Evanston Stitchworks

Last month I visited and took an introductory sewing class with Amalia Malos, founder of Evanston Stitchworks. This bustling storefront is just the latest of wonderful craft and retail hotspots germinating in town, as I wrote in Evanston Roundtable. Unfortunately, we were limited in the number of photographs to include in print; the rest are included here. The whimsical and unusual fabrics Ms. Malos sources from Japan and Scandinavia are worthy of their closeups, and she is an inspiration. Stop by and join in the fun.

Copyright © 2016, Evanston RoundTable LLC
7/13/2016 4:13:00 PM by Wendi Kromash
More Than Just the Machines: Evanston Stitchworks
Amalia Malos, owner of Evanston Stitchworks, 906 Sherman Ave., has always been a craftsperson. Even as a little girl, she recognized the value of something handmade, whether the object was food, something to wear, or a decorative object. “Making something by hand is a two-way dialogue between the maker and the receiver. It involves thought and intention. It is unique and can not be duplicated,” she observes.

A long-time Evanston resident, Ms. Malos wanted to create a space where she could share her enthusiasm for sewing and knitting, and teach others how to create objects and clothing using fabric and yarn. She envisioned a business that would include her love of vintage sewing machines, fine Japanese and Scandinavian fabrics, and high quality threads and notions.

Ms. Malos visited and spoke with other like-minded business owners in Brooklyn, N.Y. and Cambridge, Mass., and elsewhere via online research, Which confirmed the validity of her idea. Thus encouraged, she tested it with an email to friends offering a few actual classes in her home.

That first email was a revelation – all of the spaces sold out within four hours and she had a waiting list in case there were cancellations or other classes.  Those first few classes were cozy and relaxed, but pretty soon the business outgrew the family’s dining room. She needed a dedicated space for her growing business.

She wrote a business plan, rented a small studio in Evanston, and slowly got the word out to her friends and the mothers of her children’s friends. Her students were having fun and learning new skills, and signing up for additional classes. Word -of-mouth was her main source of advertising. The business continued to expand, happily.

Eventually Ms. Malos needed to move her business into a larger space. The result is Evanston Stitchworks. The bright white, high-ceilinged space is the perfect environment in which to feast one’s eyes on the array of beautiful fabrics, sit around and knit with others, or learn how to sew. This summer has been bustling with activity with nearly sold-out camp sessions such as ‘Basic Sewing Machine’ and ‘Pajama Pants’ for, tweens and teens, and adult classes of all levels for sewing, knitting, and quilting.

So far most of her students have been girls or women, but the boys who have tried a sewing class tend to love it, Ms. Malos said. It is all about the machine, after all. The sewing machines used in class are relatively easy to thread and operate, especially after a bit of practice.  Ms. Malos is always nearby to offer a gentle suggestion or demonstrate the best way to do the task at hand.

The fabrics available in the store are fresh, modern, and vibrant.  Ms. Malos sourced a few domestic and international manufacturers who specialize in organic fabrics and who encourage young textile designers. The color palettes used are alive with energy and playfulness. They are extremely visual, tactile, and affordable, and best when used for clothing, soft wearable objects (such as a bag) or upholstery on an item that will not be used heavily, like a decorative pillow or seat cushion. Gone are the days when projects started with a pattern followed by fabric. Nowadays it is just as common to purchase the fabric without a particular project in mind.

The yarns available at Evanston Stitchworks also have a designer pedigree. Amalia sources wool from small, privately held, often family-owned and-operated farms, many of whom dye their own yarn. The majority of the yarn is grown and processed in the United States, and one of the farms even identifies by name the sheep who have contributed to each particular skein. You cannot get more personal than that.

Ms. Malos has a class for those who want to brush up on dormant sewing or knitting skills, if you are curious to learn new skills, or if you want to work past bad experiences from middle school home economics classes. Evanston Stitchworks, they will find, is a happy spot in a bustling neighborhood.





Missing Nora Ephron

everything is copy

I have been a fan of Nora Ephron’s work ever since reading Crazy Salad. She was funny and sophisticated and very hip, everything I was not as a confused and moody teenager growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia. When I still lived in Manhattan, I saw her on the Upper West Side once. She was holding hands with her best husband, Nicholas Pileggi, and they looked really happy; I behaved like a true New Yorker and didn’t fawn or ask for her autograph.

Like so many millions of other people, I was completely caught off guard and very sad when I heard the news of her death in 2012. I loved reading about how she had planned her memorial service down to the last detail, and provided copies of her favorite recipes to be given out to those in attendance. (I use her recipe for egg salad and it is a knockout.)

