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Where to buy fabric in Boston

This post is for Lisa. Happy Birthday!

I am frugal, poor, and not that great of a sewist, so I don’t want to spend tons of cash on fabric. But I love fabric. Sometimes I splurge, mostly I just shop sales or go to discount retailers. Here’s a list of where I go to buy fabric in the Boston area. In no particular order…

(1) Sewfisticated

Where: In the Twin City Plaza shopping complex in Somerville.

How to get there: Take the 69 bus from Harvard or Lechemere, get off around 6th Street and walk back toward Gore Street. You’ll see the Shaw’s and the skating ring. Sewfisticated is in that plaza. Alternatively, you could walk from Lechmere, bike, or drive. Lots of free parking in the shopping center lot.

What they sell: Most of the cottons here are $2.99 a yard. Some of it is low quality, some of it is surprisingly awesome. You won’t find any Alexander Henry, but you can find cute prints. I am particularly enamored of their African prints. Upholstery fabric ranges from $3.99-9.99 a yard and is pretty nice and modern. They have a bunch of great lace/trim for $0.19-$1.99/yard. Nicer fabrics (shirred things, bridal fabrics, Chinese brocades) are in stock in abundance and range from about $3.99-$9.99/yard for the most part. Don’t buy patterns here. The selection is limited and they’re expensive.

Sewfisticated has a website with occasional coupons and updates. They also have stores in Framingham and Dorchester…the Framingham store sounds pretty awesome. Full rolls of organza and satin for $1/yard?!?

If you are at Sewfisticated, you might as well go to…

(2) Sew Low

Where: East Cambridge, on Cambridge Street

How to get there: Bike, walk from Lechmere, take the 69 bus from Harvard or Lechmere, or drive. Drivers can park at meters on Cambridge St, in permit parking on the surrounding neighborhood streets (free Sundays), or you can walk from Sewfisticated.

What they sell: 10 year old remnants ($2.99/yard), lots of great affordable wool ($3.99 and up), jersey, Obama & Celtics fleece, patterns from 1985 (only $0.50!), drapery trim, furry pink pebble upholstery fabric (must see to believe), a handful of notions, and random shiny fabric that looks fun. This is not the place to get patterns or quilting cottons. As Mrs. Sabbe has shown us, have patience and you will find something interesting and nice.

This store is insane and you feel like you are going to fall through the floor at points. It is sort of overwhelming, but worth a visit for your amusement. If you need something funky or are making an Ice Capades costume or a muppet, definitely go to Sew Low. Also go there for invisible or industrial zippers, elastic, and massive amounts of interfacing.

Hilariously, there’s a review on Yelp about how Sew Low could kick Sewfisticated’s butt in a fight. Not true. In my head, the fight is some sort of ninja fight and I’m pretty sure Sew Low wouldn’t even be able to find its weapons and would trip over its own feet whereas Sewfisticated would be all organized ala Batman.

(3) Fabric Corner

Where: Fabric Corner is across from the Arlington Public Library in Arlington Center.

How to get there:  Bike, bus, or drive. Parking on Mass Ave and in the library lot is free. I usually go in the evenings and never have trouble finding parking.

What they sell: Mostly quilting cottons and modern upholstery fabric; I haven’t seen any crazy laces or anything shiny there. They carry a lot of designer fabrics (Amy Butler, Alexander Henry, Echino) and I sort of want to buy everything in the store.  Fabrics here are ~$9-11/yard, but they often have great sales (20-50% off). Not the place to go for patterns, but they do have quite a few notions (boning, thread, ribbon), and sewing accessories.

Check their website for sale info and coupons (always 10% off full priced items w/ coupon). Stephanie wrote about them here and you can check out their Yelp review too. The people here are very nice and will give you empty bolts so you can keep your stash organized.

(4) Winmill

Where: Chinatown/Downtown Crossing

How to get there: Take the subway. Green, silver, red, orange…you won’t have to walk far.

What they sell: Lots of apparel fabrics. Silks, wools, some fancy looking things. Older patterns for $1. Great notions. I haven’t been here in a while because they aren’t open at night and I am rarely downtown, but a friend of mine got some great brocade for a party dress here recently. I’m not a big fan of their cotton fabrics. Prices are reasonable and the quality is good. People say positive things on Yelp.

(5) Grey’s Fabric & Notions

Where: In the South End on Harrison St, near SoWa, Gaslight, and all of those artist’s galleries

How to get there: Take the Silver Line, bike, or drive. Parking is free in the lot behind the shop.

