The House of Tatterdemalion


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Sometime you feel like writing, and sometimes you don't

December 30th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

Actually, lately, it hasn’t been so much a lack of wanting to write as a lack of wanting to write about sewing. This surprised me, though it should not have. I always have mulitiple projects started, because after a time I get sick of working on one, and work on something else instead. Why would it be any different with my writing? It’s not a lack of sewing (tangentally) related things to write about, it’s just that I don’t feel like it, for some reason. I expect it will come back, shortly, or at least shortly in the grand scheme of things. It’s beginning already, a bit, I suppose, or I wouldn’t be here tonight.

I don’t have any grand thoughts, but when I was reading the selection for the Essay of the Week, thoughts flited through my head. Here are a few qoutes from the essay, with my emphasis added:

And yet the celebrity architects of the past cannot be equated with those of today. None of them, not even Wright, deliberately cultivated a signature style based on a trademark mannerism, such as Gehry’s fluttering metal membranes or Richard Meier’s palette of bathroom white. Stanford White’s work was superb, remarkably so, but he designed in the common style of his day. The classicism of his Brooklyn Museum cannot easily be distinguished, even by an expert, from that of Carrère & Hastings’s New York Public Library, Whitney Warren’s Grand Central Terminal, or Cass Gilbert’s New York Customs House. The idiosyncrasies of White stamp his personal life, not his buildings, which one would never mistake for a vehicle of personal expression.

The works of a starchitect, by contrast, are poached in the personality of their makers. How this all came to pass is deserving of some careful consideration, for much more is at play here than the mere vulgarizing effects of today’s celebrity culture, where publicity begets more publicity, and no distinction is drawn between accomplishment and notoriety. For until we have an understanding of the nature of the architectural celebrity culture, we cannot know if we should shrug or mourn.

The archetype of the celebrity architect, of course, is Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959). As prodigious as his architectural achievement was, he also permanently changed the American conception of an architect. With him begins the modern image of the architect as free-spirited genius, a part Wright played with relish: decked out in a long cape and cane, and topped by a magnificent mane of flowing white hair, he made his own physical appearance a declaration of imperious authority. Here was the model for a long line of architects who learned that a signature style began in the dressing room, and that one should handle a hairbrush as deftly as an I-beam. (It is notable that this image has far more in common with that of the tempestuous orchestra director than, say, a painter or sculptor.)

His designs did not even seem to be the product of conscious thought, but spontaneous eruptions of life spirit, much like the curses that he continually fired off. “Furness held Louis captivated,” Sullivan wrote, “especially when he drew and swore at the same time.”

To judge from the autobiography, what Furness taught Sullivan was not so much architectural but personal style. From him he learned that a building is “in its nature, essence and physical being an emotional expression,” and that its designer must be in a state of “high and sustained emotional tension.”

The Fountainhead, whatever its literary or philosophical merits, impressed itself deeply on the public mind. It was taken for granted that an architect was not a carpenter-builder who had read some books and learned to draw, as he had been in the nineteenth century; nor was he a scholar who had been to Europe and made measured drawings of the great cathedrals. He was now an autonomous creator, who made “buildings out of his head,” as Sullivan put it, and a growing number of aspiring young architects took this to be essential to the nature of architecture practice.

The central task of architecture has always been what Louis Kahn called “the thoughtful making of space.” The great architects of the past—from Borromini to John Soane to Wright—were makers of distinctive spaces, which were often achieved by ingenious exploitation of structural systems. The melancholy spaces of the Bank of England, for example, were unthinkable without Soane’s use of hollow terra cotta pipes to make vaults and domes of extraordinary lightness, which he deployed as freely as if they were tents.

To the extent that an architect devises a vivid and arresting signature, he is engaged in the business of image-making, which is but one lobe of architecture. The essence of the architectural art is to reconcile plan and construction in a resolved whole, from which both the interior spaces and exterior expression derive with a kind of logical inevitability. But the business of image-making is akin to that of making a theatrical backdrop, which is judged by its graphic qualities, not by the makeshift scaffold of boards that holds it aloft. This is not to say that today’s starchitects are ignorant of technology and its possibilities: Gehry’s brilliant exploitation of computer modeling to create irregular three-dimensional forms is a startling development, creating sculptural possibilities that Borromini would have envied. And a theatrical backdrop, however ingenious the technology that created it, remains a theatrical backdrop.

