Wednesday, September 28, 2016

From the beginning...

page from The Pattern Cookbook, 1890

Can you imagine stocking a kitchen from scratch in the 1890's?  So many expectations to fulfill, so many procedures to learn!  With a book like the one from which this page was copied, you could set a budget, complete the list to the best of your ability, and then, follow the recipes confidently.

Something like this list should be made for sewing supplies.  While I'm sure there are some somewhere... (Think Vogue Sewing, or the US Government Sewing Book from 1969), there are so many other options and alternatives nowadays, that even making decisions is daunting.

Stocking your sewing supplies as a newbie is not an easy task, and is made even more complicated by the insane barrage of new-fangled products available to us.  I've collected many old sewing and home-making books over the years, and noticed how they all seek to help people organize their priorities and tasks in the most efficient manner possible. But if you look to newer publications, they all seem to be "selling" something.  And, I suppose, it is because most of them in fact, are trying to sell you something. 

Inspired by the newbies who participated in my recent garment district tours, I offer some of the following ideas to get started.  These resources are all located in the district, but you can, of course branch out to whatever suits you as you gain confidence.

First off, let's make sure you have the right marking and cutting tools:

Fabric scissors (quality varies, so let your own budget and quality requirement be your guide)

Anywhere from $24 and up 

Marking pencils

White is always safe, but get whatever colors work for your project. ($2 - up)

Carbon Paper

assortment - $6 - up


Variety of options - $4 - up

Tracing wheel

$2 - up

Hand sewing needles

$4.00 - up

$2 - up

If beginner, start with woven, sew-in - rather than fusible.

$2.50 yd - up

Pin cushion

$4.00 - up

Sewing table

Fancy or not - must be right height and strength for the job $70- up

Sewing chair

Anything will do, but be sure to consider comfort and ergonomoics

Sewing machine
Free, used, new, fancy - $35 and up, likely

Measuring tape

$1 - up


$21 - up

Seam ripper

$3 - up

A reference book, with definitions

Example - $20 - up

I'd also suggest a subscription to a quality sewing publication or social networking group for encouragement and information.

Where do you find the things pictured above?  Manhattan Wardrobe Supply, Pacific Trimming, Steinlauf & Stoller, Around the World Books, and SIL, to start.

Everything else is optional, or to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

So, if you had NONE of the above items, you would expect to spend at least $250 on the low end, if you are not buying a new machine.  However, the value in the adoption of this new pursuit/craft/art/hobby is priceless.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Shop the..... Garment District???

Now, with some of the big fabrics stores closing,  I can hear the death knell ever amplified.  A fairly strict "no pictures" policy is being implemented at several stores, although the older, more established stores still allow it... But I can't decide... does it make my speakeasy tours more valuable... or less so?

On Friday, I led my "hand-holding" Speakeasy, leading some wonderful newbie sewers on a fantastic exploration of interesting fabric store in the district.  Consisting of some stores they would not have found on their own, and some they might have, the information. camaraderie and guidance shared on the trip made for a very inspirational journey indeed. By reducing the intimidation factor, and embracing the fantasy of what kinds of things could be made with the lovely things they found, gave me a beautifully warm feeling that sticks with me now as I write this post.

What I often forget, is how much the tour participants inspire me as well.  My purple-loving participant opened my eyes to some things that may not have caught my eye before (pssst.... the lavender-ish handkerchief linen at Graylings is just so beautiful), and the lovely finds my "non-shopper" participant found herself loaded down with at the end of the day made me giggle...

So, as I consider the future of the "Speakeasy", I wonder if the fact that the best stores are now harder to find, and some of the obvious street-level choices have ceased to exist, makes the whole prospect of a speakeasy more mysterious and intriguing?  I'd like to think so.  

On Saturday, I lead a private Speakeasy, with a focus primarily on interesting notions stores, a small bit of garment district history, some fun upholstery fabric sources, and advice for more places to find the unique items my ladies had in mind.  Lively conversation and beautiful weather made it more fun, and as always, it was great to explore the stores through the participants' eyes!

Without specifics for what led to these stores over the others, between the tow tours, I will tell you where we had the most fun:

Metro Textiles
Graylines Linen
Daytona Trimming
Pacific Trimming
NY Elegant
Fabrics & Fabrics

As always, I encourage you to come and explore for yourselves.  There is still a wonderland of beautiful stuff out there!

Monday, September 19, 2016

On seeking software solutions to hardware problems...

Inspired by a sketch I saw in an antique sewing book I own,,,
I decided to make my own bag, using that design aa a springboard for an idea

I called it my "cradle bag"

An idea that kept me awake at night some years ago, was this "cradle bag", with an interchangeable "shell" that could transform the bag into a million different versions of itself.  So I designed it.

But... the straps always made it feel amateurish and homemade to me, so I found myself not carrying it too often.  Depite being neatly sewn and efficient, they just weren't graceful.

One thing I have been finding lately, is that making projects has always made me seek sewn solutions to making functional appendages work, when in reality, the "hardware" already exists to give the project the polish it needs.

I had already used Star Snaps (316 West 39th Street - no website) for my grommet installation on the "cradle" shell you see pictured and some others (not shown).

That's where Botani comes in...


Lobster clasps from Botani (where my bag's beautiful zipper was also obtained) and ready-made bag handles from Joyce together are just what my bag needed to function with strength and beauty, and disassemble on command to change out the look!

Another example/thought:

It occurred to me that the difference between a beautiful piece of fabric I'm reluctant to cut and a beautiful, flowing skirt made of that fabric, is a great piece of elastic. A simple cylinder, pulled in to fit the waist with elastic, can be my favorite wardrobe staple, if well done. 

What am I waiting for?

Clearly, a trip to Manhattan Wardrobe Supply, where the elastic is of superior quality.  Am I just saying that?  No.  Geek that I am, I actually did a REAL test at home, gauging stretch, resilience, softness, and strength, using my own tools and supplies.  Manhattan Wardrobe Supplies won, hands down.

Not all elastic is created equal.
Can you get quality elastic elsewhere?  Sure. But here's the thing: you want BETTER for your garments, clients, and your own needs, don't cha? 

My point here is simple.  Sometimes I seek the sewn ("soft") solution for an area that may be better served with better equipment, materials, or even a hard ("hardware") component. That hard component can often give me the professional look I need.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Paron Fabric is closing... but you didn't hear it from me...

Peter, the wonderful blogger from Male Pattern Boldness has posted about this garment district store's closing, and after checking my sources, I believe him.


Know this: I didn't want to. Stores are vanishing one by one, and the district is getting tighter.  To be fair, there is still ALOT of fabulousness to be found, and some newer stores with inventory that is just TO DIE 4, but it is always sad to see one with such a successful history go.  The faces of the staff members I have really grown to love, despite a few head-butts over the years...

I'll miss this place.  If you see that beautiful striped French Terry I've been stroking for months and never purchased many Speakeasy tourists know about it/have seen it), please BUY IT and make something, if only to tease me!  I simply never bit the bullet and bought it, and it may be too late when I go.

The tough lesson learned here?  If you see it, and you love it, buy it.  It will help keep the store in business, help you achieve your  own creative ideas, and fuel the creative endeavors and dreams of others when they see it.

Read his post here.