Revolution for the Holidays

Just to give you a taste of all the post-holiday festivities I'm enjoying as I write this: La Guardia airport, Gate B3 awaiting news of our flight which has just been indefinitely cancelled due to snow in Wisconsin. Milwaukee's Mitchell Airport has stopped accepting any incoming flights. It is just about as good as it gets here.

But I wanted to tell you about a really excellent movie I saw last night. Movies are pretty much the best possible thing you can do around after Christmas when you're full of leftovers and sick of talking to your family. In a small break from family togetherness, I actually went to see this movie with my friend Jacob in New York City. It was an animated feature, called Persepolis. Gosh it was good.

The film was a movie adaptation of a successful comic strip of the same name, named one of the Best Comics by Time Magazine in 2003. It is written by an Iranian woman named Marjane Satrapi, about her own experience growing up during the Islamic Revolution in Iran. A captivating heroine, she is brave and idealistic as a young girl, the only child of committed Marxists and a descendant of one of Iran's last emperors. Her personal history is uniquely intertwined with the movements in her country, and the strip follows her discovery of Iran's volatile political climate and cultural transformation. I will also confess that the main character's interest in punk rock and heavy metal were a definite bonus.

© 2007 Sony Pictures Classics.

Visually, the animation and original illustrations are very simple. Black and white characters in a sometimes dreamlike, abstract setting. Satrapi explains this choice, "I think this helped everybody to relate to it, whether in China, Israel, Chile, or Korea, it's a universal story. Persepolis has dreamlike moments, the drawings help us to maintain cohesion and consistency." The movie translates the intense political spirit of its author and the intensity of her childhood reality, while maintaining decidedly humanist emotion and even humor. This hybridity is rare in films of this nature, and undoubtedly the animation is largely responsible.

I admit that I don't know enough about Iranian history and politics as I should. After four years in a liberal arts college, where I studied international politics even, I can't say I know very much about the country, whose importance in the current global arena grows daily. The film never once punished me for my ignorance on its basic premise, but only encouraged me to learn more. In my opinion, this quality of teaching an audience without the aid of pretense is too rare in intellectual and art films. This film, with the exception of some drug and sex references, would be easily understood by almost any audience. (It does employ subtitles from the original French, so I suppose you do need to be able to read.)

Too, the film does not come across as defeatist or angry or depressing. In large part the film celebrates Iran as it once was and hopes to be again. The Nobel Peace Prize winner and lawyer, Shrini Ehadi described the Islamic Revolution and its aftermath as an "accident of history." And Persepolis certainly holds high this hope for the future.

The author's ability to produce her comic and this film is wholly conditional on her current residence in France. Reading some of the publicity for the film, I found this quote from Marjane when asked if she misses Iran:

Of course. It's my homeland and always will be. If I were a man, I'd say France is my wife, but Iran is my first love and will always linger with me. Obviously, I can't forget all those years when I'd wake up with a view of an 18,700-foot high, snowcovered mountain that dominated Tehran and my life… It's hard to think that I'll never be able to see it anymore. I miss it. Then again, I have the life I wanted. I live in Paris, which is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with the man I love, doing the job I like - plus, I get paid to do what I like to do. Out of respect for those who have stayed there, who share my ideas but cannot express them, I'd find it inappropriate and distasteful to be complaining. If I had given in to despair, everything would have been lost. So up until the last moment, I'll hold my head high and keep laughing because they won't get the best of me. As long as you're alive you can protest and shout, yet laughter is the most subversive weapon of all.

You have to see this movie.


Talk of the Nation

The fabulous Neal Conan brought us this story yesterday on a little radio show called Talk of the Nation regarding the status of sweatshops. Particularly of interest is the segment at the end of the program regarding the pending legislation in Congress called the Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act. If passed, the act would hold companies responsible for respecting local labor laws in the countries in which they do business, as well as require companies to uphold Internationally Recognized Workers' Rights Standards. Listen to the story or read it on the interweb, either way this piece opens up the conversation in a pretty useful way.


Oh the Places You'll Go

Psyche. I'm not about to read you Dr. Seuss because you're graduating and I want you to realize all your damn potential. I mean, be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O'Shea, you're off to Great Places, today is your day....Are you inspired? Sort of? Good enough.

The "real" reason I'm talking about places is because a great thing happened this weekend. I had an awesome evening in a new place (that I went to). And it was awesome because I had no idea it would be so freaking fantastic until I was being there and realizing it. And as a self-proclaimed shut in, homebody, I will tell you that I am highly scrutinizing of places and a hard sell on leaving the house. But for once in a long time, I was so gosh darn pleasantly surprised.

