Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Today's news...

“Today is about beginning a long discussion, first about urban manufacturing in general, then about garment manufacturing in particular,” Borough President Brewer said.

A New York Times article reports on the future of the district today. Side note, George, the owner of a garment district business I adore, is quoted in the article.

And, where do we go from here?  This is an industry I love, but have no personal financial investment in, to be frank.  My passion for the making of sewn items doesn't give me any permission to insist that my favorite haunts remain in the same square of city blocks I have so thoroughly enjoyed for the past three decades of my life...

Hmmm... I can get on a different subway train, or even DRIVE, if the new spot is parkable. Why are people insisting on this space, when it is no longer supporting the businesses who are struggling to make it work? 

I'm starting to think... why are we/people so averse to change?  Is this really such a big deal?

This article touches on that point, while giving no concrete examples...

What do you think? Visit the Facebook page for more discussion, if you are so inclined.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Men of the Cloth Documentary Film and my "Yodic" conclusion

Reposting - (originally written 2/14/16)

Yesterday evening, I ventured out into the wet cold wilds of Manhattan to attend this event at FIT:

And wow, was it worth it.

The weather was indeed uncomfortable, but the theater was, by comparison, cozy...

Let's start with the film.  Within the first 20 minutes or so, I feared that it would make me cry, much like so many documentaries about disappearing (don't say "DYING"!) industries do, but I was actually able to appreciate the beauty in the stories of the men featured within it, their lives, and their chosen vocation/calling.

While the film focuses on men's custom tailored suits, and the artistry and specificity of the skill set required to do it well, the implications for the industry are much broader.  Interestingly, what the documentary seems to omit, are the significant social and cultural changes which necessitate the changes to the industry.  If there is no customer willing to patiently respect the time, skill, value and rarity of the skilled hands needed to achieve such beautiful garments, frankly... there is no future in it.

To my surprise, though, the film left me feeling hopeful, with a strong dose of healthy realism as well.  Much to my delight, the viewer sees the stages of custom suit production (best case scenarios), from measurements, to pattern-making, to cutting, to a "raw try on" fitting, to basted construction fitting and a completed garment.

When the Q&A portion began, the questions asked and information shared by the expert panelists were definitely thought-provoking.


A film like this one can only be born of love for the subject and its characters.  During the Q&A, one of the panelists refers to the workroom as an old, dirty basement, to which she enthusiastically countered "I LOVED that basement!" I deeply admire the choice to pursue a topic that is so unique, and with, what I assume, is only a fanatically interested/dedicated niche audience appeal. The commitment this endeavor must have required alone is worthy of applause.

Master Tailor (essential main personality featured in the documentary)

Where do I even begin with this one?  You'll have to see the film to appreciate the level of commitment, skill and love he has shown to his vocation.  When I spoke with him briefly following the Q&A, he made a statement that spoke directly to my heart,  "To watch the film, you would think everything I make is perfect.  It is not. I aim to do the best, but it is not like all I ever do is perfection."  It thrills me to hear this,  and to know that despite many years of careful, diligent practice, it is indeed true, that, in his words "You are always learning." His dream?  To open a school of tailoring to teach people from a young age, to create custom suits.  Why young?  Because you need to start young to really have time to develop the skills.  But learning is a difficult, serious, and time-consuming pursuit.  How can a person do this without earning money?  Frankly, one cannot.  And it wouldn't be fair to them.  Serious investors are needed to make this work.

A subject that arose several times during the film and our discussion was the prospect of American made, hand-tailored, factory-made, beautiful suits, and American made materials with which to make them.  When Frank Stella (a client) refers to Corvato's work as art, we listen. And along with that, the recurring question of how to pay salaries commensurate with that effort, skill and experience.  How do we get there?  The question still hangs...

