Looking Back On My Second Year of Art-Making

Another year sneaked by, busy, eventful, and quick. “The days are slow yet the years fly by,” a book I once read noted. How very true.

My first year of art-making was consumed by a sewing-frenzy and the excitement that came with tapping into my long-hibernating reserves of creativity. The second year was characterized by more experimentation, and was filled with lots and lots of learning.

My family, which two years ago found it difficult to adjust to my new passion, has since accepted my work as a part of life. My kids already forgot what it was like to look out onto a neat garden, get their laundry back in a timely manner, or dine daily on home-made dinners. They now help more, eat less, and wear mismatched outfits. They are also experts in unloading and loading boxes, pretending to be interested in ANY Texture news, and setting up fair booths.

Over the last year I completed the conquest of our guest room. I now deter those who try to venture in not only with threats, but also with ginormous piles of various treasures. Some claim I’m a hoarder. I say every pile has a purpose, and every little rescued item will be useful some day…

And useful indeed have these items been!

Learning the technical skills of bag making excited me the first year. By the second year, I was already proficient in that. This gave me the freedom to be more creative with my designs. I played with new combinations and experimented with additional types of bags.

True to my decision to pursue a zero-waste policy in my sewing room, I started to think of useful and beautiful things to make from my smaller scraps (I told you all those piles come handy!). I began making eyeglass cases, textile hearts, fabric greeting cards, bookmarks, and much more. Discovering the beauty of textile jewelry, I have been greatly enjoying making necklaces and bracelets as well.

I wanted to create more art quilts this year, but ended up making only one (though I did start another…). My Dare! quilt took a while to create, and called for researching the looks of moths and butterflies, and experimenting with sewing textile butterflies. Looking back, I am quite happy with how my three art quilts turned out, including the two I made at the end of last year:

This year I also familiarized myself with the other aspects of being an artist: selling online, venturing into social media, participating in fairs and joining professional associations.

Last year I opened an Etsy shop, but didn’t quite know what to do with it. I uploaded a few items and let them sit. This year, I spent more time reading and learning about what it actually takes to run such a shop. I began implementing some improvements, but realize I have a lot more work to do going forward.

I stated this blog on Blogger, but wasn’t quite happy with how it looked. So in March I opened my own WordPress website, and moved the blog over. I like the new look, and am also happy with my newly-opened independent e-commerce shop ūüôā

When I opened a¬†Facebook¬†account last year, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I found it quite overwhelming at first. I’ve learned a lot since then, and grew to enjoy the platform’s discussions. My Facebook Page now features my own work and news from my studio, as well as interesting and inspiring works by other artists. I also use it to highlight the importance of up-cycling and reducing waste. The best part of being on Facebook, though, has been my discovery of fun groups of like-minded people. I met a lot of interesting artists online, as well as people passionate about sewing, bag-making and recycling. People’s creativity amazes me on a daily basis, and their passion inspires me greatly.

This year I discovered Pinterest, and have spent a lot more time than I should have surfing its great trove of treasures (hence the completion of only one quilt!). Check it out at your own risk! Finally, a couple of weeks ago, at the urge of my teenagers, I also joined Instagram, and am still trying to figure it out.

During my first year of making bags, I participated in two small crafts fairs. Since then I also tried a big street fair, a church holiday fair, and a handful of small school fairs. I learned a lot, but realize that I have yet more to learn. Some of it simply by doing, by trial and error.

Earlier this year I was honored to be accepted to the Textile and Fiber Art List, and become acquainted with some of the beautiful work created by other TAFA members. Check it out for some textile art inspiration!

Finally, a couple of days ago I received an exciting end-of-the-year gift: one of my sling bags was featured in the December issue of the British No Serial Number magazine (check p. 74). It felt great to see my work in print!

I am looking forward to 2018, and another year of creating, experimenting and learning. I am already drowning in ideas for new textile products, new quilts, and new designs.

Wishing you all Happy Holidays and a great new year!

 

The Place That Makes FabMo Possible: A Salvaging Trip to SF’s Design Center

Every Monday morning Hannah Cranch drives from Mountain View to San Francisco, a forty-mile drive. Hers isn’t¬†a leisure drive. It is more of¬†a weekly hunt, a quest, a mission. Hannah, you see, is one of the founders of FabMo, an amazing Mountain View non-profit organization. Her weekly drives are¬†what make FabMo possible.¬†Hannah has been making this routine track¬†for well over a decade.

