Friday, August 14, 2015

In Which The Nice Fabric Store Lady is Presumed to Have Magical Powers

Tales from the Cutting Counter:

A customer brings a bold of polar fleece to the counter.  The fleece is printed with big pictures of Lightning McQueen, from Disney's "Cars" movie.  The fabric is 58" wide, and is folded in half to fit on the bolt board, which is typical of most fabrics. The customer is making a pillow from the fleece, and is concerned that the motifs on the fabric will be too large for her pillow form.  I measure the print, and assure her that the entire racecar will indeed show on the pillow top.

The customer says, "Can you please make the cars on the back of the fabric smaller, so that I can fit more of them on the pillow?"

I say, "..."

Monday, June 15, 2015

Turn Around is Fair Play

Tales from the Cutting Counter: I answer the phone.
Customer: I need a price on some green fabric.
Me: What kind of fabric.
C: Green. Dark green.
Me: Yes, but what kind? Knit, woven, upholstery....?
C: Just dark green. Heavy.
Me: Duck cloth? Canvas? Upholstery solid? I have a lot of green fabric, you'll have to give me a little guidance here. Prices could range from $6 to $50 a yard.
C: For green?
Me: For all colors.
C: I don't think you understand what I want. Jean fabric.
Me: Jeans? Like... denim? Oh, I have lots of that. Just none in green.
C: I don't need it in green, I think you misheard that.
Me: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA All of my denim is $12.99 a yard and it's currently on sale half price. (more chuckles.) And I am so sorry...I really thought you were saying "Green" and I had NO idea what you needed.
C: :giggling: Thanks, I'll be up later for some.
Me: Great, thank YOU. And again, sorry for the misunderstanding.

Not all good tales feature customers that don't understand me. Sometimes, it's the other way around.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Matter of Perspective

Tales from the Cutting Counter:  An older couple comes up with a bolt of vivid orange cotton.  We carry several lines of solids;  the one they have is the top line.  She asks for a yard and a half;  I cut it, print the cutting ticket.  "This is $8.00?!?" she exclaims.  I examine the ticket.  "Yes," I say.  "Eight-Oh-Six.  That's thirty percent off the regular price."  She looks at her companion.  "She's going to kill me for spending this much."  They leave the fabric and ticket on the counter, and heads back into the fabric aisles.  Back they come with two other orange bolts.  After much discussion, they decide that the other oranges are not bright enough and their first choice is the best. "What are you making?" I ask.  "A windsock for my brother's runway," she says.  "My mother makes them.  She has to make a new one every couple of years because they fall apart from being outside all the time."  "So, your brother is a pilot?" I ask.  "Yes."  "And he needs a windsock so that he can take off and land safely?"  I look her straight in the eye.  "Well, yes."  "Spend the $8.00."  "Thanks."  And off they go, feet firmly on the ground, but thinking of the brother, up in the air.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

It Takes a Village

Tales from the Cutting Counter:   Monday, I was "back in the stacks" as we say, putting something away in an aisle in the depths of the upholstery department. Two young girls, high school aged, stopped me.  They were draped over a shopping cart as if they had no bones, phones firmly in hand, giggling, sighing, being teenagers.  "I need your help," the one in quite fashionable glasses said to me.  "Sure," said I.  "What can I do for you?"  She began her long, sad story.  She needed to do a project for an art exhibition at her school on Saturday. She was going to redecorate her bedroom for her project. "My room is blue and green, and I have some blue and green Japanese lanterns,"  she said.  "What else should I do?" It was quite obvious that she had waited a bit too long to start her exhibit, and she was trying not to panic. I pointed to her iPhone.  "See this?  There are a million ideas in your hand," I said.  She wailed.  "I have spent hoooouuuurrrrrsss on Pinterest!"  "Well," I said, "there are three things I don't do."  Her friend began to snicker.  "I don't clean litter boxes.  I don't shovel snow.  And I don't do homework."  The friend howled with laughter. "I told you she wouldn't do it!"  I pointed out a big fixture full of home-dec books.  "Start there," I said.  The poor art-project girl looked me in the eye.  "Were you a teacher?" she asked, suspiciously.  "Nope.  Just a mom." And I smiled and walked back to the cutting counter.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Empty Nest

Tales from the Cutting Counter:  An older woman comes up to the cutting counter with a bolt of St. Patrick's Day fabric.  She looks a little fish-out-of-water-ish.