Rory Duffy 
Master Tailor

Full disclosure: the man has an accent to die for.  Side note: In a quick conversation with him after the Q&A concluded, he mentioned having taken elocution lessons here in the States since, before taking them, no one could understand him.  I tell you now, the man could read a phone book to me, and it would be mesmerizing. But that's not what we're talking about, is it?

His credentials are quite impressive, and include an invitation to the White House to applaud his contributions to education. A creator of bespoke suits for men and women, he invites us all to view to his YouTube videos on coat making.  Oh, did I mention his beautiful accent?

Obadiah Mazo (he is introduced later in the article linked to his name)
Pattern Maker

Head pattern maker at Martin Greenfield Clothiers, Obadiah is building his lifelong passion for pattern making and drafting - the less sexy (i.e. not design), but truly crucial parts of the industry. When describing the daily challenges of his role, he hit upon an issue I often tackle and see in my own professional life as well.  A design that has not taken into consideration all of the elements that make it a functioning garment (meaning BOTH the front AND the back, closures, fit elements) is not a DESIGN.  The "design" remains an idea until these things are fleshed out. There is a notion that the patternmaker will devise /create/invent the rest, which seems to pervade the industry, but, make no mistake, the designer must present a full design for his/her instructions to be carried out.

Menswear Blogger

One of the smartest comments of the evening, included his mention of "the endangered master/apprentice relationship", and its contribution to the disappearance of the serious pursuit of tailoring as a profession.  Perusing his blog this morning, I happened upon a lovely piece he wrote on the promise of an American woolen mill, a subject I happen to know a bit about, having once been an employee of one of the companies he mentions. 

Master Tailor

A pure passion for tailoring led him to an apprenticeship under master tailor Joseph Centofanti in Pennslyvania.  His story is beautifully portrayed in the film, as the viewer witnesses how BOTH natural ability and painstakingly pursued skill are shaping this young master tailor in his craft.

As the evening wrapped up...

During the Q&A, one voice in the audience asked, "This profession seems to be exclusively portrayed as one for men and boys.  Aren't there tailoring schools for girls?"  There were several answers to this, but I feel I know the answer in my experience.

When fitting a man for a suit, you need to be comfortable doing so.  You need to understand whether a man "dresses" left or right,  what that means, and have a basic understanding of anatomy, and what a man needs to be comfortable, moving around in his suit.  These requirements are different for men than they are for women. I think a person who has worked primarily with one sex and not the other, is not likely to have a firm understanding of this distinction. To be fair, this was not the answer offered by the panel.  The overall answer seemed to be that the profession was more often pursued by boys at a young age, when women are generally not likely to undertake it.

Also addressed during the film, was the importance and guidance anatomy lessons can provide a tailor when trying to understand and become acquainted with the human form. I feel strongly that anatomy lessons should be REQUIRED learning for tailors and designers who seek to create fitted/sculpted garments.

My takeaway?  

My favorite coat (my personal Yoda/Issey Miyake inspired coat), before buttons.  The dress form is not the best way for my coat to show herself, but I am simply not willing to do a coat selfie. 
All of this brings me to my point/Yoda quote, when it comes to tailoring: "Do (learn) or do not (learn).  There is no try."

Note: There is now a tailoring supplies map as well...

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Garment District News...

Today, the New York Daily News is alive with stories about the garment district.  If you follow this link now, you will see that among the top articles listed there, at least three of them are about various aspects of my favorite part of this city!  Been talking about this stuff for a while, but it is great when news organizations get on board, too.

As always, my passion for the industry lead me to thinking... "What can I do?" Actually, and realistically, it may not matter what I do or think, but it is a good place to start.

Here are the few things I will do:

  • I will continue to buy supplies, use the services, and share what I know about the district vendors with others. And yes, I will continue to lead tours and provide maps.

  • I will continue to make stuff.  Not just stuff, but great stuff! I'll share when appropriate, and something I think might have a broader appeal.

  • I will continue to make the things I could easily buy very inexpensively using the labor of likely underpaid, poorly treated staff.  Even if I don't know who/how it was made, if I make it, I can guarantee that no one else suffered to make it.  (Although, I still can't say that about the fabric). 