It is striking how many major American buildings are now being built by Japanese architects, such as Ando, Taniguchi, SANAA, and others, whose work is consistently deft and sober, and often achieve a certain delicate poetry.

Comparing architects to clothing designers is nothing new; many designers themselves draw the same lines, some of them claiming to be “frustrated architects”, whose lives somehow conspired against their achieving their true desire. Reading the essay, it was hard not to see a lot of similarities between modern architects and modern designers.

I was going to try to tie the whole thing together, but I’m a little bit leary of repeating myself. But I have personal pet peeves against people who make a whole new post just to say “look what at what I wrote earlier”, so I shall attempt to make a little new content out of this, even if it is on themes I have discussed before.

To me, this is what I see as being very much a huge problem in the “couture” world—that the creations are not “thoughtful creations of space” working together in a “kind of logical inevitability”, but are rather those ubiquitous signs of notoriety rather than accomplishment. Something becomes valuable not because of any intrinsic use or desireability, but simply because of declarations of imperious authority from those who seem to know about such things because people are too nervous or unsure of themselves.

The design of clothing (as clothing is as an echo of a house; both shelter and cloth the lives of people) has become not so much about skill as about drama. A designer for clothing is not expected to need to know anything about sewing, or the human body or it’s needs. He is merely making clothes out of his head—and it is someone else’s worry how to make the thing exist or work.

The modern architect, of both clothes and houses, can know enough about his materials to torment them in ways in which they were never meant to be—whether it be the clothing that denies it is made of a supple fabric or that it houses a human body within it, or if it be a building that likewise makes humans unwelcomed within it. They seem to be willfully turning their backs on any thought of these structures as being anything more than gratuitous expressions of self.

It may be one thing, I suppose, if they we’re simply designing only the building that they would be living in, and the clothes that only they would be wearing. But it seems rather indecent to sell such things to the general public.

I think it is very sad that it is being reduced to rather garish and over-done backdrops, instead of deft and delicate poetry. The glorification of the few for the unrelenting torment of the many.

Or would you like to buy a pair of Chanel sunglasses, for an absurd price, that are guaranteed to be stylish and fashionable—seeing as they bear the name Chanel?

Posted in Articles, Contemplations | 2 Comments »

Guess who bought Denver Fabrics?

December 16th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

The FAQ at Denver Fabrics has been updated to reflect it’s new owners. Does it look familiar? No? Maybe you’ve never checked the FAQ for this company.

My first clue was that the new promotionals that Denver Fabrics was sending out had a decidedly familiar ring to them. And then I noticed that the layout for the merchandise descriptions seemed really familiar, too. It took very little poking around to make it very obvious. A friend of mine even went so far as to realize that “Denver Fabrics” and “Fashion Fabrics Club” are carrying the exact same stock. It’s nothing more but a different door to the same store.

This is disappointing on several levels. If Denver Fabrics had to sell out, it would have been nice if they could have sold out to someone new to the business. Then at least there would have been a variety of choices. As it is now, it’s just as though they’ve gone out of business—one less choice.

Then there is the sadness of it having to be FFC that bought it. Denver Fabrics had the most wonderful, warm, encouraging, there’s-no-such-thing-as-a-stupid-question customer service. Although I’ve never experienced being treated poorly by the FFC customer service, it has always struck me as cold and uncaring. I have always been loathe to contact them, and always felt like it would just be a bother because I wouldn’t get any help from them anyway.

There is also the sadness that Denver Fabrics used to highly recommend swatches, and tried very hard to get people to use them. FFC refuses any kind of sampling except buying 1/8th of yard and charges so much for shipping that 1/8th of yard—$4.95, to be exact—that one is strongly discouraged from buying swatches. This leads to many dissappointing purchases.

There is also the problem that FFC is very inconsistent in it’s quality. I could feel confident in buying anything from Denver Fabrics, knowing that they only sold quality stuff I’d be glad to have. Even just seeing the swatch sets that FFC sends out to it’s club members (they choose the fabric that gets swatched, not you) has taught me there is a lot of ugly polyester in the world. I recently bought two pieces of wool from FFC. The both had similar decriptions—they were wool flannel, though one piece was “brushed” and the other was “denim weave” on the back.

The first piece was so “brushed” it’s nap was so pronounced as to almost appear as a “fake fur” (but it felt a lot better!) It was supple and soft. It prewashed up beautifully (I used tepid water and dishsoap).

