Best of Evanston

ew_suptspotlight_video2015Dr. Eric Witherspoon gets my vote for Person of the Year. He is an inspiring speaker and educational leader. He cares deeply about the students at Evanston Township High School. But the pitch perfect message he delivered over the loudspeaker the morning after the election resonated in the school’s classrooms, across the houses and apartments of Evanston, and soon went viral across the country. This short epistle is only 275 words, but together they are more riveting than all the Tweets, speeches, and position papers leading up to the election and more comforting than all the ones that followed. Read it again to be re-inspired; save it for future reference in the coming months. I suspect we are going to need it.

northwestern-universityNorthwestern University is a great corporate citizen within Evanston. It is the city’s top employer and an essential contributor and participant within the social fabric of Evanston. It offers a beautiful lakefront campus and a calendar filled with lectures and first-class musical, theatrical, athletic, and cinematic entertainment, much of it open to the public. It is the home of groundbreaking research and Sir Fraser Stoddart, one of 2016’s Nobel Prize recipients. I am a fan of the Jazz Small Ensembles and National Theatre Live at the Wirtz. Come join me.

lake-michigan

 

The beautiful lakefront of Lake Michigan serves as my backyard. I love the bike path that winds around its edge and the serenity I feel whenever I pass by. The view from Northwestern looking south toward Chicago never fails to inspire me…as well as remind me of Oz, the Emerald City.

 

aylas

Evanston fosters a wonderful environment for small businesses and creative, artistic stores. One of my favorites is Ayla’s Originals, a shop that inspires, encourages, and provides supplies and lessons to beaders (those who bead) all over the North Shore. I originally visited Ayla’s for some assistance with jewelry repairs, but was drawn in by the friendly atmosphere and wonderful sense of community. Ayla’s offers a fantastic selection of beads from all over the world — including rare, collectible, and antique ones — as well as an array of individualized classes on techniques of jewelry-making. Take a class and see if this craft is for you. Treat yourself: do something creative every day.

We love to read in Evanston and there are many great bookstores catering to bibliophiles as well as a fantastic public library system. My favorite bookstore is Bookends & Beginnings for its fantastic selection, personalized service, great recommendations, and cozy atmosphere.  But there are others. Try Chicago Rare Book Center, tucked away on Washington Street; they specialize in children’s books, modern literature, jazz and blues, art, Chicago, the Midwest, and Americana. Comix Revolution specializes in comics and graphic novels. And if those specialties are not niche enough for your tastes, try Montagnana Books. They focus on books and collectibles about the violin family.

Happy reading, biking, and beading. As Dr. Witherspoon advises, “Let’s protect and take care of each other. Everything is going to be okay.”

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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.

 

 

 

 

My Favorite Bookstore

In the center of downtown Evanston there is a nearly hidden street, Sherman Alley, that is home to a charming and cozy bookstore, Bookends & Beginnings. Residing in the newly refurbished space formerly held by Bookman’s Alley, an antiquarian bookstore, Bookends & Beginnings invites you to linger, browse, discuss and get lost in the printed word.

Owned by Nina Barrett, a published author, chef and award-winning reporter for Chicago’s NPR outpost WBEZ, and assisted by her husband, Jeff Garrett, a retired academic research librarian, the store showcases general interest books designed to appeal to Evanston’s eclectic, multi-ethnic and highly educated population. Bookends & Beginnings features a roster of literary events such as author readings and book discussions. The wide selection of wares includes new, gently used and remaindered books; the staff enthuse about books and will gladly offer recommendations, as well as source special requests for hard to find books. The children’s section is impressive, not only for the comfy sheep stools and tall statue of Glenda the Giraffe, but for its breadth of international publications, a special interest of Jeff’s. The cooking section is equally robust, no doubt due to Nina’s culinary background. The store also sells gift items, most with an Evanston or writer-related connection.

Kudos to Nina for championing and opening an independent bookstore right here in our midst. Bookends & Beginnings is open every day of the week: Tuesday – Saturday 10am to 6pm, Sunday and Monday 10am to 5pm.