  • I know every bit of creativity and labor it took to make it, and I will value it more as a result.  

What will others do? What will businesses do?  What will the industry do?  Only time will tell.  

Friday, April 21, 2017

What's that booth with a button got to do with me?

Updated, since much of this information has changed since I wrote this post on 5/12/12.

Here's the new link.

If you have wondered why that official-looking kiosk sits there on the corner of 39th Street and 7th Avenue, and then walked right past it, wondering "What's that booth with the button got to do with me?"... Well, here's your answer. A whole lot, actually. Daunting as it may seem, it is there to serve the professional, the aspirer, the student, the hobbyist - anyone with questions about where to get anything related to the industry in the garment district. You may just learn that there are plenty of ways you can improve your projects, or simplify your projects just by finding the right business or service provider. Today, I walked in, rain soaked, and asked my question. "Do you know of a company that will fuse interfacing to fabric? Just a small length, for one garment?" "Hmmm..." said the cheerful young woman at the desk. A few keystrokes, and she handed me a list of 21 businesses in the garment district. The only drawback is that they are addresses, short descriptions, and contact info, so we only know that they all do some sort of fusing, but there is still additional legwork for me to do to find out which business is the right contact for me. Since you can't really expect to drop in on most of these places, you do need to go home to do the homework/research, but hey - so much better than doing your own Google search, right? Using this service effectively requires you to know the correct terminology, and be patient with the answer(s). There are so many possibilities, fabric types and manipulations possible, that their resource database is VAST, and only YOU know what you need, your budget, and what type of business you want to work with. The best part, is that when you do research the companies, you end up exploring paths you never even knew were available to you. Who knew pleating, shirring, smocking, and jean stressing could be done just for you, just for one project, too? They also give you a free, lovely Fashion District neighborhood map, listing the restaurants and other common needs in the area. This is ideal for the tourist, but it does feature many of the true garment district neighborhood haunts. The Fashion Kiosk... Click the link above for more detailed information. So, in a nutshell, the booth is great. Step inside... but this is New York, folks... Have your question ready. And use the right terminology. No guessing and sentences filled with "You know what I mean?" No one's got time for that.

Here's the booth as of yesterday (10/9/15)

Months of construction.  Vacant for now.

Oh well, you can always buy a map instead!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Exhibits to see...

While it was my intention to go to a museum exhibit today, my belly has prevented me from doing so.  Instead, I have a cup of tea at the computer, waiting for my insides to settle down, so I will try again once I feel better.

Spring in NYC seems to always turn my attention to beautiful museum exhibits.  There are so many alluring ones right now...

Here are some to get excited about - both current and upcoming!

Museum of Art and Design:

Handmade Fashion in American Counterculture

Judith Leiber handbags

Upcoming later this month: Fashion After Fashion

Museum of the Moving Image:

Teen Digital Lab - costume design

Cooper Hewitt Museum:

Scraps: Fashion Textiles and Creative Re-use

Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Antique Textiles and Modern Design

Museum of the City of New York:

Online Exhibition - Worth and Mainbocher

Museum at FIT:

Upcoming: Force of Nature

Merchant's House Museum:

The Merchant’s House collaborated with 3D modeling firm PaleoWest Archaeology to create an interactive 3D model of the two-piece spring and summer cotton dress, 1862-1865 (MHM 2002.0840), on display through April 29, one of the 39 dresses in the Tredwell Costume Collection. The model allows the viewer to look at the dress from all angles and zoom in on details. In the coming years, as each dress is displayed, we plan on creating similar models of dresses.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

NYC Fabric Store Review: Paron's Fabrics (revised) - now closed

In an effort to clean up old information on the site, I am revising old posts, and adding new, relevant information for those seeking what these old businesses once offered.

