Monday, September 16, 2013

Sew Berkeley!

Fashion fabrics at Stonemountain and Daughter in Berkeley, CA.
I once lived in Berkeley for more than ten years.  This was a hectic but inspiring period of my life. I became a new mom not to just four little kids but to my Bernina and first serger sewing machines. With quality new machines, my love for sewing blossomed.  I stitched weekly through each pregnancy and in between breastfeeding.  My need to hone my skills eventually lead to my attending a local fashion design education that solidified my love for the art of fashion.

With new sewing tools, meant getting new supplies.  I conveniently lived stroller distance to Stonemountain and Daughter, which was a humble two-story shop where the owner (father) did most of the purchasing while the daughter ran the shop. He also used to pick up a lot of bolt-ends from design rooms in Los Angeles. It's changed a bit, and it's noticeable more "daughter" than "father," and there's almost a whole room dedicated to quilting fabric, which was an add-on when they took over the former car repair shop next door.  It was also at this store where one of the sales ladies loaned me a small collection of vintage fashion books, and opened my eyes to the history of clothing construction.  Discovering Lacis came after this introduction, but it was this kind of generosity that added fuel to my insatiable hunger for textiles and clothing construction.

My local Meetup group had a "field trip" this past weekend to Berkeley which included 13 sewists from around the SF Bay Area. Although half the group were new, we instantly connected at the doors of Stonemountain and Daughter. Many had never ventured into fabric shopping in Berkeley.

The owner of Stonemountain, Suzanne just marked down many fabric bolts...all at 50% off.  The pickings were ripe that day. Everything I bought was on sale, including some interfacing.  I spent $158 total, which included tax and a $5.00 Vogue pattern. I walked out with some amazing pieces. The most expensive was $11 a yard of 100% wool, and the cheapest was $3.75 fuschia-colored polyester chiffon. I thought I showed some self-restraint. Over lunch, we did a quick tally of how much everyone spent, and concluded that amongst the 13 of us, our combined total was close to $1,500. Not everyone in our group was an experienced sewer so their planned projects were limited. But everyone was inspired to buy something.

Good selection of ethnic prints.
Sample of their in-store creations from some very unique pattern makers. 
They carry a good range of independent pattern companies. 
Large fat quarter selection.
Almost a whole room devoted to quilting textiles and supplies. 
Stonemountain and Daughter has a large button selection that
rivals the upscale downtown SF store across the bridge.  
Our second stop after lunch at a local Ethiopian restaurant was Lacis. This is one of those stores that everyone needs to stop by at least once.  My first experience here was a private showing of antique lace and clothing personally chaperoned by co-owner Kaethe Kliot.  Mrs. Kliot passed away in 2002, followed by her husband Jules in 2012.  The store's new curator is Erin Algeo who worked at Lacis with Jules up until his untimely passing in 2012. Erin is who I speak to when I need any detailed help. My last trip to Lacis, she helped me with corset supplies, and this weekend, she gave me great suggestions for collecting supplies to start my tambour embroidery practice.

I don't have an elderly relative with mad hand-stitching skills to learn from. Lacis is essentially my surrogate. I consider myself lucky to even have a place like this and I would mourn the day, should this gem disappear.  Dreamed up because of a love for lace making and preservation, this museum is one of Berkeley's greatest treasures and important legacy for handcrafters worldwide. Stepping into Lacis is a history lesson for all and a place to learn to be a part of preserving an art that cannot be lost as long as we continue to stitch and adorn by hand.

Lacis has expanded from it's one room location, to now a sprawling two space building including an ample bookstore with a myriad of handcrafting book topics. They have a bustling online business now with a separate warehouse. There's always something on exhibit and the sales attendants are extremely helpful. See the resource links at the bottom of the blog for more information. Lacis has the best selection of hand sewing needles that I have seen.  

