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Hands-on hobbyists face a bit of a paradox in the midst of a do-it-yourself boom: where to get supplies. Many local mom-and-pop craft and hobby shops have shuttered. And while online retailers make it easy to buy and sell raw materials and finished products, they don’t allow for a tactile, hands-on assessment of the goods before purchase. We consider what happens when a burgeoning DIY movement meets a shrinking number of brick-and-mortar suppliers and a flourishing online marketplace.
- Gareth Branwyn Editorial Director, MAKE
- Joel Greenzaid President and CEO, G Street Fabrics
- Kat Aaron journalist; Alicia Patterson Fellow; Project Editor, Investigative Reporting Workshop, American University School of Communication
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Your material of choice might come from bolts of patterned linens or sheets of balsawood or maybe it's fuzzy neon pipe cleaners, circuit boards or skeins of yarn. Whatever it is a lot of you are crafting making and otherwise DIYing amidst the touch screen craze of our era. There's a seemingly growing demand and desire for tactile experience with a solid result. But where to get your raw materials?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHistorical and sociological changes have pushed craft and hobby shops out of cities and into suburbs and increasingly online. Here to talk us through the maker movement, the engine fueling it and how it's supplied is Joel Greenzaid. He joins us in studio. Joel is the president and CEO of G Street Fabrics. He's part of the third generation of his family to run the business. Joel Greenzaid, thank you for joining us.
MR. JOEL GREENZAIDIt's a pleasure. Thank you.
NNAMDIJoining us by phone from Brooklyn, N.Y. is Kat Aaron, a journalist and Alicia Patterson Fellow. She's also an avid knitter and sewer. Kat Aaron, thank you for joining us.
MS. KAT AARONOh, my pleasure.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone from California is Gareth Branwyn, editorial director for MAKE magazine. Gareth has also authored and edited numerous books including "The Happy Mutant Handbook" and "Jamming the Media: A Citizens Guide." Gareth Branwyn, thank you for joining us.
MR. GARETH BRANWYNPleasure to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIIt's a conversation you too can join. You can call 800-433-8850. If your hobbies include handicrafts, this is a conversation you'll want to listen to and participate in. And maybe you can tell us where you get your supplies, 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a Tweet at kojoshow.
NNAMDIKat Aaron, I'll start with you. Whether it's sewing, building robots, crocheting or using a 3D printer a lot of people want to create useful and beautiful items. What do you think has sparked this growing interest in the do-it-yourself movement?
AARONI think it's probably a few different things. And I think the recent economic troubles of the country probably has something to do with it, although maybe not in the most obvious ways. You know, I think people are spending more time at home because they're less inclined to spend money going out. And when you're at home you need something to do. You know, and besides watching TV or fiddling around on your computer I think more and more people are thinking about things that they can do with their hands. And I think that that's driven part of it.
AARONI also think that the more time people are spending at home there's this sort of nesting inclination. And, again, I think things like knitting, sewing, you know, the canning and jamming, pickling kind of enthusiasm, I think all of that is part of creating and nurturing a nice comfortable home for people to spend more and more time in. So I think that that's a big part of it. I don't think it's necessarily that people are crafting in order to save money because the supplies can be so expensive that it's probably cheaper to buy a scarf than it is to knit one. But you don't get the pleasure of that tactile experience you referred to in the opening.
NNAMDIGareth and then Joel, hands-on projects may be one of the few things some of us do without starting at a screen, but the internet has played a big role in their resurgence. How are the two connected? Gareth first.
BRANWYNYeah, it's really an interesting irony because I agree with what Kat was saying about a part of it is an economic -- economically driven. And then part of it is, I think, because of this sort of virtualizing of our lives and spending so much time -- most of us spend our days on a computer and so I think that's sort of driven us back into the hands-on tactility and what we call the joy of making. And so I think that that's a big driver for people wanting to get more into this, is that it's just something great, you know, very hands on to do.
BRANWYNAnd -- but the irony is that a lot of it is actually being driven by the internet because now you can make something that's really cool. And you put it up on your Facebook page or you put it up on a site like Instructables or we have a site called makeprojects.com where you can put up How-to projects. And then people celebrate those projects and they spread them around. And so you get sort of the joy of sharing your project. And you can ask questions online for things that you're learning. And so the internet has -- I think it's happening as a reaction to the internet. And the internet is also magnifying the ability to do these things.
NNAMDIJoel, a lot of people coming to you at G Street Fabrics because of something they've seen on the internet or something they researched on the internet and they're looking for the materials to make it.
