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My Pilgrimage to Richard The Thread
I got to check out cool stuff that's not available anywhere else
Fictionfan
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Date: 3/7/14 8:03 PM

Last week during my daughter's school break, we were in southern California visiting family and getting out of the subzero weather that has been dragging on excessively long this winter. When my husband decided on this trip and booked it a few months ago, he got us tickets to be part of the audience for Wheel Of Fortune, supposedly so that my daughter could see one of her favorite shows being taped but mostly because he likes to see shows being taped. Okay, that was fine, but when I found out that DH had gotten the tickets for WoF, I remembered that Richard the Thread is in L.A.!

I learned about this little place called Richard the Thread when I took Susan Khalje's LBD class on PR and her Craftsy class. This is the supplier she recommended for obtaining large pieces of waxed dressmaker's carbon paper aka tracing paper. It is otherwise impossible to find. RtT is a specialty shop for notions and materials used in making corsets and period costumes. They sell stuff I've never seen in any sewing store that I've been in, though I've heard of the items and might have seen photos of some of them. The usual clientele are theater costumers, couturiers, design students, and people who want to make corsets or oddballs like me who just want to get some large sheets of waxed carbon paper because I heard about it on PR.

Normally, I would not think of taking a day of vacation to go from Orange County (near Disneyland) into the L.A. traffic just to check out some carbon paper. We have a lot of other people to see and places to go in our limited vacation time, none of which are anywhere near downtown L.A. or Culver City. I certainly would not drive there by myself, being unfamiliar with the city and knowing that the traffic can be horrible. However, I saw that we would be driving right by the store on our way to the studios for WoF, so I mentioned that we needed to make a quick --seriously, I did say quick-- stop for me to just see what they had. DH thought I was joking. I’ve never done a quick trip to a fabric store. None of his family thought I was serious that there was really a store with that name and could not understand what I would do with anything from a corset supplier.

DH googled to get directions and see what I was talking about. The street view photo for 1960 S. La Cienega Blvd showed a small strip of shops with bars covering the windows and doors, and a homeless person lying in the doorway who looked asleep. It looked like a jail. It’s near a hospital, within a few blocks of the freeway exit. He was skeptical that the place was a real shop at that address, thought I was crazy to want to go anywhere that had bars covering everything in what looked like a rough area of L.A. I argued that we weren't going out of our way to go to a bad part of town; we would already be there, so why not make a pit stop? I promised not to take up more than an hour of the day, that I would not keep us from getting to the studios on time, and that I wouldn't spend a fortune in the store. My MIL has been into just about every sort of fiber art and craft that you can think of. She hadn't heard of the store and also wanted to see what they had.

On the day, my MIL was delayed with one of her volunteer things, and I was late getting back from my run, so we left the house a bit late for me to have anymore than about 10 minutes in the store. I insisted that I should at least be able to walk into the store and get exactly the carbon paper that I wanted, no fuss, no lingering, and if it took longer he could drag me out even if the deal wasn't done. Fortunately, the traffic wasn't as bad as DH anticipated, so we actually had about 30 minutes to spend there or waiting at the studio. What clinched the stop was DMIL's wish to see the store with such an interesting name.

The place did not have any homeless people lying in the doorway, but there were a few unkempt folks, who looked like they had no particular place to be, just meandering along the street. DH asked if I really wanted to stop and get out, because the place looked deserted, with no prominent signage to indicate that there was anything going on in the buildings. I saw that there was a very convenient parking spot right in front of the address for the store, the street traffic was light, and we had the time, so I said we're here, let us out. I couldn't see until I got to the door that there was lettering on the door that said Richard the Thread. The lettering is large enough, but it's not bright and it doesn't contrast much with the door color. You would have to know that the place is there to find it, because the bars and screen covering the door obscured any possibility of reading the name unless you are standing right in front of the door. (I'm guessing they don't get much casual traffic into the store.)

The door was locked. The place looked abandoned. Through the window, I could see some wire mannequins in a room that looked clean but otherwise empty, with no evidence of any human activity. Then I noticed that there was a small card that said to ring the bell, tucked behind the bars near the doorknob. I rang the bell. After a moment, a voice called out for me to wait just a minute, and a friendly woman came through a far door to let us in. The door closed and locked automatically behind us. DH could not come to drag me out if he wanted to because we were locked in. Hah!

The front room was boring, with only those few mannequins and an armchair. The back room was a warehouse-like, large room with a desk in front, several shelf units in the center with rolls of materials and a desk in back with a young man seated eating an enormous chocolate doughnut. There was a shelf unit with five colors of carbon paper, about 2 feet X 3 feet in size. I had read on their website that the minimum order was 3 sheets, so when she asked what I wanted, I only gave the colors. She rolled up the colors separately so they wouldn't rub off on each other, then quoted me a cost that sounded too low. I asked why, and she said it was only 3 sheets of paper so that was the price. Apparently, they have a minimum quantity for mail or online orders because they want the shipping to be worth it for the customer. However, if you walk in, you can get as much or as little as you want of the stock they have on hand. This business is the only manufacturer/supplier in the world for this paper. The machines were run by an older man in New York somewhere, and when the man died the children wanted nothing to do with manufacturing waxed dressmaker's carbon paper. They had a couple of lean years without any being made, then found someone in Pennsylvania who was willing to move the machines and run them. (With all those unemployed-looking people around, I wondered why they don't just have the machines in L.A., and she said that people don't want to manufacture or run machines anymore.)

