Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Forays To My Two Favorite Fabric Stores

Travels to Delectable Mountain Cloth, Brattleboro, Vermont

Finding fabulous fabrics is frustrating. Especially if you are a feltmaker, looking for the slightly unusual in natural fiber...  unless you know about Delectable Mountain Cloth!

This little jewel of a shop is located at 125 Main Street in the heart of tiny Brattleboro, Vermont. I first visited here years ago with my sister Polly. Polly discovered it through friend & felt maker Beth Beede.

Delectable Mountain has been doing business since 1978, promoted primarily through word of mouth.  I am on their e-mail list, so when an e-mail arrived announcing they had extended their Annual Winter In-store Sale because of the weather, I decided that Sunday was the prefect day to get my fabric fix.
The distant Green Mountains of Vermont

Lucky for me, Brattleboro is a beautiful two and a half hours drive from Glens Falls.  Lucky for Harry, they have a good pub. I love the overcast, monochromatic winter landscape along the way- black skeletons of trees silhouetted against the snow and sky.  Especially when Harry drives, I can knit the entire trip!  The roads were so bumpy with winter heave cracking, that at times my knitting needles bounced too much to make a stitch.  Brattleboro is a fun little town to explore.  Harry was counting the number of bookstores we could see from the municipal parking lot; out numbered, I think, only by cafes.  You have to love the priorities of Vermont.
entering Brattleboro, VT

Even the Delectable Mountain Cloth sign has a quiet presence: hand lettered, propped unassumingly in the front display window.  Pat, the owner of Delectable Mountain, is a woman after the textile lover's heart, being the epitome of a textile lover herself.  She collects fabrics like some of us collect dust.  And I believe she loves every bolt.  I arrived at the shop intending to look for a few yards of something fun to felt with, or line a felt bag.
 I'm a big fan of dupioni silk, and Delectable Mountain stocks a rainbow of dupioni (100 colors)!  Some irridescent, some fine, some scrunchy.  I love the durability, texture and color palette of dupioni.  I often use it as a lining, yoke, back or binding in my felt vests and jackets; shredded and torn in felt collage; and for stashing... just in case.

sheer printed silk chiffons
After a few minutes with Pat, I was bitten harder by the fabric bug.  She told me that she's had so many nuno felters in recently, and led me to a row of gossamer weight printed silk chiffons. Pat ducked into the back to grab a delicate piece of printed chiffon, woven with a satin dot that looks, as she put it, "So French!"  She told me how she'd sold the entire bolt, then begged back two yards to keep for herself from her customer.  Now if that isn't love!
Along side the chiffons, bolts of pristine whites and neutrals beckon like a blank canvas, in enough weights and weaves to keep you awake nights.  A firm, open weave natural linen that would make an awesome base for a wall piece or bag.  The softest, finest, smoothest cotton batiste you can imagine, Irish and Italian linens, the list goes on and on.  I picked out a beautiful, sheer white cotton stripe and an unbleached cotton scrim.
Nuno Strata Vest, layered fabrics

I think the scrim will be great for layered nuno felting when I want to use a very fine layer of fiber sandwiched between sheers, like in my "Strata Vest".

triple layered silk gauze
Pat was telling me about her current fascination with weave.  She has found a number of fabrics with an intriguing structure.  This is a soft, fine, triple layered silk gauze, randomly pleated, that would be amazing in feltwork.  Pat insisted I take a big swatch of a crazy beige double weave silk crepe.  The texture is very fine, but because of the layers it is very thick and the weave is so firm, it almost stands up!  I could just see someone incorporating it into a sculptural felt piece.

blue sparkly buttons

The second most extraordinary attraction at Delectable Mountain Cloth is their button selection: a mix of vintage and contemporary buttons, many made to look vintage.  The variety is enormous, far more extensive than on my last visit.  Artfully arranged in little dishes and saucers and grouped by category, there is everything from sparkle plenty to earthy, in almost every color, size and texture.  I scored a set of chunky red vintage buttons that look like Bakelite that will look great on a heavy sweater (yes, I try to knit too).

Some awesome carved blue Tagua buttons for my Finger Lakes Felt Vest, and some pretty psychedelic iridescent glass buttons for the neck wrap I made in Jone's workshop at the Creative Felt Gathering last summer!  I hated to call it quits.  There was a huge organic brown button with ivory ovals around the edge that was calling to me, but so was Harry...

big textured buttons!
earthy buttons!

delicate buttons from Oscar de la Renta

WHAT I BROUGHT HOME: lovely periwinkle silk that feels like batiste, magenta silk organza that is just stiff enough, iridescent magenta & black chiffon, shimmering blue green iridescent chiffon, an achingly beautiful ombre striped, light weight silk taffeta.  It reminds me of a Victorian sash.  The color fades from beige to rust to plum and back again.  I think I'll sew kimono style jacket with a nuno felted neck scarf out of it.

