Leap Year

I am writing all of you all a little late on this Friday night because I just realized that the final hours of February 29 are closing in and I didn't want to miss my chance to wish you adorable people a happy leap year. Revel in your extra day of 2008, the time space bargain of the year. We are celebrating by having our third annual Febtoberfest: A humongous party with bands and djs and snacks and beer held every Febtober at our lovely house in West Philadelphia. Three floors and a basement of kids full to bursting with majestic party spirit.
I'll be honest. It is cold out. But it only takes a Sparks to get a fire going. And soon all those around will warm up in one sweaty crowded dance party that lasts late into the night. I do hope you've found a way to celebrate this Leap year in your neighborhood. And if you live in mine, you should swing by.


Buckle Up

As you've probably noticed, we've integrated recycled seat belts into most of our products. This isn't exactly a haphazard design choice on our part. Although the belts lend themselves to use in almost every one of our products, we are also consciously choosing to use something that would otherwise fill up landfills. Seatbelt webbing is pretty great because as with all recycled materials, we can never really tell what we're going to get. It depends on the make and model of the cars that are hanging out at the junkyard at the time, which means that color and quality are never guaranteed. We think this unpredictability is sort of fun.

A while back I got to thinking about all the metaphysical meaning in our using seat belts to make utilitarian wares for bicycle enthusiasts. Its like dismantling the cars to empower the cyclists, which is pretty romantic if you ask me. In addition to our beloved bicycles having themselves very low waste as a transportation scheme, now we've additionally taken on the reuse of waste created by the automobile industry. Steel, for its great value as an industrial resource and easy recyclability, is rescued from junkyards as a rule. The steel industry generally boasts a near 100% recycling rate for automobiles, which is measured by comparing the amount of steel recycled from automobiles each year to the amount of steel used to produce new automobiles in the same year. But while the metal elements of cars are reused, the interiors of cars—Fluff Waste, the broad term used to describe the parts of cars that are utterly un-recyclable by conventional definitions—accounts for a significant amount of waste which is frequently taken from junkyards to landfills. Seat belts are routinely a part of this Fluff. That is except for those lucky few that are whisked away and stitched into fancy belts for fancy bicycle minded folks.

Who ever thought cars and the steel industry would become an emblem for an effective large scale recycling model? But they really are. It works is because it is actually more expensive to create steel from scratch than to reuse recycled steel, which makes recycling an economically advantageous business practice rather than an ethical one. Furthermore, steel scrap is a necessary ingredient in producing new steel. As I see it, the economic incentive here isn't really a problem. It actually means that the likelihood of recycling is exponentially increased by compelling businesses to recycle using the logic of business.

Fabric Horse isn't exempt from this same idea. We may do things pretty different from traditional small businesses, but there is still an incentive for us to use recycled seat belts instead of brand new ones because they are cheaper and readily available. And because of this economic incentive, the decision for us was a no-brainer. Now, because we ARE environmentally conscious and happen to love the personality of used seat belts, we might make the same decision if the financial cost of new and used seat belts were equal. But not necessarily.

And this unknown outcome of decision-making echoes throughout recycling initiatives, which are most successful when they employ incentives. Recycling will never be widespread if municipal programs rely solely on the hope that people will always do the right thing, buy blue bins, and separate out the glass and plastic from the paper. In many cases, recycling seems to work best when companies who put out products that create waste in turn oversee the recycling of the waste they've created, as some dairies have done with milk jugs and brewers have done with bottles. In this concept, each step of the recycling chain is unified under a common overseer which can't help but make the system more efficient and more effective. But overwhelmingly, most recycling resources agree that the key to promoting recycling is to increase the demand for the reclaimed material. Which means that when you purchase things made from recycled materials and when you consider using recycled materials over new ones in your own projects, you increase the viability of recycling. And by this logic, when wearing your FH goods, you are a subtle beacon of environmentalism. Way to go.


Um woah.

I mean, you obviously need one.


A little green monster!

So Popular Science Magazine announced last weekend the 50 Greenest Cities in these United States, ranked by a sum of numerical values given according to a city's performance by statistic in four categories: Electricity, Transportation, Green Living, and Recycling/Green Perspective. Not surprisingly, Portland, OR topped the list, that mecca of all things recycled and organic and pedal powered.