GREENZAIDAbsolutely. I think that happens. At G Street Fabrics I like to think of ourselves as -- we have high-tech and G Street would be considered high touch. And there's many people, I think, that do spend so much time with their iPads, iPhones and computers. And it's just a great way to escape. It's a great way to accomplish something. It's very gratifying to make something for yourself. And it's creative and it's good for the soul actually.
GREENZAIDSo we're big proponents of it obviously. We're trying to teach classes at G Street Fabrics in sewing. We've hundred of classes at G Street Fabrics. There's a lot of young people now coming in. We have classes after school at G Street Fabrics and the kids come in. And it's just so fabulous to see these young children and the looks on their faces when they finish making something and they show their parents or they show us. And they're just so excited and then they want to go tell all their friends, you know, that they made this. I made this by myself at G Street Fabrics.
GREENZAIDSo it's -- we're big on it. We're trying to make all our stores a creative experience for people. We really believe in that. We really believe that it's a wonderful outlet and it's important. It's important for people to do.
NNAMDIGareth, do you think makers who come to your website or read your magazine are looking for projects that are a challenge, that are sort of cathartic and mindless or a mix of both?
BRANWYNThat's an interesting question. I think mainly challenging. Educating yourself in some new skill is kind of fun, to pick something like, you know, I want to learn Japanese woodworking. And you can go and find the information that you need and what tools you need and put all of that together. So I think that's a big motivator and I think, yeah, certain things it's, you know, kind of knitting. And I mean that literally. And then there's a term knitting where it's just doing anything that allows you to sort of tune out and just do something that's pleasant but repetitive.
BRANWYNSo I think a lot of these things like knitting and sewing, and even things like soldering. When you're soldering a lot of solder points on a circuit board you kind of zone out and get in a kind of meditative space which is very pleasing. So I think there -- I think it's sort of both which I think are both very healthy impulses.
NNAMDIIt's a conversation that we're having on the business of handicrafts with Joel Greenzaid, president and CEO of G Street Fabrics. He's part of the third generation of his family to run the business. Gareth Branwyn is the editorial director for MAKE magazine. He's also authored and edited numerous books including "The Happy Mutant Handbook" and "Jamming the Media: A Citizen's Guide." And Kat Aaron is a journalist and Alicia Patterson Fellow. The Alicia Patterson Foundation provides support for journalists engaged in rigorous and independent work that will benefit the public. But Kat is here because she's also an avid knitter and sewer.
NNAMDIAnd you can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Do you prefer shopping online for raw materials for projects in person or online, 800-433-8850? Kat, whatever your reason for creating, nothing will bring your project to a grinding halt faster than running out of supplies. Back in July you wrote about the dearth of brick and mortar craft supply stores in the District of Columbia. Why aren't there many if this is a growing field?
AARONWell, I think that part of it has to do with the economics of the city itself and rents. I mean, Joel can speak to this also, but there used to...
NNAMDIOh, he will.
AARON...there used to be many fabric stores in the District itself. And then I think over the last several decades they moved out to the suburbs partly because of rent and partly because crafting just wasn't as popular as it is now. There was sort of a dip in the sewing and knitting, making interest. But now with resurgent -- but, you knows, when I wrote this article for the Washington City paper I spoke with Stacey Price who is executive director of Think Local First D.C., which promotes independent retail in the District.
AARONAnd she was saying, you know, that while average retail rents in the city are about $36 a square foot, you know, in some parts of town it's 75 a square foot. And that makes it really difficult for retail establishments to really, you know, get going and sustain themselves. I mean, we have seen some knitting stores coming back into the District and that's been really exciting for local makers.
AARONAnd there's a new little tiny sewing store at 18th and Columbia, which is part of the Bits and Threads Sewing Studio. And they sell mostly small pieces of sort of secondhand fabric. But they do have some of the most basic supplies, knitting needles and elastic and things like that. So if I'm really in a pinch I can run over there but it's not the same as having access to something like G Street.
NNAMDIJoel, tell us a little bit about the history of G Street and what caused it to make the move from the city out to the suburbs. But first the history.
GREENZAIDSure. The history, my grandfather started selling fabrics in New York City in basically the '30s. And he basically peddled fabrics. And the depression was pretty tough there and he came to Washington, D.C. with his family. We had a -- he had a brother-in-law that lived here and they said come here because we think -- there's government workers -- a lot of workers. You could do a lot more business. And my dad and his family actually lived on the porch -- a screened porch on Massachusetts Avenue for a while before they got situated.
GREENZAIDAnd then my grandfather got a place on 10th and G Street and he was there for a number of years. And then my father took over with one room. And my father was really a brilliant retailer. I think he was one of the icons in the retail landscape for Washington, D.C. for many years. He's a great buyer, brilliant merchandiser. And he really put us on the map.
