On Wednesday I hopped on the Megabus in Aberdeen with my luggage on the first stage of my epic journey to the USA. Tracy met me at Glasgow bus station and after dropping off my bags, we went on a special tour of a nuclear submarine that she had manage to organise since she works at the Faslane base. I had to scramble up and down ladders and climb through round hatches. The naval officers all admired my sensible (gold) Doc Marten boots!
The next morning we began our long day travelling to New York – first to London Heathrow and then on to Newark where we had to wait some time to clear immigration. The Border Control Officer was very dubious about why we wanted to go to Brooklyn to visit a Quilter but eventually he must have decided that we did not pose a security threat. We found the transit train eventually and finally reached Penn Station and met up with our wonderful hostess, Marilynn. She led us to the subway train for Brooklyn and welcomed us into her fabulous old brownstone house with architectural features and creaky stairs. I will interview Marilynn in more detail later… After a long-awaited G&T we went to bed at what our bodies thought was around 5am, far too excited to sleep much.
On Friday morning we found ourselves walking along the street in Brooklyn past old building with iron fire escapes and boarded the first of many fast and noisy subway trains into the New York City’s Garment District landmarked with a huge needle and button monument. As I dashed over the pedestrian crossing, I felt that my decision to wear leggings in an effort to look fashionable had not been a wise one as they started to slither down and I had to hitch them up on more than one occasion. We quickly found an Italian wholesaler of dancewear where I managed to procure a new pair for $7 after a bit of banter with the Italian proprietors.
The first fabric store that we entered via an antique crank elevator was Moods, as featured on TV’s “Project Runway”. There were 3 storeys of tweed, spandex, ribbons, buttons and trimmings. I found 2 giant buttons for the Yurt’s door handles. After the thrill of seeing all of that fabric, we had coffee in a wonderful Deli with beautifully presented counters of cookies, cheesecakes and salads. I have made up my mind that I need to eat a bagel with cream cheese, pastrami on rye, a giant pretzel, cheesecake and a fried egg sunnyside up while I am in New York.
We emerged from the coffee shop to gawp at the sky-scrapers, yellow taxi cabs and all sorts of people. All through the day I received admiring glances and comments about my gold boots since Docs are not available in the USA. Next we visited a tiny Jewish fabric shop piled to the ceiling with rolls of suiting and lurex. In the beautiful patchwork shop, City Quilter, we bought some NYC fabric to make tote bags. Rosen & Chadick was an expensive wholesaler that we entered to be fascinated by top quality shirting and imported Italian wool. A store called Peron had a beautiful piece of metallic gold leather. After a tuna melt sandwich in an Italian cafe in Soho, we visited Purl which was 2 tiny shops – one sold unusual Japanese prints and the other was filled with colourful yarn for knitting and crochet. I almost bought a purple crochet hook, thinking that it would benefit my crochet dyslexia.
At Union Square in Greenwich Village Tracy was in girlie heaven in make-up shop, Sephora. Women were primping and preening in every available mirror. Tracy appeared with a hand striped with several colours of sparkly eye-liner. We had another cup of coffee and root beers in a huge Barnes & Noble book store where we browsed through all of the patchwork books and magazines.
Our final destination of the day was 42nd Street for Times Square, lit by huge neon billboards advertising all of the Broadway shows. It was amazingly bright and colourful and tourists were all busy snapping away at all of the sights. We shared a delicious giant pretzel dipped in mustard from a street vendor. We rode the subway and bus back to Brooklyn again, not realising that it was already after 10pm. After a couple of gins we slept more soundly but still woke up bright and early before heading out to look for breakfast bagels before visiting the Empire Quilters guild meeting.
On Saturday morning we rode the subway back into the Garment District, managing to walk straight past City Quilter on the mission to find genuine bagels. There was a tiny coffee shop on the corner that served great coffee and nova lox (smoked salmon) with cream cheese on sesame bagels. We were far too full after that to do anything other than admire the beautifully frosted cupcakes. Next we wandered around the flea market inside a large parking garage, browsing through vintage couture and ephemera, pausing to discuss a wonderful mid Victorian log cabin quilt on sale for $1200.
We walked over to FIT, the Institute of Fashion Technology, marvelling at how green and open New York feels. The streets are wide and the many trees are covered with cherry blossom. The skyscrapers are not as high and dominating as I had expected; most areas have brownstone buildings with beautiful architectural features.
We attended a Guild meeting of Empire Quilters and were made to feel welcome by a large and diverse group of quilters. The business part of the meeting felt very familiar with the discussion on how the fees would have to be raised in order to pay for the rent on the venue, just like any meeting of quilters in the UK. The speaker was Betty Pillsbury who had brought her collection of crazy quilts. We had a rare opportunity to study and photograph her work. Speaking to her afterwards, we discovered that she had been to Scotland and had visited Helensburgh and Dunottar while she was there. As there were around 300 quilters at the meeting, people with Show & Tell items had to take a ticket and wait to called forwards. There were all sorts of projects including journal quilts and class samples. The most memorable was a surprise quilt featuring cupcakes that one sister had been working on secretly with a group of friends. The recipient was so overwhelmed that it left her speechless. I showed the Empire Quilters an unfinished yurt panel that I had brought with me and explained the project in brief.
After the meeting we decided to explore the Garment District again to look at trimmings. There were entire shops filled with haberdashery – shelves and boxes full of zips, buttons, feathers and elastic. Remarkably, I only bought a piece of ribbon, deciding to concentrate on the project in hand. I was tempted to buy 60 horn toggles to add as a trimming on the Yurt roof but somehow I didn’t, deciding to eke my dwindling funds out as far as they will go on absolute essentials. I could not believe how many shops in one small area could be stocked with such a massive range of spandex and sequins. It would be amazing to design a very glitzy project but the choice was simply overwhelming and I bought no fabric at all, despite being sorely tempted by some shot silk that would make a gorgeous wholecloth.
A train ride across town to the Lower East Side took us to Katz’s traditional Jewish restaurant. It was a large, cafeteria style diner retaining its original 1950’s decor. The noise and bustle was amazing. This was where “Harry met Sally” and adverts read, “Senda Salami to a Soldier”. It was so popular that the queue reached back out onto the street. I ordered pastrami on rye with pickles and a potato salad. The meat was cut thickly but hot and tender and it was easily the largest and most wonderful sandwich that I have ever eaten! We needed a stroll around the district afterwards, passing designer boutiques with no price tickets, jostling for space with trendy bars – these shopfronts are gradually replacing the old “Mom & Pop” businesses of the area.
We spent the later part of the evening at Marilynn’s house looking at quilt patterns and books and felt most privileged to be able to ask her all sorts of questions about what life is really like in New York. We discussed healthcare, the impact of Nine Eleven on the neighbourhoods, the myths of the Underground Railroad, architecture, food, and her amazing collection of African American quilting history books, fabrics, dolls and paintings. She has been a most generous and welcoming hostess and we feel that we have made a true friend in New York.