fledge capable of flying, from Middle English flegge, from Old English -flycge; akin to Old High German flucki capable of flying,
Old English flEogan to fly -- more at FLY
intransitive verb, of a young bird : to acquire the feathers necessary for flight or independent activity

Friday, September 12, 2014

"Do you like Swafing?"

"I don't know, I've never swaffed before"

(My apologies to the fans of the famous Kippling postcard.)

Hello All!

How was your summer? Mine was comprised of rather boring stretches of tedium punctuated with stressful bouts of activity. For reasons of compromised space and compromised finances…and really compromises in general, I didn’t seem to get done the many things I had intended for the summer.

But I did/do have some work! Some months ago, the one sewist in the world whose work I admire the very most (but doesn’t much like attention, so I won’t mention her by name) called me and told me about a firm she has been working with for a couple of years. This firm works closely with Farbenmix and, well, this firm is looking to expand outside of the German-speaking market and further into Europe. Would I like to help?

Um, help? How? You realize, I am in Californa. So, ideally situated to expand into France and Italy and Spain and so forth I am/je suis/io sono/soy not so much, ne c’est pas/non/no? Whatever: If this is a partner firm of Farbenmix, and if you, awesome sewist/dear-friend-who-shall-not-be-named, work for these guys, that’s good enough for me. Count me in. What do you want me to do?

For a few months, I’ve just done some translations of German blog posts into English. Really no sweat off my keyboard. I haven’t even sent this company an invoice and I hadn’t really told anyone—until now—that I’ll be getting a paycheck from these guys once in awhile.

That is because I really want to stand behind what I am called to represent, especially when it comes to something near and dear to my heart like sewing.

Swafing is a mid-sized firm in the greatest tradition of European mid-sized firms, which are still the backbone of European industry. These are the kinds of companies with, maybe, 150 employees, max, that are handed down through the generations and, therefore, are not hyperactively and shortsightedly focused on “shareholder value” and “quarterly returns”. These firms like to consider things in terms of longevity and sustainability. Something that can be passed on to to the next generation. Swafing is located in Nordhorn, Germany, a small town near the Dutch border. In its heyday, Nordhorn was an important industrial center for the textile industry. Mills, manufacturers, distributors, and other suppliers and service providers in the textile and apparel industry value chain all called Norhorn home.  Swafing Sr. would go to these different firms and purchase up what they had laying around to sell to the home sewing market. And then the 1990s came. Outsourcing. China. “Nuff said. Nordhorn as an industrial center for the textile industry? Very much less so. (North Carolina, you can sing this song, too, am I right?). Swafing Jr. was facing very tough times, tough times indeed.

At just about the right time, this rather manly company got quite the estrogen injection, in form of very enthusiastic sewists, who love them some fabulous fabric. And fabulous fabric of the sort they were unable to find. High-quality cotton knits and high thread-count percales printed with whimsy and wonder and fun. Sumptuous fashion fabrics that were on trend. Pretty, but nonetheless utilitarian fabrics for things like handbags and ski jackets. Worsted wools in a broad pallet of colors. Yarn-dyed striped interlocks in most every color and most every width. Digital prints. French terry. Confidence in Textiles/Oeko-Tex and respected organic standards. You know what we want. You know how hard it is to find it.

Swafing was the kind of company that knew how to find or make whatever kind of material was wanted, if they only knew which fabrics were wanted. These are dudes, remember: No matter how hard they may try, sometimes they don’t get it. Am I right? And so Sabine Pollehn of Farbenmix came with a wish list. And that wish list fulfilled many, many wishes of many, many home sewists. Many, many, many. And so, many more fabrics were made and innovative new designers discovered and many, many, many pretty things were sewn up all around the land. And then Swafing hired some highly enthused gals having both excellent sewing and business-y skills to handle things like creative direction and online marketing. And Swafing made a name for itself.

And they lived happily every after…not yet. Mr. Swafing is not content to sit on his laurels. He also understands how fickle we sewists can be and wants to continue to grow and meet new demands.

And this is about where I was called and started translating blog posts. Whatever.