NNAMDIHe was at 8th and G.
GREENZAIDHe was at 8th and G. He moved to 8th and G. He had one room and then he began to take over -- it was an office building. So it was a very interesting retail layout. And he began to add -- grow and just take rooms and then whole hallways. And floor by floor he had about six floors for G Street Fabrics on 8th and G. And we kept the name G Street. You know, like I said, my father developed a great name in town and we were one of the last retailers to go. I mean, you know, D.C. is having resurgence now which is so great and so exciting. A lot of young people are moving down there. But we stayed until about '83 and...
NNAMDIYeah, I was here when your father was at 8th and G. And then we saw the downtown slowly kind of disappear. And only started coming back in maybe the late '80s and the '90s.
GREENZAIDRight. So we moved out to the suburbs and we had our first G Street Fabrics on Rockville Pike. And then we opened a second G Street Fabrics in Centerville, Va. and a third one in Falls Church, Va. My brother's now my partner and he runs our operations and he's constantly trying to improve and perfect the customer experience. So that's basically how we got from D.C. to the suburbs.
NNAMDIIn your 30 years of working with fabrics, how has the industry in general and the nature of your business in particular changed?
GREENZAIDWell, G Street started when we were downtown. We were mostly a apparel fabric type of business. And then as the '80s and '90s came through people began to express themselves more through their home than through their clothing. You know, my dad tells me stories of how women used to come in just decked out to the Ts, you know, to go shopping. And that sort of fell off and women came in in jeans but they started to decorate their houses.
GREENZAIDAnd so now at G Street Fabrics the business is probably 50 percent home decorating and 50 percent apparel fabrics.
NNAMDIAnd it's also online selling nationwide, and even Tweeting about new fabrics that come in. Did you feel pressure to join the online marketplace and how much of your business is done online?
GREENZAIDWell, I'd have to say that not a lot of our business is done online. We do get a lot of people that look at the fabric online and then they want to come and touch it and feel it and get knowledge from our staff. G Street Fabrics has an incredible staff. Everybody's an expert. We have experts in sewing. We have experts in quilting. We have experts in decorating and they've been with us for many years. So we are online and we do get orders from all over the country. I think Facebook and Twitter is important. We like to get the information out of new products coming in at G Street Fabrics. We bring in new fabric every day literally. And so we want that excitement to carry through.
GREENZAIDBut as great as the internet is and as great as the web is, I'm still a big fan of the high touch and the retail and the bricks and mortar. And that's what G Street stands for.
NNAMDIHave a lot of callers on the line but we've got to take a short break so hang on. We'll be right back. And if the phone lines are busy go to our website kojoshow.org or send us a Tweet at kojoshow or simply send us an email to email@example.com. We're talking about the business of handicrafts. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing the business of handicrafts with Gareth Branwyn, editorial director for MAKE magazine. He's also authored and edited numerous books including "The Happy Mutant Handbook" and "Jamming the Media: A Citizens' Guide." Joel Greenzaid is the president and CEO of G Street Fabrics. He's part of the third generation of his family to run this business. And Kat Aaron is a journalist and she is an Alicia Patterson Fellow, the Alicia Patterson Foundation providing support for journalists doing original independent work that will benefit the public. Kat is also an avid knitter and sewer.
NNAMDIKat, as a journalist your beat is economics and finance. Do you have a sense of whether or not the resurgence in crafting and the economic downturn we've experienced are connected?
AARONYeah, I've sort of asked around to people trying to find out if there are hard numbers on that. And so far I at least have not been able to find it. I do think, you know, as I was saying at the start, that I think it's partly that people are spending more time at home and looking for sort of a connection to a simpler life. I also think that there's a sort of strand of making that really is driven by economics in that people are trying to figure out how to fix things that maybe they would've just replaced in the past. So people are interested in learning how to mend something that maybe they would've just tossed before.
AARONOr there's sort of the up-cycling kind of making where people take something that they, you know, don't wear anymore and then make it into something new that they might be more interested in wearing right now. You know, or people -- there's a whole sort of section of the crafting blogosphere that's dedicated to recreating things from couture lines or the really expensive fashion. And people are sort of figuring out how to make it themselves for fractions of the price. So I think that kind of making is certainly partly driven by economics.
AARONYou know, and I think the sort of, you know, more electronics oriented maker culture is also partly in response to that that people are really interested in figuring out how to create for themselves some objects that maybe they would've bought previously.
NNAMDIGareth Branwyn, since this new movement seems to be at the intersection of our online lives and, well, our offline lives, do you think we're going to see a new hybrid for supplies emerging? Tell us about maker shed. What is it?