I was hardly surprised to find the following four to be San Francisco, Boston, Oakland and Eugene. And beyond that Cambridge, Berkeley, Seattle, Chicago, Austin, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Sunnyvale, Honolulu, Fort Worth, Albuquerque, Syracuse...

But I never would have imagined that Philadelphia factors NOWHERE on the list of the top 50 green cities. Or rather, I guess its just embarrassing to see it written like that on the internets for everyone to see.

Its true that we only recently got citywide recycling pickup, and there aren't even trash cans on many street corners and our bike lanes are sporadic...but Philadelphia! As a major American city and the one I call home, maybe its time you got your shit together?

I think I speak for everyone everywhere when I say go green or go home. Here are five ways that I wish Philadelphia would change for the greener.

1. I wish that our busses were zero emission, like the ones in Oakland and Austin so that I didn't have asthma just from living here.

2. I wish that our bike lanes were separated from traffic by a curb to encourage and empower more people to commute by bike until we overtook automobile traffic five to one.

3. I wish that we could elect to get our energy from renewable sources by just selecting a box and that it would be as affordable as gross energy.

4. I wish that there would be a recycling receptacle on every corner so that when I finish a 40 en route to some party I can toss it instead of hauling it around until I get home.

5. I wish that plastic bags were illegal.

6. I wish that cars had to pay a 50 dollar fee for daily entrance into Center City, the radius of which is so small that walking or biking everywhere is totally feasible. The proceeds could go to any number of things in this city that could use improvement and funding. Public education, for instance.

7. I wish that this city would invest in green building and converting so many of the abandoned spaces that are everywhere into affordable housing, instead of erecting suburban lookalike dwellings in the middle of blighted neighborhoods.

That's all I can think of for now. There's been lots of talk about Philadelphia as an artist haven, the new Brooklyn, but where's the benefit that comes with change? With the exception of Phillycarshare, which I am continuously impressed with, sometimes this place reeks with empty gentrification. All show and no followthrough.


Be Mine

Straight from Cupid's workshop, friends...

a sure Valentine of a Halfbelt.


Handmade to the Max

Somehow I've managed to get myself to Portland, OR for at least a long weekend the past two Springtimes. Unfortunately this year it doesn't look like I will make it. I'm especially sorry to break tradition in light of last weekend's plethora of eye candy at the NAHMBS. If you don't already know, this spectacular is The place to go to see what custom frame builders are dreaming up across the country. And this of course, gives us a clue as to what we will see in high end bicycle culture in the near future. There were tons of city bikes, touring bikes, wooden accents, new applications of carbon & titanium, and details, details, details. There are infinite photos of all the craziness out there on the internet but I would recommend wandering over to Cycling News for a particularly expansive selection. My favorites are definitely the stuff from Vanilla Cycles and Pereira Cycles, both of the PDX vicinity. Classy:

Photo ©: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com

Photo ©: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com

Portland has more than its share of framebuilders, spurred by the enthusiasm and passion of the city's droves of cyclists, which makes it an ideal location for such a show. Count me jealous.


The Makery

So, remember back in December when I told you I went to the Bust Craftacular with my friend Sue? Remember how I mentioned something about your sweet tooth? Remember all of this?

Well the story is, Sue is a wonderfully gracious hostess and a veteran craft fair seller. I say hostess because back in December, she let me set up a little corner of her table with the handmade caramels that I make. She even lent me her vintage pyrex for displaying them. I say gracious because she did this as a friendly gesture to me, who really didn't expect to sell anything at said craft fair, and watched with warm encouragement as I Sold Out. Ahem. I sold out in three hours. The samples were obviously crucial, but people would walk up to the table and take the small morsel into their mouths, prepared to walk away and then the flavor would literally stop them in their tracks. I loved witnessing it. Sue didn't do half bad herself, mind you.

But the story is this: I have made these caramels for presents in December the past few years. They are remarkably good. This year I started experimenting with herbs and speculating on new combinations of flavors. And I came up with a good one. Rosemary. I also replicated a classic. Sea Salted. They are totally organic and made in small batches so they are always fresh. The flavor is really smooth and I make them a little softer than most, so they almost melt on the tongue and yield easily to the tooth. It seemed an obvious choice for selling at a holiday craft fair, already tried and true.

