C Sews StyleEye 23 Jan. 2012

I saw a lot of fun clothing combinations and nice details over the past month. These photos were snapped in San Francisco – usually in the Financial District or around Union Square during my lunch break or after work.

What you’ll see below is:

  • grey knit tights with a snowflake pattern worn with a knit dress and a fun cat-face backpack – spotted on Market Street, near Powell.
  • a nice detail on the back of a grey sweater – seen on Kearny St. at Sutter.
  • a woman on the BART train holding a rose and wearing aa combination of purple and pink accessories (sunglasses, scarf, purse, arm warmers)
  • and two photos of lovely ladies selling their wares at the Renegade Craft Fair in San Francisco this past December: Laura Bruland of Yes & Yes Designs, wearing a perky Girl Scout outfit (she makes unique jewelry from recycled book covers), and Trinity Cross of Field Day who makes lovely dresses and other clothes from reclaimed fabric. Both companies are based in Oakland, California. (Yay for the East Bay!)
Woman holding a rose on BART
Laura Bruland of Yes & Yes Designs
Trinity Cross of Field Day

 

The Red Velvet Hat

Back view of red velvet hat

Not long after I graduated from college, I saw a photo of an absolutely stunning red hat in a magazine. I can’t recall what magazine it was but this shaped felt hat was gorgeous (and gorgeously expensive) with many folds of felt in front. I loved everything about that hat – the perfect shade of red, the beautiful design. It was a piece of art. I wanted that hat but it was way out of my price range.

My version of the red hat

So I attempted to make my own version using red velvet. Looking back on it now, it was rather an ambitious undertaking – especially considering that I had only made one other hat before and I had no experience making patterns of any kind.

I measured the circumference of my head to determine how much fabric I’d need and then I sewed that horizontal piece of fabric to a oval of velvet that I’d made for the top of the hat.

To create the folds, I hand stitched the velvet in several areas – sometimes just a few stitches in one spot and in other places, several stitches to hold the folds in place. And I lined it with black satin. (Click on any of the photos below for a larger view.)

It didn’t look as good as the model in the magazine but it was a good effort! I did wear the hat a few times – holiday occasions mostly. I’d almost forgotten about this hat – it was stashed in the closet on a high shelf when I rediscovered it a few days ago. And who knows, maybe I’ll wear it for the office holiday party this year.

 

Bottom edge detail
Detail - hand stitching
Lining detail

 

 

 

 

 

Sewing Project No. 2

(click for larger view)

After I made my sewing machine pocket  organizer, I got to work on a chair organizer – a very handy item that drapes over the seat of the chair so you have pockets on both sides of the chair (from McCalls’s pattern M4274, now discontinued). But it’s made for a traditional chair with four legs. There are two ties that hold it in place to the chair back. If you have a different chair I suppose you could leave the ties off and it could still work if you use safety pins to attach it to the seat cushion. Or if you have enough things in the pockets to weight it down, it could just stay in place by itself.

As you can see, I stuck a variety of things in it – pinking scissors (a birthday present from my older sister), extra pair of fabric-cutting scissors, boxes of pins, bobbins, and so on. It’s quite handy.

Simplicity also makes a pattern (3776) for fat quarter sewing accessories that’s still in print (at least as of this writing). It doesn’t have a chair organizer but it has a project organizer and other things you can make to hold your sewing items.

Happy sewing!

 

C Sews StyleEye 9 Jan. 2012

This week’s StyleEye focuses on outerwear. I saw some nice coats on women either on the street or on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), the commuter train in the SF Bay Area. I take BART to and from work and often spot people wearing something eye-catching as they’re waiting for the train, exiting or entering the station, or even on the train.

I’m usually capturing people in motion so the photos aren’t necessarily in focus. Once in a while I’ll ask people if I can take their picture, but that’s only if I feel they aren’t in a hurry and if I feel OK about asking a complete stranger if they’d mind if I snapped a photo.

Sometimes I feel a teeny bit like a stalker – especially if the person is ahead of me and I’m hurrying to catch up with them and whipping out my iPhone to get the photo. Hmmm.

