Sorting Fabrics at FabMo

I bet you don’t know what “gack” is. Well, if you’re curious you have one of two options: 1) Volunteer to sort fabrics at FabMo, or 2) Read this blog post all the way to the end (no cheating, please!) 🙂

FabMo is the amazing non-profit organization from where I source most of the luxurious designer home-decor fabrics I work with. Many people in my area know what a fabulous resource FabMo is, and purchase fabrics there. Only a few, however, realize how much behind-the-scenes work goes into making these fabrics available to the public.

After I wrote a blog post about Hannah Cranch’s weekly trips to the Design Center in San Francisco, quite a few people–including long-time FabMo customers–told me they were amazed to learn how hard the collection work was. Many others wanted to know what happens to the fabrics after they make their way to FabMo’s warehouse. Well, today I want to fill you in about the next step in these fabrics’ journey: the sorting.

I already mentioned that, while at the Design Center, Hannah collects all the fabric samples into big plastic trash bags (which she reuses over and over again):

Hannah and a mountain of fabrics

She hulls these full, heavy bags into her truck, and packs them tightly:

Hannah organizing the half-loaded truck

Hannah and her volunteer helper then drive back to FabMo’s warehouse in Mountain View, where they unload the truck’s content into a back room.

The bags wait there for the next sorting event.

Bags Full of Fabric waiting at FabMo headquarters

Regular Sort

Every week FabMo hosts a few hours of “Regular Sort.” This “Sort” is a gathering of several volunteers (usually around eight), who open the bags Hannah brings.

Opening fabric bags at FabMo's facility

The volunteers spill the content of these bags onto big tables at the center of the room.

Fabric bag content revealed! FabMo

Then they start unfolding the pieces and sorting them by size.

Opening folded pieces at FabMo

Sorting rescued fabric samples at FabMo

Sorting fabric rescued pieces by size at FabMo

Sorting fabrics by size and kind at FabMo

Neat sorted fabric piles at FabMo

Fabric piles at FabMo

A “Regular Sort” typically lasts three to four hours. The volunteers stand on their feet for most of that time. I can attest that this sometimes takes a toll on the body, especially if you have back issues!

Once the volunteers arrange everything by size, they carefully place each pile into a plastic box, which they clearly label. They store the boxes on shelves with similar-sized fabrics.

By the time the volunteers complete a “Regular Sort,” they have emptied all the bags Hannah collected on Monday, neatly sorted and packed all of the fabric pieces she brought, and placed all the boxes on their rightful shelf. The fabrics wait there for the next step in their journey: The Regular Selection Setup.

A Few Words on Gack

So what is “gack,” you wonder… Well, not all fabrics are created equal. Many textile designers design beautiful pieces. Some, however, come up with textiles that are … uhmm … less exciting… For every beautiful and luxurious piece that comes from the Design Center, there is one that is just … not. Some pieces are so drab, in fact, that they are unlikely to find forever homes even among sustainable-fabric enthusiasts. Those usually come in shades of beige and brown, are synthetic or have boring textures. Some are torn, cut or stained. FabMo jargon (yes, there is such a thing!) refers to these as “gack”.

Hannah, by the way, assured me that “gack” was a real word. There is even a story behind it. If you know it, there will be brownie points for the first person to write it in the comments 🙂

FabMo volunteers put gack pieces aside during the sorting process. This, for example, is a gack bag:

FabMo customers never see these pieces. The larger ones go to resale stores to be sold there. Some are left on “free” racks outside FabMo. Volunteers take some pieces home, to use for things like pet bedding, stuffing or as rags. Everything else goes to a fabric recycling facility.

How You Can Help

If you live in the California Bay Area and are interested in supporting FabMo’s efforts to save fabrics from the landfill, consider volunteering a few hours of your time! Sorting is fun, and an entire community will thank you for it!

If you don’t live around here but would still like to help, there are other ways to support this amazing organization: http://www.fabmo.org/fabmo/Support.html

And, if you want to take a look at the kinds of things that can be made from small, rescued upholstery fabric pieces, stop by my booth at the upcoming A la Carte and Art Festival in Mountain View. I’ll be between Evelyn and Villa, and will love to see you 🙂

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’t 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!

FabMo Textile Art Boutique

Last October I visited FabMo Textile Art Boutique for the first time. The creativity evident everywhere greatly impressed me. The participating artists were mostly women. They used fabric in very imaginative ways, creating numerous beautiful commodities. I remember walking around mesmerized. I wished I could have bought something at each and every booth. When I left, I carried an array of unique handmade gifts for my family. It did not occur to me then that only a year later I will join the ranks of displaying artists. Yet, this is exactly what happened!

This past weekend I had the pleasure of setting up my own stall at the Boutique. While the perspective from the other side of the booth table was slightly different, one thing hadn’t changed: I was STILL awed by the amazing talent and imagination surrounding me. Close to fifty artists exhibited this year. They made every conceivable fabric product: clothing, jewelry, accessories, decorations, toys and, of course, bags and purses, to name some. Yet, even when making the same type of item, different artists put their own twist on the results. Many booths sold handbag, for example, but each had its own, unique style.

Here is but a tiny taste of the diversity:

Carol Cruise filled her booth with adorable stuffed animals. Carol calls them Carol’s Zoo. When passing by her display I had to suppress the urge to snap them all:

Carol Cruise’s FabMo booth

At the stall of Rodi Ludlum of Featherweight Fabric Pottery, I saw something I have never seen before: vases and bowls made of fabric!

Products by Rodi Ludlum of Featherweight Fabric Pottery

Judith Content’s booth, across the aisle from mine,  was bursting with color and warmth. Judith makes pin cushions in ceramic bowls, and also colorful necklaces made of buttons she paints herself:

Judith Content’s booth at FabMo Boutique

The latter, especially, were so deliciously colorful that they stopped many visitors in their track.

Judith Content’s booth at FabMo Boutique

As a shopper last year I was oblivious to the efforts that go into preparing a show of this kind. As a vendor I now know of–and appreciated!–the many months of planning and preparations. I am aware of the marketing efforts and the numerous hours put in by Marty and Holly, the two organizers. Many other wonderful individuals, all volunteers, likewise donated hours of their time to make this work.

I also know first-hand what it takes to prepare inventory for such a fair, and as a result I appreciated many fold the months of intense work put in by all forty-something craftspeople. These combined efforts paid off. Everything was very well thought of, well organized, well stocked and beautifully displayed. As a result, vendors and shoppers alike had a very pleasant experience.

I enjoyed chatting with common-minded individuals on both sides of my stall. I was also impressed by the creativity displayed on the other side of the booth table. Many of the visitors who came to browse were fabric-lovers themselves. The warm sense of support and camaraderie both among participating artists and between artists and visitors was truly heartwarming!