"How much of this will I need to make a tablecloth?" she asks.
"Well, that depends on the size of your table," I reply.
She hesitates for a moment, thinking hard.  "Hmmmm.  It's just...just a regular table."  She looks me in the eye, with a eureka! expression on her face.  "How big is a standard tablecloth?" she asks.
"There are at least 6 standard sizes for tablecloths," I say, trying to sound sympathetic.  I have ways of figuring things like this out for customers.  "How many people does your table seat?"  I ask.
The woman laughs.  "Our kids are long gone," she explains to me.  "It's just me and my husband now."

Perhaps she should consider placemats.

What is Real?

Tales from the Cutting Counter:  A woman put a stuffed toy on the counter.  When I looked closely at it, I realized it was Grover, from Sesame Street.  About 18" from head to toe, this Grover had much of his fur loved off (to borrow a phrase from The Velveteen Rabbit.)  He'd been repaired many times.  His eyes were blank white ovals;  the irises and pupils long since worn away.  I asked about the toy.  "This was my daughter's.  Now, her son loves it.  I think I am going to try to make a cover for it so he can keep it."  I thought hard.  I try not to insert myself into people's projects, but I really felt compelled to say something.  "This is only my own opinion," I said.  "But have you considered putting this beauty away and making a duplicate?  Grover can't handle much more wear before disintigrating.  And if you make a replica, perhaps your grandson can show the original to HIS son one day, and pass down the one grandma made."  "That never occurred to me!" the woman said.  "That's the perfect solution."  So I helped her choose fabric, and showed her where the safety eyes were, and gave suggestions about stuffing and thread and what to use for Grover's big red nose.  She is an experienced sewer, and she said she wouldn't have any problem drafting a pattern from the original.  I told her to save the pattern, and store it away with Original Grover, with some photos of work in progress.

This is why I love my job.

Can I Just Borrow This?

Tales from the Cutting Counter:   A few days ago, I sold a young couple 6 1/2 yards of a heavy upholstery fabric that sported a contemporary floral print. Yesterday, the young woman returned to the story with the fabric and receipt in hand.  She wanted to return it.  As I took the fabric from her to remeasure, which starts the return process, she said, "I only used about this much," indicating about 18 inches with her hands.  "You've cut this?" I asked.  "If you've cut it, you can't return it."  "But I bought a lot more than I needed, just in case!  It was expensive!"  I suggested covering another piece of furniture, or reselling the fabric online.  These ideas didn't go over well.  She took her fabric and grumbled out of the store.

I am guessing that her next stop was the grocery store, where she wanted to return half a carrot and two-thirds of a container of cottage cheese.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Easy to Translate

Tales from the Cutting Counter:  In the last few years, this area has become home to a few dozen Nepalese and Bhutanese refugee families.  I often see them in the fabric store, often in multi-generational groups.  Yesterday, a grandmother, father, and two teenaged girls came in together.  Grandma was traditionally dressed in loose trousers, tunic, overshirt.  Dad had a foot in each culture:  tunic shirt with khakis.  And the girls looked like the teens you'd see anywhere in your own neighborhood, shirts emblazoned with the name of the stores where they were purchased, yoga pants, hoodies.  I don't know what they needed fabric for, but the teenagers headed straight for the spangles and sparkles and shiny special occasion stuff.  Grandma headed to cottons.  Dad just looked a little bewildered, like any dad would.  Grandma spoke no English at all.  Dad spoke enough to get through the day, as did the girls.  Eventually (and they were in the store for a long time) they come to the counter with four bolts of fabric:  two red cottons with tiny prints, a red satin, and a gold mesh heavily embellished with gold sequins.  The girls immediately pull out their phones text text text text.  Dad is left to translate.  Grandma is annoyed.  Families are families.  First bolt:  Two meters.  I do the conversion, measure... there's just a little more on the bolt than that.  Dad stops me, confers with Grandma and girls.  They take the whole piece of fabric.  (Grandma is now visibly annoyed with the teens, who are not being Good Helpers text text text.)  Three meters, no, Yardsplease, of the second red.  Done and done.  Up comes the gold fancy.  Dad asks the price, I check it for him.  "One meter."  I measure, cut, fold.  My counter is sprinkled with bits of gold sequins.  I brush them into a pile, sweep them into the palm of my hand.  I catch Grandma's eye, and hold my closed hand out to her.  She puts her hand out, rather confused.  I sprinkle the glittery bits into her open hand. They sparkle as they fall.  She looks at me, breaks out into a huge grin, and laughs out loud.  Dad smiles.  Teenagers look at me like I've just fallen on my head.  Some things cross cultures.  Pixie dust is one of them.

