How can it be that our lovely full month in New York City has dwindled to seven days and counting until we return to Maine? We have not spent every day in a dead heat of activity, rather have passed many days in a leisurely manner. As I wrote to my brother from MA recently, who with his wife had spent a hectic 3 days visiting the Grounds for Sculpture in Trenton, NJ and then perhaps 6-7 museums and galleries in Manhattan before returning home without even so much as a phone call to us, some people go on vacation to do things and some people to not do things. We needed time away from our matrix with few responsibilities–all the worries will still be there when we get home, and some have even come knocking to challenge our equanimity and repose, but we have pursued our goals with time to breathe these past three weeks, and one way and another, have accomplished a good deal.
During our usual madcap visits to NYC, rather more like my brother’s hectic trip mentioned above, we have filled each day and night with activity, slept little, and returned needing more than a day or two of “catch-up” after the grueling 10 hour drive. This time we will split the return trip into two days, visiting with either friends or family in MA on the way to ME so not to lose the benefits of the time of our relaxation.
As many of you know, I have done most of my shopping for African fabrics on the African continent in the past, when time and money permitted the travel and adventure, but of late, these past three years, responsibility has been rather a heavier mantle, and I have “shopped” closer to home through the auspices of friends traveling abroad, and the occasional forays into African New York. Here is what I have noticed in my rambles during this month of April 2010.
There are fewer shops selling factory made African Fabric that actually comes from Africa and more selling African fabric that comes from China and Pakistan. There are fewer shops overall, and some have moved to less prominent locations or into smaller venues. The same irregular quality of materials continues, with some fabrics so flimsy as to be scarcely better than heavily starched gauze while one can still find better quality cloth mixed into the stacks of flat folded cottons that line the perimeters of small shops and boutiques. Surprising items can be discovered if you ask permission to look into the bags and tubs of additional goods that may be stacked up in African Craft shops, and some shop keepers have always only ever bought the best and can show you antique textiles that will set you back a paycheck or two but enliven your home or collection for the rest of your life.
Some stores that used to sell predominantly wax fabrics from all-over, from Cote d’Ivoire to Holland to Nigeria to London or Senegal, now feature a small inventory of cottons from China and Pakistan, but have a large inventory of machine made and hand-cut lace brocades from Korea for fancy party clothes or perhaps curtains. These fabrics are usually sold in 5 yard lengths and the sky’s the limit as far as cost is concerned. We were recently in one store in the Fashion District in mid-town where, on random asking, we were told that one 5-yard length of fabric was $180, a second was $250, and a third over $500. And that was before having your tailor or seamstress whip up a lovely for you to wear to that must-attend event. Me? I could have spent a lot of money there on fabulous yardage but alas, lack the lifestyle wherein to wear anything made from such fantasy fairy tale fabrics.
Though I was able to find some really nice quality wax prints, I have bought more hand-decorated damask and flat weave cottons–Tchoup–than I anticipated finding, and also some wax block resist Indigo cloth from Guinea the likes of which I have only ever seen from Nigeria previously. Since I started this business selling the hand decorated and dyed fabrics from the Gambia, this is a nice full circle for me. I think, however, that I will have to follow through with a new marketing plan, because my customers are accustomed to seeing African prints at the web store and I no longer can tempt you with my displays of fabric at the sewing and quilting festivals and conferences where we used to meet in person until I retired from road shows last year. Anyone have any good ideas?