When people go into an interior design store to purchase a new couch, they’ll usually flip through dozens of fabric and tapestry sample books while deciding what upholstery they want.
These fabric-sample books typically contain 10 to 30 different high-quality material samples, about 18 inches square. When a particular piece of furniture is discontinued, however, these fabric samples are regularly tossed into the dumpster without a second thought.
Rescuing exquisite designer fabrics and material samples from the landfill is a passion for FabMo in Mountain View.
FabMo’s monthly distribution events have become a mecca for eco-conscious Silicon Valley artists, teachers, quilters and crafters looking for free premium materials. The all-volunteer, nonprofit organization has found use for tons of high-quality samples that would otherwise have been thrown away.
Started by Bay Area art teacher Hannah Cranch and her husband, Jonathan, over a decade ago, FabMo has grown in leaps and bounds in just the past five years. No-doubt driven by the increasing awareness of waste and recycling, the group serves about 150 to 200 people any given week.
Dedicated FabMo volunteer Holly Welstein hand sews bags and purses out of the materials she gets from the group. She says a big part of the fun of FabMo is discovering other people’s trash that she can turn into her treasures.
“Sometimes there are retail prices on the samples, and we make a little game of finding the most expensive one,” Welstein says. “I just made a tiny makeup bag last week. It was out of a piece that was about 12 inches square, and $320 was the price. I’m not sure if anybody paid that much for it retail, but that was the price put on it.”
Welstein says she loves getting elbow deep in fabric samples while meeting and networking with like-minded people.
“Some people love animal prints. Some people are into the beautiful elaborate florals,” she says. “I had a piece [of fabric] that I made a little bag out of recently. I thought it was darling, it was a tapestry that had camel herders leading camels on it. I just thought it was so interesting and different. I’m not sure if I [would have] wanted a couch made out of it, but it made a really cute little bag,” she says with a laugh.
Though repurposing fabric and tapestry samples is FabMo’s main focus, it also regularly receives donations of random unwanted samples.
“One time, we had a big bin of snippets of Roman shade material in all the colors of this line, in 4-inch squares,” Welstein says. “They were going to throw them all away. Instead FabMo said, ‘No, we’ll bring them back.’ At this point, we have an email list of more than 2,000 very creative people, so we knew that somebody will find something to do with it other than throw it away.”
“That’s sort of the ethos of this whole thing,” she adds, “because it started out just collecting the fabric. But it’s grown to become a collection point of a lot of things that creative people can use.”
FabMo’s monthly events are open to the public and all their samples are free. That said, interested parties must join the email list and arrange appointments before they drop by the FabMo distribution location.
“The reason we make appointments now is because the distribution space isn’t too big, and it’s filled up with these tables,” Welstein explains. “We need to make sure there’s not too many people in there at one time. So, we just want people to show up in gentle waves, as apposed to a huge clump.”
FabMo will also be hosting its second-annual FabMo Textile
Art Boutique on Oct. 23, at the Quadrus Conference Center in Menlo Park. The boutique show features crafts, artwork and fashions made by FabMo volunteers from repurposed materials distributed
by the organization.
The group’s next material distribution event will be held Oct. 30–31. FabMo is currently still accepting appointments for that event, but spots are filling up fast.