Saturday, 11 May 2013

New York - Part II

The day before I met Leila I also managed to pay a visit to Purl Soho.

Serendipity is such a funny thing.

One of the judges at QuiltCon who critiqued my quilt is the founder and part-owner of Purl Soho. In the interests of fairness, it's only right and proper that I critique her store for her, don't you think ;-)

So, Purl Soho is situated here

It's a very busy street just off Broadway which is crawling with shoppers and people like me who don't have a clue what they are doing.

That's it, over there...with the white bauble lights hanging.

As soon as you step inside, on your left hand side, you see this Liberty hoop display.

And then the rest of the shop looks like this.

And that is it.

I would say it is two thirds yarn/needlework and one third fabric.
The fabric selection I would describe as 'capsule.' There is some Liberty, some solids, a few Japanese prints, some Denyse Schmidt and a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

If you're dragging a husband along, there is no comfy chair for him to sit on. See that ladder on the right hand side? It's on wheels and glides from side to side. There was a girl up it, putting fabric back on the shelves. She had a skirt on. Maybe that could be your husband's form of relaxation instead.  If not, then two blocks away on Spring Street is the New York City Fire Museum which includes a poignant exhibition on all the fire-fighters who lost their lives in 9/11 and where my husband sought his refuge.

I got talking to one of the assistants. What you see on their website is not necessarily what they have in the store. The website ships from their warehouse in California. There is a sale section on the website. There is no sale section in the store. I do like a sale section.

In my opinion, if you are coming to NYC I would not make this top of your list of quilt shops - I think it is over-hyped and when you've come thousands of miles (from parts of the world with little or no fabric choice at high prices) I think you want bang for your buck from a quilting experience and it just didn't do it for me. It is a triumph of style over substance - but that's just my opinion; you may think differently. A first time visit to Purl Soho is like first-time sex - you're left with a feeling of 'was that it...what was all the fuss about.'

If you're wanting the most comprehensive offering of fabric, notions and patterns and want to stay in Manhattan, I would pick The City Quilter. If you want to experience quirky, one-of-a-kind fabric in a more gentile setting then I would hop over to Brooklyn to the Brooklyn General Store. If you're making that journey with a non-quilt-obsessed companion just tell them they'll get to experience the best views of Manhattan along the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, so really, you're doing them a big favour by taking them to a quilt store. There's nothing wrong with Purl Soho per se, it's just for me it's not what I'd regard as a destination quilt store.

In the interests of fairness there are other blogs you can check out for New York experiences:

If you are non-US and suffer the astronomical shipping costs we have to pay for US-purchased fabric, don't forget you can also order online from US retailers and get it delivered to a US address you will be staying at. Leila very kindly acted as my fabric mule and Becca at Sew Me A Song managed to squeeze an obscenely heavy amount of fabric into an envelope for just $5.90 postage.

I took out the Essex linen that was also included in the package. You didn't want to see that as well did you?

I also ordered some fabric from Amanda at Westwood Acres and zips from Zipit and had both those packages delivered to Leila's house too.  It all adds up though and when we flew back, we were 6 kgs overweight :-(

It's also worth bearing in mind (as a non-US fabric buyer) that a store/bricks and mortar price is going to be more per yard than what you have been used to paying on-line. So an average price per yard in Purl Soho was $11 but you'd probably pay $2 less a yard (or more if you went sale) so even factoring the postage, it's still a better buy. And the right online US fabric retailers often have those hard-to-find prints that you absolutely love. Example being the yellow specs print in the top right hand corner of the image - it wasn't in any of the three fabric stores I visited...nor any of the text fabric middle of the bottom row.

Where I do want to go next time is here

It's in Lower Manhattan, about a 20 minute walk from Purl Soho and the place in NYC for zippers.
A Feibusch has an online store but I did want to see row upon rows of zippers in person (!) as well as lots of other sewing accouterments I may or may not actually need. And I also need to wander aimlessly around the Garment District too.

