Seamwork

The Seamworker’s Guide to Boston, Massachusetts

Visit one of the oldest cities in the United States and discover history, culture, and of course, fabric. By Tracy Majka.

photo by Bert Kaufmann

Welcome to Boston, where the winters are long and the zillions of sewing and crafting stores help us cope. We have a pretty awesome mix of independent and family-owned sewing, knitting, and crafting shops, as well as amazing museums, universities, parks, restaurants, and decent weather (in summer and autumn, anyway).

Founded in 1630, Boston is Massachusetts’ capital and one of the oldest cities in the United States. It is well-known for its historical sites and universities. And sure, you can visit the Tea Party Museum, walk to historically significant sites on the Freedom Trail, or check out Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (in nearby Cambridge). Boston is a pedestrian-friendly city that’s full of surprises; take a walk around downtown and you might find Berklee College of Music students playing in the Public Garden or a solar charging station built by an Massachusetts Institute of Technology student on the Greenway.

One downside: The weather can be fairly unpredictable. As the old saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, wait five minutes.” The late spring through summer months are a good time to visit. Boston is often warm through October. Be warned, though, if you’re thinking about visiting New England in autumn; “Leaf peepers” (tourists visiting New England to see the changing foliage) show up in droves. There’s a lot to do, but the crowds can get frustrating. The same can be said for Salem in October, when Halloween activities hit fever pitch.

Cambridge is just a few miles from Boston.

Many sites in Boston and Cambridge are accessible via public transportation on the T or Commuter Rail. Visit MBTA.com for a trip planner and more information on schedules and fares. You can also get around by renting bikes at the various Hubway stations. You can reach Salem by commuter rail or a fun one-hour ferry. Beverly and Lynn are both accessible via commuter rail from North Station on the Newburyport/Rockport line. To get to the American Textile History Museum, you can either drive or take the commuter rail to Lowell (if you take at the train, expect a half-mile walk once you get there). You’ll most likely want to rent a car to get to Fabric Place Basement in Natick or Osgood Textiles in West Springfield.

Some shops and sights are located outside the city but are a short drive or train ride away. I’d suggest calling the shop or checking the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority website before you go for the most up-to-date travel information.

Sewing, fabric, knitting, crafts, and needlepoint shops

Note: The following lists my personal preferences for things to do and see in Boston and Cambridge and by no means includes everything.

Grey’s Fabric and Notions offers a curated selection of sewing goodies.
  • Grey’s Fabric and Notions, 450 Harrison Ave. #63 IN, 617-338-GREY: Located in the South of Washington (SoWA) arts district, this small, quirky shop has a well-edited selection of funky printed cottons and knits, patterns from independent companies (including Colette), lingerie- and bra-making kits, notions, and sewing machines.

  • Winmil Fabrics, 111 Chauncy St., 617-542-1815: This discount fabric shop in Chinatown has everything for your next fancy party dress, including lace (and sequined lace) by the yard, chiffon, charmeuse, and linings—as well as designer knits, quilting cotton, cotton flannel, buttons, tapes, zippers, bra-making supplies, and $1 patterns.

  • Newbury Yarns, 166 Newbury St., 617-572-3733: This shop offers natural specialty and luxury yarn—including their own line of super-bulky Merino wool milled and dyed in small batches—as well as linens and quilting cottons, buttons, and sewing patterns.

  • Fabric Place Basement, Cloverleaf Center, 321 Speen St. (enter 319 Speen St. into GPS), Natick, 508-655-2000: A short drive from Boston, this word-of-mouth favorite among locals has a large and excellent selection of knits, silks, jerseys, denim, home decor fabrics, yarn, and sewing supplies, as well as the most fun button bin in New England.

  • Zimman’s, 80 Market St., Lynn, 781-598-9432: Founded in 1909 and still family-owned, Zimman’s is a North Shore institution. A short train ride from Boston, this enormous fabric and furniture store is where local interior decorators go for home decor and trims. It also carries some Liberty and Marimekko fabrics and notions. (Incidentally, there’s also a Marimekko store with fabric by the yard at 140 Newbury St.)

  • BF Goodstitch, 18 Front St., Salem, 978-740-8986: Across the street from Seed Stitch and next to Boston Bead Company, BF Goodstitch offers needlepoint supplies, including Anchor Brand floss and New England-themed kits. If you’re jonesing for a House of the Seven Gables cross-stitch kit (after visiting the House of the Seven Gables, of course), this is the place to go.

  • Sew Creative, 14 Elliott St., Beverly, 978-524-8848: A short train ride from Boston, this shop has a wide selection of quilting fabrics and supplies.

  • Osgood Textile, 333 Park St., West Springfield, 888-674-6638 (closed Saturdays): An hour-and-a-half drive west of Boston, this warehouse-sized fabric and notions store is worth the trip, with tons of knits, woolens, silks, linings, and home decor, and their remnant bins are totally epic. If you need an excuse to visit western Massachusetts—aside from fabric shopping—consider a day trip to nearby Northampton or Old Sturbridge Village’s textile exhibits.

  • Garment District, 200 Broadway, Cambridge, 617-876-5230: This “alternative department store” near MIT has two huge floors of reasonably priced used and vintage clothing (vintage organized by decade). Check out the $1-a-pound pile, which, as of March 1, is increasing to $2/pound.

  • Rugg Road Paper Company, 105 Charles St., 617-742-0002: This independently owned shop has fine papers, cards, writing utensils, stickers, journals, and more.

  • Boston Bead Company, multiple locations: This shop carries a large assortment of beads and supplies, including African and vintage beads, wire, and findings.

  • Bead + Fiber, 460 Harrison Ave., 617-426-2323: This small but well-edited shop has an interesting mix of yarn, handmade buttons, beads, findings, and vintage pieces.

