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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

There is always SO much to learn... (Part 2 of.... who knows how many?)

Clearing my throat... Following my mother's advice on "If you don't have anything nice to say..." I try to avoid reviewing stores whose business practices are questionable. Not wanting to specifically steer anyone away from stores who are clearly struggling to make a buck in this economy, I try to keep those thoughts to myself. I find myself torn as I write this post, because, located just across the street from one another in the garment district, are two stores with WONDERFUL fabric surprises inside... but I'll give you all of the details I feel need to be shared before suggesting you go there. I'll preface my statement by telling you what I am particularly drawn to right now, and why this matters to me. Then, I will tell you why you might love to go to these places, and what to "watch out" for, so you can make your own, informed decision. (Pulling out soapbox and grabbing megaphone...) Living in New York City, I have the incredible luck to be exposed to people of many different nationalities. One of the enormous benefits that comes with living here, is that I am constantly surrounded by a wonderful, swirling, eclectic fashion show on endless parade right in my own neighborhood. The incredible hand embroideries on the clothing from Africa, India, and other exotic points can be simply magical. One thing that has struck me recently, are the textures, colors, and finishes on many of the African fabrics. Specifically, how beautiful they look when sewn up as men's shirts. And, oh... the sari fabrics are gorgeous. The metallic shimmer, the large-scale, boldly confident embroidered motifs... Just to die for. I have lots of Americanized adaptations in mind for such fabrics, and picture incorporating them into my family's wardrobe in the coming months. Having said that, I slither into stores where such fabric is prominently featured, as if lured in by a snake-charmer's flute. Sometimes, the prices for these fabrics are ASTOUNDINGLY low, considering their beauty. And sometimes... "Oooh... so pretty! How much?" "How much you pay?" This exchange can go back and forth for a while, usually culminating in, "Normally, $40 a yard, but for you..." "What fabric is this?" "All silk. 100%. Best quality." Whatever. Guess they didn't consider that an important enough detail to hang a sign over that section of the store. Who cares, right? Well I do. For reasons beyond the obvious desire not to be overcharged, I want to know how to launder, care for, if it will take dye, what to use as lining... basically, what to consider. Now, you can't always be sure what you're getting. I can tell you, however, that the stores I love the most have never steered me wrong. I do think it is important to tell you that it is clear from the purchases dressmaking clients of mine have made, that when they bring me some "special" silk they found, they either heard what they wanted to hear, or were being outright lied to. Luckily for me, one of the stores has already been reviewed by another blogger we all love, so Ill let her make the points I am having a hard time trying to articulate. As for the other store, Yelp does a fine job of telling you what you need to know. I feel kinda dirty, giving you a "You didn't hear it from me..." But hey, you didn't! So here are some ways to know what fabric you're dealing with: Get a swatch for testing. If not possible, start with a smell test. It probably comes as no surprise to you that you can sometimes smell the chemicals in the synthetic fabrics a mile away. So pick it up and smell it. If taking it home, conduct a burn test. I've done this several times to prove to clients that what they bought isn't what they think it is. You can find many burn test guides on the web by Googling "Fabric burn test", but I highly recommend Claire Shaeffer's Fabric Sewing Guide (p. 475) for a complete, thoughtfully arranged chart. This book is absolutely well worth the investment. Claire absolutely knows what she is talking about! If important to you, cut your swatch in half, and test launder with your next load of laundry. (I safety pin a swatch to a garment in the same load, so I can find it later.) Leave the other half of the swatch out as your "control" swatch, and compare it to the one you laundered. That way, you can see what level of shrinkage, pilling and fading to expect. Note: Almost any fabric will last longer and behave better if dry cleaned. So, let's say you've made your purchase, created your masterpiece, and now need to care for your sewn project. Janie Bryant, the costume designer known for her work on "Mad men", has penned a downloadable Fabric Care Guide with the Downy company, giving some good tips to help you consider the care of your garments. A VERY well-respected dry cleaner here in New York City, Madame Paulette, offers what I consider to be the MOST ingenious stain kit ever. Can you believe that there are DRY CLEANING STAIN KITS, which give you the proper solutions for different stain types (protein, earth, oil) in one portable package? I do have some of these myself, and they work! And lastly, but not leastly, you can always put content labels in your garment. Heaven forbid someone else does the laundry or transports your handiwork to a dry cleaner who takes an incorrect guess at fiber content, ruining it completely. Cautionary tale: I was at a designer client's home studio, when a member of her housekeeping staff (yeah, she's pretty wealthy) machine washed a jumpsuit, which needed to be hung to dry. She ended her shift for the day without hanging the jumpsuit, and another staffer arrived and placed it in the dryer. The designer's own handmade design was ruined. No garment care labels were inside. Such a simple addition could have saved the day. Note: Next paragraph is no longer current. I ended the auction described below, because one buyer wanted a significant quantity. Great! Done! I do often put custom care labels on things I create, but if you want to be "official", the best garment labels are sold in bulk. Most of us, not being large scale manufacturers, need manageable quantities, and we want variety, since we sew different fabrics.

9 comments:

  1. Thank you, Mimi.

    Any suggestions for places that will produce small runs of custom general clothing labels?

    New York Sewer

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  2. I am pretty sure www.newarkdress.com (Newark Dressmaking Supply) will make labels with any text you want, quite affordably. I have used Sterling Tape in the past (http://www.sterlingnametape.com/customwoven.html), but it is a bit difficult to navigate all of the details when ordering.

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  3. I thought federal law required that fiber content and care and place of origin be on all fabric being sold. Are the owners of these two stores not aware of that?

    I hate playing "let's make a deal". I've done it but don't like it being the modus operandi of a store. I have read and heard this is the situation in nearby Montreal so I have never ventured there to shop for fabric. Maybe it's just my problem but it's good to know I am not alone.

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    1. If federal Law requires it, it is being BLATANTLY ignored in the garment district. Doesn't seem to be a rule here. "Let the buyer beware" seems to be the only law here...

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  4. I'm pretty much a newbie when it comes to shopping in NY. The whole experience is overwhelming and exhausting at times. In most stores there are no prices on anything so I already feel manipulated the minute I step through the door. If you can find a bargain for $3 to $5 I say go for it. But I wouldn't rely on information from the sales men. Everything is "first quality, best" or 100% this or that. I bought some "wool" from the back of one of the bargain stores that turned out to be mostly polyester. If shopping for wool again I would unravel a bit in the store and try to break it. It it's almost unbreakable it's not wool. Shopping the district is a blast, but it's definitely a "caveat emptor" experience.

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    1. Well, that's what this blog aims to do... It is a "wild west" of sorts. There are quality stores who stand by their offerings, and stores who are just more focused on coaxing your money out of your wallet. While there seems to be room for both (amazing, right?), I will do my best to keep letting you know which is which.

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  5. I avoid those stores that tout they have the highest quality for the lowest prices. It's rarely the case and I hate to be pushed. It tends to make me buy less! After years of shopping in the district I have my favorite stores where I know the quality is high and the information accurate. Years ago I used to shop at Trebor on 40th. I asked what an unmarked fabric was and the salesman cut a piece and did a burn test for me. Those were the days.

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  6. Shopping on 39th St. is always an experience. It's amazing how fast prices can drop or how they can suddenly sell you 1/2 yard after all, if you turn to walk out or dare to say that you'll look for a better price elsewhere.

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