London Fabric Shopping Day Two

liberty tana lawn first prize

Well, I went to Liberty today, where I drove the salesclerks to distraction by wandering around in circles thumbing the names of fabrics into my Treo (to find them again, in case I wanted to buy them at some later date), and by looking at Every Single Bolt on the sale table and Every Single Cut on the remnant table, before buying three meters of First Prize. (The picture here is to an eBay auction, in case you want some for yourself.) I've often hesitated over the "Buy It Now" button on First Prize auctions before, but it's MUCH nicer in person. I am going to make (surprise!) a Duro dress with it. Dark red banding, I think.

After that I managed, smugly, to find the right bus to the V&A, and (not so smugly) to miss my stop (there's some kind of "How do you get to the Royal Albert Hall/Practice, practice, practice" joke to be made here, but I'm not the one to do it). Thankfully, after I beat my way back against the tide and made it there, my friend S. was still waiting, having not given up on the Hapless Yank, which is my preferred archetype when traveling abroad. We gorged ourselves on the fashion exhibition (there was a little tv documentary from the sixties on "swinging London/Carnaby Street fashion" and the thing that shocked me was that they were smoking! In the stores! How times have changed.) Then we ransacked the postcards and went and had a nice cold drink and a poke round Harvey Nichols to pay a polite call on the Marc by Marc Jacobs line (some VERY cute dresses).

S. kindly got me to the right Tube station and I rushed back for the last part of The Plan of the Day — roller skating. Yes, a city full of theatre and art and every kind of culture imaginable, and I chose … roller skating. It's a sickness. I found my train and managed to be asked for directions which I couldn't give, a favor I returned after I got out of the Kings Cross station and accosted two of what I thought were the most local-looking women around and asked them where York Way was. "We're tourists, dear," they explained patiently. (I didn't find out from where.)

Anyway, I bought directions and a pack of gum (the price of the directions being the pack of gum) at a newsagent's and was soon pointed the right way. I could hear the music pounding from a block away; always a good sign. I was frisked for weapons (I think they did this to everyone, not just people who looked American) and made it in without incident, where I got my rental skates. They were horrible wobbly things with the kind of speed-closures that cheap rollerblades have, so I asked politely if they had any "old fashioned lace-up skates" and lo, they did! I tipped mightily. They were total early-eighties throwback fake-hightop-sneaker skates but they could be laced tightly and their wobble was completely manageable.

The actual skating area was no bigger than what I could probably manage at home if I made my neighbors move their cars out of the garage (which come to think of it might be a pretty good idea if I sweep it out), and the floor was spotted with pieces of black tape which I think masked dents or rough places. I was looking mostly at the tape the first couple of times round until then all of a sudden I saw the boards of the floor. They must have been a cubit wide — I think they probably predated the invention of roller skates by quite a few years. That gave me pause (metaphorical, not literal, although there were plenty of people who felt that the skate floor was a perfectly appropriate place to pause). Sometimes you just don't understand how OLD the rest of the world is, when you come from a place where a house built in 1920 (or even 1950) can be the oldest in the neighborhood.

It was a good night for skating. The music was excellent, although what people responded to was funny — there was an exhilarating Amerie/Beyonce "1 Thing/Crazy In Love" mashup which fell upon a nearly empty floor, but Olivia Newton John's "Xanadu" had all three bachelorette parties rushing to stagger their way around in circles, singing hard. There were quite a few hen parties, which were easy to spot — they were wearing devil horns, or makeshift nurses' hats, or the bride-to-be had a balloon tied to her butt and was being accosted by a male stripper in the middle of the skate floor. No, I didn't believe it either, but since I was the only one who seemed to find it anything out of the ordinary, I sat out that song and got myself something to drink.

There were many more people wearing dresses and skirts to skate in than I see in New York, too, even if you discount the people hired to skate in drag. They (the ones in drag) were dressed in a kind of cocktail waitress/stewardess-of-the-future getup, very shiny, but it looked a little warm for skating. (I took it as more evidence that OF COURSE people who like to wear dresses — who, in fact, go out of their way to wear dresses — like skating.)