Some of the ladies in the group picked up vintage patterns, a miniature crochet hook for beading, and a lovely piece of vintage fabric. But all of us enjoyed looking at the lace making tools and vintage fabric and trimming in the adjacent "wedding" room.  I call it that, because they house everything a bride would need to recreate a beautiful gown. But it's also their museum.  I remember purchasing a vintage linen handkerchief trimmed with handmade lace and blue silk ribbon for my sister-in-law's wedding from here. It fulfilled the "something old and something blue" requirement. For a brief moment before giving my sister-in-law her gift, I thought about making the gift a loan so it could be "something borrowed" too.  But of course, I didn't.
Antique lace collection.
Photo courtesy of Ali Boncha.
Millinery supplies at Lacis.
Photo courtesy of Ali Boncha.
Vintage Patterns
Photo courtesy of Ali Boncha.
Sample vintage patterns.
Photo courtesy of Ali Boncha.
The wedding room at Lacis.
Photo courtesy of Ali Boncha.
Our final destination for the day was a quick stop to Discount Fabrics just down the road from Lacis on Ashby Avenue.  We walked in surprised to discover that everything in the store was marked down an additional 20% except for lace. Wouldn't you know it? It was the lace that I really wanted.

Discount Fabrics is a huge warehouse located in the former Straw Into Gold location.  All the fabric comes from long rolls rather than bolts. It's really the more professional way to store fabric without adding a folded crease like most fabric bolts. The rolls are stacked, standing up in barrels, and beautifully hung.  Getting through the stacked bolts require some digging and elbow grease. I was so tired from shopping that I barely had the energy to push my cart around the store, but I had some fumes leftover to find a couple pieces of lace and funky black and white cow printed vinyl. The vinyl's black print is a synthetic velvet, and the white pleather reminded me something Nancy Sinatra might wear while singing "These Boots are Made for Walkin."

Discount Fabrics is a good supplier for home furnishing materials, sequined fabric, and trimming. There's ample fashion fabrics at great prices. Denim was on sale that day for less than five dollars a yard. Prices are better very reasonable and worth a trip. Discount Fabrics reminds me a lot of the stores in LA's fabric district. I grew up in LA, and spent many hours combing through these streets in high school purchasing costume materials for my dance group. Look for a future blog on LA's fabric mart probably late Winter 2014.

Discount Fabrics also has stores in San Francisco, including their main location South of Market on 11th Street. I plan on checking out the SF store one day soon too.
My burnt velvet pleather cow piece.  This is planned for another
version of the Amy Butler bag. 
We ended our long day with coffee at Cafe Trieste, and fond goodbyes from fellow sewists. By the time we got to coffee, we had lost 40 percent of our original sewists.  The die-hard group were the gals from the South Bay. Yah!

Enjoy the rest of the pictures and resource links below and happy sewing!


There were a couple of places that got mentioned for fabric shopping outside (but near) Berkeley that you might be interested in if you spend more than a day in the East Bay. One is a new store called Urban Burp which sells vintage fabric and accessories.  They also have an online store. This is definitely on my list for stores to visit. The second is operated by former employees of the now closed Poppy Fabrics. For old residents of Oakland and Berkeley, Poppy Fabrics was a regular stop for sewists and carried a good selection of quilting and home decor fabrics. The store site remains empty, but its replacement is Piedmont Fabrics down the hill.

For you weavers and yarn enthusiasts, Straw Into Gold has moved to Richmond after operating at the now Discount Fabrics location for 30 years. Sadly, they are only a wholesale, online store now.  See link below.

Stonemountain and Daughter:
Great blog with more pictures of Lacis at Toni's Vintage Trips: Link Here
Discount Fabrics:
Urban Burp:
Piedmont Fabrics:
Straw Into Gold:

Ponte knit, wool tweed stretch fabric (multi-colored), and snake skin polyester fabrics
from Stonemountain and Daughter. 
A very heavy burnt orange two-way stretch knit that can be used for unlined jackets,
and anything bottom weight. The bottom gun-metal grey/blue fabric is 100% tropical
stretch wool. I bought the last three yards at $11 a yard. 
Purple and black lace from Discount Fabrics. The purple lace was $6.80 a yard.
The black lace was about $7 a yard.
Wool fabric on left, and the fuchsia chiffon on right. Both from
Stonemountain and Daughter.