Well, it’s kinda like what Bill Cunningham does for the New York Times, right? But I’m not trying to compare myself to him  – after all, he’d never publish blurry photos. Plus he’s a professional and I’m strictly amateur. (For more on Bill, see my review of Bill Cunningham New York.)

Here are this week’s photos. Enjoy!

Love the pleats and jet buttons on this coat (spotted as I was going up escalator at Montgomery St. BART station)
Striking pattern on this wool coat (seen at corner of Montgomery & Sutter streets in SF.)
Warm and fuzzy vest paired with argyle socks (spotted at Ashby BART station, Berkeley)
Camel coat and maroon hat spotted on BART platform. (Lighting is very bad there.)
The asymmetrical maroon hat worn with the camel coat. I sat behind her on BART.

Making Bibs

When I began sewing again in 2009, I took out a lot of sewing books from the library. One of the books I repeatedly checked out was Bend-the-Rules Sewing: The Essential Guide to a Whole New Way to Sew by Amy Karol. The book contains several easy-to-make projects, everything from bibs and book bags to pillows and purses.

Around that time, I had some baby showers to attend and Amy’s book really came in handy.  She says to use “cotton on the front and cotton flannel on the back.” I wanted to use fabric that wasn’t stereotypically “baby,” such as pastel building blocks or cutesy baby animals. So I chose bold colors or designs for the front. But I didn’t find many options for the flannel back so I went with a polka dot pastel blue. At that time I had not yet explored shopping for fabric online. I was at Joann Fabrics and limited to what was in stock.

Before sewing, I prewashed the fabric and put it through the dryer. My washing instructions to my friend Debbie were: machine wash cold, tumble dry low. Or just rinse them in the sink and let ’em dry overnight.

Once I was ready to begin, I turned to page 112 for “Simple Bib.”  I had already photocopied the pattern,which was in the back of the book, and cut it out. All I had to do was trace the shape on the flannel, put that piece on top of the cotton and then sew on the marked line.

Adorable Nate wearing the striped bib

However, I had been sewing other things that month and I was on automatic pilot: cut out pattern, pin to fabric, cut fabric. So I traced out the bib on the fabric and cut along the line. Whoops, that was a mistake. If I had read all four sentences of Step 1, I would have realized that I was supposed to sew on the marked line BEFORE I cut out the shape of the bib. Then you cut the fabric 1/8″ from the seam.

So I had to start over again or the bib would have been the wrong size. Sewing along the marked outline makes for easier sewing because you can easily guide the fabric along the bib curves. Luckily, I had extra fabric and I hadn’t cut out any of the other bibs so it wasn’t a big deal.

The bibs close with snaps, which make it harder for babies to take off. Snaps are surprisingly easy to attach, just have the snap tool and a hammer handy to pound the two pieces together. (Here’s a nice description “Attaching Snaps” on the Make It and Love It blog.) I don’t recommend using velcro because you can be sure the little one will remove the bib.

Here are photos of Nate (what a cutie!) wearing the bibs and photos of the bibs before I put the snaps on. He’s now three years old and Debbie gave birth to another son earlier this year and now he’s wearing them. She tells me that she likes to use them flannel side up because food sticks to it.

Amy Karol calls it “the best bib ever” – and she’s right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nate wearing the strawberries bib

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nate really liked this bib.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

C Sews StyleEye – 3 Jan. 2012

I like to take photos of clothes and accessories I see on people as they’re walking, on public transportation, in a store, or wherever they may be. This will be a regular feature on C Sews so I decided to call it StyleEye. My first post in this vein was called Fashion Details. As I mentioned in that post, the idea is partly inspired by Bill Cunningham’s On the Street column for the New York Times.