I love my job.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Tales from the Cutting Counter:  A middle-aged woman approached the counter.  It was obvious she was thinking and trying to formulate a question.  She looked a little overwhelmed.  "I have a question," she said.  She hesitated, and chuckled a little.  "How many yards in a foot?"  I grinned, and said, "None."  Before I could go on and explain the whole inches-feet-yards thing to her, with a surprised look on her face, she said, "Really!?!"

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Short and To the Point

Tales from the Cutting Counter:   A woman brings me a bolt of black fabric.  She says she needs just a little bit, she's repairing something or other.  I show her half a yard--too much.  I show her a quarter yard--too little.  I show her a third--she stops, thinks.   "Which will work best for you, the quarter yard or the third yard?" I ask.  "Whichever is smaller," she answers.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Right Tool for the Job

Tales from the Cutting Counter:

A gentleman approaches the cutting counter.  He is fifty-something, well dressed, tall.  "I have these pipes in my basement," says he, "about this big."  He makes a circle with his thumb and middle finger to show the diameter of the pipes.  "I am looking for something to wrap around them to insulate them."

I hope the incredulity I was feeling did not show on my face.  I spoke slowly.  "Have you considered, um, pipe insulation?" There's a plumbing supply place less than a mile from the fabric store.

"I have," said the man.  "But I notice you have long cardboard tubes inside your upholstery fabric.  Do you give those away?"

"No, we reuse them,"  I said.  I am thinking fast, here.  "What about pool noodles?  You could slit them down the side."

"Cardboard will be best,"  he said, definitively.  "Thanks anyway."

This past week has featured single-digit temperatures, and my guess is that the local plumbers have thawed a lot of pipes in a lot of basements.  And nothing insulates pipe better than

cardboard.  :/

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

My Two Cents

Tales from the Cutting Counter:  It's part of my job to stay on top of current trends in bridal decor, since so many brides like to make things themselves for their weddings.  Right now, burlap is all the rage for table runners, ribbon, you-name-it.  A woman came to the cutting counter today.  She'd been browsing for a while.  "I need your opinion on something," she started.  "My daughter wants the groomsmen in her wedding to wear ties made from burlap.  What do you think?"  "What do I think?" I asked, raising my eyebrows.  "I think that your daughter should not have neckties made from burlap at her wedding."  I said.  The woman laughed out loud.  "Me EITHER!" she exclaimed.  We had a fun little chat after that about planning weddings, and Pinterest, and how smelly, itchy, and generally awful burlap is.  I think she's going with a nice, slubby linen for the ties. 

Monday, January 26, 2015


Tales from the Cutting Counter:  A month or so ago, as you may recall, a customer attempted to return unwashed cookie sheets that she had already used.

Yesterday, she returned, and attempted to return the same dirty cookie sheets.

You can't make this stuff up.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Use Your Words, Use Your Words

Tales from the Cutting Counter:

A woman and her teenaged son come up to the cutting counter.  The teenager looks as though he'd rather be at the gates of hell than at the fabric store.  The woman begins to ask me a question, and she's gesturing furiously as she speaks, trying to get her point across.  "Do you have the thing (hands flying furiously about belt level) that you know that thing that not really sort of pants (hands still flying, add head nod toward teenager) thing you know that thing?"
Me:  "Um.  I don't know."
Teenager:  "I told you they wouldn't have it."

Later that day.

