Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fabric stores in New York City

Since writing this post, I have taken charge of the Shop the Garment District blog, where you will find a much more in-depth exploration of what the garment district has to offer!

Note, everything below was written in November 2011 - so some have changed/moved since...

So... since I've been to a frighteningly large number of them now, and I can see that this is the topic that lands most of you here, I'm gonna give you a true garmento-style guided tour of the garment district, so you know what to do and where to go when looking for fabrics, creative ideas, and so many tidbits of info you'll never be able to find elsewhere. Here goes... and this is gonna be good... Promise.

A place to start:

For the completely uninitiated, purse-clutching tourist who is scared of her/his own shadow, the garment district is a wild, hustly-bustly, noisy place. Not only that, storefront leasing prices have SKYROCKETED in recent years, leaving some of the quaint sewing shops that have been priced out of their spots, to be replaced with peep show booths and sex shops. Ignore them, and whistle some tunes from "My Fair Lady" as you walk by, if that makes you feel better.  All of these stores are all within walking distance from one another.

First stop for the newbie, and anyone else:

Paron Fabrics (moving in March 2012 - see comments below)
206 West 40th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues)
The closest subway stop is the 42nd Street/Times Square station
Note: This store has since moved.

Very reasonable prices, and very descriptive labels on the bolts, describing the fabric, it's purpose (sometimes), and which designer used it. Sometimes the prices are downright fabulous! Here's the trick, though... There isn't very much of many of the fabrics. This place is selling the designers' "leftovers", so you can't think about stuff and come back later. If you do that, chances are, it will be gone. You can't go to this store with a list, unless you are looking for the most common of common goods. Another benefit is that the colors and fabrications available are usually very much on trend. Also, the lighting in this store is problematic, making it hard to get an accurate read on colors. I must say that the fabric is very well organized, and be sure to check the discount room to your left, halfway through the store. If you get a swatch of a fabric you're considering, you can take it outside in daylight to check it. Staff can be a bit surly, but they mean well.

For the more confident fabric shopper:

Rosen and Chadick
561 7th Ave (corner of 40th Street)
NY, NY 10018

Peacefully nestled on the 2nd floor of an office building, Rosen and Chadick is my favorite fabric store. Family owned and operated for what seems like my lifetime now - and probably, actually has been - this is a store where you are greeted like a friend, the employees are treated well, the staff is knowledgeable, and you'll find fabrics you won't find in other stores. They really go out of their way to curate a beautiful assortment of fabrics, and natural fibers abound. Their shirtings are wonderful, and their wools and cashmeres are absolutely TO DIE... Look to your right, behind the wall near the register. Check out the fabrics that hang there. I mean, seriously, have you ever...? I know! They also sell silk tulle, cotton lace, washed linen, necktie fabrics, very classy printed cottons, silk velvets, and I could just go on and on... They also have lovely ruffled organza strips attached to netting, sold by the yard! What a great way to make those puffy, lightweight skirts for gowns that have become so popular! And they have the best quality denims you are likely to find in the area.  Just don't expect them to have too much time for you... they do have a constant flow of industry types to serve as well.

For the fancy lace seeker:

Sposabella Lace
252 W 40th Street  
New York, NY 10018

If you are doing bride, pageant, formal, or really fancy, embellished, formal menswear, this is the place for you.  Don't expect to collect swatches here, and go in ready to discuss what you are looking for; there isn't much looking around happening in this space. They do have beautiful things you won't find elsewhere. And, if nothing else, look in their windows at the entrance of the store.  They are the masters of creatively wrapping beautiful lace on dressforms in ways that will positively melt you.

For the creative fabricaholic:

NY Elegant
222 West 40th Street
New York, NY 10018

Why should you go? Actually, you'd need a good reason not to go.  And I can't think of any. Take a deep breath before entering.  In this store, you will find a wonderland of fabric.  A wide variety of price points and quality levels can be found here, but there is so much that will excite you.  This place has got it all.  The best of their selection are the stretch jerseys, the bamboo fabrics, their wide assortment of silks, the upstairs coating and home furnishing fabrics, their novelty denims, canvas and twills... and the fabulous specialty fabrics at the front of the store will excite your imagination. Expect to spend some real quality time in here. (pssst... they also have Missoni knits... ooooh...)

