Blinding Glimpses of the Obvious: De-stash Edition

Readers,

This past weekend I started slimming down my bloated collections of sewing supplies, taking advantage of a “De-Stash on the Lawn” event at Sew to Speak, a local fabric store, this Saturday.

Not only did I discover buttons I’d bought several presidential administrations ago–

Bought about 1991.

Wow.

–I also had some “aha” moments–of such glaring brightness I had to put on those cheap sunglass things I get from the ophthalmologist when I have my pupils dilated–such as:

Out of sight, out of mind. I need visual reminders!

I can get all excited about buying online classes when there’s a sale, and then forget about those resources when I tackle an actual project months later.

A folder labeled “Fun with Fitting Pants” is now parked with my fitting books in my sewing library. It reminds me that I have Sarah Veblen’s online class (PatternReview.com) as a resource.  When the need arises, I’ll print out her downloads to accompany her videos and pop them into the folder.

Folders ready to receive printouts from online classes act as placeholders in my sewing library.

Sewing is an activity that generates leftovers. Unfortunately, they can’t be turned into a pot of soup for dinner or compost for the garden.

No matter how economical and clever we sewers try to be, we always end up with remnants, scraps, and extras. I’m hoping this de-stash event will help redistribute our resources and become a regular occurrence.

Ghosts of shirts past, and ghosts of shirts to come. These loose buttons are now sorted and bagged for easy access. Some are headed for the sale.

Editing my sewing collections is a cinch if I have criteria. Uh–what are those criteria?

I don’t mean “I’ve had that for so long, I have to get rid of it!”

And I don’t mean “I’ve had that for so long, I can‘t get rid of it!”

I do mean criteria based on a solid foundation of current information about my

  • figure type
  • coloring
  • degree of contrast
  • lifestyle
  • tastes and preferences

I realized that my biggest obstacle to getting things sewn was being unclear about all of the above.

As long as I was agonizing over–

“Should I sew this print into a top, or a skirt? Which would be better?

“Is this a flattering color?”

Is this palette from a color analysis 15 years ago still good for me?

“If I sew that, what should I wear with it?”

–my fabrics, patterns, and buttons would languish, unused, which was equal parts horrible and ridiculous.

So I took the plunge to seriously, completely, answer all my fashion and wardrobe questions, which would greatly help me get things sewn.  A couple of weeks ago I registered for a program called 7 Steps to Style, created by Australian image consultant Imogen Lamport, and I’m liking it a lot.

If retrieving an object is difficult, it discourages use.

Loose duplicate swatches and swatch cards were in such disarray I didn’t use them much.

Rings hold swatches of shirts I’ve made for Jack, garments I’ve made for myself, and my stash. See which is biggest?

Several years ago I had puzzled over how to store my vast button collection.  I moved all the loose buttons into cellophane bags. That was a good idea.

Storing the bags vertically in plastic shoeboxes? Terrible!

I could hardly see my beautiful buttons, and I despise filing.

And the rustling of all that cellophane when I pulled or put back any bags was like the sound of dozens of people noisily opening candy wrappers in a theater.  I hated that!

I dreamed of having big, shallow drawers as in a map library or archive where my buttons could be all easily visible.

Then I realized I could achieve my goal almost as well–in minutes, using what I already had.

I roughly sorted my buttons into colors–multi-colored ones got their own category–and spread them out on sheet pans of my baker’s rack.

I’m converting the baker’s rack to mostly supply storage. UFOs are going to be phased out!

Voilà:

Reds, oranges, and yellows.

Greens, blues, and purples.

Browns, blacks, grays, whites

Multi-colored

In two seconds I can pull a pan from the rack. In two more seconds I can be scanning for buttons to scatter on a fabric unfurled on a work table.  And returning items to their homes is just as easy.    Problem solved.

I had started my de-stash project as a way to open up my physical space, but I’m ending by opening up mental space.

I can vouch for the truth of the statement I read recently in that little book, 101 Things to Learn in Art School: “Your studio is more than a place to work. It is a state of mind.”