Looking for the Paron experience?  I suggest Fabrics and Fabrics (for fashionable beauty and variety), B&J (for quality), Metro (for price and unexpected finds) and Elliot Berman Textiles (for designer fabrics).

 Paron has since closed.  The post below was written on 3/5/08.

Address: 206 West 40th Street, New York, NYC
Phone: 212-768-3266
Hours: Monday -Thursday 8:30 am - 7:00 pm; Friday 8:30 am - 5:45 pm; Saturday 9:00 am - 5:00 pm; Sunday 11 am - 4pm
Online store: Manhattan Fabrics
Best for: the 50%-off deals in the sales annex

Reasons to wander over to 40th Street in the Garment District for a visit to Paron's:
  • The staff is a friendly, cheerful bunch. They're eager to help you pull bolts off the shelf, and they quickly came to my aid when they saw me walking around with my hands full. I appreciated that they gave me a little extra fabric with each cut.
  • You don't get that claustrophobic feeling you can have in some garment district stores. You know, that any minute you could get swallowed up in an avalanche of falling fabric bolts, never to be heard from again. In the main part of the store there's plenty of room to unravel bolts and play with your fabric.
  • The sales annex part of the store features some great bargains. I spent most of my time in here marveling over the wide variety of fabrics and the wallet-friendly prices. 
  • Paron sells Kwik-Sew and Burda patterns. They also carry the latest BurdaStyle magazine, though while I was there they only had the plus-size edition.
  • The assortment of fabric they have per square foot is pretty amazing—there's a little bit of everything, from silks and wools to cottons and knits. Wonderful prints and colors. And I appreciate how their labels identify the fabric content and the RTW company who produced it.
This store has a happy vibe. When I was in it I felt proud to be a woman who knows her way around a sewing machine. Sounds dumb, but you'll see what I mean when you visit Paron Fabrics in the Garment Center. (By the way, it's pronounced "pear-in.")

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A Netflix delight...

I'm not in the business of promoting Netflix series, but this I do straight from the heart.  It requires both your visual and auditory attention, so you can't really watch while you work, but it is well worth it.  Trailer below:

Do you appreciate a good drama?

Beautiful cinematography?

A love story?


A war story?

A historical drama?

Beautiful clothes?

Unexpected sewing, designing, and dressmaking wisdom?

Imitations of Fortuny's technique, and inspirations from Schiaparelli?

If you have Netflix streaming, watch it.  If you don't speak Spanish, read the subtitles - I assure you it isn't tedious.  A really wonderful series.

Where to find coutil in the garment district

** Reposting (From hundreds (600) of posts, it is silly never to repost, right?)

We get stuck on names and labels for things. Armed with sewing books, dictionaries and lexicons, we scour the district, searching every store for the thing we've been told we need...

Coutil (or Coutille) is woven cloth created specifically for making corsets.] It is woven tightly to inhibit penetration of the corset's bones and resist stretching. Coutil has a high cotton content. Cotton has good dimensional stability, or a resistance to stretching, which makes it a good choice for such a stressed garment. Coutil may be made to be plain (similar to 100% cotton facing), satin, or brocade. It is common for coutil to have a herringbone texture, or a similar woven texture.
- from Wikipedia

Order coutil via mail from Richard the Thread or Farthingales

"Do you have any coutil for sale?"

Fabric store employee (annoyed):
"Cou- wha?"

Coutil, when sold specifically by name, is a firmly woven cotton with a herringbone weave, used for foundation garments.  

That's why no one knows what you are talking about.  

The fabric is specifically designed for use in corset-making. Can't find it? You'll have a hard time finding a good substitute, although some poeple use duck or twill when they only want to mimic the look of a corset, and not necessarily rely on its functional role in a properly made corset. Word on the street is that it has no equal. It is strong, it breathes, and not many other fabrics will serve as a suitable substitute.

So, where do you find coutil in the garment district?  In my experience so far, you don't!  Order online from Farthingales or Richard the Thread, but get the rest of your supplies right here in NYC.