Three delicate sheers.  The soft black silk has an extremely fine texture woven into it, like flea size bricks!   The ivory silk has a hand like organza, but not too stiff, with the very finest stripe line woven into it; and the sheer white cotton has an open weave line and a stripe woven in.  They will all make excellent light weight nuno.
 Pat and I discussed the soaring costs that challenge both her suppliers and her business (she was exclaiming about the future price of silk that can be expected to go up and up).  She is passionate about what she does, and remains committed to providing the best to her customers.  I let her know that I pass along Delectable Mountain's name as a resource to my felting students.  I don't know of any other reliable source for the fabrics she carries, outside of New York City. They do have an on-line store as well.

 Delectable Mountain Cloth, 125 Main St, Brattleboro, VT 05301  is open daily at 10 to 5 pm, Fridays 'till 6:30 and Sunday 1 to 5 pm.  Telephone 802-257-4456, and on Facebook

A Visit to Mood Fabrics in the Fashion District, NYC
my felt is functioning well!

The only fabric store I like as much as Delectable Mountain is Mood Fabrics in New York City.  Mood has been popularized by the Bravo Chanel's reality TV show, Project Runway.   I discovered Mood from my felting niece Myfanwy Stirling, when she was studying at The Fashion Institute of Technology.  Myf took me shopping to her favorite garment district haunts when she was living in the city, and Mood became a must for all my subsequent trips to NYC.   The City is about 3 1/2 hours drive from home. Getting there is inexpensive on Megabus.
 Now my son Julian lives in the City, so I'm lucky again!
window in the garment district of NYC
Mood is located in the heart of New York's Garment District, at 225 West 37th Street, 3rd floor.  The Garment (or Fashion) District runs between 5th Avenue and 9th Avenue, from 34th Street to 42nd Street, and has an energy all its own.  You can feel and see the tremendous history of the place, even as an outsider.  Anything to do with garment manufacturing is there, in all its glory. Sadly, the garment manufacturing industry has continued to decline, in spite of efforts by the City to reverse the trend.

I was intrigued by the fact that Mood is located upstairs in a big office building.  I love the idea of getting on an elevator with an elevator operator, (just like when I was a little girl), but instead of doors opening onto the floors of a department store, it opens into a world of fabric.  A sea of fabric.  Bolts stacked to the ceiling on every floor.  Students with sketch pads and note books, happy to swatch sales people, a fabric fondler's delight.  Mood has a huge inventory of silks, wools, trims, buttons and every other fabric and related item you can imagine, including leather. 
silk metallic, the textured one on right is a new find!
I managed to hit up Mood on my visit to the City last month, and as always, came home with a luscious stash for my workshops.  This trip it was iridescent silk metallics: silver with purple, bronze, textured gold with turquoise, and four yummy shades of iridescent silk chiffon.

The sales people are friendly, the pace brisk.  There are signs designating fabric sections, and three floors to wander.  I always head straight to the silk chiffons, then to the organzas and brocades.

Leather is one flight down.  On my previous visit, I bought leather remnants that I used to trim my felt coat, but this time they had only full hides available.  The Mood leather I bought was soft and supple, and not the least bit ill affected when I decided to re-full my completed coat (leather and all).  The sales person who cut my cloth let me know that they are happy to swatch, and their on-line business is big.  I hadn't even realized they had on-line sales.  I shop a lot on-line, but the experience of fondling fabric is too good to miss.
Pentagram Gr., Needle & Button, 1976;  Judith Weller, The Garment Worker, 1984
Mood is a very different experience from Delectable Mountain Cloth, but I'd have to say they are equally exciting to me.  

Mood Designer Fabrics, 225 West 37th St, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10018-5703, telephone (212) 730-5003.  Open weekdays 9 am to 7 pm, Saturdays 10 to 4.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Slipper Felting Sleepover at Linda Van Alstyne's

my finished felt slipper fits! (and Ruby's paw)
our fuzzy paws (R, Olive, Ruby)

I finally made my first pair of very firm felt slippers!  Last fall I set a date with felting friend Carol Ingram from Connecticut (the Queen of Surface Design) to get together for a Slipper Felting Sleep Over Weekend at Linda Van Alstyne's.

