Friday, February 26, 2010

The Indoor Market: Wroclaw's best kept secret for notions and reptiles

Although I had already been to the sewing store inside the Rynek, and could have easily returned there to purchase the necessary needles, thread, etc. for the first day of the workshop, I needed to distribute more flyers and I wanted to challenge myself in the indoor market. The sewing store I had originally found was very nice and seemed to attract a certain clientele, where as the indoor market was much rougher around the edges. I figured, if I was going to truly put the idea of QUILTED to the test, the indoor-market was where those flyers needed to be.

Let me give you a quick illustration of the indoor market. This is one of our favorite places in Wroclaw. It sits just outside of the Rynek and right by one of Wroclaw's many city rivers. The market is housed within a huge, ancient brick and stone building with crazy iron rafters on the inside that make determining the original use of the building near impossible. The rafters are so aerodynamic looking that I believe it was a hangar for turn-of-the century dirigibles (19th to 20th not 20th to 21st...). When you enter the building, which only has two small doors for entrance and exit, though they aren't marked and part of the fun is getting trapped by the onslaught of people always going the way you aren't going, you are immediately struck by the synesthesia of the interior. A burst of smell, color, sound and eventually taste (after ordering a criminally cheap bowl of potato soup) explodes upon your every sense so that you're tasting the shouts of vendors and smelling the light filtering in from the ceiling-high windows and seeing the tartness of the fresh pickles and the richness of the freshly ground cinnamon.

Now. What does this have to do with sewing, you ask? Everything. First of all, the people who frequent the indoor market are the kind of salt-of-the-earth people who find grocery stores inconvenient and overly priced and unsociable. These are the kinds of people that I want to know more about. Besides, all along the top floor of the market, which isn't a floor so much as a stroll beside some of the last craftsmen to be found in public, are teeny tiny nooks where cobblers, seamstresses, locksmiths, watch repairmen, etc. can be found working at their craft day in and day out regardless of the Globalization occurring just outside the door. Curiously enough, situated in between these craftspeople, are strange stores that remind one of the sideshows of traveling circuses. There was a reptile store specializing in giant, exotic lizards and insects to feed to lizards. Another store featured baskets. The store smelled like a box that has been traveling on a boat from Asia to San Francisco and got left on deck during a storm. The owner was so doubtful of his own wares that he sat propped in a chair, sound asleep. Somewhere between the reptiles and the baskets, there were two notions stores and one seamstress. I approached the seamstress first.

What do you think of when you hear the word "seamstress"? Whatever you think of, I promise you this woman didn't fit the image in your mind's eye. She was sitting in the hallway, with a great view of the activity on the main floor. Her sewing machine looked old enough to be her great grandmother and she had a tiny radio plugged into the same outlet as the dinosaur. The radio was belching out what I guess I would call "rave" music. And when I approached her to show her my flyer, she actually turned the music up. She was wearing a pantsuit with fatigue print...the arctic know, camouflage in baby blue, white and black? She had a crew cut and looked like she might have come out of the womb smoking a cigarette. I started with a very timid, "Do you speak English?" That was when she turned the music up.

Luckily, my flyer was in Polish as well as English. Slightly daunted, I put the flyer over her sewing machine and pointed to the Polish portion calling for learned sewers to attend the workshop. She shook her head "no". I motioned taping the flyer to a wall nearby her, thinking that people who spoke with her might know how to sew and might be interested in the workshop. She shrugged and went back to the item in the dinosaur's teeth.

I'm shy, and I don't like pursuing something once I am given a clear "not interested" indication. However, I was proud of myself for at least taping the flyer to the concrete post relatively nearby the seamstress. So, I suppose I was a little "heady" with my "success". Which explains why the second person I spoke with turned away from me completely and wouldn't even take my flyer. I had gotten too cocky, as it were. She was the proprietor of a notions store that I had seen while walking around the market the first time with Lloyd. I had lusted after her cheap embroidery thread, having spent the previous three months threadless because embroidery thread in Italy costs the equivalent of $3 per loop! I was recently at our mega-chain: HOBBY LOBBY here in Birmingham and was shocked and delighted to see that the same loop costs approximately $0.40 when sold in the US.

Okay, so she was totally disturbed by me and my overly excited request to tape the flyers to her windows, but I felt she didn't even give me a chance. My last hope was a notions store in between the seamstress and the lady with all of the embroidery thread. I had to be careful. I had to be smart. I had to buy needles and thread!