BRANWYNWell, Maker Shed is a retail store that we do. It's e-tail mainly on line where we sell -- we actually do sell everything from craft supplies and kits and things to electronics kits all the way up to things like 3D printers and more high tech items. But we also do -- we do these things called maker fairs every year. We have one in the Bay Area, we have one in New York and then we have these mini maker fairs that we're now rolling out all over the country. they're like a combination of a craft fair, a science fair. And we do a store there. So it's kind of interesting, this whole issue of high tech, high touch or online versus, you know, being able to physically touch things.
BRANWYNWe have really big popup stores that we do at these events. And so people do get an opportunity to see the stuff in person. I think we're going to see -- there's also an interesting emerging phenomenon of people creating these things calls hacker spaces or maker spaces which are -- it's sort of like a gym for creatives. You join. There's a membership fee and you can go and have access to the tools and they have classes. And, again, a lot of them do everything from crafting nights to learning soldering and things like that.
BRANWYNAnd a lot of those places -- and I'll give you one I think very progressive example is a place called hammer space in Kansas City. And it's pretty much a hybrid of kind of a hobby craft store and then a learning space. So you're a member and then you have access to a store where, you know, we were talking about this issue of you're running out at the critical part. Well, at least they will, you know, have a lot of the basic parts that people would need right there in the space. So it's a combination of sort of a retail operation and an educational space.
BRANWYNAnd we're even starting to see more libraries interested in being a maker space as part of, you know, the services that they offer. And so I think there's these interesting hybrids that will emerge -- that are emerging.
NNAMDIOn to Claude in Washington, D.C. Claude, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CLAUDEYes, good afternoon. Well, I agree with some of the points of some of your guests and disagree with others. But being new to D.C. I find that there's hardly any raw materials with which to work, whether you're a sewer or a jeweler. And even to get a zipper you have to go -- I don't know -- a half an hour in the car somewhere. And so if you're not just crafting for the fun of it but if it's part of what you do for your work, for your -- whether you're an artist or not, there's just a dearth of raw materials that can inspire you.
CLAUDEBefore in New York there was Canal Street. I have no idea what state it's in now but just walking down the street you got so much inspiration just from seeing things. And although I do love that there's G Street Fabrics I have to drive quite a ways. And then sometimes there's not the right size zipper or the fabric doesn't inspire you. It's -- there has to be more choice and I'm really sad that there isn't...
NNAMDIThis is like saying...
CLAUDE...and I wish there was.
NNAMDI...Joel, come back home. Gotta come back to the city at some point. Go ahead, Joel.
GREENZAIDWell, there's no question that D.C. does not have the resources for fabric people. But G Street Fabrics has a store on Route 50 in Falls Church, which is not far at all from D.C. And certainly we're trying every day to bring in new fabrics that will inspire people at G Street Fabrics. We have very, very high end hand-beaded fabrics. We have very high end beautiful silk prints. And what we've tried to do is we've tried to make the store a combination of a high end couture look and then a value oriented areas where -- for the DIY person.
GREENZAIDFor instance every Friday we send thousands of yards of fabric to each store that we retail for $2.97 a yard. And that, I'm happy to say, has been a price for almost 20 years now. And included in those remnants are many, many cuts from designer houses in New York City. Also just to follow up what Kat said about how people are trying to also not only create things but also to improve or fix a garment, we do -- I can't tell you how many people come in for zippers and we cut down zippers for people.
GREENZAIDAnd another great way to change or make a garment very unique is a new button. And G Street Fabrics sells hundreds of thousands of buttons every year.
NNAMDIMaking it worth the ride for you, Claude. But Kat, can you give Claude any more tips about where one might be able to find stuff if one lives in D.C.?
AARONI mean, it is a sort of perpetual frustration for me too as a maker. But, you know, for something like zippers or buttons or thread I do go to the little mini shop that’s part of Bits of Threat Sewing Studio. And they're open I think Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
AARONAnd they're at 18th and Columbia right above the McDonald's. It's on that corner. Then there's also in Cleveland Park a store that sells and repairs sewing machines. And they have not huge but, you know, in a pinch selection of threads and sort of other trimmings.
NNAMDIAnd Nichole in Manassas, Va. may have another recommendation. Nichole, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NICHOLEHi. I absolutely do have a recommendation. I'm a onetime Ravelry member, which is a wonderful community for knitters and crocheters on the web. But we have a store in Old Town Alexandria called Fiber Space. And Fiber Space has kind of made a new -- they turned themselves into more of a community center. They have classes, everything from spinning both by hand and on spinning wheels all the way up through advanced lace knitting and advanced crocheting techniques. And it's just a fantastic friendly store. You go in there and there's always people knitting or crocheting or talking. And it's just a marvelous place to go be a knitter.
