SF Made: Made by Hand in San Francisco

In this tech-centric city giddy for digital updates and beta invites, it’s refreshing to be reminded that some businesses continue to create a physical object within city limits. SFMade is a consortium of over 400 San Francisco-based manufacturers, organized to promote manufacturing in the city. As part of SFMade Week, several locations held factory tours to show the interested public how things are made. 

A group of us toured the McRosky mattress factory in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco. Unlike most manufacturers, McRosky makes nearly all of their own components (coils, bats, covers), sourcing 99.9% of the material in the USA. The tour began in the sewing room where fabric that eventually surrounds the exterior of the mattress is measured, hand-cut, clamped with fire-retardant material, then tossed into an bin on the downstairs floor. We watched workers make the mattress coils that McRosky has been manufacturing since purchasing coil machines from a New Jersey company headed out of business in the 1940s. Once the coils are strung together to form a base, they go into an enormous tempering oven (450 degrees for thirty minutes). Years ago people also tossed their lunches into this oven, a practice that stopped once someone’s lunch caught fire. The coil base is then surrounded, covered, sewn together, and clamped with tufts. The mattresses are then inspected for any missing details, wrapped up and shipped out. Our guide said jumping on the bed is “Fine as long as it’s not my son.”

Across town, in the kitchen and dining room of their lovely Mission home, the Woodcut Maps founders demonstrated their mapping algorithm and showed off gorgeous map-as-art pieces to an eager crowd. A cat squirmed under the privacy screen separating the work area from living quarters, prowling to check out the unexpected guests. The company works with partners in the Bayview to do the actual laser cutting, then the Woodcut Maps team assembles the final product by hand in their kitchen. The ultimate goal is to have their own laser cutting machine and keep everything in-house, literally. It seemed fitting that Catherine knocked on wood as she said, “We’re still a debt free company.”

The day ended with wine tasting and a tour of the Bluxome Street Winery, one of the few places within city limits that produces wine. Before the 1906 earthquake the city teemed with wineries, grapes shipped down from the northern growing regions into the Mission Bay port and into the thirsty hands of the SOMA wine production facilities. Winemaker Webster Marquez was on hand to show us where the magic happens during harvest season. Right now the wine is hanging out, aging, not too exciting to watch. But in the fall, grapes are trucked into the facility, sorted, destemmed, fermented, punched down, just like at a winery in Sonoma or Napa. One of the main differences for Marquez in making wine in San Francisco instead of in Sonoma? “I can walk to get a sandwich for lunch instead of jumping in my car and driving fifteen minutes.”

Overall, it was an eclectic and intimate glimpse into the local economy. McRosky had a four month backlog of orders during the late 1990s, but the dot bomb economy in the early 2000s and the Great Recession had a serious impact on demand. Woodcut Maps pleaded for more business and explained that they’d be able to lower prices if they had their own laser cutting machine. Only Bluxome Street Winery showed no signs of impact from the today’s economic climate, the business of drinking being fairly recession-proof. To keep these local businesses afloat, they need your support. Look for the SFMade label for an added boost of karma on your next purchase. 

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