While she and the guy with the doughnut (he put it down and washed his hands before touching my paper) were rolling up more paper for me, I wandered about looking at busks, bins of grommets, hooks, eyes, and snaps of all sizes, rolls of brocades, powernet, interfacings, stacks of coutil (now I know what it looks like), rolls of ice wool in white and black (never saw that before, only heard of it from PR reviews), large rolls of bias tape, snap tape, and elastics. I spotted some hook and eye tapes of normal and heavier weight. I got a yard each of the hook and eye tapes since they are impossible for me to find locally.

There were many drawers of every variety of spiral and straight steel, rigilene, and other rigid or flexible materials for boning. There were small cans (they would last me several lifetimes) and nearly gallon size cans of glues and cleaning fluids, and some unlabeled cans of stuff that I was told if what they dip the ends of boning into. There were drawers of patterns for costumes, which "now have directions!" the sign said. Toward the back of the room, there were a couple gravity feed irons and vacuum tables and some other kind of machinery. There were a lot of things that I did not see because we were in a hurry with DH in the car texting me that we had to leave.

As we were leaving, a young woman came in. The pleasant woman running the place obviously knew her and asked what amazing creation she was planning that they could help her with today? The customer appeared ready to spend the day getting materials for a costume to exhibit her couture techniques for a class. She wanted to have the skirt be large enough to fill the room we were in, supported with a very large hoop. It sounded very elaborate and quite expensive and time-consuming to make. If I'd had a half day to spare, I would love to have stayed to see what she got, and maybe I would have come away with some fabrics and notions to make a really fancy dress that I'd have no reason ever to wear.

We were at RtT less than 20 minutes, I did not spend a fortune, and we were way too early for signing in for WoF, so he could have no complaints. (It was good that we were very early, because apparently the secret service were restricting activity on the lot, which meant it was a huge ordeal just to get to the restrooms. They said that Bill Clinton was there for some gala show.)

I recommend going to Richard the Thread if you ever are in the L.A. area. Even if you don't need anything and don't buy anything, the people were knowledgeable and very nice to deal with. The stuff in that small warehouse was fascinating for someone who knows practically nothing about corsets and centuries-old period costumes. For someone who makes corsets and costumes, it is like a candy shop of goodies.
-- Edited on 3/7/14 10:56 PM --

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MegquiltsinVT

MegquiltsinVT
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Date: 3/7/14 8:25 PM

As a fellow Vermonter, with no access to Richard the Thread except by word of mouth, thank you so much for your review! Perhaps one day....

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Fictionfan
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In reply to MegquiltsinVT <<


Date: 3/7/14 10:54 PM

Huh. Didn't occur to me that I was writing a store review! So I edited my narrative and posted a review. No one had reviewed this store before! Amazing!

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JanyceR
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In reply to Fictionfan <<


Date: 3/8/14 6:31 AM

Sounds fascinating. Thanks for posting all this information!

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KathySews
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Date: 3/8/14 7:28 AM

Thanks for sharing. That sounds like a fantastic visit.

KyleQC
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Date: 3/8/14 8:26 AM

Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I now live in Québec, but grew up in Los Angeles. You can be sure that the next time I visit, I will try to make it to Richard the Thread!

daintydeb
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Date: 3/8/14 9:32 AM

I ordered the waxed paper from them a year or two ago. Of course, needed to order more than I need because of the shipping. It cost quite a bit but I now probably have a lifetime and more supply. This paper used to be available in every little shop in my area. The chalk paper is mostly what you get online now. The item was packed in a careful manner in a cardboard tube to prevent crushing. Thanks for the description and thanks for being insistent about taking the time to visit the shop.

sewdoggie22
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In reply to Fictionfan <<


Date: 3/10/14 2:02 PM

I just spent a lot of time enjoying your description and looking at the website. What a treat! Thanks so much for taking time to post.

lyndle
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Date: 3/10/14 10:41 PM

I doubt I'll ever get there in person so thank you for your lovely and evocative description. (It also answers my question of why I cant find big sheets of carbon paper). Sounds lovely - even worth going to watch WoF being filmed :-)

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Date: 3/12/14 4:00 PM

Thank you for taking the time to give us the juicy details. I'm curious, have you used the tracing paper yet? I bought some in white (after watching Susan Khalje) from Steinlauf & Stoller in NYC, but it doesn't work that well for me. I am interested to hear about your experience with the stuff from RtT.

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