Where did I go? The BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN of course! How's that for Dr. Seuss? Now to explain. This is a house, as in a place where people live in Fishtown, that "emerging" neighborhood northeast of Northern Liberties, but south of the great NORTHEAST here in Philadelphia. Now, I know how lots of people like to tip up their cute little noses at the houses in our city that have the gumption to profess that their houses have personas worthy of naming. But stop being a jerk for like one whole minute. It might be just long enough to hear what I have to say about this amazing house/wonderland that deserves every syllable of its fantastical title:

The house itself was just an excellently renovated warehouse space, of which there are countless over there in Fishtown. But this one had such style. Remnants of its former industrial existence accessorized its modern d.i.y. aesthetic. This included a dangling heavy chain with little purpose beyond simply hanging there and looking tough. The second floor was like a loft, semi-visible from the first floor and from which an awesome and loving dog kept watch over the rager of a birthday party below. Most impressive, however, of all these features was the 15 foot hole in the floor, safely gated off, but useful for seeing all the bands that were performing in the Basement.

Yes those people you see are an entire floor below where you'd be standing if you had made it to the party and been hanging out with me. You would have had an unbelievably fun time hearing my housemates' band Pony Pants play, this awesome band I'd never heard of before called Slingshot Dakota, and the worth-all-their-hype Brooklyn duo Matt & Kim. If you were really on schedule, you would've been there early to hear the Deathset. It was a birthday party for this boy named Ryan:

He seemed to be having a really nice time. And half way through the show, someone showed up with tons of free food, including a huge holiday cake. By the end of the night we were all covered in frosting. Our hands were stained holly berry Christmas RED.

It's okay by me if life needs to remind me of its stature and prowess by impressing me this much with an evening of such well executed debauchery. If all nights were guaranteed as fun as this, I would need more reasons to stay home. And so next time you hear about a show at the Big Rock Candy Mountain in Philadelphia, grab your little u-lock and throw on a fancy scarf and prepare yourself to be wowed. I love seeing houses like this one.


Take someone on an Adventure.

Much fun as it is to scour the earth for that perfect present at your local bicycle shop or craft bonanza, sometimes what you're looking for isn't on that table. Really surprising gifts don't fit on shelves or dangle from elaborate handcrafted hooks. They are train tickets to places unknown or blindfolded drives to other cities for favorite bands to play or film festivals or great food.

Adventures make incredible presents. I had the fortunate experience in 2007 to be the recipient of a surprise party, which is certainly one kind of adventure that transformed my birthday from pretty good to downright memorable.

My delightful friend Emily had the inspired idea to give her sister, Lauren, an adventure that belongs in this category of extraordinary gifts for Christmas. She bought a nice bottle of wine, got Lauren in the car and then set off for New York City.

They were headed for a delectable vegan feast prepared by a chef in Williamsburg. Even for Emily the details were a bit fuzzy before they arrived, but she discovered through the internet this place in Brooklyn where a vegan chef prepares a four course vegan dinner for a prix fixe every Saturday evening. 4CourseVegan.com Emily had to reserve in advance their spots at the large communal table on their night to dine. This was an experience she'd heard about second hand, but never had herself so investing all this planning and secret was a leap of faith for sure. But both ladies returned to Philadelphia on the following day, aglow with the meal from the night before. (in a good way!) They reported awkward but charming interaction with the other diners of the evening and amazing food.

The thoughtfulness and suspense of Emily's surprise was even infectious, i dare say. Both vegans and both food-lovers, this was a chance for the two of them to share an evening and an indulgence; the gift of time and the gift of a special occassion.

It struck me as such a genius gift that I wanted to share it with all of you. So rack your brains and see if that special person on your list wouldn't love to DO something for Christmas. Now that you think of it, they probably would.


This Just In

Last minute news flash for those of you lovely people living in and around the illustrious city of Baltimore, MD: Fabric Horse is coming to you.

For one day only, Fabric Horse good(ie)s will be lovingly touted by our dear friends Jami & Jake of Built in Pittsburgh alongside their outstanding assortment of hats to Squidfire's Second Annual Holiday Art Mart. So, you should go say howdy and get out of the house! Look for these two not only charming but goodlooking vendors, one most definitely wearing some kind of lace. They make the most wonderful hats and cycling friendly clothing that is both highly functional and amazingly beautiful. Jami and Jake have been working at R.E.Load for the holiday season, but call Pittsburgh their home the other 11 months out of the year. We have been so happy to have them for even this brief little sliver of time.

And they were gracious enough to take some belts and spats on the road with them! Here is Jami wearing some of her Fabric Horse garb, just so you can spot her in a crowd:

And this is Jake, wearing some glasses he fashioned for himself in between optometrist appointments which is so unbelievably resourcefulthatitblowsmymind! and so keep an eye out for this strapping gent as well:

Truly they are little beacons of warm happy freespirited flavor and you should go down there and bask in their glow. And buy one of their hats! Or a utility belt! You will immediately look hotter than you already do.


Bust Craftacular

To all of you folks in New York City, I will be hanging out at the mega craft fair, the Bust Craftacular, a huge holiday craft fair at the Metropolitan Pavilion, located at 125 W 18th St in Manhattan. I won't be there representing Fabric Horse, unfortunately, but I will be selling some handmade herbed caramels that I've been working on lately in my spare time. So if you are all set on fancy belts and spats, but you're short on morsels to satisfy your sweet tooth, then come on over and say hi.

