Category Archives: travel

Mission San Miguel Arcangel and its Loom

My vacation is long since over but I want share a few pictures from Mission San Miguel Arcangel, located in San Luis Obispo county in California. Just off the highway, this mission is in an agriculturally rich area. There must also be an army base nearby, based on uniformed personnel we saw eating at nearby Leo’s Cafe.


The loom below was part of a display of how the mission operated. Sadly it’s not in a usable state.


The East Bay Depot for Creative Re-Use

Were you a child who treasured offcuts of wood, scraps of fabric, egg cartons and even empty toilet rolls for creative play?

I am old enough to remember when cotton reels were made of wood, giving them many more possibilities for re-use than the plastic cotton reels we have today. In fact wooden cotton reels were one of the most desirable items of ‘waste.’ My grandfather made spinning tops out of old cotton reels. I still treasure those spinning tops today.

Today I can’t help but save items that I think might be useful for children’s craft activities. I gather them until I have enough to pass on to a family or a play group where children will be able to enjoy them. I wish I had a Depot for Creative Re-Use locally, like the one at 4695 Telegraph Ave in Oakland, so I could donate these items. Their shop is a treasure trove of pre-loved art supplies, yarn, card stock, picture frames, patterns, books, magazines and many more useful items.

centre-for-creative-reuseWhen we visited the East Bay Depot for Creative Re-Use we had a wonderful time hunting for treasures we could use for our craft projects. I resisted the temptation to buy some very well priced yarn in an attractive colour because I am trying to restrict my buying to projects I will work on immediately. My beloved found back issues of Fine Woodworking magazine for his reference library and was very happy with his purchases.

If I lived locally I would be happy to donate to the depot because I love what they do – diverting useful items from the waste stream and making them available to crafters, artists and educators who will put them to good use. Most of us crafters have one or two or more items that we haven’t had time to use or that reflect an interest we have moved on from.

The depot is located in an old part of town where coffee roasters offer espressos in shops that are next door to run down old buildings. I received some light verbal abuse from a homeless person for getting between him and the checkouts at the Depot for Re-Use, an experience that seemed consistent with the neighbourhood which has all kinds of people.

If you’re in the Telegraph Ave area you might also want to check out La Calaca Loca which has a well-deserved reputation for excellent grilled and fried fish tacos. There’s a tool lending library available to Oakland Public Library members, just across the road from the taqueria, adding one more fantastic feature to the area.

I am unaware of any places in my home town that offer similar services to the East Bay Depot for Creative Re-Use. Do you have anything similar where you live? It’s a brilliant idea and I’d love to see more of them.

The Pub with No Beer

SPOILER ALERT -This post is about quilts, not about beer. If you want sunshine and unicorns, stop reading now. If you wish to read on you might want to listen to Slim Dusty sing his famous Pub with no Beer song.

Our visit to the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles at 520 South First St, San Jose was badly timed. Two out of three exhibitions on the day we visited were wedding themed.

mike_mcnamara_3The only quilts being exhibited were by Mike McNamara and were described as being inspired by the traditional double wedding ring design. When I say inspired, I guess they mean loosely inspired. It was hard to spot the double wedding rings at all as Mr McNamara’s quilts were hung in a corridor, making it difficult to get enough distance to view their designs clearly. It was only after I reviewed my photos (taken with permission) that the double rings became evident. Each quilt was accompanied by pictures of the mostly same-sex couples that the quilts were made for.

While I support marriage equality, when it came to the artistry of these particular quilts I wonder whether support for same-sex marriage didn’t influence the curatorial decision-making. These quilts did not inspire me, though they did confirm that for me, wonky edges are not an acceptable design choice. And while I’m being controversial, when the vast majority of quilts are made by women, it rather ticks me off to see a male quilter’s work being the only quilts on display at a quilt museum.


The technology in fashion exhibit did not hold our attention and the wedding dresses on display were historically interesting and were, I’m sure, carefully chosen from the History San Jose collection. The most interesting was a dress that was so tiny that the bride either had a developmental issue or, more likely, was well under what we would call marriageable age today. The age of the bride was not given, unfortunately.