If you're going to New York and want a break from the quilting side of things the following will hopefully help.

Since our last visit The High Line has opened and I would definitely put this in a Top Ten of things to do in New York. It's a one mile linear park on a disused, elevated section of the former New York Central Railroad.

It's on the west side of Manhattan, mid-townish and was an area I wasn't particularly familiar with.

We walked from north to south but Leila suggests walking both ways as the vistas are so different.

I don't think the images do it justice. It really is an unexpected shot of verdant lushness in the urban jungle.

I should imagine it will be  riot of colour in the next few months.

For the best views of Manhattan we were told not to bother with the Empire State Building because the queues are longer and it is better to go to the Rockerfeller Center which has just as fantastic views, with the bonus of the more iconic Empire State Building in those views.

I would be inclined to agree.

The ceiling of the lift is transparent, allowing you to see your journey through the lift shaft as you shoot up and down the tower. I may have closed my eyes at this point.

If the weather is fab, Central Park is a must. However, if you haven't got time to leisurely walk from one end to the other (including stops for all important people watching it'll probably take you an hour and a half), then get the subway as far as 86th Street (B or C line...and not the A express which we got on and then it was 'hello Bronx') which is about half-way in to the park.

There were terrapins in one of the many lakes.

And spring had most definitely sprung.

And there are lots of refreshment stalls dotted around. The frozen fruit sticks are lovely (I had mango) but the Belgian waffles are completely moorish (as in wanting more, not Spanish architecture).

It was a perfect day.

It is worth remembering that since Hurricane Sandy, both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are closed for repair works until probably the autumn.

Arriving in New York at was magical

The tallest lit up building on the left hand side is the new One World Trade Center which is still under construction

And here it is close-up. If you want to visit the 9/11 memorial site you'll need a ticket (they are free) and then join the queues to get security checked. This will gain you entrance to the two fountains that have been built on the footprint of the original Twin Towers. The new One World Trade Center is situated sightly to one side. When we went the area was very, very busy with tourists and tour groups so I would suggest you get there early in the day.


I became slightly obsessed with the Magnolia Bakery  and may have visited more than one location.

This is the one at Grand Central Station.

The Station is worth a visit in its own right.

Apparently, when Grand Central Station was renovated in the 1990's, they discovered the ceiling was actually green and believe it had been hidden for years under all the nicotine from smokers. The Station is now a smoke-free zone.

The Magnolia Bakery is in the lower concourse food area. We ate at Juniors one night which is apparently famous for its cheesecakes. I was in love with the backs of the chairs.

And there is another Magnolia Bakery behind the Rockerfeller Center.

It stays open until midnight.
Who queues for cupcakes (except Americans call it 'standing in line') late at night?

I did.

And then you get to walk past the Rockerfeller Center in all its night time splendor.

For eating in general, whenever we had visited a 'tourist attraction', we would ask a guard/policeman where they would go and eat and we were never disappointed. You'll always get directed away from the main touristy areas and end up in some really fun diners, frequented by locals, none of which disappointed.


Highly personal for everyone so a bit difficult to guide you. I had strict instructions that I needed to visit Abercrombie and Fitch and Hollister which were the only two stores on Fifth Ave that made you stand outside and only let you in when customers came out.

And when you do get in (45 minutes later thank you very much) it's dark and with loud thumping music. I can understand they want to create a certain vibe/brand but when you can't tell whether a T-shirt is blue or turquoise or a shirt is white or cream because of the fluorescent lights then it's lost on me. I'm afraid by the time I made it to the front of the tortuously long queue to pay for said items and I got the usual 'was everything fine for you today?' I replied 'It would be, if you turn the music down and the lights up.' I didn't get an answer.

But then if I'd been them, I wouldn't have known what to say to me either.
I don't think it's in their customer service manual.