She was a great writer of books (I Feel Bad About My Neck) and screenplays (Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle), a wonderful director (Julie & Julia), a devoted mother to Jacob and Max, and a maven of the first order. Her first marriage ended before children and her second marriage was the source of her greatest thrill (becoming a mother) and worst hurt (finding out her husband was having a very public affair while she was pregnant with her second child). But she directed her own story, made lemon meringue out of the bitterest lemons, and turned her soon to be ex-husband from a famous journalist into a humiliated punch line.

Success is the best revenge, and she succeeded by any measure. She found marital happiness with Pileggi, her third husband. When asked to write her autobiography in six words, she famously answered, “Secret to life, marry an Italian.” She seemingly had it all, except for–perversely–her health, but of course she hid that from almost everyone she knew. It was the one story whose ending she could not direct.

jacob headshot for the timesOne of her sons, Jacob, must have recognized the yearning her fans had for one more Nora fix, and he at least partially satisfied that desire with a long, heartfelt, and intimate portrait of his mother’s final days and the period leading up to her illness. It is a wonderful piece of writing. I read nearly all the letters in response to it and realized I was not alone, by far, in how much I admired her work and appreciated her son’s essay. He is a gifted writer.

Fortunately, Jacob felt compelled to probe more deeply. He developed and directed a documentary film about his mother entitled, Everything Is Copy. It is currently available on HBO and absolutely worth watching. The movie confirms what was evident to any student of her work: she was smart, ambitious, and witty. She made her own luck even when the world was falling apart around her. She did not give up. She made sure to control her own story. Better to have people laugh at something you wrote (where you can control the joke) than become the joke and have them laugh at you.

Bravo, Jacob. Great movie. Your mom would have loved it.



Thoughts About Death and Life: When Breath Becomes Air

I began to realize that coming in such close contact with my own mortality had changed both nothing and everything. Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live. (pp. 131-132)

Bibliophiles know about When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: the heartbreaking memoir of a highly gifted (degrees from Stanford University, University of Cambridge, Yale School of Medicine) neurosurgeon and writer who was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer at the age of 35, only months away from completing his surgical training. The book is dedicated to his infant daughter, the child he and his wife, also a doctor, chose to have after his diagnosis.

Of course the book is sad and poignant for many reasons: first and foremost, because his daughter will grow up without her father. His wife, whom he loved deeply, is now a widow. He was incredibly talented and on the cusp of realizing the pinnacle of his professional training. Given his expertise, he could have helped many more people. Now all that is for naught. His premature end is both tragic and cosmically wasteful. And yet his life was rich and full of meaning.

When Breath Becomes Air is a brave book. Death hovers on almost every page, but the book is not macabre. It’s beautifully written, and at times, even profound in what Kalanithi observes; his perspective shifts back and forth between writer as doctor and writer as patient. He observes death, is aware of death, even feels the presence of death as a medical student and throughout the stages of his training. He writes about how his training taught him to “actively engage with death” and thus, to “confront the the meaning of life.” Being a doctor meant assuming mortal responsibility, and it was a responsibility he embraced forcefully and with passion. Kalanithi was a man who ran toward challenges.

Near the end of his life, contemplating the brief overlap of his life with that of his daughter’s, he muses about what wisdom he can leave her. The message he wrote is this:

When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing. (p. 199)


The idea of ‘providing a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world’ is one of the book’s central ideas. As Kalanithi’s disease progresses and various drugs and treatments he is pursuing lose their effectiveness, his options narrow and the time he has left dwindles. He mourns the losses of his life, of dreams not realized, children he and his wife would not have together, of not growing old with the one you love. But he accepts these hard truths and strives to make the most of his remaining time, energy, and concentration. He labors to complete this book, to leave some tangible record of his thoughts, before the cancer overtakes him.

For each of us, the idea of what we have meant to the world, is unique and intensely personal.   Kalanithi made his life matter. He made a difference to those around him and touched many, mostly strangers, with his thoughts about making the most of his remaining time. A teacher and researcher to the very end, he found ways to contribute at Stanford even when he could no longer operate or treat patients. You will think about this compact book long after you complete it.

Foodie Alert: Hearth Restaurant Shines

Hearth Restaurant in Evanston (1625 Hinman Avenue), located in The Homestead hotel in the space formerly occupied by Quince, is a dynamic and delicious addition to Evanston’s expanding dining scene.