Prairie Joe’s and The Drunken Gallery

Faithful readers of Everything Evanston know that art and food are constant themes. How lucky for us that we can partake of both within one cozy location! Visit Prairie Joe’s for good food, amazing milkshakes, kitschy décor and fanciful art, all courtesy of Aydin Dincer the owner, chef and artist. Prairie Joe’s is a three-generation, family run business with plenty of regulars, creativity and humor. The contents of the overspilling shelves beckon the viewer to touch the objects; whimsical menus and selected comments posted around the restaurant cultivate smiles and laughter. Located at 1921 Central Street, a block from the Metra station, Prairie Joe’s is open for breakfast, brunch and lunch every day of the week. Cash only.

 

30 Stores Sure to Satisfy Every Single Person On Your List

I love the challenge of finding unusual and creative gifts for other people. Recently I visited several shops in Evanston and was amazed by the range of items available. December brings Chanukah and Christmas, but there are things to celebrate throughout the year. Here are some ideas to make your shopping local, fun and efficient. Don’t worry if you are not a gazillionaire: every store here offers items guaranteed to delight the lucky recipients without breaking your budget.

Kids: You are never too young to be fashionable, and the kids in your life will look great outfitted in some of the adorable clothes at lollie (1312 Chicago Avenue). The store carries sizes 0-14 and has a great selection of games and puzzles. For hands-on creative gifts, Blick Art Materials (1755 Maple Avenue) carries items like chubby crayons for toddlers–perfect for those still building fine motor skills–and a large selection of age-appropriate kits to inspire and guide creativity for the budding artist regardless of skill level.

Girls (Tweens, Teens and Twenties): Check out the cute tops, bags and jewelry at The Mexican Shop (801 Dempster Street). I loved the cheeky knee socks with irreverent quotes, bold faux bijoux and funky accessories. Ten Thousand Villages (719 Main Street) also offers a fine selection of adorable handmade jewelry and practical housewares, plus everything they sell abides by fair trade practices and benefits the artists who made the items.

Guys (Tweens, Teens and Twenties): If you have not yet visited Quake Collectibles (743 Main Street), a gift is the perfect excuse to do so. They sell comic books, action figures, games and more. Bucephalus Bikes (1424 Lake Street) offers Can O’Tune Up as well as all kinds of accessories for your ride. Keep in mind, both of these places may also appeal to the girls on your list!

Young Professionals: I love just about everything in Stumble & Relish (1310 1/2A Chicago Avenue). For visual interest, clever displays and classy items to decorate your home or person, this store is a necessary stop, and most of what you see is sourced from local artisans. If décor is a consideration, Paramour Bungalow offers cheery, unusual and creative gifts for the home…and the hosts and hostesses who tend to them.

Sophisticated Ladies: Two of my favorite stores are within a block of one another: Talia (1526 Chicago Avenue) for chic dresses, suits and separates and Eve J. Alfillé Gallery and Studio (623 Grove Street) for unique jewelry. Ask for help if you are unsure or overwhelmed; the owners and salespeople know their wares and will guide you to the perfect gift item.

Sophisticated Men: Shaving accessories and Swiss Army pen knives at Corrado Cutlery (716 Main Street) and a subscription for growler or howler refills from Sketchbook Brewing Company (825 Chicago Avenue) will satisfy the discerning men in your life.

Housewarming and Host/Hostess Gifts: Exotic salt and pepper flavors, hard-to-find herbs and pre-packaged rubs at The Spice House (1941 Central Street), a loaf from Hewn (810 Dempster Street), coffee from Chapin Coffee (online only) and a pie from Hoosier Mama Pie Company (749 Chicago Avenue). Yum!

One-Stop Shopping: The Galleria of Evanston (1627 Sherman Avenue) showcases over 40 unique “shops” in one location. A combined gallery space and retail store, everything in the galleria comes from local Evanston or Chicago-based artists or specialty retailers. Some of the more unusual items I saw and loved include Violins By Design, The Glass Station, Laura Tanner Jewelry and CoolPeaces. It’s a fun, happy store with something for almost everyone.

