The sun beats down on my back and the scent of warm asphalt fills my nose as I wait in the sewing line with a tween and her doting father. We’ve already chosen our pattern-cut fabrics — mine is an ’80s-flavored pale-gray-stripe jersey — and makeshift patches of fabric printed with images of birds, gorillas, flowers and ’60s slogans as we wait our turn with one of the Matrushka girls.
The volunteer in front of us, who on any other Wednesday would be at work in the Matrushka Construction clothing studio, is giving a sewing lesson to a 20-something African-American fellow wearing a tagged-up cap. She guides his hand as he pulls his green-and-black, skinny-stripe jersey under the bobbing needle and, together, they attach two patches and join the edges of his fabric to form a sleeveless tee that looks like something my abuelita used to make for my dolls when she had some leftover fabric and a coupla minutes to spare. It’s not quite what I would wear in adult company, not even on casual Fridays.
A few minutes before, I was walking by the George C. Page Museum on Wilshire Boulevard and was drawn by a tent and a sign in the courtyard behind the pits that read: “Free Cut & Sew.” Now, my fabric is waiting to be bedecked with a green-felt “PEACE” patch and a black-denim one that hails “Green Power!” The “Free Cut & Sew” party is a marketing event for the new Toyota Yaris, that cute, little fuel-efficient, spider-squashing, lifestyle-enhancing Gen Y–mobile. They’ve tossed a tent up on the museum’s courtyard, parked two tricked-out Yari (plural for Yaris?) on the courtyard, and put up a handmade sign in the hopes of snaring the ReadyMade magazine generation in their trap.
They’re obviously trying to make a connection between the environmentally friendly slogans on the patches and the high-mileage vehicles, but the real message is that the Yaris is a subcompact custom-made for the do-it-yourself, iPod-totin’ young adults who compose the Holy Grail of corporate America. Apparently, some cool hunters explained to Mr. Toyota that if he wanted to sell his little economy cars to the Gen Y set (with their fast-growing buying power and consumption-focused habits), he’d better find a way to connect with theirnot-quite-sure-why-but-recycling-and-making-stuff-is-coolselves. To wit, I was handed a booklet produced by the fine folks at ReadyMade magazine that is all about DIY Yaris projects that include tricking out your new car with a foldaway tailgate table ($150), fiery racing stripes ($30) and an iPod dock you put in your cup-holder slot ($40).
As I peruse the glossy minimag, a young woman wearing a T-shirt that reads “Ask Me” walks by. So I do.
“They start at ten nine,” she replies.
“Is that with or without the tailgate table?” I ask.
“Without. You have to make them yourself.”
In the background, a bearded fellow sits on a bench and picks at a banjo, providing a fittingly folksy soundtrack to the afternoon’s proceedings. About 20 feet away, a family of mammoths succumbs to the noxious, sticky “tar” that’s native to the Rancho La Brea area of Los Angeles, where black asphalt oozes out of the sidewalks as far as a couple of blocks away from the natural pits.
Back in the sewing line, the tween is ready to begin her first foray into the sartorial arts. She nods enthusiastically when the girl from Matrushka — the local boutique that’s all about customizing the clothes-buying experience — asks if she wants to do her own sewing.
“So you’ll be wanting a sewing machine now?” her dad teases, gray eyebrow raised, head cocked.
“I want a cell phone first!” she says, flashing a mouth full of metal and batting her big hazel eyes.