Paron Fabrics, NYC: A Scrapbook

Readers,

Thursday evening I found myself saying “Nooooooo…!” to the computer screen as I read the news on Peter Lappin’s blog, Male Pattern Boldness, that Paron Fabrics in New York’s Garment District was closing in just a matter of days.

August 2013

August 2013

Dozens of readers have left comments expressing their sadness at the passing of another source of beautiful, reasonably priced fabrics and nice service.

Since 1940!

Since 1940!

When Paron Fabrics started, this pattern was in the current catalogue.

When Paron Fabrics started, this pattern was in the current catalogue.

If there is one type of information I can recall with mind-numbing precision it’s where and when I bought each fabric in my stash.  As I read about Paron’s folding I thought of the happy hours I had spent browsing its yardage on numerous visits and clearly recalled the three pieces of fabric that came home with me over the years.

The first fabric I bought, back in May, 2003, turned out to be even more special than I ever expected it to be.

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Yesterday, digging around in a file folder of New York trip souvenirs, I found this account of that morning spent shopping the Garment District:

Before lunch I fit in one more store–the Paron Fabrics annex, where every bolt was 50% off the lowest ticketed price.  Somehow, it’s a lot more exciting to see an Italian wool with the original $24/yard price marked down to $12 than to see only “$12/yard.”

Having become very particular, I fingered wools and scrutinized colors waiting to see something sensational, not merely beautiful. A red and gold Italian herringbone wool, reduced to $12/yard, fit the bill. Really wonderful, rich colors. I imagined another 1936 suit made up in this fabric.

The saleswoman easily talked me into buying the rest of the bolt when I’d wanted only 2 1/2 yards. I ended up with 5 1/2 yards, but she charged me for just 5. She said, “You can make a gift of the rest to a friend who sews.”img_0924-2-460x53

I briefly reflected sadly on my dearth of friends who sew but thought I could make a dress, a weskit, or a winter coat with contrast facings. Maybe a hat.

Looking back, I now see how optimistic I was to buy such a distinctive fabric that would call for greater skill than I’d had before to do justice to its beauty. Only two months earlier I had started working with a really good sewing teacher. Edith’s guidance paved the way for me to sew much, much better, and to buy beautiful fabrics with more confidence.

It wasn’t until 2010, however, that I worked up the nerve to cut into the Italian wool.  I challenged myself to sew an entry for the Minnesota Make It With Wool competition.  I did finish the jacket and skirt ensemble in time but didn’t participate in the contest. (It was a couple of hours’ drive from Minneapolis–in December–and the day of the contest there was a blizzard, so I wasn’t sorry I had withdrawn my entry.)

However, my jacket did end up in the Reader’s Closet feature in the August/September 2012 issue of Threads magazine. That was gratifying.img_0930-330x460

And now my jacket takes pride of place on my home page.

My next Paron’s purchase came in July 2010.  It was a Swiss cotton plaid shirting in colors that suggested watermelons and sunny summer skies: pink, green, white, watermelon-seed black, and blue.  img_0931-460x345

It said, “Take me home and make me into a shirt for Jack!”

So I did.img_0914-460x370The last piece of fabric I bought at Paron’s was in late June this year.

Jack and I were visiting friends in Westchester County and took the train down to Manhattan for the day.  From Grand Central Station we made Paron’s our first destination.

This time I wanted us to look at shirtings together, hoping that Jack would find something he’d really like.  And he did.  He unhesitatingly reached for a bold, large-scaled yellow, black and white plaid.img_0916-345x460

I liked it, too.

It was fun to look at the shirtings together, fun to discuss the merits of several, and fun to see Jack pick the one to come home with us.

Most of all it was fun for me to be able to say to Jack, “Pick anything you like, and I will sew you a new shirt!”

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Reading of Paron’s closing made me realize that it had become a not-to-miss place to visit when I was in Manhattan.  In its unassuming way, it had assumed an important place in my life.

When I see Jack in either of these shirts I think back to my happy memories of buying the yardage at Paron’s.

The same goes for my 1936 McCall jacket. I vaguely remembered that I bought more yardage than I needed and that the saleslady was very nice to me. But I had forgotten her generosity and her suggestion. I’m glad I wrote down that story to find again, thirteen years later.