My personal favourite was a checked gown, worn by Ann Elizabeth Smith at her marriage to Robert Francis Peckham in 1849, a time when a woman’s best dress had to serve on her wedding day and well beyond. There was no focus on weaving though there was a contemporary (1985) woven Moroccan wedding belt on display.


Moroccan Wedding Belt – Detail

As for the outfits worn by two men on their recent wedding day, while I celebrate their love, I just can’t get excited about (almost) matching contemporary grey suits.

This was a disappointing visit, mostly because of the small number of quilts on display. As my beloved put it, “Oh well, we’ve given them $16, maybe they can go out and get themselves some quilts.”

However from their web site I see that the permanent collection of the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles contains over 1000 textiles and includes historic quilts, contemporary art quilts and textile-based art forms, as well as garments and textiles from world cultures.

But the quilt collection is not open to the public, so you could call the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles the pub with no beer.

Buying Fabric in San Francisco

Front of Frabric Outlet store showing signage

Here’s what it looks like from the outside

I made a visit to Fabric Outlet in the Mission District of San Francisco in order to post a review as a community service to you all.

In truth, I was was pretty keen to to see the place as it had such good reviews on line.

I’d been to the Mission District before, where Fabric Outlet is located, in order to visit Gracias Madre vegan Mexican restaurant, which Tinkerer and I were invited to on a previous holiday after requesting an authentic San Francisco dining experience. I loved Gracias Madre but I think it’s fair to say that Tinkerer regards vegan cheese as a bridge too far.

I remembered the area around the 16th and Mission BART station as grimy and impoverished. This time I visited in the mid-morning and I found the area downright unpleasant.

If you decide to visit, wear closed shoes, or at least your Birkenstocks to get your feet off the ground a bit. I understand that homelessness and poverty are complex problems to solve, but getting a street cleaner out on a regular basis should be manageable by the local authorities. The stench of urine around the BART station was overwhelming. And don’t get me started on the pigeons. If you have a bird phobia at all, stay away.

Interior view of fabric Outlet showing rolls of ribbon

And the inside

It was a short walk to Fabric Outlet and I recommend visiting if you have a need for a specialty fabric or anything unusual such as fake fur, or leather, or sequins. The range is excellent and includes notions, patterns and upholstery fabric. Prices seemed reasonable to my inexperienced eyes and they had a 40% off promotion running on the day I visited. Sadly for me the promotion didn’t include oil cloth, which was the one thing I was looking to buy.

The style of the store was also more human than you might find at a fabric store at a suburban mall, perhaps due to it being located in a basement and having fewer bright lights to dazzle you.

The only fabric I brought home that day was a couple of metres of new quilting type fabric from Thrift Town next door. I’m still not sure if it is 100% cotton or a blend, but as I’m planning to use it for rug weaving I’m happy either way.



Celebrating Traditional Weaving in Bangkok

Budha Inmages at Wat PhoWe have just returned from a vacation in Bangkok, designed as a break from the pressures of work and the cold of winter.

We arrived on the national holiday to celebrate the birthday of HM Queen Sirikit, a strong supporter of textile crafts. Her Majesty is regarded as the mother of the nation, so conveniently her birthday is also treated as Mothers’ Day. It makes the holiday seem so much less commercial.

Sales of textiles from the provinces were held in major shopping centres to celebrate the event and to allow the Thai people (and tourists) to support the craft-based initiatives that HM the Queen supports herself. I came away with a haul of handwoven towels and a handwoven scarf.

We also went to a display of silk waving using the Isaan technique, known also by its Indonesian name, Ikat.We had spotted the display as a coming event in the weekend section of the English language Bangkok Post newspaper which gave the location as the Thailand Cultural Centre, MTR underground station exits 2 and 3. So we went to that station, exited at exit 2 and went looking for the Thailand Cultural Centre building. After much searching up and down the road we failed to find that building and returned into the station to try the other exits. It turns out the display was being held within the station itself.