FabMo, short for “Fabric and More,” is a California Bay Area¬†non-profit organization that rescues discarded fabrics and other materials, and makes them available to teachers, artists and other creative souls. Each year FabMo helps divert over seventy tons of such materials out of the landfill. The source of FabMo’s riches, and Hannah’s weekly destination, is San Francisco’s Design Center on Henry Adams St. There, Hannah collects beautiful materials that the different show rooms no longer need, and brings them to FabMo’s headquarters in Mountain View.

Hannah is a smallish, delicate-looking woman, yet she drives a big, monster pickup truck. Jonathan, Hannah’s husband and FabMo’s co-founder, bought the truck especially for this purpose, over Hannah’s protests. She now admits that it has been very useful in more ways than one.

Hannah's monster pickup truck

Early last spring I had the honor of accompanying Hannha on one of her Monday-morning hunts. I went to help, but also to see first hand where the fabrics I use come from. Once at the Design Center, I witnessed how one woman can–literally–move a mountain. Following the trip, my admiration for Hannah, her husband Jonathan, and¬†what they do grew many fold.

The Design Center, for those of you who don’t know about it (I certainly didn’t!) is a Mecca for fabric lovers. Or it should be! It is composed of two separate buildings, both several stories high, built as squares around central courtyards. The buildings are oldish, and look very industrial and somewhat unappealing. Yet, they are full of every imaginable kind of gorgeous furniture/tile/home decor stores, carrying beautiful designer good that are hard to find anywhere else. Most of these showrooms are¬†open to the public, but sell only to designers (apparently there are resident designers available for hire if you want to buy something and don’t have a designer of your own).

Hannah comes to the Center well prepared, with meticulous lists of showrooms to stop at. She takes a bagful of large, black garbage bags from her truck. As she enters each building, she first picks up a ginormous trolley from the bottom-most floor. She then starts making her rounds, following the list, going around one floor and then up to the other.

This is what one of the showrooms looks like. And this is Hannah, showing me some of the beautiful textiles on display. Sadly, FabMo rarely gets these large fabric pieces, but looking through them was a real treat!

This, for example, is but one beautiful piece. The birds are embroidered, and I was salivating all over them (and over the other fabrics, too!).

Here¬†is another showroom. The small pieces on the right, rather than the large swatches on the left, are more likely to end up in Hannah’s bags.

A showroom in the Design Center

When Hannah walks into a showroom, she knows all the salespeople by name, and has something nice to say to each. In some of the showrooms people hand Hannah whatever fabrics/other materials they no longer need. Sometimes they have nothing, or just a miser piece or two. Sometimes they have more. In some showrooms, Hannah makes her way to the back rooms, through hidden doors that normal visitors won’t even notice. There, in the behind-the-scene storage rooms, she often has a special bin dedicated just for her, where people deposit discarded items all week long.

Hannah puts all the fabrics, rugs, and wall-paper samples she collects, both big and small, into a garbage bag. Whenever a bag gets heavy, she ties it up, loads it onto the cart, and starts filling another.

After a while, the bags start piling up, forming a mountain of fabric-full garbage bags. Pushing the trolley becomes ever more difficult!

Things get even worse in the second building, where Hannah picks up tile samples. Now, those get incredibly heavy!

By the time Hannah is done, a  trolley or two are full. She then loads all her collected treasures into the truck. This, too, is no small feat. It requires much planning and elaborate packing skills, which Hannah seems to have mastered over the years!

The collection takes the entire day, and is hard physical, back-breaking work. I was utterly exhausted by the time we were done, but Hannah soldiered on without complaints, working with good humor, full dedication, and a genuine love for what she does.

Hannah drives the truck back to Mountain View, where she unloads everything into FabMo’s facility. This is where the FabMo chapter of the fabrics’ story begins. It’s not where it ends, however. More¬†work needs to be done before these treasures can¬†go on to their next adventure.

For Inspiration Visit a Quilt Museum!

Every now and then I enjoy taking a break from my own work to look at art created by other people. Seeing what other textile artists make is inspiring, and often has the effect of getting my own creative juices flowing. I like looking at pictures of art on the web, but nothing beats seeing real, physical pieces up close. This week I felt like I needed to spark my motivation, and so went to visit the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles.