The other piece was coarse, and stiffer than polyester felt. It leaked dye all over the place as soon as water touched it. And after sending about 6 bathtubs full of emerald green water down the drain, it continued to leak dye. It is now pretty much worthless to me, because I don’t care how many times they “recommend” dry cleaning wool, I’m not going to sew up anything I can’t clean myself.

That made smoke pour out of my ears, I can tell you. If they had sold me plain white wool, I could have dyed it much more color fast myself, and gotten the same (or better) color to boot. I have done enough dying of wool to consider it “not dyed” when as soon as you plunge it into water it releases all of it’s dye. They have utterly no excuse. It was a cruddy, cheap piece of work.

Now how will I be able to tell the difference? Some wool that FFC sells is good. Some is not. Both pieces I bought were the exact same price. It turns into a blind guessing game. Unless you’re willling to pay $5 for the privilidge of finding out it’s a worthless fabric.

I’d really rather just shop some place that sold quality fabric, and had a consistent stock. Let me know if you know of such a place.

Posted in Contemplations, Dyeing, Merchants, Websites | No Comments »

Tower of Bureaucracy

December 2nd, 2007 by tatterdemalion

Someone recently asked my help in figuring out what tariffs applied to the fabric they wanted to import. I balked, because that’s not really a fabric question—that’s a red-tape question, and bureaucracy is not my specialty. He insisted, and so—after making it quite clear I was no expert and not in the least bit interested in defending my choices in court—I gave my best guesses.

The fabrics in question are these:

1) 300 Denier Polyester Greige Goods

Width – 69″ Off-loom
Weight – 4.5 ounces per square yard
Construction – 2 ply 150 Denier x 2 ply 150 Denier Plain Weave Texturized Polyester
Count – 58 x 44
Other – No residual oils or sizings

2) 600 Denier Polyester Greige Goods

Width – 68′ Off-loom
Weight – 8.4 ounces per square yard
Construction -4 ply 150 Denier x 4 ply 150 Denier Plain Weave Texturized Polyester
Count – 54 x 36
Other – No residual oils or sizings

3) 600 Denier Finished Solution-Dyed Polyester

Width – Trimmed 60″
Weight – 8.69 ounces per square yard
Count – 45 x 35
Finish – DWR face and urethane backcoat with DM-50 fungicide
Put Up – 50 yard rolls
Color Availability – 9 – 10 standard colors plus the availability of custom colors

And the United States International Trade Commissions Tariff Information Center is here.

My best guess was that #1 would be listed under Section XI, Chapter 54, Man-made Filiments, 5407.51.20, which is described as: Woven fabrics of synthetic filament yarn, including woven fabrics obtained from materials of heading 5404 (con.): Other woven fabrics, containing 85 percent or more by weight of textured polyester filaments: Unbleached or bleached Weighing not more than 170 g/m2: Flat fabrics

My best guess at #2 was the same thing, except 5407.51.60, that is, the same type of fabric, but Weighing more than 170 g/m2.

And my best guess at #3 was that it would be listed on Section XI, Chapter 59, Impregnated, coated, covered or laminated textile fabrics; textile articles of a kind suitable for industrial use, 5903.20, which is: Textile fabrics impregnated, coated, covered or laminated with plastics, other than those of heading 5902 (con.): With polyurethane.

Luckily, I didn’t have to figure out the actual tariffs, which was a horrible awful mess. We’ll use fabrics one and two for our example. The running list has two columns for the tariffs. Column one has two sub-headings, ‘general’ and ‘special’. The ‘general’ tariff for these two fabrics is 14.9%, which seems pretty straight forward. Kind of. Sort of. I’m not sure what we’re taking 14.9% of or who is paying it (Is it the person from the foriegn country bringing it in, or is the person from the U.S. trying to buy it? And so then is the percentage a fraction of the raw cost, or is it 14.9% of whatever they can sell it for?), not that I really care to do the research to find out.

The ‘special’ sub-heading can be a little trickier. I get the part where it says “Free (BH,CA,CL,IL,JO, MX,P,SG)”. I think. I’m pretty sure it means there is no tariff if it is being imported from certain countries, and if you look up the abbreviations (or are smart enough to know what they mean to begin with), it’ll will all make sense. But when it lists “6% (MA) 8% (AU)”, I don’t know if that means instead of the 14.9% or in addition to. I think instead of. But don’t qoute me on that.