I’ve taken several photos since my initial post in November. So I’ll be breaking it up into two posts. Here’s what caught caught my eye:

My first sighting of an urban cowboy couple on the BART train going to SF.
I crouched down on the BART train to take this photo on the sly.
I saw this Skunkfunk coat when I was waiting for BART at the 19th St. Station in Oakland
Skunkfunk is a company that strives to create sustainable fashion
This unusual sheer scarf literally had holes in it surrounded by squares of gold opaque fabric.
Detail of the green pants - love that embroidered St. Bernard!
Green corduroy pants spotted at Berkeley Bowl grocery store. The guy wearing them told me he was an Oakland rapper named Illtext and the pants were from J Crew

Fashion Aficionado Bill Cunningham

A scene from “Bill Cunningham New York” by Richard Press (courtesy Zeitgeist Films)

 

If you like fashion, photography, or inspirational stories, you need to see the documentary film Bill Cunningham New York, which is available on DVD (affiliate link here). The film will make you smile. This man really, really loves his job. I saw the film at the 2010 San Francisco International Film Festival and reviewed it for DOX, the magazine of the European Documentary Network. I reprint it here for you:

WHEN THEY WALK

by Chuleenan Svetvilas

Bill Cunningham had no interest in participating in a film project. The 80-year-old photographer has been documenting fashion with his camera for nearly five decades. Though he has become famous over the years, he leads a very private life and shuns publicity. Director Richard Press says it took him ten years to make Bill Cunningham New York: eight years to convince Cunningham, who is a friend, and two years to shoot and edit the film.

Luckily, Press was able to gain Cunningham’s trust and the results are delightful. The director unobtrusively follows the photographer by day as he travels about New York City on his bicycle, shooting numerous photos of what people are wearing, darting across a busy street to take a picture, waiting for something interesting to capture. The director takes the lead from the photographer — staying in the background, taking care not to disturb him as he works — and through this approach, gradually reveals the essence of Cunningham’s commitment and a fascinating portrait of a man with an irrepressible joie de vivre.

Bill Cunningham photographing in the street, in “Bill Cunningham New York,” by Richard Press. (First Thought Films / Zeitgeist Films)

Cunningham’s singular focus on his subject is riveting to watch. He’s like a photographer in the wild stalking his prey except that he’s running after a glimpse of an interesting skirt, an unusual shoe or a stylish drape of fabric. Though he has been doing this job for years, he still marvels at the clothes he sees and thrills to see an elegantly dressed woman. Some of these photos will eventually appear in his weekly “On the Street” column for the New York Times.

A charming man with a ready smile, Cunningham claims there is no short cut to capturing the “fashion show on the street.” So he’s outside everyday in all kinds of weather with his camera in hand to see what people are wearing. Remarkably, his day doesn’t end when the sun goes down; at night he’s off on his bicycle to document any number of benefits and galas to photograph the attendees and performers. These images will appear in his other weekly Times column “Evening Hours.” The film chronicles one of his nightly jaunts. Clearly, Cunningham is very fit. His stamina and dedication to his profession is obvious in each of his scenes.

The documentary also includes interviews with people who have appeared in his columns over the years as well as a few of their photo spreads. Press filmed a former diplomat wearing many different outfits cut from very colorful fabrics, discusses his clothes and why he thought Cunningham photographed them. In another interview, a young man wearing dramatic eye makeup and a striking hat that matches his suit recalls the moment a friend told him that an entire “On the Street” column had been devoted solely to his clothes and hats. Press also speaks with Iris Apfel, an octogenarian with an extravagant and outrageous sense of style; Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, who says “We all get dressed for Bill”; and Tom Wolfe, a writer known for his sartorial trademark, the white suit. They all have great respect and admiration for Cunningham but know little about his personal life.

First Thought Films / Zeitgeist Films

Additional details about the reserved photographer gradually emerge and he comes across as a man with immense integrity and one who truly loves his work. When he’s deciding which events to attend at night, he says his only consideration is the foundation or organization that is benefiting from the event, not the guest list. The film shows him photographing such an event and refusing a repeated offer of food and drink because that would compromise the newspaper. He’s simply there to do his job, not to socialize.

Before his position at the New York Times, we discover that he was a photographer with the fashion trade magazine Women’s Wear Daily. He once shot photos showing models wearing designer outfits and juxtaposed them with everyday women wearing a combination of clothes similar to the models. His intention was to show that women on the street had creativity similar to fashion designers. However, unbeknownst to Cunningham, WWD chose to mock their clothing. So he quit, appalled that his photos would be used to disrespect the women.