NNAMDIGlad you brought up knitter because Kat is a longtime knitter and sewer. What kinds of projects do you typically take on?
NNAMDIYes, you Kat.
AARONIt's a mix. I mean, I think it's for me sort of a combination of those things where I can kind of zone out and just have the sort of meditative experience of repeating a pattern, like a scarf or a simple hat. And then I do try to challenge myself with something that's maybe a little bit more involved making, you know, a sweater with cables or, you know, a lace knit that's something where I really have to be much more attentive to the pattern itself. So I usually have more than one project going at once, work in progresses than knitting for nieces.
AARONAnd I will just second that I think Ravelry is a great online knitting community and it's a place where people can get free patterns, get advice from people, get inspiration. And I think, you know, for me and I think for a lot of other makers there's this sort of circular relationship between the online world and the offline world that we look online for inspiration and sometimes online for supplies.
AARONAnd then, you know, with that inspiration or idea we'll seek out a physical store where we can buy the materials for that project and then maybe post the results of the project online on, you know, a personal blog or someplace like Pinterest where there's a growing crafting community. And then, you know, that in turn creates a new cycle, someone else being inspired by what you've made. And, you know, I think that that's something for me that's been really exciting. My only wish is that there was a little bit more accessible places to go and buy the supplies but...
NNAMDIWe're reliably informed that A Tangled Skein in Hyattsville, Md. is also another good yarn store not too far outside the city. And, Nichole, thank you for your call. Gareth, writing about this stuff is your job but I'm curious to know what's your hobby of choice when you've got down time and where do you go for supplies?
BRANWYNWell, I pretty much run the gamut. I do crafting things, I do things like rubber stamps and love to work with paper, paper crafts and things all the way to robots. Robots are my main hobby interest. So for those, yeah, and we're talking about, you know, sort of the fabrics and crafting things being more available in the past and then having sort of a downturn. And I would like to think there's a resurgence of that. And one trajectory of that with the electronics, high tech stuff is Radio Shack.
BRANWYNRadio Shack in the '70s was the place to go for all kinds of DIY parts, high tech parts, stereo parts, things like that. And then they got into the phone business and all that whole section really dwindled. And now they're really making a huge push. We've been working with them at MAKE on some partnership projects. They're making a huge effort in the getting back into the DIY space because they now see it's really a viable market.
BRANWYNAnd we're seeing that in all of the sort of electronics and high tech areas of making that. Companies that used to be suppliers for more of the engineering market, the industrial market are now starting to take the maker market seriously as a space. And I know that's also happening in the craft space as well.
BRANWYNSo I don't know where that will lead again, in terms of what sort of retail models we'll end up with but I definitely think that's a big missing component. And I would like to see that, like for me with robotics obviously it's really hard to, you know, need a part and then there's no robot store I can run out to except my local Radio Shack, which used to basically very rarely have the part. Now more and more frequently they actually have the parts that I'm looking for. So that's a hopeful sign.
NNAMDIAnd Christian in Springfield, Va. has a question for you, Joel. Christina, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISTIANHi, how are you, Joel.
CHRISTIANI just wanted to comment about the fabric choices in the D.C. area. I don't know what it's like for New York maybe but something I find interesting, I've been learning to tailor on my own. And it's been hard to find heavier weigh wool. I know that overseas, let's say in England where there's, you know, a great tailoring tradition, people, you know, they wear different weights depending on the seasons. Like in the summer you might be wearing an 8 ounce weight wool or even 7 ounce. Or in the winter they're wearing something that's 16 ounce or even 18 ounce. And maybe even a little heavier like a tweed or something.
CHRISTIANBut I just want to know what your take on that in this area, how most -- from what I've seen most places that do stock any fabrics it's usually a very light-weight wool that has the kind of look to it as if it were like of a summer weight.
GREENZAIDWell, that's a great question about wools because wools were a very prevalent fabric years ago. And now I guess I would consider a wool gabardine or wool crepe actually a luxury fiber now. So they are harder to find. We do sell a lot of the light-weight upper 150 wools at G Street Fabrics. We don't sell as many of the wool flannels which you probably might be talking about in England or other countries.
GREENZAIDI mean, the funny thing is about America is, well, you know, we've got a lot more casual. And I would love to see people start dressing up again. I think it's a great way, it's a great look. And so we sell a lot of men's suitings -- a lot of high end men's suitings. We've actually just got in at G Street Fabrics -- it'll probably be out at the stores next week -- some beautiful coatings, you know, wool, wool and cashmere coatings. And they are hard to find. They are hard to find.
