|THE TRAVELING QUILTER:
Two San Francisco Quilt Shops (and a bonus)
By Lynn Holland
Having never before visited San
Francisco, I really didn't know what to expect. So when I
had the opportunity to attend a conference there, I
arrived with little more than some stereotypical images
and a burning desire to check out at least one quilt
store. After a somewhat harried ride from the airport
(sharing a shuttle with persons from four different
countries but no air-conditioning), I sat in my hotel
room with my Quilter's Travel Companion and a MUNI public
transit map. Since I am a dreadful map-reader, I was
thankful that the persons at the MUNI hotline were used
to tourists who have no idea where anything is. They gave
me precise instructions on how I could navigate the town.
Because I was there on business, my quilting adventures
were necessarily limited to lunch breaks and
after-conference hours. Luckily, one of the main stations
was a two-minute walk from my fabulously situated hotel.
At lunch break on Sunday, I hopped the rapid transit and
ten minutes later was at the door of Black Cat Quilts
(2608 Ocean Avenue, Phone: (415) 337-1355, http://www.blackcatquilts.com/).
In a pleasant neighborhood, Black Cat puts its emphasis
on both cats and quilts, and the resulting mix is most
pleasant. Yes, there is a black cat at the shop, and
judging from my brief stay, Miss Kitty (her real name) is
queen of the store. Among the more unusual items in stock
is a sponge that removes pet hair. There are cat mugs,
cat wall hooks, cat clocks, cat plates and a "kitty
corner" devoted to (of course) strictly cat fabric.
As you might expect, there is a nice selection of
Oriental fabric, but there is also the surprise of cuts
from Amsterdam, which are exclusive to Black Cat quilts
in this country.
The store is open and airy, and although there is a good
selection of fabric, books and notions, nothing is
cluttered. There is a nice nook for children with
Discovery-toy type items offered to help them pass the
time. The store has a very personal feel, emphasized that
afternoon by the presence of two customers, one an
experienced quilter and the other embarking upon her
second quilt, but her first rotary cutting experience.
The novice quilter was trying to decide how long her
quilt would take to make, since her hand pieced first
effort was completed during the six weeks she was
confined to bed after surgery!
Classes at Black Cat include not just the expected hand
and machine selections, but fabric fortune cookies, an
unusual sweatshirt jacket and classes on how to service
your Featherweight. I was really impressed when among the
visiting teachers was Doreen Speckmann!
Although after visiting the shop I didn't have time to
eat, there is an Ambrosia bakery and deli across the
street from Black Cat, just in case you need to refuel.
Since my foray into SF on public transit had been so
successful on Sunday, I set off late the next afternoon
on the bus to Mendel's, located in Haight- Ashbury (1556
Haight Street. Phone: (415) 621-1287 ). First, let me say
that generally I am not a timid person. I work in inner
city Atlanta and have an opportunity to interact with all
kinds of people every day. I also ride public
transportation regularly. But this really did not prepare
me for the adventure I was about to experience. Yes, I
was in college in the sixties, but have never been into
the tie-dye scene, unless you count the socks I made on
the stove top with those dye-infused cords about ten
years ago. Anyway, I hopped the bus on Market Street, and
off I went.
I should have been tipped off when two of my fellow
passengers had tattooed everything and matted hair. If
not, perhaps the infuriated pedestrian who slammed the
bus repeatedly with his skateboard and screamed
obscenities at the driver should have given me a clue. Or
surely, the four-letter-word war between the riders on
two different buses should have convinced me that I
should not have tried this alone. But I was too far into
the trip to not at least get off the bus at the appointed
stop and visit the store I had come to see. Although by
this time I was pretty close to creeped out, I picked my
way through the folks who seemed permanently camped out
on the sidewalk, past the somewhat unconventional retail
parlors and found Mendel's.
This little wonderland is loaded
with fine art and craft supplies as well as fabric.
Although they ask that you leave your bags and backpacks
at the door, the well-pierced clerk sweetly let me hold
on to my belongings. The hodgepodge fabric area is up a
couple of wooden steps, tended that day by someone
swathed all in purple, from headdress to beyond her toes.
Truly a time-warp place, the selection ranged from
mudcloth to velvet, with cloth of all nations and a few
places that don't appear on any map in between. I'm sure
it is the supply source for many of the theatrical
productions in this town, and some other stuff, too. It
was quite a show in and of itself, with a huge button and
trim selection, stationery and stickers and lots of stuff
everywhere, not to mention a varied clientele, from
society types to cross-dressers. Even taking my somewhat
unsettling ride into consideration, Mendel's is worth the
trip, although I would not go there again by myself, and
would not recommend doing so unless you are the type of
person who is put off by absolutely nothing. And I mean NOTHING.
For those of you into the virtual visit, check out their
cool web site at http://www.mendels.com
. This is a really nice family business, and I wish I had
seen the website before I made my trip into
Haight-Ashbury. The family photos and whatnot lead you to
expect chicken soup, not the hallucinogens I was
imagining on my surrealistic bus ride. But, as is
mentioned in the text on the website, this IS San
A nice little bit of serendipity came my way in Union
Square as I was searching for a Giants shirt at Macy's.
Across the street is Britex Fabrics, announced by an
old-fashioned neon display. Beneath the sign are five
floors of fabric, fabric and fabric. The sales clerks are
VERY knowledgeable and obviously used to dealing with
people who know nothing about fibers. One patient clerk
gently steered a lady with an elaborate period costume
pattern away from a heavy busy floral toward something
more suitable for the tucks and gathers of this very
detailed outfit. Another did not even flinch as a
customer inquired if the $55/yd silk upholstery fabric
was machine washable!
Britex carries such far out stuff as fabric covered with
silk flowers for over $100 a yard, but they also have
your basic cottons in all colors of the rainbow.
Customers are of all nationalities were there the day of
my visit, and Britex appears able to cater to almost any
fabric need you can imagine.
For someone who had no particular desire to go to San
Francisco, my business trip turned into a multi-faceted
and multi-cultural adventure. The quilt shops definitely
shared in the local color!
See also our review
of quilt shops in Silicon Valley and the East Bay!