What they sell: Beautiful designer apparel and home decor fabric ($5-15/yard, Moda, Alexander Henry, Kaffe Fassett), great patterns, fun sewing books, and a few notions. You won’t find any Simplicity patterns here, but you will find patterns by more indie companies like Colette, Sew Liberated, and Amy Butler. This is not a discount fabric store, but they do have good quality items including some cotton lawns that are cheaper than Liberty and just as nice!

I wrote a review of the shop when it opened here. You can see pictures here and here. Occasionally they have sales, which you can find on their website or facebook page. If you’re at SoWa, you should definitely stop by.

(6) Gather Here

Where: In Mid-Cambridge near Central Square, on the corner of Lee and Broadway.

How to get there: Red line to Central Square, or any buses. There is metered parking on Broadway and in Central and Inman. More details on their site.

What they sell: Fabric and yarn. Gather Here just opened in February and I’ve only explored a little, but I know they offer classes and have a wide selection of designer fabrics. They have Liberty prints, Jay McCarroll, Echino, Anna Maria Horner, Alexander Henry and more! Really, really attractive stuff. Liberty is obviously a bit pricier than the rest, but most things I spied were in the $9.50-10.50 a yard range. They also have indie patterns (Colette, Oliver + S, etc.), invisible zippers, and other notions. Oh– and baked goods!

More info at their site.

(7) Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores

Where: There’s one in West Roxbury, but if you have time, go to the nicer one in Burlington.

How to get there: You need to drive here, but you can make an afternoon of it. Go shopping at the mall, fortify yourself with Chick-fil-A, go to Jo-Ann’s, do your grocery shopping at the new Market Basket, and head home.

What they sell: Dude, it’s Jo-Ann’s. They sell everything. Quilting cottons, apparel fabrics, upholstery fabrics, a strangely huge volume of snuggie fabric, shiny things, and all the notions and sewing accessories you could ever want.

The key to shopping at Jo-Ann’s is to have a good coupon strategy. They occasionally have coupons out in store, but never on a Saturday. Sign up for their mailing list and they will mail you coupons once or twice a month. Coupons are usually only for use on non-sale items, so don’t go when Keepsake Calicos are 30% off (as they often are) because you can’t use coupons on most of the cotton fabric. Take advantage of end-of-bolt discounts and other sales. Only buy patterns during $0.99 or $1.99 sales. Notions are usually B1G1 on holidays.

(8) Freddy Farkels

Where: Watertown, sort of off Memorial Drive

How to get there: In a car or on a bike.

What they sell: Upholstery fabric galore! They sell some really nice designer fabrics at relatively low prices ($10-$30/yard), but there is also a massive clearance section ($2-$7/yard). Read Apartment Therapy’s review here. See my pictures here.

(9) Lorraine Fabrics

Where: Rhode Island, a little north of Providence

How to get there: Drive. This place is sort of far away, so I don’t really go unless I am in RI anyway.

What they sell: Everything! They have tons of upholstery fabric for around $3.99/yard and up, some bridal fabrics, and crazy fabric you would use for a costume. There is an entire floor where everything is $2/yard. Remnants on that floor are decent quality and the cottons on that floor are low quality, but good for muslining. Lots of notions, no patterns. I wrote a more comprehensive review last year.

(10) Ikea

Where: Stoughton

How to get there: Drive.

What they sell: Mostly 59″ wide home decor and upholstery-weight fabric, but people have been known to use their fabrics for apparel as well. It really bothers me that I can never figure out when Ikea is having a sale on fabric. Sometimes you go and randomly something cute is 99 cents. On the other hand, it’s nice that you can check out their inventory online. I’ve gotten some stuff there for $0.99/yard, but mostly prices range from $3.99-$8.99/yard. Get a cinnamon roll while you are there.

Traveling on the Loneliest Road in America

The move this past weekend went smoothly, although in comparison to last summer, anything would be considered a success. To make a long story short, last year I bought a car on a Monday, took my doctoral qualifying exam Tuesday and Wednesday, moved into a storage unit Thursday, and drove from Boston to California Friday morning. Bad idea.

I’m normally a pretty organized person, but because of quals and the move, I didn’t plan for this trip at all. My friend Sara was my companion. We had 8 days, a GPS, Road Trip USA, two ipods, and a case of bottled water. That was our plan. We figured we’d get on I-90 and figure it out.

At dinner the night before we left, our friend Tom suggested that we check out the “Loneliest Road in America,” Route 50 through Nevada. I can’t remember at all why he thought this was a good idea, except that he mentioned that we could spell out our names in lava-like rocks on the side of the road. Somewhere around Colorado we decided to go for it.