GREENZAIDAmerica used to have big woolen mills in America and we don't have them anymore. And a lot of that has gone offshore. And what happens is the communities that those mills are in get the extra fabric. That's where it goes first. So we're a little limited here but it's harder to find the product. But at G Street we're working very hard to find it and we'll continue to do that.
NNAMDIWho is your average customer at G Street, if there's such a thing? And what is that average customer making?
GREENZAIDWell, we have different types of customer. We, of course, have a quilting customer. And right now at G Street the boutique fabrics are very popular. They're hand dyed in Indonesia so we have...
NNAMDIInteresting product mix, but go ahead.
GREENZAIDSo we have a quilting customer. We have a home decorating customer. And what we're able to do with home decorating at G Street is we do it two different ways. We have the DIY customer where we sell remnants for upholstery and for draperies. And we sell the rods and the finials. And we sell staple guns and you can go and do your own dining room cushions and pay $8, $9 a yard for a beautiful piece of fabric and redo your dining room chairs.
GREENZAIDWe also have a higher-end service where we measure the windows. We make the drapes and then we install them. So G Street has both of that, both of those things going. And then we also have an apparel customer and there's a high-end customer and there's more of a value customer and we've tried to do both.
GREENZAIDWe also carry a lot of beaded trims which are great for embellishing and I just want to get back to the buttons because it's an unbelievable how many buttons we sell and 90 percent of the buttons are from a small town outside of Turin in Italy and they're all one-of-a-kind. They're still handmade and like I said they're so unique.
NNAMDISo you want buttons that look different. Here is Phillip in McLean, Va. Phillip, you're on the air, thank you for waiting. Go ahead, please.
PHILLIPGood afternoon, thank you very much for having me on. I was just very interested. I was brought over to America because I make old-fashioned tennis balls out of Champaign cork as a central core, a cotton weave that's wrapped around that to 64 grams and then a linen furniture thread that's used to tie around that ball to make it solid.
PHILLIPAnd then we ship this specially-made cloth over from England. And then we hand-sew the felt on the ball. And we need to make five of those every day to keep this tennis club working.
NNAMDIAnd how long have you been doing this, Phillip?
PHILLIPI've been doing it now for about ten years.
NNAMDIAll right. How many others that you know of are there likely either in this region or in this country?
PHILLIPIn this region, over the last seven years, I've trained about five people. There's my other friend from England, he's a skilled man. There are only probably about 25 people in the whole of the United States that can do it and we have about five or six of them in the D.C. area.
NNAMDIAnd where do you get most of your supplies? You say from England?
PHILLIPNo, we just use any old wine cork or Champaign cork to start the ball and then we can get the cotton weave quite easily, but finding the linen thread is very difficult. And then we can't find the woolen cloth that we use to make the wrap-around of the ball anywhere in America. We have to get that shipped over from England.
NNAMDIFascinating handicraft, thank you very much for sharing that with us. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation on the business of handicrafts. If the lines are busy, shoot us a tweet @kojoshow or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or you can simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there.
NNAMDIHave you ever run out of supplies in the middle of a project? What do you do? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking the business of handicrafts with Joel Greenzaid, president and CEO of G Street Fabrics, part of the third generation of his family to run the business. Gareth Branwyn is the editorial director for MAKE magazine. He's also authored and edited numerous books including "The Happy Mutant Handbook" and "Jamming the Media: A Citizen's Guide."
NNAMDIKat Aaron is a journalist. She's also an avid knitter and sewer. Kat, all online shops and outlets like Etsy seem to be popular among crafters who want to sell their products and as a resource for supplies. But when you're doing a project that's very hands-on and working with materials that have qualities that you can best assess by feel, what are the up and down sides of shopping online over a brick-and-mortar shop and vice versa?
AARONI mean, I think sometimes the selection online, you know, you can sort of suss- out different options and really find a very specific thing that you're looking for. Earlier this year, I was looking for a really long zipper that unzipped in both directions and that was something that took me some hunting online and I managed to find it.
AARONThe downside was when it arrived it did not wind up being quite right so, you know, I think for me the upside of online shopping is the possibilities and that you can really find pretty much anything. The downside is it might not actually be exactly what you're looking for and then you know, you have to go through the whole process of returning it if the store does returns.
AARONYou know, I think there's more and more online shops particularly in the fabric arena that will send swatches of the fabric for free or for a low cost so that you can kind of feel a sample of it and see if it's what you want and then place your bigger order, which I think is really a sensible approach because then you get the chance to handle it and make sure it's the right weight or the right color before you really commit to, you know, several yards at, you know, at however much a yard so.