This company, Swafing, recently invited me to attend their semiannual “Hausmesse”. What looks like might be translated into “house mess” is really something different. (“House mess,” come to think of it, has no German translation. Probably because it doesn’t exist. Very tidy country.) Translated by a pro like myself, I used the term “in-house exhibition” in the blog posts for “Hausemesse.” But translating words doesn’t necessarily convey the meaning. For example, zum Beispiel, if you’re invited for coffee in the U.S., you’ll likely just meet a friend at (please-anyplace-but-)Starbucks and drink lattes from paper cups. In Germany, on the other hand, if you are invited for coffee, please consider bringing flowers (from a florist), please calculate at least two hours around a beautiful table resplendent with different homemade cakes and pastries, fine china, napkins folded prettily, special forks, linen table cloths and so on, and please wear your Sunday best, but sensible shoes, because “having coffee” invariably concludes with a lengthy walk (Spaziergang) no matter what the weather. Coffee vs. Kaffee. Same thing, completely different.

And the “Hausmesse” might translate to “in-house exhibition” or “open house” or “warehouse sale” or some such. But a lot gets lost in translation. Below, I’ve tried to let a few of the hundreds of people who attended explain why they drove hundreds of miles (excuse me, “kilometers”) to some ho-dunk (excuse me, “quaint”) town in the countryside. And also to explain in a small way, why I am now proud to call myself a member of the Swafing team.

But please remember: no one can pay me enough to promote something I don’t believe in. Or at least nothing under the buy-my-own-island-and-my-own-flying-horse-that-speaks-fluent-French price point. So, if I show you something made with Swafing fabric, it is because I really stand behind it. I really do like this fabric and the company behind it. If I start Instagramming pix of Jean-Pierre flying among tall palm trees, you are welcome to call my judgement into question. Until then, when I say the fabric is off the hook? Seriously, it is. This is that marvelous European fabric woven by elves on magic golden looms in an enchanted forest or some such. Seriously.

A Fabric Paradise on the Dutch-German Border

“So, what brought you to Nordhorn today?”

That was my question to attendees at the recent Swafing In-House Exhibition. Nordhorn has its charms—don’t get me wrong. There are, for example canals surrounding the central shopping district. But, let’s face it, Venice Nordhorn is not. 

“Oh, everybody goes to the Hausmesse!”

Everybody? To an in-house exhibition of a mid-sized, family-run fabric distributor? People drive hundreds of kilometers to mill about a collection of rather non-descript industrial buildings near the German-Dutch border? As I press against the racks to allow yet another smiling customer and her full cart is push past, I will have agree with Sabine Pollehn of Farbenmix. But why?

“It’s Swa-fing,” explained to me in slow, deliberate syllables. Like the three-year old, who as discovered that “why” is the one of the Five W’s that just can have no end, I bite again. “Why Swafing?”


Anke Müller, the creative force behind Cherry Picking, gives us our first German lesson for fab fabric fans. Everybody: "ISH LEE-beh SHTAW-feh!" "I love fabrics!"

“Und warum sind Sie heute in Nordhorn?”

So meine Frage an so mancher Besucher des diesjährigen Swafing Hausmesse.  Nordhorn hat gewiss seine Reize—mich also bitte nicht falsch verstehen. Die hübsche Innenstadt ist umringt von Kannelen, die mit Booten befahrbar sind. Aber wir machen uns doch nichts hier vor: Venedig ist Nordhorn wohl nicht.

“Ach! Jeder fährt zur Hausmesse!”

Jeder? Zu der Hausmesse eines Mittelstandsunternehmens, das Stoffe vertreibt? Es fahren Leute Hunderte von Kilometern zu einer Kleinstadt an der deutschen-holländischen Grenze, um um einigen unscheinbaren gewerblichen Bauten aus der Nachkriegszeit herumzulaufen und Stoffe kaufen, die sie ja sonst bequem und gemütlich online bestellen könnten? Während ich schon wieder gegen die Regale mich drucken müssen, um eine lächelnde Kundin mit vollem Wagen vorbeifahren zu dürfen, muß ich es wohl glauben. Aber warum?

“Weil es Swa-fing ist,” für mich extra in langsamen Sylben ausgesprochen. Und wie die freche dreijährige, die soeben herausgefunden hat, das die frage “Warum” immer wieder und immer wieder zur Frage gestellt werden kann, frage ich auch wieder, “Warum?”


Anne Petry, artist and creative tour-de-force behind Hebbedinge makes new friends. Literally, makes new friends. Get it?

And this is where the conversation gets interesting.

