Road Trip in Town

December 14, 2008


Above: Inside SR Harris Fabrics, the bolts of fabric sitting at one end of one row in this immense warehouse of fabric. My journal was left in the car to avoid loosing it in the store (I only had a small purse with me). I worked in a small soft-covered pamphlet stitched Moleskine. (I carry these for notes like car mileage or prices, or simply to have paper to sketch on and hand to someone else while explaining something to them.) Later these pages were ripped out and glued into me journal with other notes.

There are certain things I’m not allowed to do, all my friends know this. For instance I am not allowed to go to Las Vegas. I don’t have a gambling problem, in fact I don’t even gamble, I don’t get the appeal. (I watch poker games on TV and wonder what all the fuss is about because everyone’s tells make it so uninteresting to me.) I can’t go to Vegas because of the noise, lights, and general commotion. Friends have been, and reported back, that it would be impossible for me to survive there because of the distractions, both bright and sparkly and just plain “normal”—one friend reported back that she was convinced I would be captivated by the door knobs in one casino she visited and never get out of the stairwell.

Since the friend concerned with doorknobs is the same woman who routinely goes to “Michaels” with me I think it is probably a pretty accurate assessment and I should be a little wary of Las Vegas. Recently the local “Michaels” underwent a total clean up and tidying. Alone one day and desperate for some kitschy craft item they carry (felt balls, or maybe pipe cleaners) I braved the store alone, armed only with a list. I’m happy to say I stayed focused and was in and out in record time.

Some retail experiences remain challenging for me. I am not allowed to go to SR Harris Fabric by myself and doubt this will change anytime soon.

Recently I was asked to make a small leather book, and I don’t usually work in leather, but I knew I could purchase some brightly colored leathers at SR Harris. I immediately called my friend Diane (the landscape painter I wrote about on November 21).

Diane has many skills, including the ability to upholster furniture! She always up for a road trip to SR Harris, and that’s what Friday’s adventure turned out to be. I swung up and out to the northeast of the cities to White Bear Lake where Diane lives in a rather bucolic setting across from a nature preserve that is depicted in many of her paintings. Our goal was for me to pick up Diane, snake across the north end of the urban area to SR Harris, which is sort of northwest from me, collect leather and fabrics as needed, check out some beaded trims, and then return to Diane’s where I could see her Christmas tree all lit up, and look over some brochures she’s preparing.

It was a good plan, and despite the cold day it was a dry day. I was running 30 minutes late when I picked up Diane, but we were still in good shape to miss the rush hour traffic. (My phone had been ringing all day, it was as if everyone knew I was going to leave the office!) We sped away, Diane showing me back roads to save time and distance, and traffic lights. We chatted about projects and fabric needs. Traffic wasn’t crazy but it still took us a good 45 minutes or more to arrive. Just as we were pulling in Diane’s brother called her to tell her that the alarm company had called him to say there was a fire alarm off at her house and the fire department had been dispatched.

No one likes to receive that type of call ever, but especially not when you are almost an hour away from home, and you can’t reach your spouse on the phone. (Diane’s husband was off on his own errands and his cell phone number had just been ineffectually switched by a company I won’t mention for possible legal reasons. There was no way to reach him.)

I immediately told Diane we should just turn around and get back to her house. Instead she told me to go in and get some leather (the one must have item on my list) and she’d follow me with news in a minute. I went straight to the leather table (happily near the door, you’ll see why I say this in a moment), and found two brightly colored leathers (bright colors were requested). When Diane walked in moments later I was ready to check out. She got a sample of some beaded trim and we were off.

We drove about 10 minutes back towards her house (the traffic was starting to pick up especially because of some construction where we were) and her phone rang. Her sister-in-law had been to the house and done a walk through. It was a false alarm. At Diane’s instruction I did a U-turn at the intersection and back we went, much relieved, to SR Harris to complete our mission.


As you’ll see in the photo, SR Harris Fabric is a huge and intimidating place. Add to that distracting and confusing flood of color and texture and you still don’t even begin to comprehend the intensity of the experience for someone attracted by loose threads, or cracks in a floor!

We had a cart and ventured into the designer upholstery fabrics. Suddenly I was surrounded by great beauty: color and texture. I found myself wishing weakly that I was the type of person who cared about house decoration; maybe I should reupholster things? I shook off those thoughts to go and look at the fake fur. This is more my style, tacky, garish, and lots of fun. But when you are 5 ft. 3 inches tall and the fake fur is on shelving that runs from the floor into where a second story would normally be (at least 20 feet up), stretches for about 60 feet, and there are 4 or 5 rows like that, well something has to give. It’s a Darwinian rule or something. And I’m that thing that gives.