NNAMDIYour thoughts on the same thing, Gareth?
NNAMDIYour thoughts on the same thing, the difference between...
BRANWYNYeah, I think, yeah, everything that Kat said resonates with me. I think that we'll see obviously online retailers trying to do more to create, you know, sort of do what they can to overcome the lack of being able to touch things with, you know, better resolution images and the ability to turn objects and things like that and send out samples.
BRANWYNIn the electronics world, you can usually get a sample sent out of a part if you're, you know, low-cost parts if you have a question about whether it's the right part. There's that but you know, I don't think you're ever, ever going to replace and certainly the more handicrafted your work becomes the more you really need, you know, those things of the quality of the materials and things become more important.
BRANWYNI don't think that's ever going to be replaced and so that's why I'm interested in these sort of new emerging models of educational spaces that do bulk ordering and sell things in the space and that. There are some of these maker-spaces, hacker-spaces that actually have started re-purposing vending machines where they'll have vending machines that have critical components that you might need if you were doing, say an electronics project.
BRANWYNAnd they know from the educational nights that they do what the things are that people tend to want and so they're loading the vending machines with those things. So that's another model. But you know that's never going to replace a store like G Street Fabrics which, you know, is like a supermarket for fabric and that kind of selection. I don't know if we'll see a resurgence of that in the DIY space. I hope so.
NNAMDIHow much of G Street Fabrics' business is online and how would you compare the online experience versus the brick-and-mortar experience yourself, Joel?
GREENZAIDWe have not a huge percentage of our business but like I said before we do definitely do business online. We also have customers that call our managers at G Street Fabrics and they see something online and they ask for a sample.
GREENZAIDBut, you know, certain things can be sold easier on the web, electronics of course. Sometimes with fabrics the colors are not exactly what you'd like them to be and things don't come out as well but, you know, I'd just go back to the DIY thing that the other two guests have talked about and you know, G Street, it's a really important part of what we do.
GREENZAIDWe're trying to create a creative community. We sell sewing machines, which I haven't said yet which is very important and we sell a very high-end sewing machine from Switzerland and it comes in all different prices for the beginner and for the experienced sewer. And every day we see people that are either coming back to sewing or starting sewing again.
GREENZAIDAnd also real quick on the DIY thing, one of our favorite classes right now, it's a fabulous class at G Street is an upholstery class where people actually bring in their chair, their armchair, their loveseat and they take a class and it's over six weeks of how to make and re-upholster their own furniture. And it's one of our hottest classes right now. It's a fabulous class so I just can't say enough about create, create, create, it's so rewarding.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Sally in Chevy Chase who says: "For me, crafting is all about creativity and up-cycling. I enjoy doing one-offs, unique projects as gifts for or for myself but most supplies are sold in packages that require me to buy multiples I don't need. Suggestion, open those packages, let us buy the two buttons or earring hoops we need at a markup and then sell the rest to other crafters.
NNAMDIThis is essentially what G Street had done forever by selling fabric remnants and packages of color-keyed patches for quilting. But the big-box stores drive me crazy. Would love to know if there are crafts cooperatives that share materials, it might make a good business opportunity for somebody." Know anything about that, Kat Aaron?
AARONIt's funny actually. I'm organizing some things like that just among my circle of friends for the holidays because I think a lot of us are interested in making gifts for family and loved ones around the holidays but it's easier to buy supplies in a group and then, you know, get together and then we'll make one, you know, present for our fathers, or whatever and sort of group-order the supplies.
AARONSo I don't know of anything like that that's kind of organized on a permanent basis but I definitely know that there are groups of crafters, friends who get together and do that so that you're minimizing on the shipping costs or you're all going together, you know, in your zip car or your, you know, car.
NNAMDIWe'll talk a little bit -- Kat, talk a little bit about Scrap DC a local non-profit that rescues potentially useful arts and crafts supplies headed to the dump. How does a big-box store like Michael's or Jo-Ann Fabrics differ and is it even fair to compare the two?
AARONI think that they're sort of complementary to each other. I mean, Scrap DC who I spoke with when I was writing the article for Washington City Paper, as you say, sort of rescues things that are headed for the garbage but things that, you know, are certainly still very useful.
AARONThey have, you know, fabrics and ribbons and buttons and, you know, pipe cleaners and sort of bits of things that with a creative eye can be transformed into anything. So I think it's a great place to go if you're sort of looking for a little bit of inspiration and you're open to the serendipity of crafting with whatever you might find. It's probably not going to be satisfying if you know that you need, you know, a fuchsia, eight-inch zipper because they may or may not have that.