This store was closed and had what I can only imagine was a "be back soon" sign taped to its tiny door. While I waited for the proprietor to return, I scanned the earrings for sale at the booth that was at the top of the stairs leading down to my favorite fresh pickle dealer. What I wouldn't give right this minute for some of his pickles.

I had no intention of buying any earrings, but my position at the booth allowed me to watch for the return of the notions store lady. I saw a tiny older woman walking speedily towards the door and started towards it myself when I saw her thrust a key in and open the door. She ducked into the back and was nowhere to be seen by the time I entered the store. This time I was going to buy something before bringing out the offending flyers. This turned out to be the correct approach all around, although I still think the tiny notions lady at this last store was far friendlier than anyone else I had encountered that day. I purchased several items and then showed her the flyer. She smiled and gave me a thumbs up because she didn't speak English. Then, two young women around my age entered the store and the proprietress showed them the flyer, pointed at me and grinned. They kind of smiled and then went to look at buttons on the opposite end of the store, which was three feet away.

I left the store with more needles than I possibly needed and lots and lots of colorful thread. I walked back down the stairs into the thick of the indoor market, bought a pickle for the walk home and made my way back to the apartment to cut up fabric and organize for the following morning: Oct. 29th - the first day of QUILTED! (The picture at the top of the post is me preparing the fabric)

TKANINY DZIANINY means Fabric Store!

It is February 26th, 2010. Today is the birthday of two dear friends of mine and as I sit here and think of the passing of time, I realize that it has been four months to the day (almost...three days short) since the first day of QUILTED in Poland. And you don't even know what happened! So here I go, trying to backtrack a bit so as to get it all down. The blog must continue because...there are real chances of continuing QUILTED here in Birmingham, AL, which is where I currently am. I know, I know. There is a LOT to catch you up on. Hold on, here we go...

About two days before the first workshop, I went to the fabric store that had been suggested to me by the Institute's secretary. A very hip woman who makes all of her own clothes, I definitely trusted her opinion. Actually, before going to the fabric store by myself, Lloyd and I made the journey ourselves on a Sunday. Along the way, we met a very nice young man who talked to us about music, showed us footage he had taken on his cell phone the night before at an avante garde performance somewhere in Wroclaw and told us he was leaving for a year in India the following week. This young man ended up coming to a couple of the Open Program's performances before embarking on his Indian adventure. Lloyd and I also found a really delicious restaurant nestled under the raised train tracks before finding the fabric store. I can't remember exactly what he got, but I remember there was melted cheese involved and I had serious entree envy.

I digress. We found the fabric store and I made mental map directions so I could come back later in the week with some money in hand to purchase the necessary fabric for QUILTED. When I did return, I noted quickly that the small space was chock-full of beautiful fabric. The more I searched through the bolts, the more lovely things would pop out at me. I remember picking out this print that had a warm brown background. The print was a floral that was very stylized...something in between Hawaiian Sixties floral print for a wicker couch and well, something possibly more modern? Anyway, I thought, "this will be totally rejected, but I'm buying it anyway" - it was half off.

When I first walked in the store, I approached the nicer-looking of the two female employees and first asked if she spoke English. She sort of grimaced and said, "Yes?" so I kept it very simple. I handed her one of the flyers I had made seeking participants for the workshop and I told her I was going to be buying a lot of fabric. I picked out seven or eight basic solid colors, and though I didn't think about it at the time, I have learned now, just because there is the perfect leaf green, but it is a slippery silk, doesn't mean it's worth it for the color alone. The leaf green silk that I purchased was the most expensive fabric I bought AND the hardest to work with. There were some others that were also perfect color-wise, but have proved very difficult to stitch down with mere needle and thread and very minimal skills/patience!

After getting a base of solid colors, I had a field day picking out the patterns. The best part? They were marked way WAY down and I was able to buy a lot more fabric than I really needed. This turned out to be a great boon after returning to Italy...but again, I am getting ahead of myself. After an hour and a half in the store, I had spent approximately 50 euros and had a HUGE bag of fabric.

I walked back to the Rynek and met Lloyd at the cozy middle-ages looking cafe/bar that we had enjoyed spiced warm wine at earlier in the week. I was excited by the fabric acquisitions. The next step was NOTIONS (all the tools, materials associated with sewing that ARE'NT the fabric).