I could so easily lose myself in a nostalgic remembrance of temps perdu, but–

I still have a sizeable piece of that Italian wool waiting to be turned into something wonderful.

img_0929-460x339And now I have a stash of vintage buttons, many on their original cards from at least the 1950s, patiently waiting for me to wake up from my sentimental torpor and put them to work.

img_0927-460x345I can’t go back to Paron’s, and I can’t save it from closing.  But I can build on what Paron’s has given me.

Paron Fabrics: To this sewing friend, you were the gift.  Thank you.

London Miscellany

IMG_9062 (460x171)Readers,

To round off my recent series of London posts, a roundup of news items and observations:

  • I loved The Imperial War Museum’s show “Fashion on the Ration: 1940s Street Style.”
    My souvenir from "Fashion on the Ration:" smart style in London, spring 1941

    My souvenir from “Fashion on the Ration:” smart style in London, spring 1941

    If you’ve wanted to see ingenious examples of making do and mending in Britain during World War II, this is the show for you. Frustratingly, photography was forbidden; otherwise I would have taken dozens of pictures and posted them here.IMG_9067 (460x345) The hour I spent in the show flew by. The companion book is described here.

  • May 31 I went to the Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair.IMG_9073 (258x460) I’d been to this show before; in 2012 I saw at least two vendors with large vintage button selections. This time I didn’t see a single button. Not one! Compare with the Hammersmith Vintage Fashion Fair I attended in January 2014, where I found loads of buttons and bought quite a few. (Well, it’s time I made proper homes for the buttons I have now, anyway.)
  • A couple of the shops I included in my Threads magazine article “Sewing Destination: London, England” (June-July 2012) have experienced changes. Cloth House used to have two addresses on Berwick Street: 47 and 98. The Number 98 location, which had wonderful wools and a big selection of knits, closed in May.
    IMG_8797 (460x345)

    Some buttons at Cloth House that I considered for my 1941 tweed jacket…

    I wondered how all of Number 98’s inventory could possibly fit into Number 47’s space. The answer seems to be that it didn’t.

    ...and some more. I passed them up--but what a wealth of choices!

    …and some more. I passed them up–but what a wealth of choices! Also–a nifty way to store buttons!

    I hope those gorgeous wools reappear someday.

  • The other shop that’s changed is MacCulloch & Wallis, which moved this year from cramped quarters on Dering Street to two spacious floors at 25-26 Poland Street, just one street over from Berwick.
MacCulloch & Wallis, now on Poland Street in Soho.

MacCulloch & Wallis, now on Poland Street in Soho.

MacCulloch & Wallis carries lots of notions. (Just look at its online store to get an idea.) I asked about basting thread for my upcoming tailoring project, and bought two spools of what Gutermann calls “tacking” thread. Is there a difference? IMG_9064 (376x460)

  • If the travel posters in my post about the Fashion and Textile Museum’s “Riviera Style” show interest you,IMG_9070 (345x460) you can see them, and more, here.
  • And if you are in the neighborhood of the Fashion and Textile Museum July 16, you might want to attend a talk and book signing by the Jane Butchart, author of Nautical Chic, “tracing the relationship between maritime dress and the fashionable wardrobe, uncovering stories, tracking the trends, and tracing the evolution of the style back to its roots in our seafaring past.” IMG_9074 (345x460)
  • I visited The Vintage Showroom in Covent Garden. I was very taken by the book Vintage Menswear: A Collection From The Vintage Showroom when it was published in 2012, and ever since wanted to see the store, which was interesting. I thought of The Vintage Showroom when Jack and I visited Cambridge University’s Polar Museum and saw clothing like this:IMG_8739 (208x460)
  •  Another place that was on my list to visit was Pentreath & Hall, in Bloomsbury, a tiny, exquisitely curated shop started by architect and interior designer Ben Pentreath. I got to the shop only minutes before closing, but had time enough to drink in the atmosphere and pick up a couple of promotional postcards as souvenirs.IMG_9071 (460x322)What I most coveted were the silk-covered lampshades, priced at more than £300 apiece.  Perhaps their maker would consent to create a Craftsy class for those of us inspired to make our own? If only.
  • More in my price range was this tote bag recreating Edward Bawden’s delightful cover illustration for John Metcalf’s book London A to Z. I found it in the Victoria & Albert Museum store for £8.50. IMG_9060 (280x460)The illustration appears on both sides of the bag. Would it work to take the bag apart and use the pieces as fronts for a pair of pillows? It’s worth a try.