It’s not just my sewing room that’s getting more spacious–it’s my mind.  And they’re both getting ready to welcome some fresh, new thinking.

Takeaways from New York

Readers,

Jack and I returned last Thursday from our week in New York.  It was an all-you-can-eat buffet of museum-visiting, Garment District-shopping, and long-distance walking. Here’s a day-by-day sampling of my souvenirs from my trip:

Friday, August 11

  • I bought a lovely scarf at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden shop.

Saturday, August 12

  • I was taken by this sleeveless jacket in the window of Mariana Antinori on Madison Avenue.

    Once in a long while I’ll see a jacket without sleeves and think such a garment might give me the balance of style and practicality I’m looking for.

I like jackets a lot but for my daily life, which includes fixing meals and washing dishes, wearing a regular jacket certainly isn’t practical. Now, if I could have the practicality of a vest but the wider range of styles of a jacket, that would be a sleeveless jacket.  One of these days I’m going to make one.

  • I caught up with attendees of sewing blogger Peter Lappin’s Male Pattern Boldness Day at the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum’s exhibit, Force of Nature. The show illustrated clothes and accessories using nature–sometimes uncomfortably literally–as inspiration.  This alligator handbag–

    From the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Force of Nature exhibit, a handbag from around 1938 using a very real alligator.

    –reminded me of the alligator handbag I saw on my field trip to The Alley Vintage and Costume a couple of years ago:

    Looking for the ultimate alligator purse? Meet Percival, mascot of The Alley Vintage and Costume in Columbus, Ohio.

  • I joined fellow fans of Male Pattern Boldness at nearby Panera for lunch and the much anticipated annual pattern swap.  I put half a dozen choice vintage patterns into the growing pile, but didn’t take any out.  Bonus: couturier and master sewing teacher/author Kenneth King crashed the party, and you can’t get better than that at a sewing get-together. He was mobbed, of course.
  • I spent the afternoon in one of the roving bands of Male Pattern Boldness readers ranging all over the Garment District in search of fabrics and trims.  Kyle Dana Burkhardt of the blog Vacuuming the Lawn led our group.  I wanted the chance to see stores I’d never been in before, and I did.  They were amazing
  • Our first stop was Metro Textile Corp. at 265 West 37th St., Suite 908.  The owner, Kashi, had opened his store on a Saturday just for us Male Pattern Boldness Day participants, and I think he was rewarded for his efforts.

    Customers kept Kashi busy unfurling yardage to cut in a frenzy of buying. (Thanks to attendee Venka for taking this photo.)

    My mission was not necessarily to buy anything that afternoon but to take a good look at fabrics to go with the unusual reds and browns in my cactus-print skirt or with the subtle yellows of my Pendleton jacket.

    A photocopy I brought of part of my skirt print helped me identify fabrics to coordinate with these colors from a 1940s-’50s palette.

    I brought the jacket with me, and a decent color photocopy of the skirt’s print, not to mention swatches on index cards of my fabric stash and a small knapsack for wallet, camera, and water bottle. The threat of showers (that never materialized) made me carry a windbreaker, which I tied around my waist.

    All of this impedimenta required managing, as I shifted my bags from hand to hand or shoulder to shoulder while navigating my way around my fellow attendees toward a particular bolt that caught my eye.  Everybody was friendly and helpful, though, and we all did our best to make space for each other. I pulled out my ring of card blanks and Kashi’s law-student son, drafted to be a helper that afternoon, swatched two beautiful linen shirtings for me. I promised to return Monday to have yardage cut.

  • Next was French Couture Fabrics, at 222 West 37th Street, 2nd floor, which proclaims on its website that “our buyers work to get the best fabrics from French Couture Houses like Celine, Sonia Rykiel, Chloe, Givenchy, Louis Vuitton.”  Others in my group might have been eyeing the leathers or the silks, but I couldn’t tear myself away from the gorgeous $12/yard cottons, wondering how many hundreds (thousands?) of dollars customers were willing to fork over for the readymade garments. I had a couple of swatches cut, but actually wanted many more.