“I am a passionate wool felter,” explained Silke Freitag of Müritz. “I run a successful yarn shop for knitting and crochet, but my customers keep coming in asking for fabric. Swafing fabric. I think it is important, in business, to go new ways and try new things. So I’m learning to sew!”

“I think it is important to always try new things. That is the wonderful thing about making things with your hands. You are always going in new directions,” Ms. Freitag explains.

Put that way, I have to agree with this mother of five grown children, who might just been seen about Müritz going new directions on a groovy old GDR-issued bicycle, which Ms. Freitag has colorfully yarn-bombed.

Shop owner Silke Freitag of Müritz's Wollfaden.

Und nun wird das Gespräch interessant.

“Ich bin Filzerin,” erkläre Silke Freitag aus Müritz, “Und habe einen Wollladen für Stricken und Häkeln. Aber meine Kunden fragten nach Stoffen, auch Swafing-Stoffen.  Wenn man ein Geschäft hat, finde ich es wichtige, auch neue Wege zu gehen. Deswegen lerne ich nähen!”

“Ich finde es wichtig, immer neue Sachen auszuprobieren. Das ist das schöne an Handarbeit. Du mußt immer neue Richtungen gehen,” drucke Frau Freit aus.

Und so ausgedruckt muß ich ja der Mutter fünf erwachsener Kinder recht geben, welche man wohl um Müritz herum eventuell ihre neue Wege fahren sehen könnte--und zwar auf einem absolut fetzigen DDR-Fahrad, das Frau Freitag bunt “yarn-bombed” hatte.


Anne Svea, shopowner and DIY guru. Even better in real life!

“Sewing is like breathing,” explains Jette, communications director and all-around girl-Friday for Farbenmix. “It is just like that. Sewing is like breathing to me. Whatever else is going on around me, I need my creative time. Just to breath.” And good fabric is like fresh, clean air, then, Jetta? “Exactly! Swafing gives me the fabric to breath creatively!”

“Das Nähen ist wie Atem,” sagt Jette, Kommunikationdirektorin und Mädchen Frau-für-Alles bei Farbenmix. “Genauso ist es. Nähen ist wie Atem. Egal was um mich herum abgeht, brauche ich mein Nähen. Einfach Atem zu können.” Und gute Stoffe sind dann wie frische Luft, liebe Jette? Stoff als metaphorischer Sauerstoff? “Genau! Swafing gibt mir den Stoff, um kreativ Atem zu können.”


“Swafing is just good,” explain a group of three ladies near the workshop tent. Hm, I think, judging from your accent, you three have come quite a distance. “Yes, we drove from Switzerland.” That’s a good 600 kilometes, at least! “Yes, but Swafing has the kinds of fabrics we want for children’s apparel.”

And then a round of smart phones are lit up to show off some sewing creations, but also to show off some adorable Swiss grandchildren.


Super fangirl showing off her "Spooky" shirt sewn from Cherry Picking's recent collection.

“Swafing ist einfach gut,” erläutet eine Gruppe von drei Damen, die in der Nähe vom Workshopzelt standen. Hm, denke ich, anhand ihre Dialekten, sind diese drei sehr weit gereist. “Ja, wir sind aus der Schweiz gekommen.” Das sind sicherlich mindestens 600 Kilomerter! “Ja, aber Swafing hat die Stoffe, die wir für Kinderklamotten brauchen.”

Und dann werden ja die Smartphones herausgeholt und stolz sowohl Selbstgenähtes als auch bildhübsche, schweizerische Enkelkinder gezeigt.

“So, why Swafing?” I ask a couple dressed proudly in beautiful Alpine garb. They had driven up from Austria.

“Swafing has good service, good quality. No complaints whatsoever! Not from me nor my customers,” explained this Alpine shop owner. “I have a rather large shop. I need to stock a little bit of everything. And my customers are very price and quality conscious. They want a good deal. I can count on Swafing fabrics selling well, to help ease the inventory risk with the slower moving items. It’s a very good working relationship.”

“Jö. Und warum Swafing?” frage ich ein Paar wunderschön in voller Alpentracht angezogen. Sie sind extra aus Österreich gefahren.

“Swafing hat guten Service, gute Qualität. Keine Beschwerden. Weder von mir noch meinen Kundinnen,” sage die Ladenbesitzerin mit Shop in den Alpen, “Ich habe ein ziemlich grosses Geschäft. Ich muß ein bißl von allem anbieten können. Auch Spitze und so weiter. Meine Kunden achten sehr auf den Preis und die Qualität. Ich kann mich daruaf verlassen, daß die Swafing-Stoffe gut verkauft werden und somit das Risiko mit den Langsamläufern zu decken. Es ist eine gute Beziehung.”

