|Inside Chelsea Market|
Several times a year my mother and I would walk to the end of our block in Queens, climb the stairs up to the El (the elevated) and board a train. A few stations along my grandmother would join us and we would travel together into the city (Manhattan). Our destination was always the same: Macy's, Herald Square.
We would take the wooden escalators (dating to 1902) all the way up to the 8th floor.
The fabric department, of course, was located on the 8th floor. I have a vague recollection that it took up the entire floor of the west (7th Avenue) building. In any case, it was vast. Alas, it is no longer there, having been replaced by ready to wear clothing.
First, we would sit down with the Vogue, McCall's and Butterick books to choose patterns for dresses, blouses, suits, or whatever garments we needed. Then came the really fun part of selecting fabrics: calicos, cotton shirtings, silks, wools, corduroys. You name it, Macy's had it. By the time we had made our choices and had the appropriate yardage cut it was well past noon and we were eager for lunch. Chock Full O'Nuts was our go-to place, I suppose because the price was right, and it was fun to sit at the counter to eat. After lunch we would stop in one of the little nearby shops specializing in notions to pick out buttons, fasteners, ribbons, etc. Although Macy's no longer sells fabric, the notion shops seem to have grown quite a bit. Home-sewn clothing may not be popular, but other crafts certainly are. The Martha Stewart effect, perhaps.
It is certainly easier, quicker and cheaper to buy ready made clothing, but I am glad that wasn't the case when I was a child. I would not trade all those trips into the city with my mother and grandmother for anything. The days we spent together, and the hours subsequently spent making up the clothes, are so much a part of the special relationship I share with my mother. She taught me to sew, and that is no small thing, but along the way I learned many other things of even greater value.
Here is a vest that I made for myself when I was in high school. It is perfect for Austin's winter weather when a shirt alone is not enough, but a sweater is too much.