The museum currently holds a 40th anniversary exhibition, and displays a selection of quilts from its permanent collection. These include both old quilts and contemporary ones, though at first glimpse it’s sometimes hard to tell which is which.

Take this Cigar Wrapper Quilt by Anna Marie Horn Hanekamp, for example:

It’s composition, a combination of log cabin and square-in-a-square blocks, is traditional. But it’s bright colors and dark, brand-name prints have a contemporary air to them.

The quilt, it turned out, was made in 1900, from silk cigar wraps. The cigars were smoked by men, but the silk casings were collected and traded among women. A¬† woman also sewed and hand-quilted the entire piece. This quilt thus embodies the traditional social roles of men and women. Men smoked for recreation. Women sewed. The quilt reminded me of the origins of the art: quilting, after all, was born out of frugality, necessity, poverty. All these values remain relevant, except, perhaps, for the poverty aspect. Today, we have different names for the same ideas. We call them up-cycling, eco-friendliness, sustainability. Many of us, myself included, choose to pursue them out of principal, guided by concern for the health of our planet. We choose to use rescued fabrics because we believe this is the right thing to do, not because we can’t afford new textiles.

Another piece that caught my eye was Firestorm by Mary Mashuta. Mashuta finished this quilt in 1992 to commemorate the East Bay Fire of 1991. It hit a raw nerve in me because just a few weeks ago my entire city was engulfed, for days, by the smell of smoke coming from the devastating Marin County fires, which destroyed over 1,500 homes some 150 miles away.

Here are a few closeups. I love how the composition itself mimics the movement of fire:

Sue Banner’s quilt Sink or Swim #21 & #22 appealed to me because of it’s colors. Bright magentas and shades of turquoise happen to be some of my favorites:

I thought the closeups could be independent-standing compositions all on their own:

I liked what Banner did with the different colors, but also how she played with different patterns and different stitches. Even the threads she left hanging add to the visual interest.

Tim Harding’s quilt, Koi Diptych from 1997 interested me less for it’s overall composition and more for the effect of its raw edges up close:

Here are a few closeups that show the strength of those raw edges. Looking at this made me want to experiment with similar techniques in the future:

Finally, I want to mention one last piece. I found Susan Else’s textile stature Family Life¬†(2014) to be a very powerful piece:

Else made this sculpture from cotton sewn over plastic skeletons. It depicts parents and a young child posed in a loving family moment. There is something very touching in the way the parents and the child embrace each other, and in their jaws that appear to be smiling. The colors, too, are warm and happy. Yet, there is something very disturbing in the fact that these are skeletons. A dead family.

The skeletons are covered in text, describing aspects of family life, childhood, as well as a historical discussion of child mortality.

A part of a series, this subculture reminds us of the joys of family life, and it’s uncertainties. In a way, it is every parent’s deepest fears incarnate. As a parent, it’s impossible to look and this piece and remain indifferent.

There were other interesting quilts in the exhibition, so if you’re in the Bay Area, I encourage you to go check the museum out yourself.

A Tablecloth With a Bit of Mystery

My great grandmother Gele was a distinguished member of the Jewish community in Jerusalem at the turn of the twentieth century.

As such, she was involved with several charitable organizations. One of those was The Jewish Institute for the Blind. My great grandmother¬† was a member of the Institute’s board, as well as one of its big donors.

The Institute was established in 1902 inside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Its mission was to provide education and vocational training to blind members of the community, mostly children, to prepare them for an independent life. Later, after Jews started building neighborhoods outside the walls, the Institute moved to the new part of the city. In 1931 it settled into a spacious new building in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood.

The Institute trained the blind in many different kinds of crafts. Here, for example, is its basket-weaving workshop:

Every year, before the Jewish New Year, the directors of the Institute used to send handmade gifts made by the residing blind to members of the board and to its big donors. The gifts were different each year, and came with a request to renew the financial support.

One year, at the end of the 1930’s, my great grandmother received this handmade tablecloth:

She gave it to my grandmother, who used it on special occasions for many years.  Later, my grandmother gave it to her sister, who kept using it. Before she passed away, my great aunt decided to give the tablecloth to my father. She knew my dad was sentimentally attached to it, associating it with hosting guests and important gatherings throughout his childhood.

By the time my father received it, the tablecloth was already old and fragile. My parents never dared to use it, but they still keep it folded in one of their closets.

