Our friend Barnett fixes up vintage trailers to rent out during the Joshua Tree Music Festival. I really like the way he fixes them: a coat of paint for waterproofing, rusted metal patches on the siding, wooden window frames, improvised doors. The insides are usually gutted and painted bright colours; plywood patches are applied where needed. A lot of the trailer renos you see on the internet are painstaking restorations. This is not that. This is something a little wilder.
This is how you get power where you need it in the desert
Most of the time I like to get my fabric from thrift stores, garage sales and other points downstream, but living less than three hours away from the second largest fashion district on the continent, I do sometimes indulge in new fabric.
There are surprisingly few shopping guides to the LA fashion district, and none that share my particular aesthetic: I like very high quality natural-fiber fabric, and I like to pay very little for it. It sounds like an unlikely combination, but fortunately as a quilter I don’t need a lot of contiguous square inches to be interested.
Consider this a first draft of a scrappy quilter’s guide to the fashion district. If you know places I should know about, please throw down in the comments!
FIDM scholarship store – Thanks to this guide, I found this place the first time I visited the garment district. At the back of the store there’s a nice selection of remnants for $1 a yard. Most pieces are less than a yard. They also have rolls – usually upholstery, stretch, or lace type fabrics – and fabric samples at 3 x $1.
B. Black and Sons – This guide turned me on to this shop. I was able to buy ~1/2 yard roll ends of wool and linen for $1 apiece. If you’re inspired by old Amish quilts, don’t miss this place. They also throw away sample books (which is what I used to make this quilt-top in progress), so it would be worth asking if they have any old ones to spare.
Michael Levine Loft – Across the street from the main store, upstairs, fabric is sold for $2.50/lb. Most of the loft is full of knits, because they’re heavier, but I usually find a couple of pounds of interesting scraps.
Living in Vancouver, I discovered the to-the-trade decorator fabric shops on Alexander Street. After one lucky dumpster experience (I got a couple of books full of 6×6 silk samples, I used to make this), I started going into the shops and asking for their old samples. Some would tell me, “we just threw out a dumpster full” while others would set old books aside for fashion students and were happy to let me go through the stash and take whatever I wanted. Upholstery stores can also be good sources. I’m sure it’s possible to do this in LA, I just haven’t yet. – any recommendations?
Clothing seconds are factory rejects and usually go for $1 – $10 a piece. Finding a store full of interesting ones is a clothing-modifier’s dream come true. In some cases the damage is a sewing error or small tear, while other times there is an intentional snip out of the garment (I would like to understand more about the industry and why garments are snipped and then donated/sold off). The only source I can point you to so far is the FIDM scholarship store. I did find another store last year, at the edge of the garment district, that sold damaged clothing, but I haven’t been able to find it again!
When I got home, my copy of The Good Life Lab had arrived. I love it. It’s scrappy and very desert-oriented: where other DIY books have instructions on soap making and canning strawberries, this book has a papercrete dome built with a drag-behind mixer and a recipe for taking rust off old tools; the recipes use wolf berry, ocotillo and prickly pear, with instructions to substitute local plants as needed.
The quilts must be smaller than a priority mail envelope (9 x 12” or less) and have a mechanism for hanging on the back. They will be sold or auctioned via the website to fund Alzheimers research. These are my first two. I’ll let you know when they go up for sale.