For the fashionista:

225 West 37th Street 
New York, NY 10018

When you get there, you'll think, "Am I in the right place?"  The elevator procedure can feel a bit like the entry to a prohibition SpeakEasy, but I assure you, you're in the right place.  You'll be asked to check your bag.  Be prepared.  You probably watch Project Runway, and are excited to come to this famous store.  I get that. You may trip over a film crew or two as you search (often in vain) for whatever you came there for, or a person to help you find it.  Not a place to go if pressed for time. For me, on one particular day, a somewhat frustrating experience, for not-so-interesting fabric, at higher-than-expected prices, but definitely worth it, if that's what you wanna see...
Note: I've been back since, and your experience kinda does depend on you "Mood"! Ha! I stick to my point about not going if pressed for time and stressed out. Those two don't go together well anywhere, but definitely not here, where you might occasionally be asked to wait while they are filming.

For your tools and supplies:

Steinlauf & Stoller
239 West 39th St. 
New York, N.Y 10018

Everything you are looking for, when it comes to supplies.  Interfacings, pattern paper, grommet presses, scissors (sharpening, too!), rulers, threads, chalk, special pencils, pins, boning, hooks, bra cups, shoulder pads, labels... lotsa stuff. A whole range of interfacing types and purposes.  They will shorten zippers to size, explain boning types, all kinds of things.  Whether you get a smile or not depends on the day.  They've been in business since the 40's, and that's obvious. (I mean that in a good way)

Manhattan Wardrobe Supply
245 W 29th St # 800  
New York, NY 10001

A bit off the beaten path, but don't let it fool ya.  Best to schedule this with a trip to a nearby  diner and/or a visit to the FIT Museum, which is always fabulous. This store has all the stuff you didn't know you needed.  I defy you to go in and not come out with at least $50 of stuff, just because! Check their website if you don't believe me.

For leather, suede skins, and related trims:

Leather, Suede, Skins
261 West 35th Street, 11th Floor
New York, NY 10001

Yup, you have to take an elevator.  Yup, you have to be buzzed in.  Yup, floor to ceiling... nothing but leathers, suedes, ostrich, alligator, etc. Wild colors... creative paradise.  Cool trims. Don't know how to work with leather?  Don't expect them to explain it to you.  Get this book, buy the right supplies, and go from there.

Leather Impact
256 West 38th Street  
New York, NY 10018

You want leather?  They got it.  Nowhere near as interesting as Leather, Suede, Skins, but the location is ideal, if you're already in the area, and aren't trying to get too creative.  Lower prices than Leather , Suede, Skins if you aren't too picky.

To get your buttonholes done for you:

Jonathan Embroidery
256 West 38th Street  
New York, NY 10018

This place is like magic.  They'll make precise, perfect, factory buttonholes for you.  Keyhole or regular. Cheap. Fast.  I've heard a rumor that they will also fuse expanses of fabric for you (great if you are making a coat, for example), but I haven't experienced that personally.  The garment center is full of secrets... By the way, I think that rumor is false.

To get your grommets done:

Steinlauf and Stoller

The woman perched on a little seat right up front in that store?  That's what she's doing.  Putting grommets in things for people.  Custom curtains, bags and garments... she'll also replace or move a jeans button.  Cheap. Fast.

For dance, swim and other stretch:

NY Theatrical Supply/ Spandex House
263 West 38th Street  
New York, NY 10018

My ONLY source for performance stretch fabrics.  If you will dance, run, swim, or otherwise require some help from the fabric to move and breathe, you can find it here. They have powernets you can use for linings that will give you the body f a rock star!  I've used their fabrics for swimwear clients, and tell you, they have the best stuff ever!

For your embellishment/notions/trim needs:

M&J Trimming
1008 6th Avenue  
New York, NY 10018

Floor to ceiling buttons, trims, toggles, sequins, feathers, fur hooks, etc.  Be careful of the prices, though.  Some things are unreasonably high priced compared to stores just a few blocks away. Can't understand why.  Look at other stores first, and only buy what's really special here.

Pacific Trimming
218 West 38th Street 
New York, NY 10018

Be patient.  get comfortable with looking around without asking for help.  I find that you can ask for something, be told they don't have it, and then find it on your own a few minutes later.  They don't seem to be comfortable saying, "There's too much stuff in here!  I don't know!"  Anything from elastic trims to buttons and buckles and flowers and snaps... it's all here.  Great prices.  You'll end up buying things just for the heck of it.

Daytona Trimming
251 West 39th Street 
New York, NY 10018

Lotsa trims, lotsa buttons.  Lettering, pilow forms, novelty zippers.  I've been going to this store forever.  Love them.

109 West 38th Street  
New York, NY 10018

Why you should go:
Plenty of trims, best for the person who loves fanciness and things that sparkle!

247 West 38th Street  
New York, NY 10018

Trimmings and notions. Thread, elastic, etc.  Just go.  And be sure to stop practically next door at...

