How It All Began
How a fabric store changed the course of my life over 2 decades ago.
I returned to California this week to spend some time with family and get a bit more sunshine.
I also revisited one of the transformative experiences of my life: a visit to M&L Discount Fabrics in Anaheim.
The first time I walked into M&L, I was 16 years old. I’d told my Nonna that I wanted to learn to sew, so we went together to find fabric to make a dress.
I was a weird gothy teenager without much money, and I wanted to progress beyond transforming thrift store rags with scissors and RIT dye. I had long, straight black hair, wore too much eyeliner, and would wear chopped up old nylon slips as tops, much to my parents’ chagrin. It was the 90s.
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When I walked into M&L with Nonna for the first time, I was overwhelmed by the possibilities. The store is a family-owned business that’s been around since 1973, and most of the employees primarily spoke Romanian. They walked around the 23,000 square foot warehouse, where stacks of fabric were sometimes higher than your head. There were candy-colored bolts of satin and tulle in one corner, huge stacks of assorted cottons, and a wall covered in piles of odd pieces for only $0.99 a yard.
I fell in love with the idea of sewing before I’d ever touched a machine. I wanted to put all these materials to use, to make unusual and interesting things that I could actually wear on my body.
Revisiting the store this week, not a lot has changed. It’s much cleaner and brighter, but there’s still a wall of discount fabric (now $2.99 a yard), still enormous piles of cotton to be had for $3.98 (including designers like Liberty, Riley Blake, Robert Kaufman), still all sorts of strange treasures. I felt like a teenager again, piling up my cart with finds, not sure exactly how I’d use them. I bought gingham and eyelet and stripes for summer, more than I can probably use.
This store altered the course of my life. I had no idea how important it was back then but, along with Nonna’s patience in teaching me the basic skills of sewing, it set me on a path I’d return to decades later, building a business on the creative excitement I felt back then. I can only hope that my business is doing the same for other people now – showing the possibilities.
It seems to me that the interests we uncover as we’re just becoming adults can have a particularly lasting hold. They seem to be so embedded in our identities that we only need to remember to return to them in order to find ourselves again.
In fact, when it comes to memory, there’s a well-known phenomenon known as the “reminiscence bump”. It seems that, throughout our lives, we are able to recall experiences from our teens and early twenties particularly well.
That’s because, in this period of our lives, we have so many novel experiences. Those experiences are so important to our learning and development into adulthood that they tend to stick around as we grow older. That’s what I mean by embedded.
The things that grabbed you in early adulthood are often a rich source of creative energy. They’re the bridge between childhood play and adult creative capabilities. Memories are what we are made of, and these interests that transformed me seem to have a sort of inescapable magic now, even in middle age.
What grabbed your attention back then? And does it still inspire you now?
What I’m Making
Head, Heart, Hands
Things to make us think, feel, and do.
Overstimulation is ruinging your life. I feel like the author is talking to me here. eek.
The weekly review really helps me too, but I’m not very diligent about it.
Miniature portrait with overlays. Click on the numbered views at the tops to see the portrait with costumes overlaid on top. Discovered via Messy Nessy Chic, who wrote: Typically the portrait was commissioned with a thin removable overlay made from mica to conceal the identity of the subject. Concealing the identity of a miniature would have been necessary if the subject was an unpopular ruler, potentially causing harm if a person was caught carrying the picture.
I’ve been itching to do more crochet, and I like this bag.