Let me tell you something about the Loneliest Road in America: there is nothing there. This is no Rt. 66. Save for a tree full of shoes, some petroglyphs, ghost towns, and a giant sand dune, be prepared to drive through a few hundred of miles of (beautiful) nothingness. The roads leading up to the Loneliest Road, from Holden, UT to Ely, NV (via Delta and Hogum) are equally lonely. There are a bunch of signs that say “Do not pick up hitchhikers because there is a prison nearby.” This is good advice.

On the positive side, you’ll spend some time driving through some beautiful rolling hills between Eureka and Ely and gazing at the mountains in the distance. You’ll have great conversations with your friends and discover a few new favorite songs. (At the time, we were very fond of John Mayer’s Stop This Train and Martin Sexton’s Diner.) Word is that if you go to Sand Mountain when all is quiet, you can hear the dunes sing. Doing this drive makes you really appreciate small towns and how expansive the U.S. truly is.

The Loneliest Road starts in Ely, NV. Our day’s goal was to drive from Moab to Eureka, the biggest town with services (gas, lodging, food) going east to west. Somewhere in Utah, I realized that I was due for an oil change. Given that we knew we were about to drive for a few hundred miles of empty road, we decided to stop in Salina(the biggest town around about 150 miles west of Moab) to get the car checked out. We strolled down to Mom’s Cafe and were enjoying some pie when we got a phone call from the service station informing us that we had a nail in our time and oh, did we want that patched? Yes, please.

To make matters worse, the gas gauge broke at the continental divide. I found it suspicious that my Civic, while pretty efficient, was getting 600 miles to the tank. So we sort of just estimated we were really getting 400 miles to the tank and pledged to get gas every 300 miles or so.

With an unknown quantity of gas, three good tires, and a patch that we hoped would hold up, we made our way toward Eureka (population 1000). We didn’t book a hotel room in advance, but since we hadn’t passed a single car on the road and Eureka has three hotels, we kept joking about getting the last room in town…

Naturally, we got the last room in town.

In our defense, we would have normally been fine had we not arrived on the 3rd of July. Lots of people were in town for the “big” parade (0.2 miles long) and a family reunion. I do recommend that you book a hotel in advance because otherwise you will be forced to drive 70 miles west to Austin (population: 300) or backtrack 80 miles east to Ely. All three hotels in Eureka are owned by Best Western, and we stayed in the historic and cute Jackson House.

We ate breakfast and dinner at the Owl Club, which is apparently the better of the two restaurants in town. I’m not sure if it was the wine or the rotating stuffed owl above the drink machine, but we enjoyed ourselves immensely. We met some local gentlemen who based on the fact that we were headed from Boston to San Francisco and the pattern of my rainbow-striped purse (a Fake Spade), inquired as to whether we were members of the “rainbow coalition.”

Go visit Eureka. You will learn new colloquialisms.

We were having a good time at the 4th of July parade the next morning, but once we heard some lady quip that she “hoped someone would throw Obama down a mineshaft,” I decided it was time to bounce. The gas station attendant was pretty nice, though. She said that she hated Hillary (blasphemy) and didn’t know much about Obama, but she would happily vote for Condoleeza Rice or Colin Powell. Suspicious.

70 miles past Eureka is Austin, which is your last chance to get gas and food for a while. Most of the attractions start here. As promised, we did get to spell out our names in the salt flats on the side of the road!

A little warning for you. The ground there looks like dry desert earth. Underneath that thin layer of cracked earth lies an unexpected layer of thick brown clay. You will fall. You will ruin your favorite shoes. Your friend will take a picture of you lying in the mud, then she will ask if you are okay.

Shoeless, we drove another 110 miles to a small oasis at the western end of the Loneliest Road in Fallon where we rewarded ourselves for surviving with all 4 tires intact and no prisoners. (Most importantly, there are free restrooms here.)

Okay, I think I undersold The Loneliest Road earlier. It was cool. We had a fantastic time in Eureka. There are beautiful mountains and singing dunes! If you have to drive through Nevada, this is definitely the way to go. The smaller roads take a few extra hours, but undoubtedly have far more character than the interstates. Good luck!

Learn to sew in Boston

Whenever someone finds out that I sewed something, they always say, “I wish I knew how to sew.” Well guess what? There are classes. They’re affordable. You don’t have to own a machine. Just do it! Here are some local resources for you:

(1) Sewing and Vacuum Center

I’ve walked by this place a million times over the past 6 years, but I’ve never been inside. I stopped by the other day to buy some sewing machine oil and learned that in addition to selling and repairing machines, they offer really affordable classes. Beginner classes meet for two hours on Tuesday nights for 6 weeks. Advanced classes meet Wednesday nights. At $85 per 6-week session, this is an awesome deal.