I only fell once (trying to avoid someone who stopped stock-still to wave at their mates in a kind of "hey ma, lookit me" moment) and even that was just a skinned knee, so no real harm done, but I figured that even though I was having such a good time that time itself stopped (not really — it was just my watch that stopped, but close enough), I regretfully turned in my skates and left. I walked back to the station and decided to squeeze the last juice from my day pass by getting on a bus, instead of the National Rail. I find that I really prefer the bus to the Tube here in London. I can't really put together the neighborhood jigsaw pieces unless I see where they match up; coming up from the Tube station I might as well be landing on the moon, I'm so disoriented. With a bus (or better yet, by walking) I can stitch them all together so that the disconnected pieces of the city become a whole quilt in my head.

Unfortunately, as with most quilts, I'm going to have to leave the rest of the pieces in a box for a good long time, since I'm headed home tomorrow. Sorry this is so long; I didn't (as the saying goes) have time to make it any shorter!

London Fabric Shopping Day One

liberty fabric

I think I'm going to be sending Stephanie Z. some flowers when I get back to the States, or at least emailing her and pressing upon her an invitation to coffee/dinner/ice cream next time I'm in NYC, because it was HER excellent directions that led me to this insanely great fabric store on the Old Brompton Road. Here it is (note the sign in the window):

Shaukat Fabrics

I went in at first and was a little disappointed; there's a wall of Liberty remnants, but nothing quite big enough for the kinds of things I like to make:

Shaukat Fabrics

I dawdled around for a bit and pulled some things off the shelf, but I didn't feel very encouraged. I got up the nerve to ask if they had any Liberty on the bolt, and the salesclerk said yes, forbiddingly adding that it was MUCH more expensive. She beckoned me to the back of the store and down the stairs we went, into what Ali Baba's cave would look like, if it were filled with fabric.

I wish I had a picture of that wonderland, but just as I stopped hyperventilating a pod of women dressed head-to-foot in black chadors floated in, and I thought me snapping a bunch of pictures of the CEILING-HIGH shelves of fabric would be taken amiss, as they would be inescapably in the foreground.

There were plenty of bolts of Liberty, but the shelves were mainly filled with three-meter cuts. I think if you had laid them all out end-to-end there would be enough to encircle the planet, Christo-style. The chadorines and I drifted past each other, pulling down cuts and making little piles here and there; as they made their selections a salesclerk would bag each piece carefully in a preprinted plastic bag, like the kind pillowcases come in. Mine were left unmolested. As soon as I thought I was getting to the end, I'd turn a corner and realize that there were still the wools, or the silks, or another entire wall of lawn, and I'd have to sit down with my head between my knees, metaphorically, until I'd recovered sufficiently to go on.

I finally bought four pieces of lawn (the top four in the first picture above), a piece of silk in one of my favorite patterns (the dot, zigzag, and star print), a piece of wool/cotton Jubilee (the blue floating bars) and some other fabric (not Liberty, I don't think) that I bought just because it was blue and green chevrons in a heavier cotton. (That is going to become the circle skirt to end all circle skirts, if I can cut it right and if I have enough.)

Here's a closeup of some of the fabric:

Liberty Fabrics

I did try to pick out things for which I had patterns already in mind, but after a while I discarded that approach and realized I had to just pick up things that shouted "pick me, pick me!" Of course, some things shouted loudly, but still didn't get chosen: I had to leave behind some white silk charmeuse with a red and black abstract chrysanthemum design, as being something that I would have to manufacture an entirely different persona to wear.

When I was being rung up the proprietor (after ascertaining that I was from Chicago) let me know that Allah wanted peace for all peoples, with which utterly sensible statement I found I could not but agree. If he had told me that Allah wanted beautiful fabric at very good prices for all peoples I think he would have also found me in complete accord.

I didn't feel up to any more fabric shopping after that … perhaps if I eat some more milk chocolate Hob Nobs, I will be strong enough to go to Liberty tomorrow and see what's in the new line. I hope to buy one more spectacular piece of fabric there, and then I'm done fabric-shopping until at least Halloween, and possibly until Christmas. I did think of going out to Shepherd's Bush to see the fabric market there, which was recommended by several people, but I think now that will have to wait until my next trip.

(Oh, and I found a place in London to roller-skate! It's in Kings Cross. Can anyone tell me if that's a bad idea? I mean, the Kings Cross part, not the roller-skating part.)

Infinite Recursion!

ebay item 8305987417

Sbanks and Chelsea both sent me this fabric this week. I don't usually wear sewing-themed fabric (it's not that I necessarily wouldn't, it's just that my search for polka-dot, gingko-leaf, alphabet-print, and robot-themed fabric takes up nearly all my time) but I would wear this, on one condition — that I make it up into one of the dresses featured in the fabric. Infinite recursion, here I come!