    Swatches from Metro Textiles, French Couture Fabrics, Gray Line Linens, and Mood Fabrics gathered Saturday and Monday of my visit.

  • Our next stops were Daytona Trimmings, 251 West 39th Street; and Pacific Trimming, 220 West 38th Street.  In all my past visits to the Garment District I’d never stopped in these stores, thinking they sold mostly ribbons, tassels, and cords, which I almost never have occasion to use–but was I ever wrong. Trim stores sell every kind of hardware , zippers, buttons galore, and other findings and embellishments for clothes and accessories.

    Only a part of Pacific Trimming’s vast selection of buttons.

    Blouse and shirt buttons at Pacific Trimming. I already want to go back!

    Pacific Trimming: hooks and eyes of such variety as I had never imagined. I’m hooked!

I had remembered to bring the slider for my vintage Harris tweed hat to look for a replacement, and at both stores there was a wide selection, although nothing exactly right.

My hot iron damaged the original slider, and my Bakelite substitute was a little too eye-catching. Could I find a replacement in the Garment District?

I liked these sliders but thought they weren’t quite right to replace my damaged one. Having a knowledgeable salesperson help me look was wonderful.

  • Around 4:00 our group wended our way to Bryant Park to rejoin our fellow Male Pattern Boldness Day attendees to brag about our discoveries and envy admire other people’s purchases.  Although I had only swatches to show, my afternoon had been a success, too.  I had the luxury of returning Monday to look at fabrics again at my leisure.

The best part of Male Pattern Boldness Day is meeting members of a special community brought together by the humor, wit, and skill of Peter Lappin.

In Bryant Park with Peter Lappin, creator of the incomparable Male Pattern Boldness.

Sunday, August 13

  • Jack and I met our friend Rosa at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where we took in the Rei Kawakubo show.  The museum literature says “Her fashions…resist definition and confound interpretation,” and I couldn’t have said it better.  We roamed from one astounding–artwork? garment?–to the next just taking it all in.  I think I was smiling the whole time.  Although I’m sure Rei Kawakubo takes her work seriously, that’s not to say there isn’t a great deal of humor in it.

    With our friend Rosa at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Rei Kawakubo show. We imagined students’ reactions if Jack showed up for his first day of teaching this semester in this suit.

  • In another part of the museum, while Jack and Rosa looked at posters from World War I, I browsed a book called 101 Things to Learn in Art School by Pratt Institute professor Kit White. Number 85 was “Your studio is more than a place to work: it is a state of mind.”  That got me thinking: What state of mind would I like my sewing room to foster?
  • In Central Park after our museum visit I looked at my new swatches and swatches from my stash in the natural light.

    In Central Park, comparing swatches from my stash back home with what I’d just swatched in the Garment District. For evaluating colors, natural light sure beats store lighting.

    Monday, August 14

  • Back to the Garment District.

    I’m ready to return to the Garment District, wearing my weskit with big pockets for holding–swatches, of course.

  • At Gray Lines Linen I admired–everything, really.  I love the colors and weights of their linens for shirts and swatched a stripe and a plaid (seen on the swatch card above) for Jack to think about.  For myself, I admired some of Gray Lines’ yarn dye handkerchief linens for blouses and realized that they are all regularly stocked and on the sample card I’d bought last year.
    Back to Metro Textile Corp. to buy the two fabrics I’d had swatched on Saturday’s visit.  Kashi looked surprised–and pleased–that I had come back as promised.  After cutting the two linen blouse fabrics for me he scanned his stock for coordinates and pointed to a terra cotta-colored rayon knit that I agreed was beautiful.  I needed no further convincing that it would be a very nice addition, and took two yards, although now, I said, I’d have to buckle down and learn to sew knits.  “You can do it,” Kashi replied, “Just go slower.”  As I left with my new purchases Kashi encouraged me to come back leading a group.  Maybe I will!