Taylors Buttons, London

Readers,

When I did the research while living in London for two months in 2011 for my article “Sewing Destination: London, England,” (Threads magazine, June-July 2012), I tried to be as comprehensive as possible. There was no ready-made master list of suppliers, markets, events, tours, and museum and library collections of interest to sewers and fashion lovers to work from. Using my experience as a reference librarian, I just did my best to compile my own list.ThreadsLondon

When I put the finishing touches on my manuscript for Threads I hoped to high heaven I hadn’t made some glaring omission.

On subsequent trips to London in 2012 and 2014 I felt fairly confident that I hadn’t left out any source that was really important. Then last week I visited Taylors Buttons.IMG_9033 (345x460)

How I missed learning about Taylors Buttons diligently searching online and on foot I’ll never know–its website proclaims “Established over 100 Years.” It was only when I was taking the Savile Row tailoring class last year that I heard about it, from our teacher, who also told us about  Kenton Trimmings.

Press the button to sound the buzzer.

Press the button to sound the buzzer.

As you know, I have an affinity for button shops–the older and dustier the selections, the better–so when I browsed the Taylors Buttons “Shop Images” I knew I had to see this place for myself.

Open sesame!

Open sesame!

Last Monday, then, after leaving Kenton Trimmings I made my way to 22 Cleveland Street, London W1.IMG_9034 (460x331)

Even though I had bought buttons for my 1941 McCall “mannish jacket” in Salzburg, I was curious to know whether the proprietor, Maureen Rose, might have another intriguing choice, so I brought a swatch of my green and blue tweed.

The window display hardly prepares the visitor for what lies within.

The window display hardly prepares the visitor for what lies within.

I have now consulted enough button counter staff to distinguish two styles of button-matching: the swift and exuberant hash-slinging approach and the slow and pensive meditative approach. Both are good.IMG_9021 (460x345)

The button saleslady in Salzburg was a hash-slinger, briskly laying out button matches for my consideration like a short-order cook plating eggs and sausage for a famished breakfast crowd.IMG_9020 (460x345)

By contrast, Maureen pulled buttons like a rare book seller retrieving volumes from high, dusty shelves for my perusal. I would place the buttons on my swatch and then we would scrutinize the combination together as if contemplating the merits of a painting slated for auction.IMG_9019 (460x345)

If I hesitated and said, almost apologetically, “It’s just not…right,” Maureen nodded in agreement and reapplied herself to the task. The right color but wrong size. The right size but wrong finish. All in a day’s work for a purveyor of buttons.

Carded buttons, loose buttons.

Carded buttons, loose buttons.

“How long will you be in town? I could dye buttons to match your fabric.” She told me how many days it would take to complete the order. I would have already flown back to the States. I was afraid to ask about the costs of dyeing plus shipping, too.

Dyeable buttons.

Dyeable buttons.

More dyeable buttons

More dyeable buttons.

At last Maureen said “Well, I’m stumped.” Yet she was not ready to concede defeat. She had a new idea. She walked to a corner where she unearthed another box containing some variegated bluish-green buttons, 36s, the perfect size  for my jacket front.IMG_9018 (460x310)

They also turned out to be a perfect complement to my blue-green tweed. We both knew it. We paused to admire the match.

Buckles

Buckles.

The boxes read "Buckles bits & bobs", "Funky Buckles."  I think these are dyeable. Wonderful!

The boxes read “Buckles bits & bobs”, “Funky Buckles.” I think these are dyeable. Wonderful!

The problem was, this style came in only the one size. I had wanted a smaller size for the sleeves. I had always seen smaller buttons on sleeve vents and assumed that was a rule. I pondered slip-stitching my sleeve vents closed and foregoing buttons on them altogether.

However, Maureen said that Savile Row tailors who have been her customers have used the same size buttons on sleeves as well as fronts.

“If Savile Row tailors do it, then I can, too,” I declared, and picked out three buttons for the front, one for each sleeve, and two extras.

I especially liked these red buttons--and the oval black ones are great, too.