However, Column 2 is what really confuses me. It just says “81%” (for this listing), and when I try to look up what the Column 2 is referring to, all I find out is “Rate of Duty Column 2. 1/ Notwithstanding any of the foregoing provisions of this note, the rates of duty shown in column 2 shall apply to products, whether imported directly or indirectly, of the following countries and areas pursuant to section 401 of the Tariff Classification Act of 1962, to section 231 or 257(e)(2) of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, to section 404(a) of the Trade Act of 1974 or to any other applicable section of law, or to action taken by the President thereunder: Cuba North Korea

At about when it got to the point it said “pursuant to section 401 of. . .” it got too complicated and scary for me, and I ran away. Upon further reflection and peeking around the corner, I kind of guess it’s saying “We have economic sancitons against Cuba and North Korea, so there are mega-high tariffs if you try to import from there.” I think. Maybe. I have no interest in defending my opinion of what it’s trying to say in a court of law, thank you very much.

But really, it’s absurd. Say we had the above fabric #1, but it was dyed. Then we would have to pay 18.9c/kg + 17.6%. Assuming it wasn’t under the “special” sub-heading, or under Column 2. All because the fabric was dyed. If you have a synthetic filiament yarn “of nylon or other polyamides: Colored multifilament, untwisted or with a twist of less than 5 turns per meter, measuring not less than 22 decitex per filament, certified by the importer to be used in the manufacture of wigs for dolls” than there are no tariffs. But if it isn’t certifed to be for wigs for dolls, than there is a 8% tariff. Racket strings have a 2.7% rate of duty. “Other woven fabrics, containing 85 percent or more by weight of filaments of nylon or other polyamides: Suitable for making typewriter and machine ribbon, containing yarns the average decitex of which exceeds 28 but not 83, the total thread count (treating multiple (folded) or cabled yarns as single threads), of which per centimeter is not less than 59 warp and 39 filling and not more than 83 warp and 55 filling and in which the thread count of the warp does not exceed 60 percent of the total thread count of the warp and filling: With both selvages woven” has a 13.6% rate of duty. If you have, say, fabric that is “coated with gum or amylaceous substances,
of a kind used for the outer covers of books or the like; tracing cloth; prepared painting canvas; buckram and
similar stiffened textile fabrics of a kind used for hat foundations
“, and the fabric which is coated is of man-made fibers, it is 7%, but if it is made of “other” fibers, it is only 4.1%.

Why? Why, why, why? What difference does it make? Who cares?!

I’m sure there are plenty of long winded, complicated reasons why it is all so. About protecting this, and encouraging this, and blah, and blah, and blah.

Personally, I think it’s all absurd. You’re supposed be able to teach children the difference between right and wrong. When “right” and “wrong” get so complicated you need a lawyer (or twelve) to figure out which is which, something has got to be wrong with your laws.

For example, it could be simplified as thus: “All governements need money to run. One of the ways our government gets money is by demanding a percentage of all transactions that take place. For example, when you buy something from the mall, you have to pay 8.5% of whatever your new shoes cost to the state governement. It’s called sales tax. If you buy something from another country, you have to pay 8.5% to the federal government. And you can’t buy anything from these certain countries, because we’re at enmity with them. The end.”

I mean, honestly, can you imagine trying to decide which section, chapter, category and sub-heading your shoes fell into before buying them at the mall? Of course not! Yet if we import anything from another country, it makes a BIG difference whether the fabric is dyed or undyed, and if it is dyed, than it is important HOW it has been dyed, and on and on and on. It is utterly, utterly absurd.

Actually, it reminds me of the story of the Tower of Babel:

1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 6 The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel—because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

It seems as though the “language barrier” has been broken—it’s a global economy now, right? But God doesn’t have to come down and mix-up the languages all over again, because even though we’re communicating, all we’re saying is “5407.42.30: Woven fabrics of synthetic filament yarn, including woven fabrics obtained from materials of heading 5404 (con.): Other woven fabrics, containing 85 percent or more by weight of filaments of nylon or other polyamides (con.):Dyed:Weighing not more than 170 g/m2—14.9%. . .5407.43.10:Of yarns of different colors: The thread count of which per cm (treating multiple (folded) or cabled yarns as single threads) is over 69 but not over 142 in the warp and over 31 but not over 71 in the filling (620)—12.2¢/kg + 11.3%. . .

Posted in Contemplations | 2 Comments »