The food is creative, locally sourced, and beautifully plated. I enjoyed an appetizer of seared Ahi tuna served with avocado purée, soy caramel, and candied cilantro. The tuna was delicious, fresh, and flavorful–the soy caramel added an unexpected kick that made me smile. I completed my dinner with a half order of earthy mushroom ravioli, plus colored cauliflower tossed with red quinoa and golden raisins. Everything was delicious.tuna

Dessert was tangy, homemade ginger sorbet, and the bill was presented with chocolate ganache candies. The staff is friendly and attentive, and encourages diners to enjoy their food without feeling rushed.

Hearth’s menu is also friendly toward vegetarian and gluten free diners with acceptable dishes discreetly marked on the menu. The menu changes seasonally — it will be exciting to see what the chef has in store come summer’s bounty. Reservations for dinner suggested by telephone (847-570-8400) or via Open Table. Come hungry.



Remembering Oliver Sacks

I’ve been a fan of Oliver Sacks‘ ever since reading The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat and An Anthropologist on Mars. Dr. Sacks was a masterful storyteller; his TED description lists him as a neurological anthropologist. What I loved most about both Sacks’ style and subject matter was how he made science, especially all things medical, both relatable and understandable. The reader did not need to be an expert to empathize with each compelling tale.

His two most recent books, published in the year prior to his death on August 30, 2015, are Gratitude and On the Move, and they couldn’t be more different. Gratitude is a compact reflection of what it means to live a worthwhile life. The four essays that make up this tiny book were previously published in the The New York Times; each essay is powerful and thought-provoking. The writer is at peace and satisfied with the life he has lived.

On the Move is a memoir that expounds upon Sacks’ growth and development into the person he became. Whereas his earlier memoir Uncle Tungsten recounts his childhood, family, and love for the periodic table, On the Move describes adult successes and failures, both professionally and personally, from high school through a year or two before the end of his life.

The instant the librarian handed me the book, I did a double take examining the photo on the book jacket. The virile and handsome man on the motorcycle seems light years away from the grandfatherly looking and kind man I thought I knew. How did one become the other?  The journey spanning sixty or so years makes up this brave and honest book. He shares painful subjects: his mother’s hurtful comment when learning that her son had homosexual desires; unrequited loves; drug addiction; professional failures. I never imagined or knew he was painfully shy or that his approach toward treating his patients was considered radical and untraditional.

Sacks’ knowledge base was grounded in philosophy, nineteenth century medical histories, and his fascination with the world around him. He was a geek of the first order. He won a prize while in high school or college and with the money bought a used set of the Oxford English Dictionary…which he then proceeded to read and finish. (A new set today consists of 20 volumes and costs $1,045.)

He was an expert in flora and fauna, animals, geology, words, music, and countless other subjects. He was endlessly curious, but without judgement or fear. He traveled extensively, always documenting his voyages with photographs, notes, and essays. He kept journals religiously from the time he was a young teen, as well as copies of his voluminous correspondence to friends, family, and colleagues all over the world. He loved reading, writing, and learning, and was most comfortable with his own company. He swam nearly every day; water was where he did his best thinking.

Sacks’ brain was big. He revised his work constantly and gave his editors agita because he insisted on adding seemingly countless footnotes. His mind was expansive and his desire to share, to let all of us–his readers, his fans, and acolytes–in on the riches he saw and experienced, at times made the books long or even tedious. Yet reading about his adult life and the experiences that shaped him, I am convinced that his sharing this knowledge was an act of love.

I wish I had had a chance to meet and speak with him. His TED talk on visual hallucinations complements his fascinating books.


Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent

I’ve been earning a paycheck since I was a teenager. I’ve worked in all types of places for all types of people, and learned valuable lessons in each situation. What makes one place or experience better than others?  Fulfilling work, a sense of accomplishment, and a decent salary are all important, but are they enough?  For some, the chance to work for or with an industry visionary or “superboss” drives the decision.

Sidney Finkelstein, the Steven Roth Professor of Management at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College and the director of Tuck’s Center for Leadership, just released his latest book, Superbosses, the culmination of more than 10 years of research and 200 interviews. One of the conclusions of this fascinating book is superbosses exist in almost every industry. Their personal styles differ, but they all share common traits and behaviors.

One important behavior of a superboss, according to Finkelstein, is how they “identify, motivate, coach and leverage” talented new associates. They build collegial teams, almost pseudo families, yet encourage competition to push people beyond their limits. And when their successful protégés are ready to leave the fold, the superboss is supportive and encouraging. Mentor and mentee part on good terms and stay in touch, regularly exchanging prospects, leads, ideas, and industry gossip. The mentee–now a proven success in his or her own right–is still in the orbit of the superboss, whose influence continues to expand exponentially.