The documentary also provides an eye-opening view into Cunningham’s home, a very small studio in Carnegie Hall crammed so full of file cabinets containing his negatives that there’s barely enough room for his narrow bed. He gives the director a “tour” of his place, which has no kitchen or bathroom and his few clothes are on hangers hooked on handles of his file cabinets. This startling scene illustrates just how deeply committed he is to his work. He doesn’t have room for anything but photography in his life. And the documentary makes it clear that he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Cunningham makes fun of the fact that he documents fashion for a living yet has few clothes himself. But he does have his own sense of practical style, wearing his own everyday uniform of a sort – a plain blue jacket worn by street sweepers in Paris.

Towards the end of the documentary, Press follows Cunningham to Paris as he attends Fashion Week. The veteran photographer likes to sit on the side, rather than at the end of the catwalk where all the other photographers position themselves so they can take frontal shots of the models as they strike their final pose. Cunningham would rather watch the models stride by him and shoot how the clothes look when they walk. He says Fashion Week “re-educates the eye.” But he’s also in Paris to accept the Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters. True to form, Cunningham brings his camera to the event and takes pictures. A woman asks him why he’s “working” and shouldn’t he just be enjoying the event? But he says it’s not work, it’s fun.

The only awkward moments arise at the end when an off-screen voice asks Cunningham about his sexuality and how important the church is to his life. Earlier in the documentary he’s asked about his family and his life before he became a photographer but the film never delves very deeply into his early life. Nearly all the interviews are with people who have some connection to his work as a photographer. The focus is on the man today and it works because Cunningham is a unique individual with an utterly engaging personality. Cunningham’s admiration for his subjects and his joy in the work is palpable in every frame.


UPDATE: On June 25, 2016, Bill Cunningham passed away at age 87. Here’s my brief blog post about his death, along with links to other articles on him.

The Man Behind Elmo

I’m cross-posting my Tumblr review of Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey here because the film is about a man who began sewing puppets as a young boy in Baltimore, Maryland. It’s a truly inspiring tale story. The perfect film for the holidays. If you want a feel-good movie, this is it!

Elmo and Kevin Clash in BEING ELMO, a Submarine Deluxe release Photo courtesy of Scott McDermott

Elmo is the adorable red furry Muppet that kids love to hug. Remember the Tickle Me Elmo doll? Well, that infectious giggle and little kid voice comes from Kevin Clash, a tall black man from Baltimore. Yep, a black man is the voice of Elmo. And the Constance Marks’s documentary Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey focuses on his fascinating story, which is now playing in Bay Area theaters and elsewhere.

As a kid growing up in Baltimore, Clash was glued to PBS’s Sesame Street and was mesmerized by the Muppets. He soon learned to keep an eye out for any TV specials by Jim Henson, the Muppets’ creator. Then one day he made his own puppet – out of his father’s trench coat. But he didn’t get in trouble for cutting up his father’s coat without permission. He was fortunate to have loving parents who recognized and nurtured his precocious talent and let him continue to sew puppets.

Kevin Clash (1975) from BEING ELMO, a Submarine Deluxe release Photo courtesy of Kevin Clash

Fortunately, there’s plenty of footage and documentation of Clash’s early interest in puppets. He sewed many puppets as a boy and held puppets shows for the neighborhood kids. And unlike most kids, he didn’t grow out of his boyhood obsession. Instead he stuck with it through high school even when he was became known as the boy who played with dolls. As a teenager, he was invited to audition as a puppeteer for a local TV children’s program – and the film shows his audition tape. By this time in his nascent career, Clash has sewed about 85 puppets. Later on a school field trip to New York, he had the chance to tour the Muppet studio and see where the puppets were built. Through luck, talent, and persistence, he eventually got the chance to work for his idol Jim Henson. And the rest is history.

Being Elmo traces Clash’s remarkable career trajectory, from meeting Muppet builder and his eventual mentor Kermit Love, to working for Sesame Street and then creating the voice and character of the beloved puppet known today as Elmo.

It’s not just a film for Muppet and Elmo fans but an inspiring story for kids and adults alike. After all, how many people ever get to make their childhood dreams come true?