All the main brands are catered for around the top end of Fifth Avenue in the run up to Central Park. Bloomingdales is in that area too which is always worth a look, especially when the 'in' thing in your daughters' school is to have the 'little brown bag'   as your school lunch bag! And if you want to take home some NYC souvenirs there are lots of street stalls or (I found) the top end of Lexington Ave near Central Park had some not-so-expensive souvenir shops.

If you visit the 9/11 memorial site there is a huge Century 21 almost opposite it which is good for cheap(er) designer brand shopping. And if you're visiting Purl Soho, then you're only a block and a half away from Broadway which has loads of middle and upper end of the road type stores.

And that's it.

Every time I visit, I come away with the feeling that it is still my most favourite city in the whole world.


  1. What a wonderful & comprehensive guide to NYC.. I guess I've always been a bit intimidated there. I need you for a guide if I ever get back the again

  2. Awesome review of PS, I had wondered. Love the tour of NY! Haven't been there since college. Would love to go to the High line. Bids covered it online after reading the picture book The Garden by Peter Brown.

  3. Wow, I would love to visit NYC. No way I'd have the stamina to do it justice though, I'd need to be there for weeks!

  4. Love your review of PS and I’m amazed their online shops ships from California.
    Thanks for sharing your amazingly beautiful pictures! My husband has a love/hate relationship with NY, but I’ve never been there. If I ever go, I need to print out your tips!

  5. My brother lives in NY on Wall Street. He came home to visit a couple of weeks ago and I was very restrained with the package of fabric I had him bring back with him. I haven't visited since 1998 but I loved the city. I visited The City Quilter, if it's in the same place it's not somewhere you expect to find a quilt shop. Loved your post. The colours of the tulips would make a lovely quilt!

  6. what i a wonderful photo felt like i was there

  7. Thank you for the tour. I enjoyed it thoroughly. I was in NY only once (many years ago), for 24 hours, and had no clues where to go and what to do. You've actually stirred my interest in going again, especially to City Quilter and Brooklyn General Store. Glad you had a good time, and thanks again.

  8. Wow, now I want to go even more! Definitely on the bucket list. Thanks for sharing your trip.

  9. ohhhhh, I so want to go back to New York!!!

  10. Wonderful post..ha on PS..I really love got me going again..Silly me gave up buying fabric for now I will put SewmeaSong back on my list!! glad you had a good time.

  11. Thanks for sharing your visit, great pictures! As I read your reviews I almost felt like I could visit NYC, but for the most part I have no desire to vacation in the Big Apple, preferring country-sides and quaint shoppes.

  12. I read and reread every bit of this post! I've never been to New York City but feel like I'd need a personal tour guide to make a go of it! I had a hunch that Purl Soho would be just as you've described having seen the photos of its narrow footprint.

  13. Wow, the photos in this post are incredible! I particularly liked the photos of the High Line because it featured in a book I once read and I've never managed to remember to look it up! I think my favourite bit in the whole post is the bit about the skirt-wearing girl up a ladder! I first read it a few hours ago and it's still making me chuckle! Mind you, the comment about the music and the lights in the shop is also making my chuckle quite a lot...

    I think I need to save up for a three month long trip to NYC, it would take me that long to do all you've done in this post!

  14. Great post. I have only been in NYC for a few hours. And incredible stack of fabrics.

  15. Thank you for sharing your experience, your comment about the woman on the ladder at Purl Soho was hilarious :) Sadly I have only been to NY one time, and it was about a month before the the planes hit the World Trade Center so it has been a long time and it was long before I started quilting. I have heard that Purl Soho's warehouse in California has a few hours every day where you can go inside and shop but I have never tried to go. Next time you come to the states you should visit Southern California :)

  16. Wonderful photos! I had Purl Soho on my list for my next trip! Thank you... I will skip it!

  17. Oh my God, I have a lump in my throat - I really 'need' to go back to New York - it's my favouretist city in the world too. Love the tip about the views and the eating thing and enjoyed your review of Purl Soho ;) I am left wondering if the man in the first shot (in the van) is podering whether he'll ever appear in a quilt blog? Anyway, i'm still ridiculously jealous and it's no good trying to talk me out of it. Oh another thing, to live somewhere where they say, "Was everything fine for you today?" (even if they don't listen to the answer) rather than throwing the bag in your general direction while talking to a colleague!