To my parents, the tablecloth is somewhat of a mystery. They know where it came from, but not who made it. Most of all, however, they would like to know how it was made. Parts of it look to be crochet , but other parts are nothing like any crochet we’ve ever encountered.

If you’ve ever seen anything like this and know the technique that was used to make this, we’d love to hear from you!

 

 

Making Textile Butterflies: Experiments, Challenges and Tutorials

I recently needed to sew a butterfly for Dare!, my Lepidoptera¬†(moths and butterfly) quilt. I’ve never made one before, and wanted to create the best one I could. It had to be pretty, three dimensional but not free-standing, and about hand-sized.

In the past, while browsing Pinterest and such (i.e.–in the many hours I’ve procrastinated in front of a computer), I’ve encountered some beautiful textile butterflies on the web. I’ve long admired the work of people like Yumi Okita,¬†for example, or Mr. Finch, both of whom make large, three-dimensional moths and butterflies. When I browsed for inspiration for my quilt, I discovered some other fabulous textile-butterfly artists, such as Laura Jacquemond¬†of Blue Terracotta, and Abigail Brown (whose fabric butterflies you can see on Pinterest, or in this blog post). Both of the latter artists make smaller, two-dimensional textile Lepidoptera, mostly for brooches.

I needed something in-between. Not quite a soft sculpture, but not a flat, two-dimensional piece, either. I needed a butterfly with presence. So I started experimenting.

For my first try, I used upholstery fabrics, since these are the fabrics I like using for most of my work, and these are also the fabrics that the rest of the quilt is made of. I also added some cottons, embroidery thread and beads. The result was rather crude:

This was too two-dimensional, and not what I was looking for. So I tried again, this second time attempting to give the wings some volume:

For this experiment ¬†I used upholstery and silk. I didn’t even try decorating this one, however. It clearly wasn’t what I had in mind. Besides, both these first attempts were small studies, much smaller than what I actually needed.

So I browsed the internet for tutorials and ideas. Turns out that there are numerous ways to make textile butterflies, and many generous people who were willing to share their techniques with the public.

There are tutorials for fabric butterflies that don’t require any sewing, like this one:¬†http://wonderfuldiy.com/wonderful-diy-beautiful-fabric-butterfly/

Some were rather simple, and might be a good place to start if you’re a beginner:

Here, for example, are two tutorials for fabric origami butterflies:

http://www.molliemakes.com/craft-2/make-fabric-origami-butterfly/

http://www.fabartdiy.com/diy-fabric-origami-butterfly/

And two tutorials for simple fabric ones:

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/306878162083360262/

http://www.cucicucicoo.com/2016/04/diy-scrap-fabric-butterfly/

But none of these were helpful for my needs.

In the meantime, I also browsed the internet for pictures of real butterflies, because I wanted to find one I liked, and also wanted to see what their veins actually looked like. I settled on one, and printed it out in the actual size I needed:

Then I made a template for myself by copying the real butterfly wings on a thin, hard, clear plastic sheet (that used to be the cover of one of my daughters’ no-longer-needed notebooks). I cut one top and one bottom wing from the plastic:

Then, I kept browsing the web for more sewing ideas.

I found a few more complicated tutorials:

Like this one by Blue Terracotta: https://blueterracotta.com/blogs/news/fabric-butterfly-brooch-in-5-easy-steps

Or this one, which is rather similar, except it uses separate wings and a stuffed body: https://www.livemaster.ru/topic/438689-tekstilnaya-brosh-motylek

Both require top-stitching the wings, with a zigzag stitch.

I loosely followed a combination of both, using my own template, and mimicking the veins on my real-butterfly picture. I abandoned upholstery fabrics because they were too stiff, and went for finer textiles, such as linen and silk, instead. In between the front and back I used quilting batting, to give the wings some body. For my experiments, I picked fabrics that I didn’t actually like too much. I didn’t want to “waste” fabrics that I cared for.

The tutorials call for cutting the wings out before top stitching them. By trial and error, however, I found that for me, it worked better to stitch before cutting:

Once the wings were stitched, I carefully cut around the stitch, trying to stay as close as I could to the zigzag, without cutting into it. Once the piece is cut, you can do another round of zigzag all around, to get a more solid edge.