I especially liked these red buttons–and the oval black ones are great, too.

In the course of our conversation Maureen mentioned that the buttons very likely dated from the 1940s.  “That’s interesting,” I said. “The pattern I used for my jacket is from 1941, and I’m pretty sure my fabric is vintage, too–from the ’50s, if not earlier.”  That the buttons seemed so natural on the tweed was perhaps not such a great coincidence after all.

The building Taylors Buttons is in has a historical designation.

The building Taylors Buttons is in has a historical designation.

As I continued to browse the Taylors Buttons trove Maureen returned to filling an order for covered buttons using a device that might have been a century old. Interrupting her work to take a couple of phone calls, she hung up and commented on fashion designers’ typically short deadlines. “They always want it done yesterday,” she said, matter of factly.

Maureen Rose covers buttons to order using a a sturdy old device. Wish I had one like this!

Maureen Rose covers buttons to order using a a sturdy old device. Wish I had one like this!

When I asked if I could take some pictures to show readers this wonderful place (this is always hard for me to do because I feel I am imposing on people and being presumptuous), Maureen readily agreed. In its quiet way Taylors Buttons is a legendary place. It has been written about before–even though I did manage to miss all the press when I researched my “Sewing Destination” article.

At last I am correcting my glaring omission. Taylors Buttons is a sewing destination of the first rank. It’s one of those places I want to see not only once but many, many times.

On a high shelf, these beauties. 1930s? '40s?

On a high shelf, these beauties. 1930s? ’40s?

Kenton Trimmings, London

Readers,

Ever since I took the Savile Row tailoring class at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London last year I wanted to check out a tailors’ supplier our teacher, Victoria Townsend, recommended. Frustratingly, I caught a bad cold after the class ended. The two days I had hoped to roam the city were spent in the flat sniffling and feeling sorry for myself.

“Oh well,” I said to myself, “I’ll visit Kenton Trimmings next time.”

“Next time” turned out to be this past Monday, when Jack and I were in London finishing up our Germany-England trip. After a coffee and pain au chocolat breakfast at the Paul bakery on Gloucester Road we went our separate ways: Jack, by train to Battle; and me, by Tube to 5 Mozart Street, postcode W10.

Fueled for the morning's excursion: coffee and a pain au chocolat.

Fueling the morning’s excursion: coffee and a pain au chocolat.

The neighborhood surrounding Queen’s Park station was new to me, so it was no surprise that even using my trusty London AZ I got turned around a couple of times .

Would I run into a burning building to save my London streetfinder? I just might.

Would I run into a burning building to save my London streetfinder? I just might.

At last I was on course to my destination. Clutching the AZ I strode down the street with the eagerness of a foxhound that has locked onto a scent.

From Queen's Park station to Mozart Street I got lost for a few minutes, but no matter.

From Queen’s Park station to Mozart Street I got lost for a few minutes, but no matter.

Maybe it was my yellow raincoat and spiffy new purple scarf, or maybe it was my look of determination that attracted the attention of a woman walking in my direction.

As she came within earshot, she shyly said to me, “You look great.” “Thank you!” I said, surprised and a little confused at this rare instance of English effusiveness.

“You remind me of a family member,” she said.

“I hope it’s a happy memory,” I answered. “It is,” she said, and walked away with a little smile.

Whether I reminded her of dotty Great Aunt Edna or the family’s beloved border collie I’ll never know. I left off pondering that question when I arrived at Mozart Street a couple of minutes later.IMG_9017 (460x345)

What I saw was not a commercial street so much as a residential street where a handful of businesses had set up shop. If Victoria hadn’t mentioned Kenton Trimmings, I never would have discovered this place on my own.IMG_9015 (460x345)But the fact that this shop served the tailoring elite was all I needed to know to put this place on my “must see” list.

Mozart Street appears to have mainly houses and flats.

Mozart Street appears to have mainly houses and flats.

I’d brought a swatch of tweed from my Smart Tailoring jacket project in case I found buttons to rival the ones I’d bought in Salzburg.  But buttons are not the main reason, I concluded, I would schlep to Mozart Street.IMG_9009 (460x345)IMG_9010 (345x460)

Kenton Trimmings, LondonNo, the main reason would be the tailoring canvases.