 – Chuleenan Svetvilas

Sandra Betzina’s Sewing Seminar

Garment with sample buttonholes made with fabric
Buttonhole detail

Last February I attended  “Power Sewing Toolbox,” a two-hour sewing seminar taught by Sandra Betzina, Vogue pattern designer and sewing book author. The description certainly caught my eye:

“This 2 hour class is full of tips and techniques the patterns don’t tell you but essential to a quality looking finished product. No longer will you be intimidated by mitered bindings, fringe detailing, classy seam embellishments, welt pockets and buttonholes, neckline bindings for round and V neckline and truly invisible zippers.  In addition, you will learn a technique for lining knit pants, T-shirts in stretch mesh and zippers hidden in pockets. Feel your sewing savvy soar from a C to an A plus as you learn all new tricks of the trade.”

The class took place at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco. Britex isn’t really set up to hold classes so space was very limited. The store could squeeze in a few dozen people into folding chairs placed in between the tables of fabric on the first floor. It was a tight fit but we were there for the duration. Not surprisingly the class was nearly all women with the exception of one man who was an aspiring fashion designer. We each received a nice black Britex canvas bag and retractable tape measure for attending the $60 class.

The first floor of Britex is where you’ll find gorgeous (and gorgeously expensive!) wool and silk fabrics – stuff you just love to touch and feel and wish you could afford to buy. (See “Shopping for Fabric” for more on Britex.) We sat next to these fabrics and Sandra stood near one of the tables and  held up her various samples of garments in different stages as she explained her techniques.

The sample clothes she displayed were of her own design from the Vogue pattern line “Today’s Fit.” She also passed various pieces around so that everyone got a chance to look at them up close and see how they were constructed. Here are links to a few patterns: Lovely pleated shirt (V1165), pants with a striking side pleat (V1050), a lined skirt with flattering curing seams (V1082). All of the clothes made from these patterns looked great. And according to Sandra, the instructions are easy to understand and execute. She says she incorporates her sewing techniques in her patterns.

Sandra went over a lot of things very quickly. It was sort of like highlights from her book Power Sewing Toolbox I, which had just been released. She showed us beautiful samples of buttonholes you can create using contrasting fabric – a very nice alternative to consider, especially when you’re making a jacket. She likes to call the fabric around the buttonholes “lips.”

Revising shirt collar pattern so seam is center back

Here’s one cool tip for reducing bulk in shirt collar points: Move the seam from the side to the center back (in red in photo at right).

You can do this with any basic shirt collar. Just take collar pattern and instead of cutting the collar shape on the fold, you trace out one half on the fold and then flip it over. This means that when you sew it together, you don’t have two side seams and corners to trim. Instead you have ONE seam and it’s on the center back.

It took me a little while to understand that so I took a picture of her sample. Hopefully that will make it more clear to you. For a better description, go to her website Power Sewing and subscribe to her tutorials or get a copy of her book Power Sewing Toolbox 1, which covers this technique.

Throughout the seminar, Sandra was promoting her books as well as her Vogue patterns, all of which Britex had on hand for folks to buy. And naturally, when the class took a break, we were encouraged to shop and we got a discount on her books. I went ahead and bought Power Sewing Toolbox 1, which I knew would be a handy reference.

And here are a few additional tips, which I gleaned from my notes. Sandra recommends using:

  • Steam-a-Seam instead of interfacing for plackets
  • Fray Block (instead of Fray Check) because it’s thinner
  • silk thread for buttonholes.
Happy sewing!

Chic & Simple Sewing

As soon as I flipped through Chic & Simple Sewing by Christine Haynes, I knew I had to buy it. I immediately wanted to make many of the clothes in this book. There are great color photos of the clothes – always a plus. Sometimes a sketch just doesn’t quite do it. So it’s nice to see what the designs look like on a human body. And the attractive models are photographed is a variety of locations – on the street at night, near the beach, window walking down a path, sitting on a piano bench inside, and so on. The author’s fabric choices are excellent and one of the reasons the clothes look so lovely. Full-size patterns are included with the book (sizes: S, M, L).