For the antenna, ¬†by the way, I used a wire saved from my daughter’s said notebook (did I tell you I sometimes love saving things that might, one day, be useful? Dad, this comes directly from you :-)):

This is what I got:

And the underside:

A lot better! Much closer to what I was looking for. However, it was too droopy. The wings didn’t hold:

Still not exactly what I needed. But a good way to make smaller pieces that can remain flat (for a brooch, for example).

I kept looking. I found this tutorial, which requires sewing, turning inside out and stuffing:

https://pinthemall.net/pin/55cfad3d6f105/

Again, I used my own template. The turning inside-out part turned out to be difficult. The long, narrow areas of the lower wings of my template were too narrow to turn inside out, and got stuck mid-way, no matter how hard I tried to push/pull on them. I got this:

I actually liked it. A lot. Even though the shape didn’t quite look like the butterfly I printed. It also held its wings a lot better, since the inside seam helped with the stability:

However, since I cut holes for turning inside-out in the middle of the wings, like in the tutorial, the underside looked scarred:

This method would look better if you use valor, like the tutorial does. The valor would hide the stitches.

So, for my next experiment I decided to combine both methods. For the upper wings, which I needed nice and stiff, I used the second, turning inside-out method, except that I left the opening for turning on the side of the wings instead of cutting a hole in the middle. I simply stitched the opening close by hand. For the lower wings, which I wanted long and trailing, I used the first, top-stitch zigzag method:

That fifth experiment turned out perfect, with stiff upper wings and trailing, if droopy, lower wings:

I was ready to make the real butterfly, the one I was going to put on my quilt. I was actually quite nervous when I sewed and cut it, but it turned out exactly the way I envisioned it. Here it is, perfectly lined up on top of the real-butterfly print I was working with:

And here it is finished, ready to go on the quilt:

Finished textile butterfly

I later framed a couple of my practice butterflies, and like how they turned out:

Making textile butterflies was so much fun, that I continued to play with smaller, brighter ones. I decided to make them into barrettes, but they could also be used as brooches, or put onto stakes in the garden. I’m sure you can think of other uses as well:

If you want to make your own textile butterfly, you can start by trying one of the tutorials I collected here. There are many others as well. This one, for example, looks complicated (as it requires a soldering iron), but seems to produce stunning results: http://eiloren.blogspot.com/2012/09/organza-butterfly-using-soldering-iron.html

There are many tutorials on YouTube, as well.

Textile butterflies can take a long time to make (my final one for the quilt took an entire work-day!). They require patience, attention to detail, careful workmanship and some hand-sewing. They are really fun to make though!

News from My Sewing Room: Getting Ready for Holiday Fair Season

I noticed that since I shared my Dare! quilt several weeks ago, I haven’t written anything about my work. Truth be told, I haven’t been as productive as I would have liked. The Market and Renaissance Totes I cut out in the spring are still patiently waiting to be sewn. We had a rough summer, and somehow I found getting back into routine a little harder than usual. In addition, I’ve been suffering from bouts of back pain that really pulled me down for several weeks. When I did get myself into the sewing room, I had so many ideas all at once, that I often didn’t know where to start. I spent a lot of time staring at fabrics. When I finally began one thing, I often left it unfinished, and then, the next day, started something new. As you might imagine, it didn’t take long for my sewing room to get messy again, with piles of unfinished projects all over…

Somehow time flew by, and, sooner than I expected, Holiday Fair Season is upon us. My first fair for the season is only a little over a week away. So in the past couple of weeks I forced myself to sit down and finish some of those unfinished projects. Here is a peek at some of the the things I managed to complete:

Butterflies

If you read the post about my above-mentioned moths quilt, you might remember that it took a few tries to perfect the butterfly. Those practice butterflies weren’t exactly what I needed for the actual quilt, but they turned out quite nice nonetheless. I wanted to use then for something, and eventually decided to frame them. Here is one:

After the Dare! quilt was finished, I remained a little obsessed with butterflies. I found them fun to make, and wanted to try some in happy colors. And so, I sewed a few more in blues and purples, and added some colorful wooden beads to brighten them up. I had a little pile of them sitting around, and couldn’t quite decide what to do with them. This week I bought a few barrette pins, and glued them to their back. The result:¬†bright and cheery textile hair pins!

Necklaces

Last year I made a textile necklace for myself. So many people asked me about it, that I decided to make a few more. I made three a few months ago, but over the last few weeks played with several more. I’ve been experimenting with different combinations of fabrics and beads, and created several statement pieces.