Museums/sights

Visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and admire a broad collection ranging from rare books to textiles. Photo credit: Jess Melanson
  • American Textile History Museum, 491 Dutton St., Lowell, 978-441-0400: This Smithsonian-affiliated textile museum and is well worth the trip. It has a fascinating collection of historic clothing, textiles, tools, and industrial machinery, including spinning wheels, looms, and knitting machines.

  • Boston Duck Tours, 617-267-3825: This tour by “amphibious landing vehicle” is touristy, but fun, and one of the best ways to get an overview of Boston.

  • Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 25 Evans Way, 617-566-1401: Designed to look like a 15th-century Venetian palace, this beautiful and unique museum displays pieces from Isabella Stewart Gardener’s personal collection of European, American, and Asian art, including paintings, furniture, rare books, photographs, and textiles.

Take a ride on the Swan Boats at Boston Common. Photo Credit: David Paul Ohmer
  • Boston Common and Public Garden, 69 Beacon St., 617-635-4505: The Common is America’s first public park (dating to 1634), and the Public Garden has seasonal plant and flower displays, as well as the Swan Boats and Make Way for Ducklings statue.

  • Museum of Fine Arts, 464 Huntington Ave., 617-267-9300: One of the largest museums in the US, this museum has Egyptian artifacts, French impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, and 18th- and 19th-century American art.

The lobby at the Institute of Contemporary Art Photo Credit: W. Francis
  • Institute of Contemporary Art, 100 Northern Ave., 617-478-3100: Only one floor has a gallery open to the public, but that floor has well-curated, mind-bending contemporary art, as well as a gorgeous waterfront view. The museum also has an excellent gift shop, with jewelry and art from independent designers and a good selection of books. It’s a short walk from Fort Point and South Station’s food trucks (although the museum café is quite good).

  • Harvard Museum of Natural History, 26 Oxford St., Cambridge, 617-495-3045: Come for the stuffed animals, stay for Harvard’s famous collection of Victorian glass flowers.

  • Post Office Square/Norman B. Leventhal Park, 130 Congress St.: One of the prettiest small parks in Boston is a short walk from the Greenway food trucks, the Institute of Contemporary Art, and Winmil Fabrics.

Restaurants/cafes

When visiting Boston be sure to try one of the many food trucks! Photo credit: Chris Devers
  • Food trucks on the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway, across the street from South Station: Try seasonal vegetarian sandwiches, soups, and salads, and rosemary fries at Clover and Vietnamese street food at Bon Me. (Clover has trucks at multiple locations, and its main restaurant/test kitchen is in Harvard Square.) The Greenway also hosts seasonal farmers’ markets.

  • North End: Boston’s Italian neighborhood is so packed with restaurants, cafes, and bakeries, it’s hard to recommend just one…

The cannoli at Mike’s Pastry is a local favorite. Photo credit: Dan Cederholm
  • Mike’s Pastry, 300 Hanover St., 617-742-3050: …but if you absolutely need cannoli, there’s a reason all the tourists go here.

  • The Elephant Walk, 1413 Washington St., 612-247-1500: Located close to the SoWa arts district, this restaurant offers Cambodian and French fare with vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options, and they serve brunch until 4pm on weekends.

Dine at Les Zygomates Wine Bar & Bistro. Photo credit: Scott Dexter
  • O Ya, 9 East Boston St., 617-654-9900: Many best-of lists recommend this award-winning restaurant as the place to splurge on a fancy dinner in Boston, especially if you’re in the mood for fish.

You can find more restaurant options at the Phantom Gourmet website.

Shopping destinations and local designers

Note: The following destinations are all in the SoWA arts district on Thayer St., a pedestrian street off Harrison Ave. with tons of sewist and crafter friendly shops and galleries. All are a short walk from Grey’s Fabrics.

Browse vintage and one of a kind items at SoWa Vintage Market. Photo Credit: Leslee
  • SoWA Vintage Market, 460C Harrison Ave.: This browsable market is open on Sundays and features clothing, footwear, jewelry, beads, maps, postcards, books, prints, and furniture.

  • Marie Galvin, 450 Harrison Ave., #67, 617-834-2910: Everyone needs a fancy hat, and award-winning milliner Galvin makes fun, sometimes elaborate, investment-worthy hats and fascinators.

  • Goosefish Press, 450 Harrison Ave., #65, 617-728-2822: This award-winning letterpress studio offers stationery, greeting cards, papers, and gifts.

  • December Thieves, 524 Harrison Ave., 617-375-7879: This shop carries clothing, jewelry, art, and housewares from emerging designers around the world.

  • Looks, 11–13 Holyoke St., Cambridge, 617-491-4251: Located in Harvard Square (next to Clover), this edgy boutique carries a good selection of clothing from independent and hard-to-find designers, including Rundholz Black Label and Aimee G.

Black Ink is the perfect spot to pick up gifts (for yourself and others). Photo credit: Sandro Enomoto
  • Black Ink, multiple locations, 866-497-1221: This great gift shop carries quirky “unexpected necessities,” including fun office supplies, mugs, salt-and-pepper shakers, cooking and crafting books, and toys.

  • Tien 2, 20 Lothrop Rd., Beverly, 978-922-6559: This adorable small shop features gorgeous silver and gold jewelry by Sandra McIntyre Lowe, and dresses, jackets, skirts, and tops by her daughter, Vivienne Lowe.

If you’re interested in great art, green spaces, good food, plus, tons of sewing, knitting, and crafting inspiration, give Boston a try. Our historic sites, universities, and seasonal foliage offer beautiful sites. Enjoy strolling the city or using it as a home base to explore the rest of New England. Boston is a worthwhile destination, that I know you will find rewarding.

Click to view a Google map with all of Tracy’s recommendations.
June, 2015

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