“We’re just starting out,” explained a young couple in the coffee tent, “We’re in the process of setting up a Web site and online shop.”

It began for this couple, as it has for so many shop owners, with the young mother’s passion for sewing. I probably needn’t explain in too much detail to this audience how quickly and completely sewing can take hold of your imagination…and soon after your living quarters and perhaps your career.

“So,” explained the couple, “We’re going to open our own online shop. And Swafing is the fabric people want by name.”

“Wir fangen jetzt erst an,” erzähle ein junges Paar im Kaffeezelt. “Wir sind dabei ein Onlineshop zu bauen.”

Es fing für dieses Päarchen an, wie wir  es ja kennen, mit der Leidenschaft der jungen Mutter für das Nähen für ihre Kinder. Ich muß wahrscheinlich Leser dieses Blogs nicht in besonders vielen Worten erzählen, wie schnell das Nähen deine Fantasie…und wenig später den ganzen Wohnraum und gar die Kariere übernehmen kann.

“Also,” sage das Paar, “Wir machen das eigene Onlineshop auf. Und Swafing-Stoffe werden per Namen von Leuten gefagt.”

“The Hausmesse is like a class reunion,” explains Anke Müller the creative force behind the Cherry Picking line of exclusive designer fabrics, “You see your customers, who have become like friends, year after year at the Hausmesse. Swafing is just like that.” As I pet Mr. Swafing’s two dogs sniffing curiously around my feet in the office, watch customer’s children create a makeshift slide out of the ramp at the warehouse dock and have a sweet little girl crawl up on my lap in the workshop tent as if I were some familiar auntie, I have to admit that there is a certain something “just like that” about Swafing. It is a business, but it is the business of creative expression. So maybe that is why Swafing is something different.

“Hausmesse ist wie Klassentreff,” sage Anke Müller, die Designerin hinter Cherry Picking, “Du siehst deine Kunden, die wie Freunde geworden sind, Jahr für Jahr, auf der Hausmesse. Swafing ist einfach so.” Währen ich die zwei Hunden von Geschäftführer Hans-Gerd Swafing am Kopf streichele während sie neugierig um meine Füsse herumschnüffeln, beobachte wie die Kinder der Besucher aus der einst Lagerrampe den eigentlichen Rütschenzweck entdeckt haben, oder während so ein süsses Töchterchen eines Kundens auf meinem Schoss will, als wäre ich ja eine bekannte alte Tante, muß ich auch zugeben, das es ein gewisses “einfach so” bei Swafing gibt. Gewiss: Swafing ist ein Business. Aber dies ist das Geschäft des kreativen Könnens. Vielleicht ist deswegen Swafing etwas anderes und “einfach so.”

“Swafing is just ‘Stoffhimmel’ ,” explains another smiling customer, pushing past with her cart and who doesn’t have time for my silly questions when beautiful exclusive designer fabrics are just waiting to be snatched up.

Fabric paradise, indeed!

“Swafing ist Stoffhimmel,” sage eine weitere, mit Wagen vorbeifahrende Kundin, die für meine doofe Fragestellungen keine Zeit hat, denn da drüben die schönen Designerstoffen greifbar liegen.


Fabric paradise, aber ja!

SWAFING Web site

4 comments:

Swafing said...

Dear Nancy,
it was such a pleasure having you over in Nordhorn, Germany. We´re looking forward to working with you to meet demands of sewists throughout Europe!

Thank you for this fabulous post and this valuable insight in your personal In-House Exhibition experience!

So you are one of our
Hausmesse-Stars!

Your Swafing Team

AnneSvea.de said...

Liebe Nancy,

danke!

So ein wunderschöner Text!
Wir haben nun auch endlich unsere Worte gefunden:

http://www.annesvea.de/2014/09/swafing-hausmesse-2014.html

Drücke Dich, Deine Anne

nic [luzia pimpinella] said...

it's beyond awesome that you now belong to the swafing team! awesome! bummer though, that i didn't manage to meet you, nancy!

i hope we'll get another chance soon. XO! nic

p.s. haha... believe me, there is house mess in germany. at least at our home! ;)

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