So far, I’ve been working on two kinds of necklaces. Here are some of my tassel ones:

And here is an example of a pedant necklace, which is a miniature collages/quilt:

Handbags

The butterflies and necklaces got me into fabric-and-bead-combining mode. I thought it’ll be fun to try doing this with purses as well. So over the last few weeks I’ve been playing with fabric collages that incorporate some beads as well. These resulted in several asymmetrical, funky small cross body bags, that I like very much:

Fall Inspired

Finally, the cooling days and the turning trees inspired me to make some textile fall leaves. I made these of a combination of smooth silk and rough upholstery textiles, with a few glass beads for an extra pop. I think they, too, will end up as statement barrettes:

If you’re in the Bay Area, come see everything in person at the FabMo Textile Art Boutique on October 29!

The Amazing Story of FabMo: How Two Dedicated People Can Make a Big Difference

Exactly two years ago I came home with a small stash of beautiful upholstery fabric samples. Little did I know how quickly and profoundly these textiles would change my life! Today I want to tell the amazing story of FabMo, the non-profit organization where I acquired those samples, and the inspiring story of it’s two co-founders, Hannah and Jonathan Cranch.

Hannah and Jonathan Cranch

How It All Started

A couple of decades ago Hannah and Jonathan Cranch were ordinary people going about their own business. Hannah taught art in Palo Alto primary schools, while Jonathan was a general contractor. They occasionally enjoyed attending seasonal open houses at the Design Center in San Francisco, seeing what was new in the design world. They both enjoyed the refreshments, browsing the beautiful displays and chatting with the salespeople

One day, during one such visit, they saw a man toss a big trash bag into the dumpster. The bag tore open, spilling out a bunch of gorgeous fabrics. It turned out that in preparation for the open houses, the showrooms had to make room for newly released fabrics, which meant getting rid of all the discontinued textiles. These exquisite, expensive designer fabrics, which were displayed but never used, were thus headed for the landfill.

Hannah, as an art teacher, knew her fellow teachers would salivate over such a treasure, so she began the quest to save these resources. She visited showrooms and spoke with key people, asking for some fabrics, and they gradually agreed to give her some. Each time, she returned home with a bag or two full of lustrous samples, which she distributed to Palo Alto teachers.

As she gradually built relationships, the amount of material she acquired began to grow. Soon, she and Jonathan started supplying five school districts, and passed some fabrics on to the Children’s Theater, as well.

When Things Got More Serious

Hannah later learned that someone named Steve was visiting the showrooms every Monday to collect discontinued fabric samples, which were then picked up by a charitable organization run by a group of nuns. One day the charity did not come by to pick up, and so showroom workers asked Hannah, who was fortuitously at the Design Center at that moment, whether she wanted the fabrics. She certainly did! As it turned out, the charity never came back, and Hannah began a weekly pickup from then on. With the sudden increase in quantity, the picture changed dramatically.

At essentially the same time, in summer 2007, Palo Alto schools closed for the summer. Hannah and Jonathan were unable to distribute the growing amounts of fabrics they were collecting. They published notices on Freecycle, Craigslist and other online venues, and began compiling an email list of interested people. Soon after, they set up five tables in their living room, filled them up with materials, and invited these interested fabric-lovers to come over and pick whatever they wanted. Before long this became a recurring event.

Originally, Hannah and Jonathan distributed the materials they gathered. They were the ones deciding what resources to give each school/theater. Once they allowed people to come over to their house and pick on their own, however, they could no longer think of it as “distribution.” They decided to call these “selection events” instead, since patrons got to choose their own treasures.

At first, their living-room events lasted two days. As the amount of fabrics kept growing, they were extended to three. Soon, the living room wasn’t big enough for everything. Hannah and Jonathan set up yet more tables in their family room.

But the rescued samples kept accumulating. In no time they filled one spare bedroom, then another, until all the bedrooms in the house were full of textiles and other materials.

Hannah and Jonathan began holding regular selection events, timing them to open up a guest room as needed.

Their email list, initially limited to about thirty people, kept growing. Before long, some one hundred and seventy people came by every month. Some were hesitant to enter a private house. Others, however, came regularly. Some of the latter offered to help pay for the gas for Hannah’s collection trips to SF, so Hannah and Jonathan put up a donation box to help finance their drives. Then someone offered to help take care of welcoming guests. One day, when Hannah, who was also co-owner of a catering business, was too busy with an event, Jonathan took that woman up on her offer. From then on the Cranches relied more and more on volunteers to help them with the many tasks of gathering, sorting and distributing. They started documenting who came to their house, and, in order to limit crowding, began setting appointments.

