14 December 2011

A Visit to the Reweaver

I hadn't been to a reweaver since I wrote about (and thus discovered) the trade for a New York newspaper about four years ago. And I missed it. The vanishing trade is so old-world-immigrant, so idiosyncratic, so invisible to everyday view—and, also, so necessary!—I couldn't help but love it. Reweavers are relics of a thriftier, more sensible time, when people actually had their old garments mended and darned. They are a rebuttal to our diseased, disposable lifestyle.

I had a couple beloved sweaters that had a hole or two; it was time. I grabbed them and headed to midtown Manhattan. Last time I checked there were still three or four reweavers around. The oldest, by far, is Alice Zotta. Like all the other reweavers I know, she works out of a cubby hole on a high floor of a highrise. Hers is on W. 45th, near Fifth Avenue.

Last time I visited, little Alice was still on the job, as she had been for 70 years. She has since retired, I was told, but the company continues, run now by her daughter. Otherwise, the "enterprise" is the same. There's a small, anonymous vestibule, and you conduct your business through a doctor's office window, passing your garments through to a woman, pointing our the spots that need repair.

They're a salty group, the reweavers. Dyspeptic, unsmiling, truth-tellers. They'll let you have it in no uncertain terms. "I don't know if we can do this," they'll begin. "This is a big job." "This might be impossible." "This is gonna cost you." "Are you sure you want to do this?" Comments like that. They really do their best to turn you away. You have to pay in advance, because, as the worker told me, "We've been burned to many times." Zotta's office is filled with clothes people have left and never paid for.

I'd go to the reweaver more, but the work does cost a lot. The reweaving of one smallish hole will run you $50, and many jobs start between $70 and $100. So you better goddam love that suit or pair of pants to pay the sort of money that could easily buy you a new garment. I did love these three sweaters. But one had been attacked by moths so viciously I was told it would cost $200 to repair. So, with a sigh, I abandoned it to the trash. The other two, however, I decided to save.

I'm looking forward to picking them up. Zotta always does peerless work in a dying craft.


onemorefoldedsunset said...

I love reading all your posts, but this one is a real gem. Thanks.

upstate Johnny G said...

Even though reweaving is expensive, it's nice to know that the craft still exists. This post reminds me of a series I heard on an NPR affiliate a few years ago that focused on the remnants of once-vibrant trades in NYC. One story was about mobile sharpening shops and how they used to pull up outside factories in the garment district and everyone would send out their scissors to e sharpened. Then there was a story about a guy who has one of the last seltzer routes, dropping off fresh bottles to his elderly clients. And the last story was about a craft which is not really dying....the guys who build the wooden water tanks that sit on top of so many buildings throughout the city. The tanks have to be replaced every so often and there are enough tanks extant to make steady work. They get to spend all day up on the skyline doing their thing. One of the things I like about the city is that many old traditions are still hanging on, for now.

Gabriel said...

i haven't been here in years but i used to go quite a bit in the 90s when my job back then demanded that i looked more "professional". now i can wear holey sweaters and get away with it!

alice is so amazing and the prices used to be so so cheap even though people from all the big design companies in the garment district (calvin, ralph, etc) were using her already.

Lee said...

A number of comments posted on the NY Magazine site indicate that Alice's relatives are not up to her standards in workmanship or turn-around time. Thoughts?

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Well, I left stuff there when Alice was around and I will be picking up stuff soon. I'll let you know how the work compares.