I'm calling the candy shop the Makery. Sort of inspired by the Fakery on Weeds, but also because I think I could someday own a bakery and by rhyming this venture with that, I somehow feel closer to that faroff goal. I made an etsy shop for them so that people could order them. And a few of them have. I'm hoping to sell them in a few handmade shops and cafes here in Philly soon.

Now kids, I love to stitch, but a part of my heart will always belong to food. And expensive beer, of course, but mostly food. And this wasn't really a plan of mine, to have a side business making candy, but then it just sort of happened. And much as I find satisfaction in my day job, it is a whole new thing to feel proud of something that is totally you, from start to finish, and have other people reinforce it by way of their eating and smiling simultaneously. So pardon this shameless self-promotion, but I just had to fill you in on something I've been working on in my spare time. I know candy seems a little frivolous, okay, but it IS almost Valentine's Day...

And I ship...


What's next, photobooths?

A warning to readers who have no tolerance for superficiality and whimsy: you may want to skip this post. But to the rest of you, and the lot of you (let's be honest), have you heard that Polaroid has announced THE END OF POLAROID? And this, only two months after I attended a pollyanna in which TWO (2) of the secret gifts were polaroid cameras bought at thrift stores and in which these two gifts were by FAR the best of the lot, coveted and swiped from several owners over the course of the exchange.

The company already stopped production of the cameras themselves, and as soon as they have enough film to last them through 2009, will halt production of that as well. Which means you'd better get thee to your local camera depot and stock the F up. Or face the indefinite future with no way to record your moments of romance and classical sensibility.

Hipsters and art kids will surely be the hardest hit, whose parties and boredom will look far less glamorous in the clarity of digital photography. Some new accessory will have to take the place of the cumbersome plastic boxes that hitherto hung about their necks, heavy necklaces. Next impacted will be medium good looking people who really rely on the vintage tones and fuzzy lines of polaroid pictures to elevate them from mediocre to remarkably attractive. But mostly, I think, knowing that polaroids are about to be relics of the past (not only relics, but useless objects!) makes this world a little harsher for all of us.

Personally, I feel like this move by Polaroid can only be dubbed a Mistake, one which takes us yet another step further from Real Things like pictures. Into the world of the digital, the abstract, the hypothetical until all we have are megabytes that are memories and all of a sudden our lives will resemble some really heavy science fiction.

Long Live the Polaroid.


On a Somber Note

You may have already heard about the recent loss of cycling great, Sheldon Brown to a massive heart attack Sunday evening. He was 63. It cannot be over emphasized how much knowledge and passion this single man brought to the sport and the appreciation of bicycles. If you've never heard the name, I promise that you've benefited from his work on and around bikes. Grant Petersen has described him a "humble educator" and this he was. Sheldon Brown contributed more in the way of accessible bicycle mechanics and know-how than pretty much anyone, selflessly and free, in his tireless efforts to share his love of bicycles with the world.

He was a champion of Do It Yourself Cycling and built a mammoth website full of articles and information, there for the taking. This, the assembly of his immense expertise about all things bike, were intended to encourage people to take their tools into their own hands, learn about the pastime and find new ways to simply get out and ride. His last post on BikeForums.net was a reply to a user's question about threading on a freewheel, posted earlier on the day he died. The man was dedicated to the end. His website was the Sutherland's manual for people who couldn't afford or didn't have access to a Sutherland's manual. It is impossible to estimate how many thousands of fixies were built with the knowledge gleaned from his website.

The shop where he worked as a mechanic, Harris Cyclery, in West Newton, Mass. has announced that a memorial service will be held in early March. Also, to those attending the Westminster Swap near Baltimore, MD this Sunday, you can wear a black arm band in remembrance of Sheldon in solidarity with others through the Classic Rendezvous website.

He's been described as a good man with a clownish personality and a contagious love for cycling. Although I can't say I knew Sheldon, I can say I share his love of cycling and venture to guess, so do you. In our joy, we can honor his life's work. Rest in Peace, Sheldon.