How FabMo Was Born

In 2009, after years of making fabrics available from their private house, Jonathan learned that their home insurance would not cover such large gatherings. Although the Cranches distributed everything for free, the insurance considered what they were doing as a business. So they found a small shared space in Palo Alto where they could hold Selection Events, but which had very little room for storage.

Six months later they moved to a bigger warehouse on Old Middlefield Road. Later they added another warehouse.

That same year FabMo was born as a public benefit corporation, and in 2010 was granted 501(c)(3) status. FabMo was now officially a non-profit organization! The name FabMo is short for Fabrics and More, as by then the Cranches rescued many different materials. In addition to fabrics, they also saved wallpapers, trims, tiles, leather, carpets and so on.

Since then, FabMo’s activities have continued to expand. Nine years ago, a regular attendee suggested creating an event for people to showcase items they created with FabMo materials, so as to inspire others. That’s how the Holiday Boutique came about. In 2015 FabMo moved into their current location in Mountain View. They regularly hold monthly three-day Selection Events, as well as 8-10 Special Sales a year.

In 2014 FabMo started holding regular events in Santa Cruz as well, with an active volunteer and consumer base there. They also hold Selection Events in Vallejo, as well as in different Bay Area Tech Shops. FabMo has a regular presence in at least four fairs every year (MakersFaire, San Mateo County Fair, and two Earth Day Fairs).

FabMo Now

These days, FabMo rescues more than 70 tons of materials every year from Design Centers in San Francisco and San Jose, and from other miscellaneous sources. They make these amazing resources available to creative souls all over the Bay Area and beyond. More than 8,500 people are signed up to their mailing list, with about 300 coming to collect treasures during each Selection Event. Hannah and Jonathan continue to be very involved with the organization relying on an active Board, a growing family of several hundred volunteers, and textile aficionados, who, like themselves, appreciate the creative and environmental impact of this amazing endeavor. People come from Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest, Michigan and beyond to attend, determining their own schedule based on FabMo’s.  

To this day, FabMo distributes fabrics for a suggested donation. It trusts patrons to give what they can to help keep the project running. Costs of maintaining such a business in the Bay Area are sky-high, as are utilities and fuel. Teachers still receive many of the materials for free. FabMo only sells Special Sale materials, but even then for low prices.

Hannah and Jonathan didn’t plan any of this. They simply couldn‚Äôt stand to see fabulous textiles thrown away and wasted, and before they knew it, FabMo had appeared. What started as a small project of love run by two individuals, turned into a collaborative effort of a creative, eco-friendly community, a family of sorts. But it still remains a not-for-profit project of love.

FabMo’s dedication continues to keep tons of precious resources out of the landfill. It also progressively builds an entire community of like-minded people who care about the environment. Likewise, it encourages the creativity of numerous others. The Cranches certainly changed my life, re-sparking my own long-suppressed creativity.

Now, people from all over the United States are starting to ask how to establish similar organizations. The Cranches even received a few inquiries from overseas. Imagine how many resources could be rescued if every community had a FabMo! Imagine all the creative things people could come up with!

To learn more about FabMo or sign up to their mailing list check out their web page:¬†http://www.fabmo.org/fabmo/Home.html. You can also like their Facebook page:¬†https://www.facebook.com/FabMo. And, if you live in the Bay Area, make sure to come check out this year’s¬†Boutique. You will not only be able to buy one-of-a-kind, earth-friendly and locally-made pieces of art, but also support this amazing non profit!

My Father’s Sukkah: On Textiles, Reusing and the Creation of Traditions

Wednesday night marked the beginning of the week-long Jewish holiday of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles¬†or¬†Feast of the Ingathering). The holiday celebrates the end of the agricultural year, and also commemorates the Exodus from Egypt. My father’s sukkah celebrates all of that and then a little more.

When the Temple still existed, Sukkot was one of three pilgrimage holidays. At that time, people from all over the Holy Land used to make their way to Jerusalem during Sukkot, bringing with them harvest to the Temple.