Now, once you've got the  right supplies to make your garment function as it should, get as fancy as you like with supplies to make it beautiful from some of our favorite garment district haunts:  

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Let's Talk Leather...


If you sew with leather, here are some photos of my recent (2014) findings to whet your appetite...

Feels like magic in your hands.

Texturally exciting, and great color...

Rhythmic, erratic shapes that fuel the imagination, and create the illusion of depth and uneven terrain.

North American Tanning Corp., simply called "NAT" for short, is a quiet, cozy, welcoming leather shop that recently appeared on my radar, after a warm invitation from the proprietor, Nick Kamali to come and pay a visit.

And I'm glad I went!

While there is a company website, what you wouldn't know after visiting the site, is that they will serve anyone with a serious interest, whether purchasing small quantities or large ones.  Current trends suggest that most leather shoppers are likely to be doing more accessories, handbags, shoes, custom pieces, home decor, craft items or creations for the hospitality industry these days, nothing but your own imagination what you can create.

North American Tanning Corp.
248 East 35th Street
Suite 505
New York, NY 10001
Tel: 212-643-1702
Fax: 516-808-4015

The quality of the goods is clear.  Simply touching many of the pieces in the showroom reveal their quality.  The pricing is reasonable, with many of the pieces being offered between $4 and $10 per square foot.  Allow yourself to explore the offerings, and don't be afraid to ask for pricing when you see something you love.  One of the great things about my conversation with Nick, is that he knows you need no convincing of the quality of his goods.  You can simply feel it.

The colors and dye quality of the leathers in the showroom is just fantastic.  Nick works with forecasters to establish a season's color palette, but, in my opinion, ask him to show you a color named "horizon", which defies any adjective I can give it.  You'll just have to see it for yourself.

Pay the company a visit.  Don't be shy.  You won't be disappointed. 

And yes... while this blog has explored the idea of sewing with leather before, you really need to know that not all leathers are equal, and it is great to know exactly what you are buying and how to evaluate it before you work with it.  Different places serve different  clientele, and the vendors are as unique as the audience each serves.

Leather does create fear in the hearts of many who have yet to explore, and for good reason.  If you've been dreaming, and have yet to commit, I have listed some classic objections, and links to the answers for your consideration below:

Can my machine handle leather? Well, maybe, maybe not.  Follow the link to understand the considerations you will need to take.  You can also sew leather by hand, if you follow the proper techniques. See the book links below. What does a leather mallet look like?  How/why do I use it, and what other things can I make the leather do?

Are there any books that can help me learn, improve, or evaluate my options on my own?  Where can I take classes?  What if I want to become an expert? (For future reference, (if you read this post months from now, the link takes you to Fashion Institute of Technology's leather program - their links tend to expire over time.)

Are there any special garment district businesses that will help me finish my project?  Sure!  Wanna add closures, studs, sculpt your leather into something amazing?

Where can I buy a leather needle for my machine? There are many choices, follow the link for one of them, but also feel free to visit may other stores mentioned on this blog... there are plenty of places! Where can I buy a leather needle for sewing by hand?  What kind of thread should I use?

Where can I buy leather glue?

You likely knew the answers to those questions already, but if you didn't, consider this post to be your virtual arrow to the businesses and services you need.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Fabric has no expiration date...

***Note: This post is particularly funny, as I had rescheduled it for a time when I just knew it would have been turned into something great... and, as of today, it still hasn't! (further proving my point?)

And thank God it doesn't...

Heaven knows I'd be swimming in a sea of "expired" fabric by now, if that were true.

But... let's say you bought some silk fabric years ago, that you just loved, but never fully committed to a project? Well, you take this beautiful, irregularly striped fabric, and hand it over to International Pleating, to make it magical.

Tight, mushroom pleating takes those stripes to different textural magic (below)... but, creatively paired with its unpleated version (above), 

 it becomes...

Stay tuned...