I counted down the weeks!  I've been wanting to learn to make slippers forever with my good friend Linda, the Queen of Hard Felt.  The three of us (and many of our felting friends) always have endless things to talk about.  From fiber, to food, to... well, some things are best left unsaid.

Linda & unfulled gray slipper
I first met Linda about 20 years when I was passing off my sister Polly Stirling to her and Beth Beede at the Starbuck's in Saratoga .  Polly was visiting from Australia, and I drove her to meet up with Linda and Beth.  Linda, Carol and I became good friends over our years in The Northeast Feltmakers Guild.  Both of these women possess an uncommon generosity when it comes to sharing their home or their knowledge.
R's fulling, resist still inside
L working the newly cut opening
L comparing before and after
Anticipating the weekend- I know myself pretty well, or so I thought.  I won't win any prizes for physical strength or stamina, so I was prepared to struggle with the physical challenge required of fulling down to a dense, hard felt.  However, I was shocked by the struggle I faced to wrap my head around the layout process.  (Six layers, two sides, twelve layers, two feet, four sides, twenty-four layers, separate stacks, separate directions, separate sides, identical layers, both sides, two resists- that's how my brain floated it around).
working my opening
 I've put in a lot of thought over the years about the difference in learning styles we all have.  I've observed a gamut of emotional responses by public school teachers and felting teachers, facing the challenge of teaching.  It is no easy task on either side of the fence, and patience can wear thin.  But I was shocked by how clueless I felt while trying to comprehend the slipper layout.  I've been making felt for a long time, but when I thought I understood, I'd find I did not, and Linda would try again to explain.  My powers of observation were occluded by the power of confusion when faced with such a multitude of steps.  I did my best.

L's on r after fulling & her resist
In the end (and after I grasped that I had to make two units out of the little piles of separated wool) it seemed quite simple, but I did not get it at all along the way.  I shouldn't have been surprised, Linda's resist pocketed bag stumped me the same way.   My interest in learning styles (and appreciation for teachers who honor differences) is informed by my child's struggle, and my own, with ADD.  I am still undecided as to the best approach when teaching a brain like mine, but it was a lesson in perseverance!  I was pleased that I only shed a few quick tears, and didn't hide in the bathroom at all.
Carol's opening cut, ready to remove resist
Carol's pair with latex applied to sole

adding acrylic paint to tone the latex

Carol & Linda.  Slippers not quite fulled.

Linda's masks & studio
We felted past midnight on Saturday.  Linda insisted I complete both of  my layouts (which I "resisted" but finished), then I crashed hard.  I woke up on the fold-out by Linda's studio, surrounded by years of her felting accomplishments- quirky masks, playful sculputres, beautiful bags, intriguing wall hangings, and rows of gorgeous resist dyed pieces on top of stacks of wool bins. It is quite an inspiring body of work.  Linda astounds me with her energy.  She works full time as a physical therapist, and spends most spare moments felting and teaching, if she isn't with her extended family.  She's always an enthusiastic ambassador for felt and passes on what she knows.  And that is a lot.  

L rolling to full & shrink length
heel tucked in to protect shape
L twisting to shrink width

manipulating toe back
manipulating toe forward

pushing with tool to form toe box
Linda shapes heel area
Sunday after breakfast, we focused on fulling down our slippers.  Linda was great at teaching ways to manipulate and shape, paying constant attention to keep the fit of the heel snug, or draw in the arch of the foot.  As Linda has shown me many times before, subtle movements can make all the difference in shaping your felt.  I learned I was using too much water.  I had been thinking of the Finn rug workshop with Karoliina Arvilommi and Rod Welch, and how much water we used.  But Carol observed my slipper as water logged, slowing down the process for me.  I extracted some water and it did speed things up considerably.  I finished one slipper to fit, and took the mate home with about an inch in length left to shrink.
 If there is a next time, I will focus more on the color and surface design.  I thought I was doing a pretty good job, but when I cut the opening in each slipper, I could see I just about reversed the color sequence of my layers!  In the end, the colors migrated and the pair looked matched.  They are not exactly beautiful to look at, but the structure of the felt is just what it should be.   My mission accomplished.  Thank you Carol, and especially Linda!

Our next felting sleep over: Surface Design with Carol Ingram!

Robin's slippers, more shrinking needed

too roomy, but almost there!
Both Linda Van Alstyne and Carol Ingram are available for felt making workshops at their home studios or outside venues.
at home, Ruby Jet bridging Olive