What are some of the personal characteristics that superbosses share? According to Finkelstein, there are five:

  • Superbosses all possess extreme confidence, even fearlessness, when it comes to furthering their own agendas and ideas.
  • …all superbosses share competitiveness…they thrive on it, they seek it out, and they create it.
  • …a character trait shared by superbosses–and one central to their innovation–is their imaginative nature. Superbosses are visionaries.
  • A fourth characteristic that superbosses universally manifest is integrity…strict adherence to a core vision or sense of self.
  • A fifth and final attribute of superbosses, a natural extension of integrity, is authenticity.

I recommend this book as a valuable resource to anyone who is interested in how organizations operate and how to motivate others. Finkelstein believes the “superboss effect” is teachable, and that any of us could learn and adopt what they do to develop world-class talent.

If you manage others, compare yourself to these superbosses to see if you share any of the same traits and what you can do to perhaps become more like them. If you work for someone else, ask yourself if you work for a superboss. If you do not currently work for a superboss but want to, who in your industry is setting the bar for innovation and talent? Where do you need to be to grow the most, to be the best in your field?

Superbosses are among us even if they are not mentioned by name in this immensely readable book. Finkelstein’s Superbosses provides a roadmap to find them.

Strong Women

Jeff_combined photosLast week I read Margo Jefferson’s memoir, Negrolandin anticipation of an April book discussion at the Evanston Public Library. The discussion can’t come soon enough; I am eager to talk to someone–anyone–about this book. Here is how the book begins:

Negroland is my name for a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty. Children in Negroland were warned that few Negroes enjoyed privilege or plenty and that most whites would be glad to see them returned to indigence, deference, and subservience. Children there were taught that most other Negroes ought to be emulating us when too many of them (out of envy or ignorance) went on behaving in ways that encouraged racial prejudice.

Too many Negroes, it was said, showed off the wrong things: their loud voices, their brash and garish ways; their gift for popular music and dance, for sports rather than the humanities and sciences. Most white people were on the lookout, we were told, for what they called these basic racial traits. But most white people were also on the lookout for a too-bold display by us of their kind of accomplishments, their privilege and plenty, what they considered their racial traits. You were never to act undignified in their presence, but neither were you to act flamboyant.

I related to part of this underlying tension. The town where I grew up from the age of five until I graduated high school was a small suburb about an hour northeast of Philadelphia. We didn’t know anyone when we moved there, and while there were other Jewish families in our neighborhood, they weren’t prevalent. The nearest synagogue was 20 minutes away by car. In elementary school, more than once I was the only one not celebrating Christmas, and I felt that distinction keenly.

It’s not as if I wanted to celebrate Christmas or was embarrassed to celebrate Chanukah. I did not like was the scrutiny of ‘otherness,’ of feeling like an exotic exhibit outside the safety and security of my home. Otherness often felt isolating, more peculiar than special. Margo experienced a similar flavor of otherness as a black girl throughout her childhood.

Body image is a struggle for many women, and Margo navigated issues dealing with the shade of her skin tone, hair care, and thick lensed glasses due to poor eyesight. She excelled academically, athletically, and musically. Even with all of these accomplishments–and she writes of the period before she won the Pulitzer Prize!–I think this must have been a difficult book to write. She mined her psyche as well as her memories and the memories of her friends and relatives. She is brutally honest about opportunities provided to her and her sister as a result of her parents’ education, and equally candid about the limitations they faced because of racism. The book is not bitter, merely revealing in heart-wrenching detail.

After Negroland, Beyoncé’s new song and video, Formation, suddenly seemed very relevant. I don’t know if I would have thought about the song and accompanying video in any depth except for the kerfuffle surrounding the video’s unannounced presence the day before the Super Bowl. I watched and listened, then did it again. I read about the critics’ and public’s reactions to each, and then watched again.

Brava Beyoncé! Already scrutinized and reviewed countless times, the video offers a proud and unapologetic stance on being a powerful black woman. She is proud of who she is and where she came from. Beyoncé ties in images of and references to New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina, the Black Lives Matter movement and more. (Many of the references I did not understand until I read some of the commentary about the video. Read one here, here, and here. There are plenty of others.) She is a woman in control of her career and her personal life. She revels in the power and friendship of sisterhood. She is proud of her body. She does not shy away from making money and the power that comes with an elevated economic status.

Beyoncé is not apologizing for anything. Good for her. Negroland tells of dreams aborted or postponed; Beyoncé is proactively making her dreams happen. Knowing dreams can come true is good news for all of us.