Friday, March 16, 2012

New York's Garment District: Sticking to My List

Today I took a mental health day and went to New York City to shop for fabric and trims. I was headed to Mood, the fabric store featured on the TV show Project Runway, plus a couple of other shops nearby that sell trims and ribbons. These stores and many more sources of fabric, buttons, ribbons, and beads are in New York's famous Midtown Garment District concentrated on 37th and 38th Streets between 6th and 7th. The actual Garment District is bigger than that; Parsons School of Design and scores of sample shops that sell to retail stores are here, too. Delicious, fashion-forward window shopping.

The huge M&J Trimming on 6th Avenue
I focused on selecting some supplies for a crazy quilt--you know, those heavily embroidered Victorian silk and velvet quilts. The Tinsel Trading Company on 37th Street is full of ribbon, tassels, buttons, beads, fringe, beaded fringe, beaded appliques and generally cool stuff. Tinsel Trading has an interesting history specializing in metallic trims and threads. I scored a bag full of various metallic trim remnants.  My other stop today was Hyman Hendler and Sons, a 38th Street shop full of exquisite imported ribbons. I kept to my list here as the ribbons are quite expensive.

 I've been sewing since the Nixon administration, and I made most of my own clothes from difficult Vogue patterns when I started working full-time during the Reagan administration. During Bush II and Obama I have sewn sporadically, but I have always found the activity of attaching fabric parts with tiny machine or hand stitches an effective way to relax. One thing I've learned in all my years of sewing is that I must have a shopping list when I enter a fabric store or else I tend to lose control a little. My list for Mood, my main destination, was carefully composed the night before. Plan A was to find some heavyweight red silk for a skirt, but I had Plans B, C, D, and E ready.

Fabric at Mood is stored on
 cardboard rolls.
Each roll has a tag like this
 stuffed in the end showing price
and fabric content.
Finding Mood was an adventure. I had the address, 225 West 37th Street, but there was no sign. You have to know where the store is, and you have to know to enter what looks like an office building lobby. Then, you have to know to venture up the stairs with the fire extinguishers at the base, and climb up to the third floor. Thousands of fabric rolls wait inside, grouped by fabric content and fabric type. I was after silks, remember, but so were a lot of other shoppers. I took this opportunity to explore the rest of the store, three floors of high-end designer fabrics, buttons, trims, and the famous Swatch the Dog. I enjoyed pretending to consider $50-per-yard designer silks and brocades, and ultimately found a nice piece of red silk/wool blend for a skirt. The salespeople were friendly and helpful, and as I waited in line, Swatch the dog, frequently seen on Project Runway, came right over to me to make friends.


After about four hours in the Garment District, I had gathered enough supplies, ideas, and inspiration to keep me going for awhile, and I window-shopped my way back to an express train boarding on Track 7. It was a good day of city-walking, train-reading, and fabric-shopping. I needed that!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Jeeps, Leipzig and Aesthetics: Remembering My Mentor Dr. Carrow

A few years ago, at an intensive workshop that had to do with teaching and libraries and stuff, we participants were asked to write a few sentences on our favorite teacher of all time. I was so moved by this experience that I expanded the tiny essay into a larger one for a contest. I tied for first place! I use this ice breaker exercise in my own workshops, (a new one starts on Monday), and I thought you might like to read my expanded essay about Dr. Carrow:

I sat at a table with seven other mid-career college librarians. Our exercise was to write a short essay about our favorite teacher ever and then share with the group. Ultimately we were to discover what made these teachers successful and incorporate those techniques into our own teaching.

Dr. Carrow in the 1980s
I wrote about Dr. Stimson Carrow, a Music Theory professor with whom I studied as an undergraduate and graduate student at Temple University. He was everyone’s favorite, really, after they got over the shock of having to come to class prepared. He was tough on us undergraduates, drilling us on scales, chords and key signatures (the language of Music Theory) until as he said, we’d be able to recite all of the key signatures “in the middle of the night at the point of a gun.” He addressed us by Mr., Miss or Mrs. And our last name. No other professors did that. He took the time to learn all of our names and the correct pronunciation.

In graduate school he relaxed a bit and frequently took us on wild tangents that put his passion for music in context and helped us understand Dr. Carrow as a real person. He told us about the time he “borrowed” an army Jeep in Germany so he could go visit J.S. Bach’s grave in Leipzig. When I visited Leipzig on a recent tour of Germany, Dr. Carrow was as much on my mind as J.S. Bach. He also told us about the time he was locked up (I don’t remember why) and taught the other prisoners in his cell Music Theory. No one doubted that story. Dr. Carrow also taught the eye-opening Aesthetics course which somehow helped us appreciate music, art, literature and history and tied them all together. That course changed the way I think about arts and culture, so important in my life.

As I read my essay years later at the librarians’ conference, I began to weep. My neighbor had to finish reading for me. The other people at the table were touched and shed tears, too. How odd. No one was more surprised by this than me. It was at this moment that I realized all the things I do when teaching that are unconsciously modeled on Dr. Carrow. My stories aren’t as interesting as Dr. Carrow’s, but I try to put the students at ease: everyone is new to the library at some time or another. I’ve learned to respect each and every student because I’ll never know their whole story or what makes them tick. And whenever I’m speaking, whether it’s to students, faculty, conference participants or whoever, I strive to make my content interesting and relevant. I imagine them asking, “What’s in it for me?’ and then I tell them. It works: I’m even invited to speak about library topics now.

Dr. Carrow has been gone for some time now, so I’ll never be able to tell him how much his Music Theory and Aesthetics classes made me a better librarian. If I had thought to ask, “What’s in it for me?” back in Dr. Carrow’s classes, the answer would have gone something like this: a thorough knowledge of Music Theory, a new appreciation for all of the arts, and an ability to put listeners at ease and even make them laugh. Dr. Carrow was a man of faith and dreamed of sitting beside J.S. Bach on the organ bench in heaven to turn his music pages. Maybe I’ll catch up with him there, although I’m not sure J.S. Bach needs printed music!

From my Temple University Alumni Magazine: Dr. Carrow in 1962