    A plaid linen from Metro Textile.

    A kind of brick red-brown and white cross-dye linen from Metro Textile.

    The cross-dye doesn’t match any specific color in my cactus print skirt, but it still coordinates nicely with all the colors.

    Terra cotta-colored rayon knit from Metro Textile.

Onward to try again to replace the damaged slider for my Harris tweed hat.  I stopped in at Lauren Trimming, 247 West 37th Street, and found one that was fine, for a dollar.

The original slider, which I damaged with a hot iron, and its replacement that I found at Lauren Trimming.

My Harris tweed hat with its new slider.

My last visit in the Garment District was to Mood Fabrics. I knew I’d have to surrender my bags at the store entrance, but I was prepared with big pockets to hold a notebook and swatch cards. It was actually very nice to be free of my bags for awhile.

That morning the aisles were full of kids enrolled in Mood U sewing classes choosing fabrics for their projects and then bringing their choices to the cutting tables.  I sidled past them and began to absorb the breadth and depth of Mood’s collections.  On previous visits I’ve always been dazzled and then overwhelmed by the thousands of bolts and left with nothing more than swatches and shirt buttons.  On this visit, sticking to my “decide nothing in haste” experiment, I enjoyed browsing wools, cottons, linens, knits, and notions as if I were strolling through a gorgeous botanical garden. I had a nice conversation with a salesperson in the Cotton Twill section about raincoat fabrics, and had one swatch cut.  Done.

  • After seeing the Neue Galerie’s Austrian Masterworks exhibition we enjoyed Viennese-style hot chocolate and  cake in its Cafe Sabarsky.

    After viewing Austrian masterworks, some Klimt torte mit schlag.

    At the Museum of the City of New York in the exhibition A City Seen: Todd Webb’s Postwar New York, 1945-1960 we were struck by this photo:

  • 123rd Street, Harlem. 1946.

Tuesday, August 15

  • I was wondering what home decorating fabrics I could see without having to have a designer in tow, which brought me to Zarin Fabrics at 69 Orchard Street on the Lower East Side. I’ve made draperies for our living room and dining room and am “planning” (“planning to plan,” at this point, would be more accurate) to sew Roman shades, sheers, valances, and a shower curtain–right after I master pants-sewing and my serger.

    Zarin Fabrics

    Zarin’s selection is certainly big, but I concluded that actually my local home decorating fabric resources at Fabric Farms and Calico are awfully good and only a short drive away.

    An upholstery weight at Zarin Fabrics. Do I have a place for this in our house? Maybe not, but I like it.

  • In nearby Soho I chanced to see Crosby Street, which reminded me that I’d wanted to see the Crosby Street Hotel, one of two hotels in the U.S. designed by Kit Kemp.  She uses color, texture, scale, fabric and soft furnishings are like no other designer I know of. When we walked into the hotel I explained to the concierge that I was very interested in Kit Kemp’s work, and we were immediately invited to look at the lobby, bar, and meeting rooms as we wished.

    Kit Kemp’s typical exuberant combinations of pattern and color on display at the Crosby Street Hotel

    I’m so taken by handmade fabric lampshades–I’m very tempted to try learning to make my own. Have you ever seen the prices for shades like these? Incredible!

    I’m not looking to duplicate Kemp’s hotel style in our own house, but as a sewer I’m fascinated by how much importance she places on textiles. Search her name on Pinterest and see for yourself.

    Wednesday, August 16

  • I visited the Kangol hat store at 196 Columbus Avenue.  I’ve been a fan of Kangol hats for close to 30 years, and on the rare occasions when I can see a wide selection I can’t resist looking.  With help from Kangol salesperson Steve I walked out the door with a new trilby.

    Nothing makes my day quite like a new hat.

    Back at the hotel, I packed my fabrics and scarf and carefully folded my new Kangol to tuck into my suitcase for the next day’s flight home.

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.

img_0920-460x279

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!”

img_0912-460x345

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?