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!

Falling Leaves Don’t Only Inspire: The Art of Composting

It took only a day or two of rain and some strong winds to strip the glory off the maple tree that inspired my Falling Leaves quilt. In the last few days, instead of shining with magnificent fall colors, my garden was filled with sad-looking naked branches, and huge piles of fallen, muddy leaves:

Fallen leaves in my yard

Granted, I must admit that some were still quite beautiful, even on the ground:

Fallen leaves in my garden

To me, however, even in their deplorable state, falling leaves are a pure treasure. And not only for their former (or lingering) beauty. I already confessed to being a little obsessed with recycling. Whenever possible, I religiously recycle paper, plastic and metal, and of course–FABRIC. I also already mentioned my love of gardening. So it is only natural that, whenever possible, I try to recycle in the yard, as well.

One of the first things I did once I got my own garden, was to take a composting workshop. This might seem somewhat unnecessary to all you seasoned gardeners. At the time, however, I really didn’t know much about decomposition. A workshop seemed appropriate. It lasted about two hours, and could be summed into one sentence: fill a bin with 50% green cuttings and 50% dry material, mix, wet, and wait.

Since then, I’ve been trying to return everything that comes from the garden back into the garden. In the city’s garden-waste bins I deposit only diseased plants, parts that are too fibrous, or especially-thick branches. Everything else goes into my compost bin:

My compost bin

In fact, there are many weeks in which I don’t even bother to take the city garden bins to the curb. They are often completely empty.

Composting everything is a lot of work, and requires some advance planning. For things to compost at a reasonable time (for me, that means up to a year), every plant needs to be chopped into smaller pieces. In spring and summer this translates into hours and hours of standing above the compost bin and chopping green cuttings. In the fall, the main season for collecting the “brown” component that composting requires, it means hours of collecting leaves. After I collect the leaves, I store them away in paper bags, and add them to the bin slowly over the remaining months of the year.

It’s actually really good for the soil to just let falling leaves decompose where they fall. There are parts of my garden where I do just that–let nature take care of itself. I collect only leaves that fall on paths, the lawn or on other plants. Depending on the location, I either rake or vacuum them. The vacuum automatically chops the leaves into smaller bits, which are easier to store and which decompose faster.

Last weekend was my last crafts fair for the year. The weeks leading to the fair were hectic, leaving me with little time for anything else. Once the fair was over, however, I took a break from sewing. This week I tried to catch up on all the neglected tasks. The garden was on the top of my list.

I still haven’t used up all the leaves I stored last year. This year, therefore, I decided  to  use everything I collect as ground cover. A thick layer of ground cover (preferably six inches thick) helps protect roots from frost, and in summer helps keep the moisture in. So this week I raked and vacuumed wherever needed, and then deposited piles of chopped leaves all over the yard:

A pile of shredded fallen leaves in my garden

In the coming days I will spread these piles more evenly, covering as much ground as possible with this highly-beneficial dry material.

The hours (and days!) it takes to collect leaves and other organic matter, chop , spread, or compost everything aren’t always pleasant. However, all that work pays off in the long run. My modest compost bin reliably produces rich, high-quality and entirely organic (!!) compost. My compost is swarming with life: earthworms, Armadillidiidae (also known as Roly Polies), earwigs and all kinds of other creatures call it a home. Once I even found baby salamanders in the mix! Every year I spread this compost around fruit trees and on flower beds. It enriches the native California clay soil, feeds the earthworms–who in turn dig and loosen the soil, bringing air to roots–and in general makes my plants happy.

The reward comes in spring and summer, with amazing flowers and tasty fruits . And it all begins with these leaves, that shine with golden light in the fall and then turn into black gold by summer!

When Buying Art Can Change the World

A few weeks ago my eldest daughter, a couple of friends and I were walking back home from a crafts fair in our neighborhood. That day I went to the fair twice. The first time, in the morning, was with my second daughter. She happily spent the Fair Budget I gave her on a nice pair of earrings. I returned again in the afternoon with our friends and my eldest child. I wanted to to give her, too, a chance to find something. We enjoyed the walk, the browsing, the inspiration brought about by exploding creativity. We likewise enjoyed the festive atmosphere and the crowds. But my daughter couldn’t find anything she really wanted, and so we left the fair and started walking back home empty-handed.

A couple of blocks from our house I noticed from the corner of my eye a little booth in one of the front yards. A homemade sign announced “Nail Art” in big, lopsided letters. A child-sized table stood diagonally, and behind it sat a young boy, about nine or ten years old. Deeply engaged  in conversation, I didn’t pay the booth much attention. I kept walking, wishing to get home and share a cup of coffee with our friends.

