteryear. It’s more than just the charm of the name and the boutique range of jam and condiments stocked but the presence of Cathy herself – there’s no studied nonchalance in this neck of the woods, just old fashioned, good manners and a genuine enthusiasm to share the carefully selected products she’s brought together. Passionate about her need for what she undertakes to have meaning, Cathy says “whether it’s making jam or doing this shop or standing at Eveleigh Markets chatting about what I sell and how to use it…I can’t do anything that doesn’t mean something to me.”

alfalfa embroidery

With a nod to the grandmother she adored, Cathy Armstrong describes her newest venture as a “a way of honouring all those women, the street stall ladies who knit booties and tea cosies and if they’ve got spare lemons, they’ll make a big batch of lemon curd.” These ladies “generate an incredible sense of hospitality with their warmth and a simple plate of scones,” it’s this sense of conviviality that Cathy emulates so effortlessly; her manner reminds me why having a wander ‘round your local shops will always be more enjoyable than shopping online. Sure, you can compare price more easily and you needn’t change out of your pyjamas but for me, shopping this way always leaves me feeling slightly shortchanged. You miss out on the simple joy that comes with being able to see and touch the product you desire and there’s no opportunity to share a natter; no sense of value conferred through the physical exchange of coin for commodity.

Cathy’s original concept was to create the perfect showcase for her multi-award winning range of Princess Pantry jams and condiments but it’s become a homage to the crafts and occupations of years gone by. Walking through the door, it’s clear that though her own range shares centre stage with other fine comestibles, Cathy’s handpicked selection of the handmade and the homely is a stellar supporting cast.

fruit head girls with crochet necklace

Expect to find old fashioned peg bags, dresses, aprons and pinnies for people, big and small, handpainted scarves by Sophie Digard and Nathalie Lete’s pretty floral neckpieces. Pick up cushions made from fifties’ bark cloth, a draught stopping door-snake that will actually match your decor or the perfect tea cosy. There are padded coat hangers, complete with crochet cover, classic rag rugs, novelty lamps (I’m thinking the toadstool for my Christmas gift to self) and all manner of bunting and crochet garlands. Those with a new born in their lives will adore the gorgeous range of knits, handmade by Cathy’s very talented mum, and yes, she makes matching booties as well! There’s a delightful array of affordable artwork, greeting cards, wrapping paper and stationary – fans of scrap booking and card making will love the selection of German scraps. Cathy also stocks classic games, quirky handmade toys and unusual accessories made by local craftspeople. Posies of whatever’s in season scent the air – most recently sweet peas and pots of pansies, nestled in bright mexican oil cloth lunch bags. Dotted amongst it all, are vintage crockery treasures that Cathy has sourced for her food styling work and could bear to part with…based on what’s on display, it makes you keen for a sticky beak around her home!

cushion detail

Tucked in a lane off Leura Mall and housed behind Leura’s heritage listed Post Office, Princess Pantry Ladies Guild found its home in a space that Cathy had coveted for years. “When I travel,” she says, “I always go down the side streets, it’s where you find the best shops; I like the sense of discovery that being tucked away brings.” This time, when the lease came up, she was ready to seize the day…and the keys. With a vibrant green ‘forest floor’ carpet and oak leaf wall paper, Cathy and her good friend, designer Grant Alexander have transformed the former Postmaster’s kitchen into a woodsy patch of respite from the bustle of Leura Mall. A sense of whimsy pervades and it tickles my fancy because it feels like a village store should. If only I could only persuade Her Majesty to branch out into high tea…

Her Majesty, Kathy Armstrong with wallpaper combo

Princess Pantry Ladies Guild is open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday between 10am – 5pm and Sundays between 10am – 3.30pm. On Tuesdays, Princess Pantry Ladies Guild is closed for a rest.

The official address is Shop 4 / 148 The Mall, Leura, NSW 2780 but if you are on foot, go down the lane that runs alongside the original Leura Post Office, (which is now the newsagency) and you’ll find the Ladies Guild about 50 metres down. If you can’t visit in person, take a squizz at www.princesspantry.com.au

To contact the Princess Pantry Ladies Guild, phone on 02 4784 1930, check out the Princess Pantry Ladies Guild facebook page or simply email Cathy via info@princesspantry.com.au



5 comments on “All hail the Queen of Jam!

  1. Cathy Armstrong on said:

    Love what you’re doing, looks great, thank you for including me and am so happy to learn about all the hidden treasures, best Cathy

  2. Barbara Harper on said:

    I didn’t know this delightfully described little shop was there and I am a long time local! Looking forward to a visit.

    • Definitely a good time for a visit, Barbara. I popped in yesterday and now have to rework my Christmas list, Cathy’s got so many gorgeous gift ideas in stock. Thanks for reading!

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