257 W 38th St # 1  
New York, NY 10018

Get your zippers here.  Don't expect much in the way of customer service, but they do have the greatest zippers I've ever encountered.  Get cushioned elastic (ideal for bra straps) here. Great bra supplies.

Hope that gives you a taste of the garment district.  I could recommend just as many more, but really, who has that kinda time?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sometimes I pray... (Subtitled: My love letter about Faith Ringgold)

Sometimes I pray, and the answer comes flying at me as sure as a lightning bolt. I have friends of other faiths, and friends of no and little faith, but it seems we all feel this common vibration. We all feel inexplicably "guided", it seems. For most people, I understand (and the Bible clearly supports this) that they are relying on faith in a being they cannot see, but, my truth be told, I see God in everything. I don't think I'm alone when I say this. Sometimes I pray, and I can feel the answer(s) as strong a a tap on the shoulder. Not in words, mind you, but just in the form of instructions my heart understands. Not a "yes" or a "no", per se, but more of a "Be patient, you'll see", or an "I've got it under control... lemme work on that. Lay it down and go about your business". And there is a definite feeling of peace that goes along with that. Today's instruction was very clear. WRITE THIS POST. So, I hope it is helpful/ meaningful/inspiring, or at least interesting to those who read it.

Dear Readers,

I am an avid fan-letter writer. Not the kind of fan letters you write to pop icons, but letters of appreciation to artists and authors , mainly. It is something I have always done, and I will NEVER EVER forget how I felt when a fan letter I wrote to a Broadway costume designer when I was 16 was answered in a 4 page HANDWRITTEN letter from the designer herself, full of sage advice and appreciation of MY WORDS to her! Imagine that! (I still have and cherish that letter.)

Oddly enought, it seems that it all comes full circle. By "it", I mean everything that means something to me. To illustrate that point, I want you to notice the references I make to the many "theories" that I've named over the years, and will mention in the paragraphs to follow. One of them is my double-helix theory. I feel that everything in my life keeps circling back on itself, wrapping tighter and tighter as the years progress.

When I think of a double helix shape, I think of DNA. No coincidence that this is the shape that defines our physical makeup, our families, or unbreakable connections... I have always felt, in the very seat of my soul, that we are all leading a shared life. Not individual ones. No, not separately, but a big shared existence. I know I once heard a "Sequoia theory", of which I can now find no evidence on the web or anywhere else, but I do know that it was about these enormous, impressive trees that seemed to stand individually, but when examining the roots of these trees, it was impossible to tell where or, in fact, IF, any of them ended. It was theorized that these trees shared a common root system, with no beginning and no end. This magical idea supports what I have always felt. That this is a shared life.

In the late 1980's, I was a high school student, travelling far (both in my 1.5 hr commuting time and culturally) from my Queens home to the Upper East Side of Manhattan every day. Around 11th grade or so, I started to get really bored in school. Not an ordinary level of boredom. A fierce restlessness tormented me. I was anxious to learn and explore - just not in those particular classes, with those particular teachers. My vocabulary was different, as were my thoughts and ideas. This is not meant as conceit in any way, since I didn't feel in any way "above it all", or "too cool for school", but I was very anxious to get on with the college experience. I was a quick study for most of the standard high school stuff at that point, and truly applied VERY little effort to earn great grades. Both a gift, and a curse. So I would cut classes every now and then. There was no rebellion in it. I also didn't sneak out. In those days, we could walk out the school doors for lunch, or during free periods, no questions asked. Cutting class was easily done by simply not returning after your lunch or free period, and for me, meant time spent in libraries and museums. It included no smoking or secret behavior - just a different (self-guided) educational experience. I really loved the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was within close walking distance of my school, and the most blissfully quiet place on weekdays you could ever imagine. I could spend AMAZING amounts of time staring at the work of Faith Ringgold, among others.

Why did I spend so much time with her work? I was just FLOORED, amazed, and truly excited to think that there was room for this type of work in THAT place. Room for her type of stories... Room for her! And to experience her work was just magical. I know I sought to see her work everywhere it hung. Her artwork really resonated with me, and I felt a vicarious pride at seeing it grace the walls of an institution that took art so seriously. As an African-American girl, who hadn't really led a particularly African-American life, I was intrigued by how INCLUDED her work made me feel.


Stopping here for a moment to mention that today, I visited her Facebook fan page. After all, I am a bit of a groupie, and I do keep up with any exhibits or events with which she might be associated, that I might be available to attend. Well, on her Faceboook fan page, there's a link to a recent talk she gave at Lesley University, which was over an hour long, just waiting there for me to watch it. So I dropped everything, and watched it.

Today I learned that while I was staring at her work as it hung at the Met, she was staring at Picasso's work at MOMA. Apparently, we are cut from the same cloth (insert rimshot here) so to speak.