We walked another half block when my daughter suddenly stopped. “We should go back to that booth,” she said. “That boy looked so sad. We really should buy something from him.” I hesitated. We already spent a lot of time at the fair. I was looking forward to my coffee, and our friends, an elderly couple, looked like they had had enough walking for the day. But my daughter, kindness incarnate, insisted. “Remember how I felt when I had a booth?” she asked, referring to a time, only a couple of short years earlier but feeling oh-so-long-ago, when she, on exactly such a fair weekend, set a similar booth in our own front yard. I did remember.

So all four of us turned around and returned to the booth. I asked the boy how much his paintings cost, expecting him to announce a small sum, similar to what my daughter asked for her creations two years before. When he came up with what amounted to ten times that, I was taken aback. Our friends were aghast. But my angel-of-a-daughter wasn’t deterred. “Oh, come on mom, buy one,” she said. “Use the money you promised me for the fair.” And so I did. My daughter chose a painting of a rainbow-colored heart and I handed the money.

A boy's cheerful art

The boy stared at the bills in disbelief. It was obvious that he did not expect to get what he asked for. We were probably his first customers, too. After a second, an expression of pure joy washed over his face. His mother, quietly protecting him from the porch, rushed out to thank us.

Now my daughter has a rainbow-heart painting hanging in her room. Whenever I pass by it I can’t help but simile. I probably read into the piece more than the artist had intended, but what I see is cheerfulness, hope, innocence, love and  inclusiveness–all elements we badly need in these times of ugliness and divisiveness.

Whenever I see the painting I think of that boy and of his mother. I hope that by buying it we made a difference. Perhaps we taught the boy that expressing creativity is worthwhile; that overcoming hesitation, nervousness and fear pays off. Maybe we showed him that taking risks is OK, that aiming high might lead to unexpected results, and that he should never sell himself short. Hopefully we helped him realize that working hard pays and that earning one’s own money based on hard work feels good. Perhaps the experience will help him grow up into an adult who isn’t afraid to work hard, take risks, and later contribute back to society.

Hopefully our gesture also demonstrated to his mother, as I was reaffirmed two years before, that community is indeed important; that it really does take a village to raise a child; and that even as strangers we are all connected in an unseen web of humanity, and are willing to support each other just because.

Equally important, the money I spent that day bought my daughter and me a lot more than just a small, pretty painting made of wood, nails and paint. It bought us the satisfaction of seeing otherwise-discarded materials turned into something beautiful. The money bought us the great delight that comes with supporting the efforts of another human being. It gave us the enormous bonus of seeing joy and happiness on other people’s faces, hence allowing us to feel the same way ourselves–the expressions on the faces of both the boy and his mother were truly priceless!

That money also bought us the contentment that comes with investing in the future: the future of one boy, his community, and perhaps the world. For who knows what investing in one child, any child, might bring? Somehow, it might change the world one day, in big ways or small. It might even contribute something to making our society kind again. I call that money well spent.

Why Cleaning Up is Good for Kids (And Why you Should Do It, Too!)

What We Did This Week

As I mentioned last week, the first big project my kids and I embarked on this summer was The Big Cleanup, by now an annual tradition. Over the last couple of weeks we all worked together. We went room to room, starting with the kids’ rooms, moving to the master bedroom, and ending with the common areas. Depending on the amount of work needed, we dedicated a day or two to each room. We took everything out of every closet, drawer, shelf or cubby. Every surface we cleaned with a soapy wet cloth, vacuumed every cranny, and sorted through every item.

We put together pieces of games that got scattered over the previous year. The kids sorted mixed-up crayons, markers or pencils and put them into separate boxes. We recycled lots of paper, and discarded expired food items and medicines. We put outgrown toys, books and clothes into separate piles, and gave them away. Some we passed on to friends with younger kids, others to beloved old preschools, yet others we donated to Goodwill. We tossed broken things. Overall, this year we gave away a car-load and a half of toys, games and books; two large trash bags and a huge card box full of clothes; and a large box with miscellaneous things. We cleared up a couple of cubbies, lots of closet space and some shelf space.