The subtitle says, “Skirts, Dresses, Tops, and Jackets for the Modern Seamstress.” And that’s essentially what’s inside. Remarkably, none of the lovely designs have zippers or buttonholes! As a result, it’s a good book for a beginning seamstress. But not everything is necessarily easy to make so it’s probably best to at least know your way around a sewing machine and sew a straight seam before making some of these stylish clothes. Christine rates the difficulty level on a scale of 1 to 5 for each piece. For example, the more complicated wrap dress gets a 5 rating and the trench coat gets a 3.

Tie Jacket (w/o the tie)

WHAT’S INSIDE

Christine introduces each pattern, giving her take on the design and describing the fabric she recommends and the fabric on the version that the model’s wearing. She also dispenses advice on what to consider when buying fabric to make a particular piece of clothing. For example, for “The A-line Skirt,” she says: “What’s important is that you choose lightweight or medium weight fabric. If you pick something too heavy and thick, the skirt will stick out from the waist, which might be unflattering.” (Her polite way of saying, it really won’t look good with heavy fabric so don’t try it.)

The book is organized into five chapters, with the first one devoted to the usual sewing basics (tools, sewing machine, measurements, etc.)  and then a few pages covering fabric, colors, and notions as well as some sewing techniques (basic stitching, pressing, and finishing details). Each of the remaining chapters covers a season, beginning with Spring (Chapter 2) and ending with Winter (Chapter 5). So you can pick out designs according to the season in which you expect to wear them. It’s an interesting way to organize the book. There’s a range of clothes within each chapter. For example, Spring has instructions for three dresses, a baby doll top, a circle skirt, and a “trench” coat. I put quotes around that because that’s what Christine Haynes calls it in the book “The Trench.” But it’s not a traditional trench coat with a collar, lapels, shoulder straps, and long sleeves.

My version of "The Trench"

This is a coat with no collar, 3/4 length sleeves, and nice big patch pockets that can hold any number of things (gloves, pens, cell phones, small books). I love the design.

WHAT I’VE MADE SO FAR

Here’s my version of the coat (see photo at right). I used some dark grey wool fabric for the coat and some lightweight wool herringbone for the bias tape trim. However, the main fabric I chose was a little lighter weight than it should have been because it just flopped open at the top, which didn’t look so good. So I added a covered button and made a loop out of some corded elastic to hook it closed. To read about my experience making this coat and for detailed photos of the results (and how I solved my bias tape problem), see “The Trench.”

From the Summer chapter, I made “The Wrap Top,” which is like the top half of a wrap-around dress. The top has little cap sleeves and wide ties that  wrap around you. A simple design but I picked a fabric that didn’t quite work with the design. It kinda gapes open in front where the front bodice pieces overlap. My bosom is (a-hem) not exactly well endowed so a crisper fabric would have been a better choice. So when I wear it, I just pin the pieces together with a sterling silver leaf pin I have to keep it from sagging.

The Tie Jacket

I also made “The Tie Jacket,” from the Fall chapter. It uses the same pattern as “The Trench Coat,” but it’s shorter – the hem is hip length rather than mid-thigh and there are no pockets. I found a couple yards of this black-and-white corduroy fabric with teeny herringbone at the East Bay Creative Reuse Depot and thought it would be perfect for this jacket. I had never seen such a print on corduroy before (see detail photo below, a quarter is about an inch, which will give you an idea of just how small the herringbone is). I think I like it better on me without the tie though. (See the photos above and left.)

I’d also like to make some of the skirts in the book. Christine’s got a nice A-line skirt with a wide ruffle at the bottom and a cool wrap skirt. The next time I’m in a skirt-making mood, I’ll definitely make one or both of them.

I think the only (minor) quibble is that women who are larger than size 10-12 won’t be able to wear these clothes. There is no extra large size to cut out. This is one of my favorite books with sewing patterns. You can order a signed copy of the book on Christine’s Etsy page or get a copy from your local bookstore (support your indie stores!) or on Amazon.

Detail: Herringbone corduroy of the Tie Jacket I made

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fabric at the East Bay Depot

The East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse in Oakland, California, sells all sorts of things, including art supplies, fabric, notions, and sewing patterns. All items are donated to this cool nonprofit organization whose goal is to “divert waste materials from landfills” and to increase awareness about the benefits of reusing materials. Teachers get a discount for things they buy for their classes (paint, paper, etc.).