I looked around and found I’d lost sight of Diane. I gave a tentative call. I listened. I only heard the shuffle of other shoppers pushing their carts, knocking over some of the thousands of bolts that are left standing in rows in “open” areas where there is no shelving.

I sighed. I decided searching for Diane was futile. I could have called her on my cell phone. I wasn’t in a hurry. I whipped out a small soft-covered pamphlet moleskin (which I carry to write notes on when I can’t carry my journal—which was in the car so I wouldn’t leave it by accident at the store!). I started to sketch. How do you even sketch something this immense? I stopped, which I rarely do, once I’ve started a sketch, but really, I had no concept of how to even begin a sketch of the rows and rows of shelves like the ones in the photo. The store is larger then several football fields (it seems comforting to put it in terms of football fields instead of some large square footage that sounds overwhelming).

I turned the page and started a sketch of one end of one row of shelves (the image at the top of this post). Whittle it down to something manageable. I find this always helps.

By the time I had finished my quick sketch Diane had wheeled back into view and we spent about 2 hours looking at polar fleece! She was going to make a throw for one of her sofas, and I was going to make a few plush toys. (I don’t do this often, but when I do I tend to churn out as many as I can in a weekend. All different, all named, and all two-toned.)

I can report that currently there is no such thing as cream polar fleece. You can get white, or embroidered cream, but no plain cream, the color Diane needed. Every so often we would go in search of an employee who would muscle down the bolts from 6 feet up or more. (Diane is about 6 feet tall herself, another obvious asset to look for when selecting a buddy for fabric shopping!)

We ended up going to the scrap bins and since we were there so long they were refilled twice! The second time a lovely buttercup yellow double faced polar fleece appeared and Diane snapped it up.

But this time I had 3 colors of polar fleece and in a moment of inattention to task I was sucked into the black hole of this particular fabric universe: the button bin. Let’s rethink that: button barrel—a container as large as I am, filled with random buttons. I was lost as soon as I saw it. My hand went in and started swirling the buttons around. I may even have started to talk to myself. I hope I didn’t hum. Another woman, attracted by the button noise came and stood by me. Not content with the surface buttons she dove down into the button mass with her right arm, using it like a dough hook, bringing forth new fresh samples from literally the bottom of the barrel.

I started to chat with the woman (who had started talking with herself so I wanted to be companionable). Every so often she would stop and empty out her coat sleeve, because buttons would catch in the cuff (buttons were 10 cents each; she didn’t want to go home with unpurchased buttons). I saw the buttons she was looking for and since I had found the 6 buttons I wanted (all red to go with the altered book page I was going to do in a round robin) I started helping her find her buttons. I probably would still be standing there if Diane hadn’t rescued me. (It was fun to see when I checked out that all my purchases were color coordinated! Isn’t it wonderful how we can give the brain a task and it is accomplished effortlessly?)


We left at 5:15 or so and found ourselves in the middle of rush hour traffic in a construction zone. The drive back to Diane’s lasted for over a hour. But once there I got to see the magnificent Christmas tree all lit up. Visitors to the blog will recall I’m a pantheist, but I can get behind pretty much anything that is bright and sparkly.

Left: Diane's tree all lit up, presents not deployed yet.

Diane’s tree is 12 feet tall and is a very realistic looking artificial tree. It is ornament encrusted as you can see from the images which follow. Diane, who decorated this year’s tree with her toddler grandson, sees the tree as the art project for December. It is rather involved and time consuming so I could see why she would so consider it, but over the years of knowing her I’ve come to realize that she puts the same vigor, attention, and compositional eye into this project as she does her landscapes. While I may walk around with a cloud of “bah humbug” around me at this time of year, it’s hard for me to not enjoy any artistic output.  (I’m trainable.)

So I got to enjoy Diane’s tree, and her fire-free house (a huge relief); we had soup and cheese and crackers for dinner, chatting all the while, and looking over her brochures. When I left Diane at about 9 p.m. she was all set to start painting again this week, and I was all set to make leather bound books.

Below are a couple close ups of the decorations on Diane's tree for you to enjoy. Click on each to view an enlargement.





(Note: I posted this post, while I was working on it, which means that if you happened to come upon it when it was first up the images weren't in place. Sorry if this confused you and I hope you came back to see it completed!)


    • Ricë
    • December 14, 2008

    ooooh! great story, but my favorite part is being able to embiggen the sparkly ornament photos–thanks!

  1. Reply

    A journal tree- oooh – what a great idea! Right now I have a silver tree waiting for my decoration…thanks for the idea and Merry Christmas, Roz!

    (and I have the same problem with large fabric stores….)

    • Roz
    • December 19, 2008

    Loretta, your tree looks lovely too, but I have to say I was more attracted to the lovely puppy in front of the tree! It’s going to be beautiful at your house in more ways than one!

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