Here, for example, is what one of the drawers in the kids’ bathroom originally looked like:

Messy drawer

We took everything out:

poouring it all out

Then vacuumed the drawer and wiped it clean:

Vaccuming

And then we put everything back in again, the way it’s supposed to be:

Summer cleaning

It will hopefully look like this for at least a couple of months or so…

Why I Think It’s Important

Now, no one really likes cleaning up, myself included. One could argue that making children organize their room over the summer vacation (instead of, say, sending them to camp or letting them play in the sand) is a malicious form of kid-torture. But I find this experience to be beneficial on many different levels. Here are some (but by no means all) of the benefits I see:

  1. Cleaning up teaches kids basic life skills that will be useful later on. Younger kids learn to sort, match (game parts, socks), vacuum, clean. Older kids learn to fix things, fold clothes properly, hang things in the closet, check food for expiration dates.

  2. Cleaning makes kids take responsibility for their own space, which in turn makes them more independent and proud of their achievements.

  3. It teaches kids that they are a part of the family, and therefore have a responsibility towards the family. My children use the entire house and therefore need to tidy common areas as well as their own room.

  4. Cleaning together encourages cooperation and teamwork. It also requires negotiation and conflict resolution, all important skills.

  5. Cleaning teaches compassion and social responsibility. We all had trouble parting with some things, be it a favorite stuffed animal or a beloved-yet-outgrown book. Saying goodbye to these items was hard. But we knew that by passing them on someone else would enjoy them, be it a person we care about or a stranger. Putting a toy in a pile directed to “kids who have no toys” made my kids feel good about parting with toys they no longer needed.

  6. Getting rid of things teaches kids that material items are not important, and that stuff is replaceable.

My children actually like the Big Cleanup. This year they wanted to start organizing the house even before the school year ended, and I had to convince them to take a couple of days off to relax first. When I asked what they like about it, my seven-year-old told me he always looks forward to finding lost toys or lost pieces of games. My twelve-year-old said that she likes the way a tidy room (and house) feels. My fourteen-year-old, it turns out, enjoys going over my clothes and seeing what she could pilfer.

It took a bit over two weeks, but our Big Cleanup of the year is finally over. To celebrate our accomplishment we went to the movies. “Finding Dory” was fun, as was eating a huge bucket of popcorn.

Cleanup reward

Material things are disposable. Shared experiences are forever!

 

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The Scrap Project: Bookmarks!

I already admitted to my obsession with recycling, reusing and repurposing. I just can’t help it–discarding things that still have some use in them makes me feel really bad… This might be blamed on genes (dad, you know what I’m talking about!). Or perhaps it is just an outcome of the sad state of our over-materialistic, over-consuming society (of which I am very much a part). No matter the reason, there it is.

Over the last few months I found several uses for some of my bigger scraps. I also figured out how to use some of my narrower scraps of soft fabrics. But I still have many very narrow scraps of thicker upholstery fabrics. I can’t fold these and and use them as notebook loops, for example, since they are too thick.

Fabric scraps

I reluctantly threw some of these away. Some I piled up in my scrap box, hoping to use them eventually. And then, one day, I had an idea for a new scrap-utilizing product: bookmarks!

Fabric bookmarks

We are all avid readers in my family. Even my first-grader is starting to spend more and more time with books. And we all need LOTS of bookmarks.

Earth-friendly bookmarks

It’s a win win!!

 

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The Scrap Project: Notebook Loops

One of the things that rekindled my artistic passion several months ago was my strong desire to give new life to beautiful-yet-no-longer-wanted pieces of fabric. I’ve been an ardent recycler for many years. I always make sure to sort all our household recyclables into the right bins. I also have a small compost pail on my kitchen counter, which I religiously empty into compost bins in the yard. Whenever I find a stray yogurt tub or banana peel in the garbage, I fish them out and put them where they belong. This little obsession served me well as a quilter, for in quilting even the smallest piece of cotton can often be used.

These days I try to make useful items out of rescued fabrics. After cutting large pieces for bags or notebook covers, however, I always find myself left with leftover scraps. From the very beginning I’ve been using the bigger pieces. I turned some into inside pockets for new purses:

Or outside pockets for totes:

But many of my scraps are too small for that. I haven’t had the heart to throw these away, and so I’ve been collecting them and storing them in a box.

A few weeks ago I went over this trove and sorted these pieces by approximate size.

I decided to challenge myself to find use even for smaller pieces, and to make that a habit going forward. After all, I started ANY Texture out of a strong desire to reduce waste. My goal is to save beautiful, unique textiles from going to the landfill.

So now, instead of cutting fresh straps to make loops for my fabric journal covers, I started making notebook loops out of scraps!

Take this piece, for example. It was a remnant left after cutting the lining for one of my still-under construction spring collection bags.

Instead of throwing it, I ironed it and sewed it into an elegant strap:

Then, I made a beautiful loop out of it. I even found the perfect journal cover to match it with:

It works great!