AARONBut you know, if you're open to the sort of possibility of random inspiration, it would be a great place to go and they do have a retail store on O Street NW and then they do the Bits of Thread mini-shop in partnership with the Bits of Thread sewing studio.
NNAMDIHere is Toni in Washington, D.C. Toni, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TONIHey there. I was calling to talk a little bit about how it seems to be different to craft in North America versus just about any other country that I've traveled in. And this is speculation, but it seems that crafting is really different in places where the artisanal tradition has continued up to the present day where people's sort of cultural conditions, ah connections haven't broken. I mean, for me, crafting is at least a little bit about connecting back, past generations and culturally.
NNAMDII'd like to put that question to you, Joel. Do you find that in the same way, that G Street has come through generations that a lot of people who are your customers are people who have inherited it as a part of their kind of cultural history?
GREENZAIDThere's no question that we have seen a lot more new immigrants to America from different countries and in other countries the gift that a young lady gets at the age of 13 is a sewing machine. So we're definitely seeing that trend at G Street Fabrics where we're getting multicultural people. It's really exciting. They have different ideas about sewing. They have different ideas about fabrics and they're certainly energizing the marketplace.
NNAMDIAnd Gareth, it's my understanding that you started going to the hobby shops with your dad?
BRANWYNYes, so yeah, you know, when I was a kid, I would rake leaves and mow lawns and collect my allowance and then I would -- my gift would be a trip to -- I grew up outside of Richmond, Va. so my gift would be a trip to Bob's Hobby Shop and so I pretty much went through every kind of hobby in succession, you know, rockets and those balsawood planes where you did the paper wings and paint the dope on them to harden the surfaces and did all of it.
BRANWYNSo model trains and so yeah, and then in the 80s, I did mail art, you know, you do rubber stamping and collaging and things and send them through a network of people and did a zine, a small publication, so. And that's where my book, you mentioning my book "Jamming the Media," that came out of my experience of doing, you know, do-it-yourself media. I've always been into DIY. I was a big Whole Earth Catalogue fan as a young person and ended up writing for them.
BRANWYNAnd I've always been interested in the whole space, not just particularly the high-tech space or whatever but everything as I said, from the crafting to the more high-tech stuff.
NNAMDIAnd Kat Aaron, it's my understanding that your mom and your grandmother had an influence?
AARONOh absolutely, yeah. My grandmother was more of a cook than a knitter. My mom, who's British, was and is a huge sewer. When I was a little kid, she would take our old bed sheets and make me dresses out of the white sheets and then give me fabric paint so I could paint my own clothes and she actually now has taken an upholstery course in her retirement and is re-upholstering everything in sight.
AARONI just want to also mention that in the sort of fabric area in Rockville and some of the other -- Wheaton and some of the other ring suburbs there, you know, great stores that sell West African printed fabrics and South Asian silks. So there is also in this sort of immigrant communities specialized fabric stores that people, you know, of all different backgrounds are patronizing.
AARONAnd on the yarn store front, I should just mention that there's looped yarn works on DuPont and then Stitch DC in Tenleytown, which also has some quilting fabrics.
NNAMDISo finally, where is this all going? Will we see continued interest in handicrafts and growth of the maker movement do you think in the coming years, Joel?
GREENZAIDI think we will. I think we will. We're starting to see resurgence with the teenagers and I think I said this before, that we have classes after school and more and more teenagers are coming to those classes and they get excited when they make something. And they get excited to tell their friends and put it online, too. So, you know, that's going to help grow the business as well. So we at G Street are confident in that and we're going to continue to be the creative community or try to be the creative community at G Street and give everybody the opportunity to do that.
NNAMDIThey've been watching "Project Runway" and figured they could get their creations on there also. Think this movement is going to expand, Gareth? You have about 20 seconds.
BRANWYNOh yeah, it already very much is expanding. We see more and more people coming to the maker fairs every year. We see more and more interest within the commercial sector in what we're doing so, yeah and then we see these maker spaces popping up everywhere. So yeah, I certainly think for the foreseeable future.
NNAMDIGareth Branwyn is the editorial direction for MAKE magazine. He also authored and edited numerous books including "The Happy Mutant Handbook" and "Jamming the Media: A Citizen's Guide." Kat Aaron is a journalist. She's also an avid knitter and sewer. And Joel Greenzaid is president and CEO of G Street Fabrics, part of a third generation of his family to run the business. Thank you all for joining us.
NNAMDI"The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Brendan Sweeney, Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, Tayla Burnie, Kathy Goldgeier and Elizabeth Weinstein with help from Stephannie Stokes, Jessica Guzman and Ryan Mixson. The engineer is the Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker is on the phones. Thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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