  18. Fun! What a spectacular NYC recap :-) I haven't been in years since my sister moved down to Austin from NYC, but I think I need to plan a trip - especially now that winter is over up there!

  19. I go to NYC, for a week, once a year. I attend Book Expo America. I totally agree with you about Purl Soho. I've started skipping it altogether, but I never miss City Quilter, it's the best.

  20. oohhh.. I love your critique of the fabric shop, so fun, hehehe.

  21. You cracked me up with the girl up the ladder comment!!! Thanks your tour of NY. It makes me want to back again and see the things I missed. Great use of the maps too!

  22. Great post about NYC! I live near Baltimore and have only in the last few years started taking the Megabus to New York. It's a great way to go even just for the day. My quilty friends and I agree with you about Purl Soho, it's not a good fabric shopping destination. We don't go there, instead we always go to City Quilter and have a ball. They have a comfy chair, and sale fabrics, and the Gallery. I haven't tried the shop in Brooklyn but now it's on my list.

  23. Blimey, I could have flown there in the time it took me to read this!
    I bet that Purl Soho wool was too woolly and maybe a bit itchy x

  24. What a great post, I love the review of PS. A trip to New York is on our list, I will come back and read again when we finally find the time to go.

  25. What a wonderful post Alison! Thank you for the laughs and tour!! I have never been to NY, but feel like I was tagging along and got to see many of the same things I would have scouted out myself! Your review of PS cracked me up... I'm thinking walking the garment district would have been time better spent! Lol

  26. Thanks for the review. You really got some great photos. My husband and I walked the High Line yesterday! It was a perfect day for it. Good to know I don't need to make the trip down to Purl Soho. :) It's been on my list, but I always seem to spend my time in the garment district. I do want to check out your zipper place. Mine is on 38th St. I get my bag hardware at Pacific Trims (also on 38th). Let us know when you're coming back and maybe a bunch of us could get together!

  27. Brilliant summary of your trip, and I didn't half laugh about the who Purl Soho thing.

  28. Fab post. I had often wondered about Purl and totally get what you mean about Hollister and A&F. My brother apparently embarrassed my niece by going to a rare store in UK Probably London and shouted above the thumping music: Do you need a torch. Has there been a powercut?! Love your pictures too.

  29. It's on my "someday" list so thanks for your insights!

  30. Loved your review of the Big Apple, I went for a week in December and loved every minute of it. Can't wait to go back.

  31. It's funny, I've never had a great yen to visit New York, but your post has made mw think that maybe I am missing out after all. (Now all I need to find is someone prpepared to babysit 3 kids for a weekend so DH and I could jet off)

  32. Gosh I almost spit on my monitor about your comment of the lady with the skirt on the ladder and the store review! hilarious!

  33. Great to read- want to go to NYC one day and have added your great blog to my reader (Feedly) for my daily (or weekly or however often- no pressure) dose of levity! Thanks!

  34. oh wow, I missed this post somehow. Lucky you going to NYC! I went a few years ago and loved it too. I love going to areas that aren't touristy, but Central Park was a must, it was just gorgeous. Your PS description is bang on. I think sometimes the hype is way overrated on things - same with Abercrombie etc. NYC really does have an amazing vibe to it though, so diverse and eclectic, and amazingly I felt very very safe there.

  35. It was kind of you to identify the PS store by the bauble lights and not the ugly graffiti outside... Why don't they clean it?

    Lovely post about the temptations (and otherwise) of New York - one day I'll visit ... maybe!

  36. didn't know about City Quilter! Thanks for that and I'll add it to my list.
    Isn't the High Line fabulous???
    glad you had fun!


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