Football and Always

Long Live the Superbowl! In a rare moment of football enthusiasm, this February the third, I spent the unofficial national holiday at the annual Buckinghammer Superbowl Party. There are still some unequaled festivities in West Philadelphia that warrant your attention. This is one of them:

Basically a rager of a gentlemen's house on Buckingham Place, a tiny and adorable street between 44th and 45th Streets, hosts a crazy legendary Superbowl Party of kids who normally wouldn't give a hoot about football. And it is unbelievably fun. There are many snacks and many tv sets:

One of which showcases the PUPPY BOWL on Animal Planet. There is also one in the Bathroom, so you don't miss anything while you're doing your duty:

There was even a substitute HalfTime Show featuring EAT FOREVER and Drums Like Machine Guns, performed in the basement and simultaneously broadcast through the projector in the living room. This crowd was not about to watch Tom Petty.

Here is where the Giants threw the miracle pass that won them the final and consquential touchdown against the Patriots. (Everyone was cheering!)

This is how many people were crammed into one tiny living room, equipped with somewhat stadium seating.

So. Much. Fun.


Barack Obama for President

Following in the illustrious footsteps of Oprah Winfrey, Al Gore and most recently the L.A.Times, Fabric Horse hereby announces our enthusiastic endorsement of Barack Obama for the 2008 Democratic Presidential Nomination. Many politicians have announced that they will withhold endorsements until after Super Tuesday, but we felt it important to get off the fence and add our voices to the resounding chorus chanting his name that seems to grow louder by the day.

Now it should be said that in a world, or even a country, where two party politics didn't reign supreme, this stitcher would find her own values mostly in line with Dennis Kucinich. But. In 2008, this country has found itself at last with a view beyond the Bush administration. This following two elections where nearly half of our voting populace chose the Bush administration. Not just one term, but two. That speaks to the power of people in the middle of our country, who vote for gun rights and Christian values. This is the reality from which we are only now emerging. That said, I don't think this country is ready for the radical suppositions of the Kucinich campaign. Progressive American politics suffered a harrowing defeat in 2004. In an attempt to prevent a repeat of the 2000 election and any accusations that third party candidates contributed to the re-election of a republican president, many on the left voted their conscience for Kerry only for him to lose anyway.

Four years since that moment, we are part of an election including a black man and a woman. Wonders never cease. And what's more, a black man who attracts the support of Republicans, Democrats, Independents and Progressives by way of a single platform. His appeal, though intangible, is undeniable. Through the sum of his positions on healthcare, immigration, poverty, Iraq, and the environment, Carrie and I have agreed that we feel that instinct and fact both play a part in our gravitation toward this man who seems to gain momentum across demographic and political boundaries. Instinct is a tough emotion to evoke in politics and for this, I have taken notice of the Senator from Illinois. His well-spoken, confident and straightforward manner are an excellent counterpart to his message of constructive policies and proactivity--a stark contrast to other candidates' reactionary insinuations. Time and again, he has focused first on the issues and second on his opponents' relationships to these issues. The office of the President would benefit so greatly from Obama's integrity that I scarcely believe we would recognize it as our own.

In the dignified spirit of the Obama campaign, I will not focus on the reasons why FH does not endorse his opponents, but simply highlight the reasons we find his message so compelling. His own political background, some might say under-ripe, lacks the corporate entrenchment, the murky associations, the empty talk and the debilitating realism of his elder opponents. His background and experience living abroad gives him the air of a truly open-minded globetrotter, and for this his policies have the weight and the thoughtfulness of an information formed by global, transnational experience. For example, his take on immigration includes measures for both strengthening the mechanism for legal immigration within the United States, and also measures to strengthen the Mexican economy and therefore decrease the incentive to immigrate illegally. This comprehensive policy considers the issue from a humanitarian, as well as, an American perspective. Evidence of this greater understanding of issues can be traced throughout his proposed policies on several issues. Too long have our leaders trotted around championing the American experience as a singular mindset, separating us geographically and politically from the other peoples of the world, as well as from one another. For us this distinction in Obama's philosophy, which serves as the cornerstone for his decisionmaking as a leader, is the single most compelling reason for our support.

Clinton and Obama are nearly indistinguishable on the issues, as has been noted by many news sources and by the candidates themselves. For this reason, the candidates' capacity as leaders has been called up as the singular most important factor in determining their success at the polls. If you haven't yet heard Obama speak, listen to his speech on MLK Day or his speech after taking South Carolina by storm. It is some of the most persuasive evidence of his ability to unite people.

Image Copyright Shepard Fairey and OBEY GIANT ART

With that, Fabric Horse would like to encourage you to vote on Tuesday if you live in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, or Utah. Ride your bikes to the polls. Vote for Obama.