Whenever I post a flashy dress or blouse on Instagram, I get comments and DMs asking “Where did you get that fabric!?” Though I’m happy to share my sources, you might not like the answer! I buy fabric literally everywhere I go, and have been doing so for over 10 years. So sometimes, it’s a vintage piece I’ve been stashing for 7 years, or a sample of a fabric I designed for a client, or it’s from a weird shop in midtown, and oh, I bought the end of the bolt. So, you might not be able to get the exact fabric I used, but you can start keeping your eyes open for special textiles of your own.
I shop for about 85% of my fabric at bricks & mortor stores. The main places I shop for fabric will be covered in this post: Vintage, Local Shops, Souvenir Fabrics, DIY, and I’ve added my top tips for IRL fabric shopping at the end. And! this post is a two-parter. I’ll cover online fabric shopping in my next post.
VINTAGE & THRIFT:
Don’t sleep on vintage fabric, especially if you love prints or fabrics of a certain era, but you aren’t a fan of actual vintage garments (like me). Go to your local thrift shops, flea markets, and estate sales to see what has been sitting in someone’s attic for a few decades (also great places to find vintage patterns). Not every shopping trip will be a success, but if you check back once in a while, you may score big. Vintage fabric will always benefit from a round or two in the washing machine, but check it for strong odors before buying - sometimes you cannot get them out. As for stains or minor holes/imperfections, you can often cut around them, depending on what you are making.
I know not everyone has easy access to the Manhattan Garment District like I do, but you probably do have a local shop. I have 3 local shops in Brooklyn that I check in on about once a month - they are discounters, and the merchandise turns over quickly, so I have found everything from denim to silk, and never paid more than $7/yard. Get to know your local shopkeepers, and ask for what you want. If you actually spend money at a small business, they will be happy to find things they know you will purchase (I speak from experience on both sides of this transaction. Just be sure to actually buy.).
You may have noticed that I sniff out fabric shops literally everywhere I go. You can read about fabric shopping in Tokyo, Osaka, and Edinburgh in previous blog posts. But I know not everyone is travelling to such far flung places. Take advantage of a visit to a bigger city and stop by their biggest local fabric store! Before any trip, big or small, I hop on google to see if there are fabric shops near where I am staying. And, this may seem boring to some, but I love visiting Joann (which we do not have in NYC), and if I visit friends or family in any other city, I force them to drive me to Joann! I like their linen, and love flipping through the pattern books.
DO IT YOURSELF:
As a textile designer, I have no fear of creating exactly what I want, and I’d like to encourage you to feel the same. It’s just fabric, don’t be too precious. If you find a fabric that is almost perfect, don’t be shy - bust out the RIT dye and make it your favorite color, buy some stamping tools and block print it, sew patches all over it, or even order some of your own custom designs from Spoonflower. Because I design fabric professionally, I am a little jaded, but I can’t deny that it is pretty exciting to see your own designs come to life. You will also feel that much more pride in your finished garment, knowing that you took the extra steps to make your fabric fully customized.
I know these answers are a bit broad, but you have to keep an open heart and open mind when fabric shopping. Here are few tips for shopping IRL that might help you.
• Bring a list of fabrics you actually need - but keep it loose. I will remind myself I need things to make blouses (could be silk, cotton, poly, linen…) or bottom weight fabrics for pants.
• Have photos on your phone of what you already have at home! This will prevent you from overlapping too much, and remind you what needs a friend to make a complete outfit.
• If you have time, take a lap of the store, maybe ask for a swatch or two if you see things you love, and then leave. If you can return later, you will feel less overwhelmed by the selection, and you might not be as impulsive (maybe time with that swatch taught you that you don’t love the color).
• Do you love it? Ok! But will you wear it? Only you know the answer. Many fabric stores have mirrors, go ahead and check yourself out. Sometimes loving something doesn’t mean you want to wear it.
• And finally: Trust your gut. Think about it, or be impulsive. Have fun.
My next post will feature all the places I browse fabric online, including tons of direct links to shops and fabrics I love. So stay tuned if that’s more your speed. XO, Martha