Wednesday, January 23, 2008


So in mid-December Andrew and I traveled to see our friends, Q and family, in D.C. Q had a book about sewing that I fell in love with when we were there. It's called Simple Sewing by Lotta Jonsdotter. I loved it because she highlighted projects that were very easy, but a tad unusual. Not your average sewing book. What also struck me was the kind of fabric she was using. It was beautiful. It wasn't too girly or cute-sy, it was fun and funky.

I often get into the habit of thinking: you can't get that in New York. It's ironic, shocking, but true. Shopping is tough here, despite what they say on What Not To Wear. Then, I turn over the book and see that she lives in Brooklyn. Not just New York City, Brooklyn specifically. I had no excuses.

So after the New Year, when I was beginning my January Reorganization Project, I ordered her book and Amazon convinced me I also needed In Stitches by Amy Butler. Amazon is much more shopper friendly than the streets of New York.

The books come, I eat them up and tuck away ideas. Then, a friend from Philly comes to visit. This friend is a carpenter that makes her own beer. I wouldn't think of her as one who frequents fabric stores, but she brings along swatches of Amy Butler fabric. I swoon and she leaves me one.

As the cleaning was wrapping up, I knew it was time to get serious about these projects. I called my friend in Queens and asked if she'd escort me to the fabric store I found in Soho that carried Amy Butler fabric. She is braver than I, not intimidated by SuperPosh Soho, and very fun to shop with. Much more fun than say, Andrew. She agreed and we went and picked up some beautiful things. I got fabric to match the swatch my beer-making friend left and the fabric for the living room pillows.

So, lately I have had a real burst of sewing inspiration from all kinds of sources. It's funny where ideas come from and what ends up inspiring you. Also, I think that January calls out for projects, taking a fresh look at your home and dusting off your sewing machine which may or may not still have bits of orange fuzz stuck to it from October's Halloween extravaganza.

Today I made a little curtain for my kitchen and a small table runner for this little table. It probably took me about 30 minutes to do both projects. I say that to emphasize how simple they are. So simple. I seem to be on a simple kick. I like the idea of adding bits of fabric and color here and there in simple ways.

Next on the project list? Andrew's little bed! He is now snoozing Big Boy style in a real (little) bed and I can't wait to get cracking on his bedding.

Gotta strike while the iron's hot.


Tara said...

I love that beer making carpenter friend - she's always full of surprises - fabric swatches?! Does she read your blog? It's always fun to get a shout out - hope she doesn't miss it!

Robyn said...

yeah, I told her. I was worried she would be upset by being representing as my beer making carpenter know? I mean there is so much more to her...she speaks Arabic, has a history degree, she is amazing on the grill, and she works in cosmetology! A funny mix, that one! But, she didn't mind at all! phew.

It is so nice that you are commenting so regularly now, Tara. No pressure or anything, but keep it up!

Firefly said...

Dear Ms. Pea,

I have lived in a whole lot of places and visited one or two more, but so far, I've never been anywhere where you could find more shopping diversity than in NYC. Now, I can follow you when you talk about it being difficult to get down the aisle with a shopping cart, or annoying to have to trek in several different directions on several different trains to take care of your errands, but when you dis New York for its limitations in terms of actual commodity options, there I think you demonstrate you've gone off your rocker. You're talking about specialty fabric options, for heaven's sake! I have seen fabric in NYC that I didn't even know existed, for sale on streets that seemed to have no other kind of store on them besides fabric stores. It might not be as easy to get to as if you lived on the North Shore, but once you do get to it, there is a whole lot more getting to be got.

"Shopping is tough here."


"You can't get that in New York."

No way, Jose.

On behalf of the streak of myself that identifies as a New Yorker, I'm calling you out for libel. I hope you will print a correction in a future edition of this fine publication.


A Disgruntled Reader

Robyn said...

Dear Disgruntled Reader,

There are some things that I have a very hard time finding/buying in this city. For example, clothes for Andrew. There are lots of specialty children's boutiques which I don't want to pay for. There is a chain children's clothing store near me that seems to specialize in selling clothes that make your kid look like a skateboarding tough guy. I prefer buying clothes for him when I visit my folks and can go to the outlet stores and get him kid looking clothes at reasonable prices. We have bought him a coat and snowsuit at a place near us that is working out just great.

Because grocery stores are much smaller here than in the 'burbs, they have less stock, which is usually fine, but somethings get left out that, in my previous life, I would have just picked up at the grocery store.

My experience with fabric store here were small stores stuffed with giant bolts of fabric. The bolts were a different size than I normally buy from and I don't know the yardage difference to ask for. I have been in great quilting stores in the city, it's true. And now I know about and am more brave about checking out other kinds of fabric stores to see what's what. I think you are right that it was silly to think that fabric, in particular, would be hard to get here.

I also think you are right that there is a lot here. But knowing where to go to find what you need takes a while. For example, I recently found a store near me that carries those little boxes I used for my holiday cookie mailing. Before seeing that store I would have thought I needed to drive out to a big craft supply store in Long Island to get something like that. So, although things might be here, I often don't know where, or even how to find out where. It's not like this little store has a website. And it's called a chocolate even the name is deceiving. I guess this example fits into your theory that it's hard to shop here, yes, but there is a lot here.