I'll be sitting in my friend Sue's booth. Her company is called Giant Dwarf, and she makes hats and hats and hats and gloves and pin cushions and buttons and bonnets. I am a particularly avid fan of the glovettes, which are double knit recycled polyester on the outside, lined with fleece and fingerless and excellent for wearing while sewing in a cold place.

Mostly I'm going to just see the madness that is a holiday craft fair in New York and to hang out with Sue, but Amy Sedaris will also be there and her table is a mere stone's throw from ours, and let's just say I'm a little psyched about that too.

Pictures of the craftacular may follow.


Recycling Fibers

In a hunt for slender but windproof, waterproof winter gloves the other day, I glanced at the Patagucci website just to see their offerings, knowing full well they were probably too rich for my blood. Though I was correct in my assumption, I also ran across something unexpected: the pair of gloves I was viewing was made from 100% Recycled Polyester. Now, I know Patagonia lays some heavy claims to being environmentally friendly and ecologically oriented, I couldn't believe that a luxury retailer like Patagonia would actually find it possible to do this. This made me realize that I don't really know much about actually recycling fibers and fabric. Recycling until now has always to me, meant using found fabrics in sewing. But the gloves I was viewing are not cut out of any vintage polyester garment, they are post-consumer polyester fibers reformed into new recycled, even moisture-wicking material.

I suppose it never occurred to me that this could happen because fabric doesn't exactly melt down, the way I think of recycling bottles and cans and that sort of thing. But then I looked around a little, and there are lots of organizations (that don't even tout themselves as particularly green) who make a business of recycling fibers in one way or another.

Martex Fiber Corporation, for instance, is a company that imports and exports industrial textile wastes, and then sells products for use in spinning yarn and papermaking and several other things that I don't completely understand. They also have sales offices right here in our fair Philadelphia. This strikes me as interesting because I always sort of assumed that transnational corporations like this would work their darndest to make recycling and environmental conservation economically inviable. But they aren't. In fact, it is the substance of their business. And I've never heard of them, which makes me feel out of the "loop".

Related to all of these considerations, this article by the organization Waste Watch in the UK had lots of interesting facts about the fiber recycling industry. I feel like I want to copy and paste the entire thing into this post. But just take my word for it and follow the link, if you have any interest in this subject. We feel proud for our recycling of car seatbelts, which would otherwise end up in landfills. And since Fluff waste is the bulk of post-consumer automotive waste in those landfills, I'm glad we can reduce that even if in a very small way. And these other, larger companies, are undoubtedly helping us in ways we didn't even quite appreciate.

Maybe you already knew all of this. Or maybe, like me, you assumed fabric recycling only extended to the reuse of vintage or discarded fabrics in artistic business endeavors like ours. It is a comfort to know that our collective environmental imagination extends far beyond what I already know and understand. Maybe we aren't as doomed as I thought.

And if you have any additional advice on great winter gloves out there somewhere, I'd love to hear it. Recycled, if possible.


Electric Boogaloo

Last week, the FH studio welcomed a new member to the fleet of industrial machines already stationed at 310 N. 11th St. R.E.Load already uses six Consew walking foot machines, as well as two Singer zig zag machines. We use zig zag for executing the custom applique on messenger bags, and the Consew machines are for stitching all those layers of tough cordura and vinyl together into the bag itself. These machines are unlike home machines in that they are incredibly powerful, which takes some getting used to, to say the least. When home stitchers first start using the industrial machines it is a great challenge to stitch a straight line let alone more difficult curved maneuvers or thick spots. Walking foots are great for pulling fabric in, but their force has to be corralled and harnessed so that this doesn't result in crazy bumps in stitch lines or worse, a lost finger. Once we've tamed these wild beasts, its actually difficult to use the domesticated home machines we all learned on. The power and speed they supply are necessary in our construction of the bags, but R.E.Load stitchers will tell you, in all applications, once you go industrial, you never go back.

The most recent Fabric Horse acquisition is also a Consew walking foot machine, but uses an electric Servo motor, instead of the standard clutch motor. The standard clutch motor shares more than linguistic qualities with cars. They feel like driving a big rig, forward pedal for gas and heel pressure for brake; they really should require a license.

The new machine's motor is still engaged using a pedal, but the speed is mostly controlled by a dial on the motor itself. I can't say I can explain the mechanical differences between the two, but this difference is crucial for several reasons. Primarily, the electric motor uses 40% less energy than its clutch counterpart, which is the number one reason we decided to try out the new setup. Equally beneficial is the fact that the electric machine is much much quieter than our other machines. Our other industrial machines sound more like automobiles than appliances, which was a concern to our landlords when we moved into our space on 11th Street. Even between stitches, the clutch motor machines emit a most certainly audible whir that makes for quite the obnoxious white noise, take my word.

Our new little lady is SILENT when not actually stitching, which is remarkable by our account. We are still getting used to the particulars, but this new, lower energy machine is exciting for us and if all goes well, we may see more of these motors in our shop in coming months. If you'd like more info about the science here, I can only direct you here.

Thanks to our local machine shop, Keystone for putting us in touch with this savvy little gal. Fun Fact: the technology in these little motors is also used to make robots!