I am not an artist.

I used to keep an idea journal with me at all times, jotting down thoughts and ideas as I prepared for... who knows what? They were always pretty light, quick notes surrounded by white space... but the bits of info represented my BIG IDEA moments, when thoughts would strike me with force, compelling me to write them down. I stated very specifically that I am not an artist many times. Why was it so important to say that? Who was I talking to? In college, I wrote a paper for an African-American studies class, focusing on AfroAm women artists and their reluctance to call themselves artists. I was blown away by the quality of these work of the women I interviewed, and almost without fail, when asked to describe themselves, the answer came back as a professional title. "I'm a nurse", "I'm an elementary school teacher". Somehow they learned that the answer is whatever results in a paycheck. For me, I had to keep reminding myself that I was not an artist, because, in fact,
I AM an artist.
But here's the point of all of this rambling... Why did I choose that subject to write a college paper about Black women? Was I really questioning why these "other" talented people were reluctant to define themselves as artists? No. Looking back, I now see that I was looking for permission to call MYSELF an artist. My feelings about it at the time likely reflect my own attitudes. Attending a quality school, pursuing a career in business, I was going to make money for a living, not ART. Right?

Just this week, I finished a project for a regular corporate client of mine, and I realized that I should now be paid as a vendor, and not an individual, since I have been doing more work for them, and they are now becoming my single biggest client. I decided to bite the bullet, get into their system as a vendor, wait the standard 60 days to be paid, so that everything would be as it should when tax time comes. As I completed the vendor form, I found myself answering the questions, "Are you a minority?/Are you a woman?/Are you a small business?" and in just that quick flash, it occurred to me that these seemingly incidental facts are extremely important. I should be claiming and "proclaiming" them, actually. This is no easy feat, after all.

Art was something to do - not to be.
Early in Faith Ringgold's talk I watched today, she makes this point. Women were housewives when she was young. Her mother was a fashion designer who "kept that (talent) to herself". Inspired by Faith Ringgold, and others like her, when my daughter used to tell me she wanted to be an artist (now, age 10), I always replied "You are already an artist. You don't have to earn the right to call yourself an artist." Not monetarily, not in approval.

My daughter's self portrait (age 9). I like the way she sees herself.

Last year, my aunt gave my daughter some books she thought she would like. Among them was Tar Beach, which we have loved and read... but this copy was different. I opened the front cover, and discovered that it was signed! Not just her name, but a note... "All the best", which I took as a little cosmic wink to us. Out of guilt, I had to call my aunt to tell her that she may have accidentally given us something precious, but she knew how happy I was to have it, and considered our promise to take care of it enough. As I write this, my son is looking dreamily at the pictures inside. Me: "Do you want me to read it to you?" Him: "No, I just love the pictures". Next, he'll wanna know why it is on my bookshelf, not his...

There are no coincidences.

Some years ago, 8, in fact, a cousin of mine told me that a friend of hers was curating an exhibit in New York City. Because she knew how much i loved fiber arts and quilts, she thought I would be interested. Well, this friend, also a well-known and amazingly talented quilt artist, with whom I made a very special real-life connection, displayed the work of many other talented artists, one of whom was... you guessed it... Faith Ringgold. And she came to the show! When I was introduced to Ms. Ringgold, it was like meeting a rock star! I was amazed that she was human! After all, she was/is magical to me!

In the talk I watched today, she talks a bit about bridges. I could go on and on about bridges, but take a look at this recent post, and know that recently bridges have been a huge inspiration for my own work. Also, my 8 Year Quilt is nearly done, (wow, has it come to life since then!) and will now have a life beyond the pages of this blog. This is a quilted reinterpretation of a painting my sister created in 1976. Eight years, mostly following an unintentional Kaizen-like philosophy, but it has actually taken my whole life to create.

So, how do I continue on my path? Faith Ringgold breaks down what any artist needs to know, and I'm very happy to know that there are some strong business reasons at work here. Now, I can relate, knowing that it isn't just about making pretty things, hoping someone will notice... and waiting. If you haven't watched the talk, just know this:

- Create a BODY of work. Do lots of work. I totally get that.

- Create an audience. Okay, I get that, too.

- Develop a market. Wow, the hard stuff. A good reason to have a dealer/agent/representative who can remove themselves a bit from the work.

- The work never dies. That's why you make it.

My daughter, at the opening of the Uris center at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Yes, I brought my daughter. And yes, I asked for a picture.

This post is the truest, from the heart of all the true things I've ever written. It all folds back on itself in an origamic tribute to all the posts that preceded it. Let's see where we go from here...