Toward the back is the section where you’ll find all sorts of fabric in varying lengths that people have donated. I’ve seen wool, cotton, brocade, knits, velvet, and vinyl rolled up in the cubby holes here. And sometimes rolls of fabric are donated. The price per yard? $3/yard for fabric on the bolt, $2/yard for fabric in bundles, regardless of the type of fabric. I’ve also spotted leather scraps and belt buckles here at one time or another.

Fabric section at the East Bay Depot

Sometimes the fabric selection isn’t so great but you never know when something new will turn up, such as a collection of home dec fabric donated by a furniture upholsterer.

And if you have too many fabric scraps and remnants, it’s an excellent place to donate some of your stash. Someone will put them to good use.

The Depot sells notions and patterns as well. They aren’t particularly well organized but if you’re willing to spend the time to hunt through the bins, you could be rewarded with something unique. I’ve found vintage patterns, zippers of all kinds, a vintage fabric belt kit, and buttons. Patterns are just 25 cents. Loose buttons are sold by weight – about $8/pound, which isn’t very much when you’re only getting a handful.

Happy hunting!

Notions at the East Bay Depot

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buttons are sold by weight
Patterns for sale at the Depo

Shopping for Fabric

My bias-cut skirt made with fabric from Britex Fabrics

Once I got sewing again, I wanted to make some skirts. I really like long swingy, skirts cut on the bias (or at the crossgrain), which means that it’s cut at a 45-degree angle to the warp and weft threads. The result is a garment that has more fluidity. (For a detailed explanation, see this Threads magazine page for Marcy Tilton’s “Bias 101.”)

I bought a McCall’s pattern (M4258, now discontinued) for a simple skirt with a side zipper and began looking for light cotton fabric that was 60′ wide. I needed a fabric with a design that would could be cut on the bias and I didn’t want to attempt matching stripes or one-way designs.

Luckily for me, I work only a few blocks away from Britex Fabrics in San Francisco. This place has three (!) floors of fabric and one floor of notions with a fabulous collection of ribbons, lace, and buttons. It’s fabric heaven – but it’s not cheap – not by a long shot. This is the first place where I saw fabric selling for more than $100/yard. Why so pricey? Well, Britex sells a lot of imported fabric – silk and wool from Italy, designer velvets from France, cashmere from the U.K. – you get the picture.

I grew up in upstate New York where Joann Fabric was the only place to buy fabric (this was back when the store had more fabric than crafts). But the SF Bay Area has places like Britex, Discount Fabrics (south of Market), the Fabric Outlet (Mission district), and Stone Mountain & Daughter Fabrics (Berkeley). Of course there are plenty of places to shop online for fabric but whenever possible I like to see it and touch it in person.

Cotton fabrics are on the second floor of Britex. The bolts are displayed on shelves on the walls and stacked on large tables. (The store posts signs saying that you can’t take photos so no photo.) The prices are discreetly placed on paper tags tucked in the bolt. You have to pull it out to see it.

Because the cottons I was interested in were on the wall, bolt-end out with only a few inches of visible fabric, I couldn’t tell which ones were 60′ wide. So I asked a sales person which bolts were the width I needed. She was very helpful and pulled out a few that were 60′ and could work with a bias cut. I really liked this black-and-white cotton print. It’s very lightweight. I made this skirt (above left) from it.

Discount Fabrics

A few weeks later I went to Discount Fabrics main store in San Francisco (they have three locations) and found this intriguing fabric. The design is kind of like someone swirled some black paint on a white surface (see photo below). The main SF store is located in a huge warehouse space south of Market St. Most of the bolts are on rolls and they’re stacked on top of each other on huge utility shelves.

Fabric detail

It’s a bit of a challenge shopping here because it’s not easy to see all the fabric. Many rolls are stacked one on top of the other and sometimes you have to pull out several rolls so you can see what’s underneath. So you need a lot of time to look. But the prices are pretty good. (I’ve seen plenty of fashion design students roaming the aisles here.) Each roll is marked with two prices – one indicating the discount price and the other the extra discounted price if you buy the entire roll.