After the destruction of the temple, Jews started celebrating the holiday by building sukkot (plural for sukkah), or temporary huts. We eat, pray, and sometimes sleep in them for the duration of the week. These huts–built to remember both the temporary structures our ancestors slept in during their forty years of wandering through the desert, and the huts farmers built in the fields during the harvest–usually have wooden frames covered with sheets of cloth. Their roof is covered with plant material, usually palm leaves, and is called a schach.

Nowadays, many people buy a sukkah¬†kit online. It arrives ready to assemble, and is usually made of synthetic materials. Once the holiday is over, it easily comes apart, folded and stored for next year. But that’s not the way sukkot were built when I was a kid. Then, everyone had to build their own sukkah from scratch, every year anew.

Of course, some parts of the sukkah could have still been saved from one year to the following. The wood planks, for example, or the cloth coverings. In the case of my father’s sukkah, some of the materials were passed down in the family for much longer than that.

This is my father’s sukkah:

The outside materials are relatively new, but not so the cloth inside. These inside textiles were already hanging in my father’s grandfather’s sukkah in the 1930’s and before.

Originally, my great grandfather, Haim, and his wife, Gele, had other uses for these fabrics. My great grandparents used these as curtains and table cloths in their home in Jerusalem, in one of the first Jewish neighborhoods built outside the walls of the Old City. After many years of use, when these textiles lost their original luster and became faded or stained, my great grandparents turned them into sukkah walls.

While many of these fabrics are still beautiful and lively, one stands out as being really special. Someone, you see, meticulously hand-embroidered the fabric strips serving as the sukkah “door.”

My father thinks, but is not sure, that the delicate embroidery was the handiwork of his aunt Hannah, Haim and Gele’s daughter, who was a talented embroiderer. I can only imagine how many weeks (or months!) it took her to embroider this piece!

For us, children of a mass-manufacturing, cheap-goods materialistic culture, up-cycling, recycling and reusing are fashionable buzzwords. But not that long ago reusing was a way of life. Less than a hundred years ago, materials and objects were expensive. Things were well-made and pricey. People valued items, used them with care, and re-purposed them whenever possible. They also passed things down from one generation to the other.

Thus, Haim and Gele re-used old curtains and table cloths, turning them into sukkah walls. When, in the early 1930’s, they moved from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv to live near two of their grown sons and their families, they brought their sukkah materials with them.

Between holidays, my great grandfather Haim saved his sukkah materials in his attic (“boidem”). He stored the wood, and also the textile wall coverings. Every year, once Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) was over, he, his sons and his grandchildren would start building their sukkah.

They treated the old cloth with care. They nailed these inside textiles to the wooden frame with upholstery nails. Before nailing, the grandchildren prepared squares of cardboard, usually from empty cigarette boxes, to put on each nail. They did so to make it easier to pull the fabrics out at the end of the holiday without tearing them.

On the eve of the holiday, Haim would come home from the synagogue with a poster of the ushpizin: images of the patriarchs: Moses, King David, and the like, and pinned it in the center of the wall opposite to the “door”. As far as my father remembers, this was the only decoration in his¬†sukkah.

My father continues to use his grandfather’s textiles in the sukkot he builds himself, year after year, with his own children and grandchildren. Unlike his grandfather, my dad decorates his sukkah with¬†artwork of his offsprings. I myself made the lampshade in the above picture when I was eleven. My nephews made the paper chains. My father carefully preserves not only his grandfather’s textiles, but also his children’s and grandchildren’s art. His sukkah, therefore, has more decorations as the years go by.

The sukkah textiles are now almost one hundred years old, yet still serve their purpose. They witnessed at least five generations of our family, and hopefully will see more to come. The fabrics enclosed ancestors I never knew in person, distant relatives who died before I was born. They created a holiday-sacred space for tens of relatives and guests, for eating, praying, talking, laughing, arguing and sleeping.

Somehow, I feel, they preserve some of the spirit of these long-gone people who lived, for one week each year, in-between them. The people who made them, the great-aunt who embroidered them, the great-grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins who hung them, handled them, folded them, then stored them with care year after year. By serving as sukkah walls, these textiles, of course, help pass down the traditions of the holiday. But, by passing down from one generation to the next, they also tell the story of our family. In a way, they help create the story of our family. They are both a part of a tradition and the makers of new traditions.

That, I think, is something that synthetic, disposable sukkah kits could never do.