The only thing holding me back is that I'm not sure which pattern in the fabric to use as the pattern for the dress, and because it's SIXTEEN DOLLARS and NINETY-FIVE CENTS per yard. (I don't usually pay that much for silk!) I know, I know, it's imported from Japan, but still … Click on the link to take a look at it in a larger version, at

[Also, sorry not to be responding to comments, but I'm in the UK and the time-shift plus the intensity of packing all my meetings into four short days means that I see most of your comments around midnight, when I escape the work/pub continuum … I hope to catch up this weekend! I do read and cherish every one of them, rest assured.]

Dress-Buying Behavior of Consumers

The next time I'm at the Regenstein Library I will certainly be logging in to JSTOR and checking out this paper, by John E. Jacobi and S. George Walters. (In Journal of Marketing, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Oct. 1958), pp. 168-172.)

Here's the abstract:

"The objectives of this study were to explore the nature of consumer dress-buying behavior, and to develop hypotheses for future research. Three hypotheses are described: the narrowing process; the symbol-acceptance concept; and the critical-attribute phase."

The "narrowing process" seems pretty clear — you can't look at every dress. (Well, maybe YOU can't, but I'M giving it the old college try.) And "critical-attribute phase" also seems transparent; I personally won't buy a dress with spaghetti straps, for instance. But what the heck is the "symbol-acceptance concept"? Minds inquiring nearly fifty years after the fact want to know.

And as long as I'm thinking about the hows and whys of dress-buying, take a look at this one that Ju sent me (at Anthropologie). The class assignment is to discuss why one would or would not buy this dress instead of the Tiki Boutique one.

Anthropologie dot halter dress

you know, there's another meaning of 'necklaced'

Anne Klein NY necklace dress

And that meaning is even direr than this one. In fact, I might, in a fit of inexcusable hyperbole, prefer to have a flaming tire slung around my neck than this dress-necklace combo, but that's just because dresses with unnatural and undetachable jewelry (as opposed to beading, which is natural) are one of the (many) things that set me off on a rant. To wit:

Why? I just don't get it. Is finding and putting on a necklace such a chore that one needs to be relieved of it by one's other garments? Half the time the necklace isn't necessary, anyhow, which means that you have those occasions to rest up for the times when you absolutely have to wear one. Anyway, a dress with an embedded necklace is never as nice as a dress without, quality-wise; ditto the attached necklace versus one that leads its own independent life.

I suppose that this is yet another violation of one of my basic rules, which is "be what you are." If you are a dress, be a dress; if you are a necklace, you should be a necklace. If you are a button, button. If you are a belt, you should loosen and tighten; a drawstring should draw and a tie should be able to be untied, should circumstances warrant. If you are thinking about adding something that is only for show, and which doesn't actually function, that's a good sign that you don't really need it.

Thankfully, these dreklaces are akin to other species crosses, such as zedonks and ligons, and can't breed.

"We find our clothes, our clothes find us"

We find our clothes, our clothes find us: they save us from being lost. At home in dress, we enjoy its touch, its crispness, smoothness, softness, texture, its feel on the skin it fits: these pleasures serving the larger pleasure of being at last, or hoping we are, our more glamorous and more potent self. In dressing we enter an inheritance, which may include a new self, which we feel to be a 'true' self, revealed or rather realized by the donning of these good clothes.

From Men in Black by John Harvey (U of Chicago Press, 1996).

Sigh. Another book to add to the burgeoning to-read list. But — it's a history of the color black! What a marvelous world we live in that has such things in it! Nothing makes me happier than finding and reading books like this one, or the history of the pencil, or the history of welding.

You never forget your first dress, especially when someone puts it up on the Internet

ebay item 8305987417

Okay, everybody clap for Sharon, who has made her first dress! It's a Duro, and it's really lovely, especially for a very first effort. (Someday I will put up a picture of me in the first dress I made, as soon as I can figure out a way to Photoshop out not only my unfortunate braces but also the handful of ribbons I'm holding, so as not to have to explain that I was incredibly happy about spending a week of my summer vacation taking tests in and about Latin. Oops, too late.)

She says there are "lots of little errors" but I don't see any worth pointing out (plus it's not like ready-to-wear is ever perfect) and the colors really suit her, so I say again, brava! Sharon, go forth and do it again. The next time isn't so painful, I promise.