There was only one loom working, but we got to see the precision of the weft tying, which was done on a wooden frame.

Tying the Weft in Preparation for Dying

Tying the Weft in Preparation for Dying

I need to research this some more but I assume the cloth must be a standard width and the tying frame designed to exactly align to that width, or the pattern would be all over the place. It really is quite miraculous and no doubt reflects hundreds of years of trial and error. After tying and dying the weft, the pattern makes itself. Here’s some of the cloth on the loom.

Issan cloth on the loom

Isaan cloth on the loom

This picture shows the weaving in progress.

Silk weaving with a dyed weft

Here you can see the coloured weft

The loom itself was quite simple, with just two shafts, but what more do you need when you have a technique that creates such a beautiful fabric with plain weave.

Love, Desire and Riches at Rippon Lea House & Gardens

I spent a day volunteering at Rippon Lea House and Gardens in Melbourne recently, taking tickets, providing directions and chatting to visitors at the Love Desire and Riches exhibition.

The display of 50 famous and rarely seen wedding gowns and accessories was a popular one, with almost only women coming along. The house itself is magnificent, with beautiful polychrome brickwork and stunning stained glass. I love the way the veils appeared to float in the stairwell.


One room was dedicated to wedding gown design and construction. That was a disappointment with very few items on display and those seeming quite randomly selected, and a mixture of old and new. wedding gown at Rippon Lea House There’s an interesting story to be told about wedding gown construction and the many steps along the way but this room failed to tell it. That was particularly disappointing when you consider that one of Melbourne’s leading wedding couturiers was a major sponsor of the exhibition.

Of greatest interest to me was a mauve toned dress that is part of the Trust’s Costume Collection. I don’t have a photo unfortunately but it was a beautifully made Victorian gown and I learned that mauve, as the colour of mourning was often worn by a bride marrying a widower, though this did not apply to the bride in this particular case. Maybe she just liked mauve.

There was also a couture gown worn by Princess Marie Chantal of Greece on display. Apparently it’s a popular item because it was worn by a ‘real princess.’

Buying Craft Supplies in Singapore

Every holiday needs a quest, some kind of special challenge to make it even more interesting. One of my work buddies has just gone to Europe on a religious pilgrimage. I have set him the quest of bringing me back the tackiest fridge magnet he can find, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.

Since I’ve been writing this blog, the quests are easy to set. Seek out a craft or textile-related destination, visit it, take some photos and write a review. Buying is permitted but optional.

Our most recent holiday was to the tiny city-state of Singapore, a place that’s easy to reach from Australia, that has good infrastructure and enough sights to keep you entertained for up to a week.

The Entrance to the Golden Dragon Store in Sinpaore

The Entrance to the Golden Dragon Store

I did my research before we left and saw that the Golden Dragon Store was the most frequently recommended retailer to buy quilting and craft supplies. It’s located on level 2 of the People’s Park Centre in Chinatown, near the overhead bridge to Chinatown Point, which is another shopping centre. If using the excellent MTR underground rail system, use Chinatown Exit D.

Clover Fabric Clips

Clover Fabric Clips

When we visited there was a knitting workshop in progress so there was a bit of a buzz about the place. They had a good range of Clover products, yarn, Japanese crafting patterns, handbag handles, a small range of quilting fabrics (including Japanese fabrics) and lots of ribbons and laces.

My purchase was a set of Clover fabric clips or so-called wonder clips. They’re like small clothes pegs and look like they will be handy for attaching quilt bindings or bias binding. I try not to be too entranced by sewing notions as it’s very easy to collect a bunch of notions that seem appealing initially but that end up taking up storage space without being terribly useful. These clips look like they might help hold bias binding in place over curved edges and if I’m right about that I won’t regret the S$8.20 purchase price.

Store Details:

Golden Dragon Store
Centre for Handicraft and Needlework
101, Upper Cross St #02-51

Open Mon- Sat 10:00am – 8:30pm, Sunday and Public Holidays 12:30pm – 8:00pm