JENNIFER JACKSON’S PORT TOWNSEND NEIGHBOR COLUMN: Fashion writer turns silk into art

POLLY FISH WAS at work one day when she happened to spot it SEmD the most beautiful coat she had ever seen.

It was periwinkle blue, she recalled, with lamb’s wool sleeves.

Asking if she could be notified when it went into “the closet,” she can still hear the person looking at her in disbelief and replying, “It’s jee-van-shee.”

Apparel from big-name designers like Givenchy, it seems, did not go into the closet, where it might be coveted by staff, but was returned to the designer or SEmD horror of horrors SEmD shredded at customs.

Polly now lives in Chimacum but used to work for Vogue and New York fashion houses.

New York fashion

So it’s not surprising that when someone donated a box of fabric swatches to her church group, Polly knew just what to do with them.

“They were going to make them into tote bags,” she said. “I said, ‘I don’t think so.'”

Instead, Polly took the swatches, most of which are silk, and made them into a quilt, which will be raffled at St. Paul Episcopal Church’s St. Nicholas Faire on Saturday, Dec. 4.

She took on the project despite a lack of quilt-making experience but had something better SEmD an eye for color and design.

“I took the squares home and pinned the squares to a blanket on the wall,” she said. “I moved them around.”

Polly works in her studio on the top floor of the three-story house in Chimacum, which she and her husband, Bob Fish, bought two years ago.

But she used to be a “West Sider.”

After high school in Appleton, Wis., the then Polly McGraw went to Barnard College in New York City, then to the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Combining writing skills and fashion sense, she became a writer and editor for catalogs and books.

In the ’60s, Polly was working for Simplicity on Madison Avenue and 34th Street, a block from her apartment.

“I don’t watch ‘Mad Men,'” she said. “I lived it.”

She also wrote for Vogue and for fashion designer Pauline Trigere, an experience that she said mirrored “The Devil Wears Prada.”

But after meeting and marrying Bob, the son of family friends, Polly left the bright lights of the city.

To be close to both sets of parents, they moved to North Carolina, choosing Bald Head Island, off the coast.

It was a compromise between Alaska, where Bob had worked for the National Forest Service, and Polly’s home ground.

“The fashion editor and the forest ranger,” Fish said. “Whatever works.”

On Bald Head, the couple built a house, and Bob had a charter fishing boat as well as a sawmill and woodworking shop.

Polly continued writing and, on the side, developed a line of oatmeal cookies, Emmies, inspired by those served at her favorite restaurant, Mary Elizabeth’s, on East 37th Street in New York.

The restaurant closed long ago, but Polly still makes Emmies, actually more of a candy because they have no flour, in her Chimacum kitchen, shipping them to North Carolina to sell.

She also bakes them for church coffee hour and the church’s Wednesday soup lunch, volunteers at the Port Townsend Food Bank and writes for the church newsletter, the Bell.

Inspired by fabrics

Turning her hand to quilting was inspired by the donation of the fabric squares by Lynn Dunham, who brought them to a meeting last fall, Polly said.

When Connie Johnston, who volunteers at the food bank, heard about the project, she donated a piece of red silk, which Polly used as a border and the larger blocks.

Many of the donated fabric squares had small motifs SEmD figures, trees and other landscape elements.

Polly was especially delighted to find one with the family logo on it, so she incorporated it into the quilt.

“There’s a fish in every corner of the border,” she said.

There’s also art in every cranny of the house.

Bob’s mother, Helen Fish, belonged to the Esther Stephens Brazier Guild, whose members went door-to-door in New England collecting tole patterns used in Colonial America.

Before painting the designs on tin, guild members would do trial runs on paper, creating works of art.

The couple have many of Helen’s samples stored in the upper floor of Bob’s woodworking shop, where he makes boxes, decorative objects and carvings.

Polly’s mother, Dudley Glass McGraw, was also a painter who did rosemaling.

The daughter of Atlanta newspaper columnist and critic Dudley Glass, for whom she was named, she had the chance to meet Enrico Caruso, see Anna Pavlova dance “Swan Lake” and stand on the stage with actress Sarah Bernhardt.

The great singer Caruso also was a caricaturist who sketched likenesses of people on dinner napkins.

Polly’s family lost the one he did of her grandfather but had others, including one of Richard Strauss, which Polly gave to the Metropolitan Opera’s collection.

Other mementos: On the living room wall, along with maps of Bermuda, where Bob’s family came from, is a framed remnant from Lord Horatio Nelson’s ship, HMS Foudroyant, the admiral’s flagship from 1799 to 1800.

According to Wikipedia, the ship, an 80-gunner, served in the Napoleonic wars, eventually ending up as a tender in the Liverpool, England, docks.

In 1897, it broke loose from the dock during a storm and grounded on Blackpool Sands.

Carpenters salvaged the timber for furniture and paneling, according to Wikipedia, making it probable that the large splinter of wood that Polly’s aunt bought and gave to Bob, a maritime history buff, is actually from Foudroyant’s capstan.

Quilt raffle

Tickets for the quilt raffle are $1 and will be available from church members or at the St. Nicholas Faire on Saturday, Dec. 4.

The event, scheduled to coincide with Gallery Walk, is from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and is a fundraiser for the church’s outreach fund.

It features an art show and sale by the congregation’s artists and handmade crafts, baked goods and jams.

Wine and hors d’oeuvres will be available for a donation.

A rocking chair donated by Karen Long and decorated by Arlene Nesbitt also will be raffled.

For more information about the event, phone 360-385-0185.

________

Jennifer Jackson writes about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her with items for this column, phone 360-379-5688 or e-mail jjackson@olypen.com.

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