Visitors never know exactly what materials they'll discover when they go to FabMo. That's part of the fun of the Mountain View-based, all-volunteer nonprofit that rescues and repurposes discontinued designer fabrics and other sample items.
Lately, on visits to FabMo, Cupertino artisan Barbara Pollek has been finding bolts of heavy felt made of a wool blend. She likes the sturdy fabric because it's well-suited to embroidery. "Probably at least 90% of what I do has some embroidery on it, and that's either an image that I digitized or wording. I love, for instance, John Muir quotes. A lot of them are about respect for nature and so I'll often put one of his quotes on a small wall hanging," she said. Once she embroiders a piece, often she will apply it to another background fabric, such as upholstery fabric, depending on what she finds at FabMo.
Pollek creates a variety of items for the home, including table runners, wall hangings, throw pillows, hot pads and magnets. She will be one of more than 40 local makers showing their work at FabMo's annual Arts Boutique, taking place Saturday, Oct. 26, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Now in its 11th year, the boutique has a new venue at the First Congregational Church of Palo Alto. The boutique features an array of unique handmade linens, home decor, holiday items, toys, accessories and gifts.
Pollek, who began sewing around age 7, got her degree in Apparel Technology from Purdue University. In addition to the home decor items she will have on hand at the boutique, she also creates custom banners for special events like graduations or weddings.
Many of the pieces she has created for the boutique will be smaller scale, including some little wall hangings that she said could bring a homey touch to a dorm or cubicle.
"Much of what we get from FabMo is pretty small, because a lot of it is samples of discontinued fabrics, so that's why they lend themselves to smaller things, like a throw pillow or table runner," Pollek said.
No matter the creation, whether table runner or holiday ornament, to be part of the boutique, an item must use a minimum percentage of materials from FabMo. Ensuring that items are repurposed, rather than going to the landfill, is integral to FabMo's mission.
"A lot of items are mixed. A lot of materials go together to make a covered book, for instance, so we have a guideline of 30% of the materials that you use (must be from FabMo)," said FabMo board chair Holly Welstein.
A longtime FabMo volunteer, Welstein helped co-found the boutique, though she notes that it kind of evolved in its own way, in true FabMo fashion.
"The boutique sort of came together very organically, which is very much the way FabMo started as well. There were just some people standing around talking about how fun it would be to be able to see what people were making. At that point we were really just fabrics — a much smaller operation." That idea quickly grew into the idea to rent a hall and turn a FabMo "show and tell" into a sale.
FabMo was founded by Hannah and Jonathan Cranch in the mid '90s when they discovered that samples from San Francisco's Design Center, a large home-furnishing showcase, were just thrown away when showroom displays were updated. What began as an effort to save discarded fabrics now also includes other home-decor materials such as tiles, and FabMo has grown from a grassroots effort based in the Cranches' home to an official nonprofit with its own showroom/warehouse.
The FabMo mission fits well with the ethos of Menlo Park maker Marge Gordon, who will be showing blankets and table runners at the boutique. She got her start in sewing as a single mom on a tight budget, creating clothes for her young children by repurposing the yardage-heavy dresses popular in the early '60s.
"It (FabMo) just seemed to be an avenue that I would use because I like to repurpose fabric, it doesn't make much difference what kind it is, depending on the project I have," Gordon said. "I don't use a lot of new fabric. I use fabric that has been handed down or I tear something apart and put it back together in something else. I do that quite frequently with the other nonprofit I sew for."
She devotes much of her sewing time to Grateful Garment, a nonprofit that provides clothing to sexual assault survivors at the hospital, when they must provide their own clothes to the police as evidence. In fact, she's organized a local group that meets at the FabMo warehouse to sew clothing to donate to Grateful Garment.
Gordon said that she hopes that people who take home her pieces from the boutique get practical use out of them, but also something more.
"So many times pieces are exquisite, they're gorgeous, but no one wants to use them. My pieces are nice and they're beautiful, but they're of a pattern that people will use them. That's what I want. I want people to get comfort out of what I create," she said.
Likewise, Pollek hopes that her creations bring their new owners some happiness and inspiration.
"A lot of times it's a little message that I put on it that (I hope) makes them feel calm. Everything is kind of crazy politically lately and a lot of people are stressed out. So I want them to feel a little peace, have a little happy memory," she said.
The FabMo Arts Boutique takes place Saturday, Oct. 26, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the First Congregational Church of Palo Alto, 1985 Louis Road, Palo Alto. Admission is free. For more information, call 650-282-6548 or visit fabmo.org