(2) Grey’s Fabrics and Notions

Learn to sew anything from a pillow to a dress in Boston’s South End. Classes take place Thursday evenings from 6 to 9 pm (and Saturdays now!) and range from $20-$50. Private lessons are $16 an hour. This is great in case you’re not so sure about sewing and want to test out the waters without committing to a long class. As a bonus, you can buy your fabric, notions, and patterns in-store for your lesson. And Grey’s has great fabric!

(3) Stitch House Dorchester

Stitch House Dorchester has a host of long and short courses that range from $15-$75.  Full course descriptions are available online.

(4) Boston Center for Adult Education

BCAE offers several beginner and intermediate courses on sewing. Their classes are a little pricier (~$100), but they’re also longer, so the price washes out. You can learn everything from sewing for babies to home decor sewing to adjusting patterns to fit your body better.

(5) Franklin Mill Store

Franklin Mill Store is a little far away from the city, but not everyone lives in town, so I wanted to add this to the list. 3-4 week lessons that cover topics ranging from beginner to advanced techniques run from $75-100. You can also purchase any fabric, patterns, and notions you need for your classes or future projects in-store.

(6) Hipstitch

Located in Newton, Hipstitch has classes for all age groups. I’ve yet to visit, but the classes seem to be geared toward kids, which makes sense given the location. Two great features of the store include open studio hours (pre-registration required) and a fashion show where you can show off your creations. And if you are truly nervous about embarking on a sewing adventure, you can take a free trial lesson. The store also sells fabric and notions.

(7) Gather Here

Gather Here has both sewing and knitting classes for all age groups. Classes are $25 and up and cover everything from pillowcases and alterations ($25) to making full garments (closer to $100 for 2 classes). Virginia displays a lot of great project pieces around the store to help inspire you. Gather Here also sells really great fabric and notions.

Is there anything else that I missed?

I would love to hear about people’s experiences with any of these classes. I’ve heard good things about the BCAE classes and have personal experience with Grey’s, but I’ve never taken classes anywhere else.

Also, if  it’s an option for you, I highly recommend bringing your own machine if you have one. I always get flustered when I use a machine I’m not used to and it takes extra time for me to get in the swing of things.

What to do with old t-shirts

I was in a sorority in college, so I have tons and tons and tons of t-shirts.  I’ve been saving all of these shirts for five years so that I could make a t-shirt quilt.

But let’s be honest, I’m not making a t-shirt quilt.

(1) I don’t know how to quilt. (2) Even if I learned how to make one, I am so anal retentive that I couldn’t handle any square being cut unevenly and it would drive me nuts. (3) I don’t think I would use a t-shirt quilt. To be honest, I don’t like the way it looks, so wouldn’t really display it and my snuggie is oh so much softer than a jersey quilt (and has sleeves!).

Now I have all these t-shirts under my bed and am determined never to move with them again. So what to do? Here are my options:

  • The t-shirt shopping bag/tote. This is incredibly easy. Would it be worth it to line this with a sturdier fabric so I could use it for heavy groceries? This one has a cute strap/closure. I might do this this weekend, and will keep you updated.
  • A t-shirt headband. I wouldn’t use this for the shirt with the best design, but this would be great for the gym. For those of you that like to look cute at the gym. Also, if you put this around your neck it could be a necklace like this one.
  • T-shirt scarf. With ruffles or without.
  • T-shirt skirt. Super cute when you work in other contrasting fabric.
  • T-shirt pillow.
  • Line the jersey with corduroy or velvet and make a case for your sunglasses. You can close it with elastic, snaps, or sew a buttonhole on one side before you sew it shut.
  • Christmas ornaments! I might send some of these to my sorority friends, or you could keep them for yourself.
  • Use it to make a purse, tote, or makeup bag.
  • Reupholster a seat cushion.
  • A laptop case! With the cutest pockets ever. You could sew in a zipper to close it too. Also, you could cut up a shirt to use as a laptop screen protector.
  • Swimsuit cover up. Would this get too wet?
  • A dress! This sounds awesome, actually. And comfortable. This kid’s dress is cool as heck too.
  • I sort of like the idea that my kid could wear a skirt made out of my old sorority shirts. But just the bid day ones, not the crush party or reggae weekend ones. That would be totally inappropriate for a 5 year old.
  • T-shirt weaving. For pillows or placemats or art. Make a loom with some screws, string, and an old wooden picture frame or the Ikea Tyglosa frame.

Happy crafting! I seriously need to get back to the sewing machine this weekend, so might try a few of these.