And until this scrapbooking store in my building builds up their stock, my paper supplies are either ordered online, or bought elsewhere.

I'm guessing though that if doors ever open to leave this town I will wonder where to get plenty that I get here and don't even realize that it is so easy for me to get it. Like, toys for Andrew. There are several amazing toy stores near us that don't have much plastic, lots of wood, friendly staff and everytime I go in there I want to get him something else.

I guess that shopping here is so completely different than other places and knowing where to go to get what you needs takes time (and years of study in my case) that I often give it a bad rap for shopping across the board, when maybe I should be open minded about the possibilities that here.


Firefly said...

You might remember that when I lived in NYC, I also found it really difficult to navigate the intensity of the urban environment for many reasons. So, I used to make these solo outings that would have an interesting store as a destination. I figured that was something that New York excelled at--an abundance of peculiar little stores that would go out of business most anyplace else. So I took advantage of them.

One time, I trekked up to this store called "The Art of Shaving." It is a tiny little store with glossy wood shelves and a glossy wood counter full of old fashioned men's shaving utensils. Old-fashioned, but brand new and very sumptuous with nice mens-ey smells permeating the store. I didn't have any male friends I knew well enough to buy anything for and I didn't think my male relatives would appreciate it. So I just went to look and had a wonderful time. Right around the corner was a store full of nothing but buttons in little drawers that lined the walls--really old, one-of-a-kind buttons, really new buttons and everything in between. Unusual buttons, standard buttons, charm buttons, square buttons, wooden buttons, plastic buttons, bone buttons, painted buttons, carved buttons... And next door was a very sweet little tiny coffee shop slightly below ground where I had a cup of tea and a piece of chocolate. Later I took Kirsten back to the shaving store to get a gift for Eric and he's been hooked since, I believe.

In Soho, there is a toy store I would visit when I felt sad. It had all sorts of unusual and enchanting toys. At the front were baskets full of 50 cent options. I would get myself something--a frog ring or a funny charm or a finger puppet. I would always walk there from the subway on a particular path that had a cobble-ey kind of street and went past a beautiful blonde European girl with a thick accent who took tourists' photos on the street corner most days, using a giant, clunky vintage camera. Once I got my picture taken.

In the West Village is an old pharmacy that has been running continuously for decades. It feels like you are in a 1950's movie when you go in there. And you can walk to a sorbet cafe nearby that has the best stuff I'd ever thad. I got cantaloupe flavor that was delicious, and I don't really even like cantaloupes.

In the lower East Side, you can have completely vegan sit-down afternoon tea at Teany's. They have delicious chocolate cake. Next door is Toys in Babeland, a very upbeat, intelligent erotic toy store that doesn't make you feel sleazy at all. It makes you feel like sex is healthy and fun. You can sign up for classes to learn about tame things, like sexual health and hygiene, or more risque things like how to give your partner a good blow job. Around the corner was Bluestockings Bookstore, a feminist bookstore run by volunteers where you could browse very interesting and often radical titles.

Back in Soho, there is a small bookstore with tiny little spiral staircases that lead to a balcony where you can look down on the folks in the lower level. The store consistently has one of the most interesting book selections I know of, and they are reasonably priced. Plus, the staff is volunteer and the profit all goes toward helping people who are homeless. You can get a dhosa nearby for cheap. There is a store around the corner that specializes exclusively in hosiery and has the most delightful selection of stockings ever.

I went all the way down to the Lower East Side on more than one occasion just to buy a pickle from one of the barrels at Gus's Pickles.

There are many, many good shopping experiences I had in NYC, regardless of the fact that I didn't ever buy much and regardless of the fact that I normally hate shopping. I just approached the stores as free novelty museums. Consequently, I have a great big "Wow!" sign that blinks in my head when I think of the kind of shopping that is available in NYC. It can accommodate a degree of specialization that wouldn't be economically sustainable if there weren't 10 million people crammed into one place and millions more cycling through as visitors.

Some time you should go on a field trip with Kirsten to the part of the Lower East Side where all the new young clothing designers have their outrageously expensive boutiques. You will see magical garments with surprising, creative sewing techniques. You're such a hand at sewing you might get inspired to go home and whip yourself something up that is too hip to even be trendy yet.

Those kinds of experiences weren't enough to make me want to stay in NYC, but they were more than enough to make me love it for its own sake, even if I didn't fully realize it til later. I guess that is the reason why I felt compelled to defend New York's honor as a shopping mecca. I think it is one of New York's true strengths--precisely because it creates an environment that undermines the shopping hegemony of the larger convenience-centered franchises that call to you from New England. NYC definitely fosters originality. Maybe not the most desirable quality for the practicalities of family life I'll grant you, but still desirable, nevertheless.

Robyn said...

I really think the only good route is for you to come, settle in near me and we can trapse about the city while Dave minds the kids.

You in?

Firefly said...

We'll have to make a compromise. Sometimes I'll go with you while Dave watches the kids. Sometimes we're taking Dave and the kids. Dave and the kids can just be so darn fun! The terms have to make room for occasional inclusion.