These canvases are destined for some of the finest tailored suits in the world.

These canvases are destined for some of the finest tailored suits in the world.

If only I could have been sure which ones I needed to achieve the right degree of crispness or body for a particular fabric and pattern, I would have stocked up. A curious thing has happened since I did my first Smart Tailoring jacket project: I’m now interested in the supporting roles canvases play, almost as much as the fabric that gets all the attention in the finished garment.

So here I was, in the midst of a sizable array of jacket underpinnings, and all I could do was voice my admiration to Glyn West, who owns the shop along with his sister, and ask about mail order.

Glyn West of Kenton Trimmings

Glyn West of Kenton Trimmings

He cut me a couple of generous-sized samples of popular choices to take home. One was EC3 body canvas, which is  medium weight and pliable.

IMG_9046 (460x419)Another sample was of IL3, a crisp canvas with 40 percent horsehair. I tried crushing it with one hand, and it recovered nicely.IMG_9045 (345x460)

For good measure Mr. West tossed in a curved trouser zipper, the likes of which I’d never seen before.

Have you ever heard of a curved zipper? I hadn't.

Have you ever heard of a curved zipper? I hadn’t.

And when I described trying to use a tailor’s thimble that was too big for me, he brought out this adjustable Japanese version for my consideration. IMG_9040 (345x460)IMG_9041 (345x460)IMG_9042 (460x371)I had never seen a thimble like this. What a clever idea!

For two pounds I had a little souvenir of Kenton Trimmings. It will tide me over till my next visit, when I plan to lay in a goodly supply of canvases.

After all, those jackets and coats I dream of making deserve the very best, don’t they?

Kenton Trimmings: worth a special trip.

Kenton Trimmings: worth a special trip.

A Couple More Button Places in Berlin

Readers,

Before Jack and I leave Berlin tomorrow morning for Cambridge I wanted to mention two other places I looked at for buttons.

One was recommended recently by Helen on her sewing blog, Button & Snap: ZickZack Nähwelt, Torstraße 49.IMG_8189 (460x345)

As Helen noted, the entrance to the store is actually around the corner–and then more than a few yards’ farther, I discovered, on Schönhauser Allee.IMG_8188 (345x460)

As Helen said, ZickZack has an impressive selection of buttons.IMG_8191 (460x357)

I pulled out the green and blue tweed swatch of my jacket, and found a couple of color matches, but not in the right  sizes, so no purchases here.IMG_8193 (345x460)

I happen to like trying out buttons on my own, so I was glad the salesladies left me to my own devices for several minutes before one came over to inquire whether I needed any help.  IMG_8196 (460x345)

Zick Zack's shirt buttons

Shirt buttons

Leather buttons (I think)

Mostly leather buttons, I think

When she heard me reply in English she had an “Oh dear” look on her face, but I’m sure that if I’d wanted to buy anything we would have completed the sales transaction just fine.IMG_8200 (460x345)

IMG_8199 (460x345)IMG_8198 (460x345)IMG_8197 (460x345)

The second place I wanted to mention is Idee Creativmarkt, on Passauerstraße, across the street from the legendary department store KaDeWe.

A catchy storefront for Idee, just steps away from KaDeWe.

A catchy storefront for Idee, just steps away from KaDeWe.

Idee carries lots of buttons, as well as other sewing notions and fabrics.Idee, Berlin

I didn’t find buttons for my jacket there, although as at ZickZack there were some nice choices but in the wrong sizes.IMG_8111 (460x345)

IMG_8112 (460x345)

I didn't see a sign saying so, but these buttons look to be especially for jacket fronts and sleeves.

I didn’t see a sign saying so, but these buttons look to be especially for jacket fronts and sleeves.

I was almost relieved I didn’t see anything fantastic for my garment, because, unless I misunderstood, some buttons cost more than 3 Euros apiece and they didn’t strike me as anything special.

Nice, but no matches for my jacket.

Nice, but no matches for my jacket.

IMG_8118 (345x460)

I think some of these buttons are made of wood, horn, or antlers.

However, on another occasion, for another garment, I easily could have found a perfect match.

These flower "buttons" would be darling on spring frocks.

These flower embellishments would be darling on spring frocks.

You just never know when or where that fantastic combination will turn up.

And that’s why I keep looking.