Wanderings in Salt Lake City

This past week I was in Salt Lake City, Utah for a museum conference. The conference was itself productive and informative, but that is not what I want to tell you about.

An impulsive afternoon departure from the conference to clear my headache and breathe fresh air led me to Pierpont Avenue, where I found Tissú Fine Fabrics and Jen McGrew, an awesome costume designer and fabulous person. This Salt Lake City Arts & Entertainment article about Pierpont Avenue describes the setting and the history of these businesses better than I could.

A lovely street hidden between condos and hotels.
A lovely street hidden between condos and hotels.

I initially trekked* over to Pierpont Ave in search of a fabric store. I had grown tired of the beautifully-designed City Creek Center and high priced clothing items I did not need, but I couldn’t shake the desire to leave Salt Lake City with a souvenir. It occurred to me that I am always jealous of my fellow Sewcialists and sewing bloggers when they share photos or stories from fabric stores around the world. So I set out to orchestrate that kind of experience for myself.

As I made my way along Pierpont Ave, I noted a red storefront that read “Costumes, Accoutrements, Alterations, Corsets” and made a mental note to look more closely after I explored the fabric store. Inside Tissú I found a beautiful assortment of fashion fabrics. If I had projects in my queue, I could have justified the purchase of some wool suiting and silk charmeuse. As it was, the pile of fashion remnants for sale included a yard of dark stretch denim and a yard of mauve cotton sateen. I can easily find uses for each of these, so I picked up the two fabrics for less than $20. The owner of Tissú shared memories of her time in Seattle, before the gray skies and rain drove her out, and gave me a couple of recommendations for dress forms (with bums!). I bid her farewell and walked toward the costume storefront.

I approached the red storefront slowly. Part of me wanted to keep walking and get dinner, convinced that I would either be disappointed or intimidated by the quality of the costumes. The darkened storefront appeared closed, but the hours listed on the front window suggested the business was opened. Thankfully the part of me that knew I would regret skipping a potentially awesome costume store won out in the end.

It was like stepping back in time.

I opened the door and stepped into a set from The Prestige, or similar steampunk-esque room: elegant wood cabinets and furniture; mannequins dressed in Elizabethan, prairie, and medieval costumes; bowler hats and spats resting on shelves; and a large fake horse. I quickly suspected this was not a regular “costume store” and when a voice from behind a curtain beckoned me in I realized I was standing in someone’s design studio. At first I felt a little uncertain and guilty for intruding into someone’s creative space. A woman, standing next to a large work table and framed by a wall of fabrics, greeted me with a smile and invited me to hang out for a while and talk while she worked on a corset and bustle for a friend.

Over the next three hours Jen and I talked about the building’s history, my experiences in the museum profession, Salt Lake City Comic Con, the cosplay community, corset sewing techniques, the fantasy genre, and her career as a costume designer. She showed me the 20-minute fan film she and her colleagues. It is based on Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, and if you like fantasy or costumes I highly recommend you take a look at the film.

I am so glad I choked down my fears of inadequacy and stayed to talk with Jen. Because of her my visit to Salt Lake City was as much a personal success as it was a professional success.

What are some of your most impactful “accidental” experience on a trip to another city?


*I say “trekked” because these Utah blocks are HUGE. I think every block is the equivalent of a double block in Seattle and combined with the higher altitude, walking just 2 blocks was enough to make me winded.


One thought on “Wanderings in Salt Lake City

  1. What a wonderful and unexpected experience! I will have to check out the short film later when I have a little more time.

    When I went to London, England during college, my younger sister came with me the second time. We went to McDonald’s just a couple doors down from our hotel every afternoon for a fried apple pie. During one of those daily pie runs, we were sitting at our table with another girl from the college trip and enjoying our snacks when a silver-haired Irish man with a group of his friends leaned over from the table beside us.

    He recognized us as being American and asked us where we were from. When we told him Dallas, TX, he immediately started talking about JFK conspiracies. We stayed and talked for probably over an hour (I could have listened to him talk for days!) and at one point, he decided to guess where our ancestors were from. He didn’t know my sister and I were related at that point and he guessed completely different places, but he was right! My sister looks like the Scotch-Irish side of our family and I look like our French side! Before that I never really thought about looking French, but I guess I do. It was such a fascinating experience and I’ll never forget it.

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