Experiences make great, memory-making gifts at any age. Still searching? Gift certificates to one of Evanston’s many wonderful restaurants such as Campagnola (815 Chicago Avenue), Lucky Platter (514 Main Street) or The Cellar at the Stained Glass (820 Clark Street) would be a welcome splurge…offer to babysit if the recipient has young children at home so their evening will truly be ‘carefree.’ Other ideas include:

  • Book a tour of FEW Spirits (918 Chicago Avenue);
  • Learn about wine at a class offered by The Wine Goddess (702 Main Street);
  • Sign up for needlepoint lessons at The Needle’s Excellency (1630 Central Street);
  • Buy tickets to attend a movie, concert or show at Northwestern (various locations on campus);
  • Pre-pay for a massage (including the tip) at Zen Shiatsu Chicago (825A Chicago Avenue);
  • Splurge for a spa package at Agora Spa (501 Main Street) to buff, pluck and file away the stresses;
  • Visit Eureka! Antiques & Collectibles (705 Washington Street) and browse through the best collection of ephemera in the Midwest to remind someone of a treasured experience from the past. Movie buffs will recognize the owner, Bindy Bitterman, from her small but essential role in Finding Vivian Maier.

For a wonderful family experience, splurge on a family portrait with David Sutton at Sutton Studios (3417 Church Street). David’s specialty is taking photos of people with their pets. He is talented, philanthropic, patient–and he understands animals. (And not just cats and dogs…he will photograph your exotics, too.) I treasure the photos he took of me and my puppies.

Finally, for the person who seems to have everything, make a donation in their honor to a charity they care about. Two of my favorites are Senior Connections (535 Custer Avenue) and the Evanston Public Library (various locations). You cannot go wrong by supporting programs that benefit homebound seniors or reading programs. Even a $5 donation will be graciously accepted by the charity and your honoree will be notified without knowing the specific amount of your gift. Everyone benefits.

Happy shopping and gift giving!

 

 

 

 

Introducing Sketchbook Brewing Company

In the alley between Chicago Avenue and Hinman Avenue, at the space perpendicular to 825 Chicago Avenue, there lies a brewery, Sketchbook Brewing Company, newly opened on Friday, November 21, 2014. It’s just down the street to the trailblazing FEW Spirits, a local distillery open since June 2011. Neither business has a flashy street presence, their somewhat hidden aspect adding to the allure. One needs to know where to look to find them, and when you do, it is worth the trip.

Sketchbook describes itself as ‘Evanston’s community-supported nanobrewery’: initial funding for the brewery came from a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $25,000 from 250 friends, relatives and interested strangers. The two men bringing life to Sketchbook are Shawn Decker, a multimedia artist and professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Cesar Marron, a manager of software engineering for Teradata and one of three winners in the 2013 Sam Adams’ Longshot American Homebrew Contest.

Cesar and Shawn have thousands of hours of homebrewing experience and own hundreds of cookbooks and brewing guides between them. Longtime members of the Evanston Homebrew Club, the location they chose for Sketchbook even shares a wall with Brew Camp on Chicago Avenue. The men are tinkerers and “do it yourself” kind of guys, and in fact did much of the construction work on the brewery themselves. Together they develop recipes and tweak the ingredients to develop unique tastes that they and customers love. I tasted both ciders, Sparta and Tarta Sparta (cider with cherries) and Primo beer and loved them; they were delicious.

Currently Cesar and Shawn brew a new batch of beer about twice a week and offer six taps for tastings and fills ofgrowlers (64 ounce glass containers) and howlers (32 ounce glass containers). Each batch takes about 20 days: one day to brew, about 12 days to ferment and about seven days to mature, carbonate and settle. Once the container is filled and sealed, it should remain carbonated for two or three days. Sketchbook beers and ciders are organic; even the spent grain after a fermentation is donated to others as chicken feed and compost.

Sketchbook Brewing Company beer and ciders are currently served in a few Evanston restaurants including Boltwood, Firehouse Grill and Prairie Moon, with more locations in the works. The brewery is open Thursdays and Fridays from 4 pm to 8 pm, Saturdays 12 noon to 6 pm and Sundays from 12 noon to 4 pm. Stop in to say hello, sample the beers and take some home. Just look for the orange door.

