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Halloween Gets Classy DIY Treatment at UES Crafts Hub

By Amy Zimmer | October 25, 2012 10:12am

MANHATTAN — Halloween can be a seriously elegant affair on the Upper East Side — especially for the little ones.

But while many families shell out big bucks for store-bought costumes for their kids and professional designers to decorate their brownstones, a local DIY hub, Pins and Needles has been encouraging locals to get creative and classy with a distinctively hands-on approach, offering tips for projects including decoupage pumpkins with elegant fabric or bedazzling face masks.

The two-year-old second-floor shop at 1045 Lexington Ave., near East 75th Street — which sells an "edited" collection of fine fabrics and runs workshops for various skill levels — also provides an alternative aesthetic to chintzy materials found at nearby chains.

”I’m the only one who sells thread up here," the shop's owner Rachel Low said of the sewing notions and embroidery materials she sells. "It’s definitely an untapped market."

Rather than carving out a pumpkin, Low blogged about decoupage — demonstrating the project by pasting a dainty toile fabric with a spooky skeleton twist. She made a fun “Happy Halloween” banner with fabric she sells in her shop. She gave tips on making bird, bear and other face masks and did a how-to on simple ways to dress up onesie-wearing infants.

"I wanted a community, and there wasn’t anything going on up here,” said Low, an Upper East Side resident who learned how to sew and knit from her grandmother and mother while growing up in Englewood, N.J.

In addition to tips from Low's blog, families can learn how to make felted zombies at a Halloween workshop on Oct. 27 (for kids 8 and up with a family member; $35 per person). The shop also offers private lessons ($90 per hour plus materials).

One student, who is an avid equestrian, is taking one-one-classes to make a costume for her horse to wear at an annual holiday contest. Many families have been coming in for felt and tulles or calling with queries about making fairy outfits.

Judi Rosenthal, an Upper East Sider who works in financial services and has a 4-year-old daughter and 8-week-old son, visited the shop over the weekend to stock up on supplies for her daughter's costume: a "scary spider."

She's making a black velvet body that will attach like a backpack and have legs made from her used pantyhose with wires inside. She got bright green felt for eyes and is making a "fancy fascinator with webs and bugs" for her daughter's hair.

Rosenthal, who got material the last two Halloweens at Pins and Needles (kittycat costume and pumpkin costume) was happy she no longer had to trek crosstown to Michael's, which she called "gross."

"The stuff that’s there is just not high-end. I like to use nice things," Rosenthal said. "I really enjoy the process of thinking about costumes and designing it and letting [my daughter] tell me what she wants to be. Not to be too sentimental but all my costumes were made for me growing up."

Low is happy to help guide customers through the process.

"A lot of people say, 'I have a sewing machine. My grandma gave it to me. How do I use it?'" said Low, who spent more than a decade working in communications and branding for Ralph Lauren, Prada, Bobbi Brown and other luxury goods before "reinventing" herself with a space perhaps found more often in Brooklyn, Downtown Manhattan or the Garment District than the Upper East Side.

She hosts monthly “crafter hours,” where people are invited to come and work on whatever project they’re doing at the shop tucked above Joe the Art of Coffee.

Participants have ranged in age from 3 to 70.

“It’s a nice way to socialize and spend time doing something you like or get exposed to something new,” Low said. “The growth of the DIY movement is crazy. I’m 40 and I’m crazy-obsessed with it. My teacher [for classes at the shop] is 26 and there are many people coming as young as 7 and the teens."

Upper East Siders are hungry to roll up their sleeves, insisted Low, who is planning to add a 10- to 12-week sewing session for adults similar to the popular course the shop runs for kids. She already offers classes ranging from basic sewing to basic tailoring and making pillows or tunics, and the shop rents out time on its sewing machines ($20/hour).

“I think people are looking for something like this," she said. "The idea of seeing something where you can say, ‘I can make it,' there’s a thrill in that.”

With reporting by Victoria Bekiempis.