A woman puts three bolts of tan fabric on the counter in front of me.  "I need two of these," she says.  "Which two?"  I ask.  "This one," she says.
 "Okay." I say.  "Let's start with this one.  How much do you need?"
 "Two inches," she says, looking at me like I'm a totally incompetent slug. 
"Two inches?"  I ask, puzzled.  I am trying to figure out what she wants.
 "Two inches."
 "Okay."  I lay the fabric out, ready to cut.  "Are you trying to match paint, or other fabric?" I ask, assuming she just needs a swatch.
 "No, I need two INCHES," she says, exasperated.
 "This is two inches," I say, showing her with my fingers where the two inch cut line will run.  "Oh!  I meant two FEET! A foot is 10 inches, right?" she says, with a little laugh.
 "Twelve.  But no problem.  Here's what two feet looks like,"  I say, rolling off more fabric.  I show her that cut line, too.
 "No.  Is that feet?"  she asks. She has totally confused herself, and confused me. 
 "Yes.  Did you mean yards?"  I ask.  I roll off two yards, lay it out and show her the cut line.
"Yes!"  she exclaims, triumphantly.   "But you'd better cut me 2 and a half, because that's not going to be enough." 
"Do you need two yards and half of two yards, which would be three yards,  or two yards 18 inches?"  I ask. 
"Whichever is more," she says, breezily.
I cut three yards, print her ticket, and send her on her way.  I reshelve all three bolts of fabric.

Those gentle weeping sounds you heard about quarter past two yesterday?  That was me.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Rules

Time for The Rules:

1.  I work at a fabric store.  I will not name it, nor will I name any of my co-workers.  I don't actively hide my location, but I don't publicize it, either.  These tales aren't meant to be a place to whine about my job, my company or the good people I work with.  My guess is that just about any fabric cutter has plenty of similar stories to share.

2.  I love to sew.  From time to time, I will ramble on about sewing. I may post pictures of projects I am working on.  If you want more info about them, let me know in the comment section.

3.  I will not name or identify the people I tell Tales about.  Ever.  If you recognize yourself, I hope it's a good thing.

4.  I will post Tales that are uplifting, funny, unbelievable and flummoxing.  I like the happy Tales best.

5.  I only post Tales as they occur. This means I won't have a post every day.  To help fill the gap, I may post a Tale from my archives.  Most days behind the cutting counter are rather unremarkable.  I cut a lot of fabric, figure up a lot of yardage requirements, reshelve a lot of bolts and do a lot of stocking and shopkeeping chores.  I love cutting.  I tolerate the rest.

6.  I reserve the right to delete offensive or off-topic comments.  I am the sole arbiter of what's offensive on the comment thread.  If you have a Tale of your own to tell, please follow the Rules as I've described them above.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Two Tales Today

Tales from the Cutting Counter:

Tale 1:

I was trying to cut fabric today for a woman who was unhappy because we only had 2 yards 10 inches of the fleece she liked. She wanted 2 and a half yards. She said she needed a 50 inch by 70 inch piece, and her friend told her that would be 2 and a half yards. With friends like that...  (Note:  she bought the entire piece, just in case.)

Tale 2:

  A couple came in with their little girl.  She was a darling, sweet little thing, about 4 or 5 years old, with black curls tied back from her face with a huge pink polka-dotted bow.  She headed toward me and the cutting counter with a big bolt of fabric that was bigger than she was.  The fabric was microfleece, printed in an eye-popping tie-dye pattern.  Her father offered to help, but Polka Dots assured him that she could do it herself.  "And I want to ask for the material, too," I heard her tell him.  Mom called from the end of the aisle.  "Do you remember what you need to ask for?"  "Yep!" she replied with an air of confidence that was enviable.  Polka Dots wrestled the bolt up onto the counter and pushed it my way.  Dad was at hand, but a couple of steps away, so that he did not infringe on the "do it myself" command he had received.  I looked her in the eye and put on my most formal Fabric Store Lady attitude.  "What may I cut for you today, Miss?"  I asked.  Polka Dots looked at me, smiled brightly, took a breath, and said, "May I have four yarns, please?"  I looked at Dad, who was trying not to laugh.  It was all I could do to keep a straight face.  "Of course you may."  And I made a big to-do over laying the fabric straight, cutting slowly with extra care.  I folded the fabric, handed it to her, and handed the cutting ticket to Dad.  She looked at me and said seriously, "We are making a blanket."  "For whom?"  I asked.  Suddenly, she whirled around like a tiny tornado.  "For meeeeeeeeeeeeee!" Polka Dots said, with delight.  "For meeeeeeeeee!"   I smiled for the rest of the day.