The Renaissance Woman on Grove Street

 

The description was compelling: come meet a woman who was hidden as a child in France during the Holocaust, worked as an archeologist in Israel and now designs jewelry in her studio in Evanston. Offered by Beth Emet The Free Synagogue as part of its Fall 2014 Adult Education program, I signed up immediately.

The talk and gallery tour met at the Eve J. Alfillé Gallery & Studio in downtown Evanston. The gallery is deceiving at first glance. The soft peach tones of the walls immediately disarm the viewer and relax the eye. What was probably one big room 30 years ago is now a warren of cozy spaces created for consulting with clients. Designed by renowned artist and designer Celeste Sotola, visitors wander among the Pearl Room, the Gem Room/Library, the Diamond Room and the Wedding Band Alcove. I walked around the gallery and studied the showcases. Interesting and unusual items such as vases, garden objects, and found objects creatively displayed the jewelry pieces, which included necklaces, rings, earrings, bracelets, pendants and pins. I saw a rainbow’s array of rare pearls, gems and stones in unusual settings and daring combinations.  The staff is friendly, solicitous and discreet without being pushy. They are eager to tell you about each piece.

Twice a year, Spring and Fall, Eve presents a new collection; the Fall 2014 collection is Garden of Eden. The collections range from twenty to one hundred unique pieces, incorporate a theme and include a narrative that shares the sources of Eve’s inspiration, such as poetry, literature, nature and personal memories. The names of the collections are diverse and represent Eve’s wide range of interests.  Everything in the collection comes from Eve’s imagination, which she conveys to others through sketches. Based on theses sketches, artisans make models to test the piece as it looks as a dimensional object. This collaboration continues between Eve and her goldsmiths until the piece is perfect.

Eve talked about her childhood and life’s experiences and how those experiences are expressed in her work. For several years, she and her parents hid among several different secret locations, and at times Eve was hidden in a separate location from her parents. Yet in spite of the inevitable stresses, her parents protected her body as well as her psyche; Eve’s memories of this time in her life are not anguished, and she still finds inspiration in how her parents coped with and survived such a horrendous time in their lives.

After the war, the three of them–their extended family on both sides having been murdered by the Nazis–immigrated to Canada. Eve attended the prestigious McGill University and graduated with a degree in business and accounting, starting her career as a CPA. But she was too creative and ambitious to remain solely in accounting. She volunteered and worked at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, learning how to reassemble pottery from ceramic shards recovered at archeological digs. Perhaps most significantly, Eve began to make her own jewelry and to teach herself about the materials and tools.

A few years later Eve married, and soon she and her husband Maurice were parents to two young children. Her husband’s business took the family to the Midwest and they settled in Evanston, IL. Eve went back to graduate school at the University of Illinois and received degrees in linguistics (she is conversant in ten languages!) and medieval poetry. She found work as a high school language teacher, and traveled to Israel during the summers to work at archeological digs, helping to reassemble ceramic pieces. When romance languages fell out of favor and her teaching services were no longer needed, she took some metalsmith classes and learned how to weld. She incorporated these new skills into her jewelry-making business, now based in her home studio in the family’s basement. She moved her business into the current location in 1987 and expanded the space to its current size and look in 1991.

Today the business is truly a family enterprise with Eve at its hub: Eve’s daughter Diane is an established glass artisan, and together they collaborate on various pieces in each of the collections. Diane’s husband, Matthew, a professional photographer and art director, designs and maintains the Eve J. Alfillé online presence; Eve’s husband is involved in the back-end operations of the gallery, and years ago designed a specialized computer program to track inventory and sales.

So often word ‘unique’ is bandied about carelessly without any thought of its true meaning, but unique is what you will find here. No two pieces are exactly the same and everything is made by hand in the studio in the back. For the woman who has everything, for a couple looking to select personalized rings that symbolize an upcoming engagement or marriage, for any occasion or no occasion at all, an ideal gift may certainly be found within the walls of the Eve J. Alfillé Gallery & Studio.