Saturday, 28 March 2009

buying fabric

As a follow up to the yarn buying post, here is my collected thoughts on buying fabric. As with the previous post, happy to hear about your experiences and add them in to the compendium.

How I buy fabric
I have a substantial fabric stash, let's just be clear about that before we start. I didn't always have that stash - there was indeed a time when I used to go out and buy something and then make it into something before I went out and bought more.

A big part of why I have become a major league stasher is because of my strong dislike of project based fabric shopping. I tend to craft when I have time, when a need presents and the stars align. I may be called impulsive. When this used to happen I would go out, spend a good portion of my allotted project time searching for something reasonably specific and getting frustrated and disappointed when I couldn't find it. You can never find a medium weight black denim/cute animal print/100% cotton sheeting when you need it. Inevitably I would end up wasting the day and not getting a project done at all. Some top ups are inevitable and there are still times I need to go hunting for something in particular and usually in a limited time frame, but in the main I avoid this kind of shopping like the plague.

Closely aligned, but without the time pressure is shopping for pragmatic fabrics. A good quality black interlock will never be wasted in my stash, neither will a Liberty print, silk lining or stone coloured linen. These are items I almost always pick up opportunistically, preferably cheaply and in a largish piece. Nothing more frustrating than a little bit less than you need of a basic fabric. If I'm thinking pants I buy 2 meters, if I'm thinking a dress or complicated shirt I'd try for 2.5 meters, if it's interlock I'd get 1.5 meters as a minimum. For kids clothing I'd generally get 1 meter unless I had something specific in mind.

In a whole other league are the showcase fabrics. While these are often expensive, I also tend to buy these opportunistically because you absolutely cannot ever find these on demand. These are the fabrics where no matter what I use them for the fabric will always be more striking than the item itself. I buy small pieces of fabulous showcase fabrics for craft items like bags, toys, homewares or decorative highlights on larger things. I sometimes also buy larger pieces of these with a specific garment in mind, and these often create the inspiration and motivation for an ambitious project.

Places I go in real life to buy fabric
I have been buying fabric in Melbourne for a long time (more than a quarter of a century!), and I am still finding new places. And places ascend and decline - Lincraft was once a really good source of fine quality fabrics, but not anymore - so I am always on the lookout for new places and watchful of quality in places I've become accustomed to. I am also now fairly and squarely in the Northern suburbs, so while I do travel on the odd fabric odyssey, there is a definite geographic bias to my list.

Spotlight - the much maligned fabric discounter is definitely not a pleasant and inspiring shopping experience, but I am not as down on it as many. My local is close by, is staffed by mostly helpful and nice people who actually know their stock and at the times I generally go (morning weekdays) is not too insanely overcrowded. But you do need to look hard for the good stuff, hidden as it is under mountains of the most awful shit you can imagine, and accept that you need to buy the good stuff (mostly of the pragmatic kind) when you find it for it most likely won't come this way again. Spotters also has a fairly frequent intake of new stock, and if you can get in on the first day or two of a new shipment you'll find all the really good stuff people tell you spotlight has, but which you never seem to be able to find yourself. They also have frequent excellent discount days and offers which make stock ups really worth while.
Tessuti Fabrics - In stark contrast to Spotters, Tessuti's is the best of all possible fabric buying experiences. The shop is lovely, spacious, well laid out and easily visited being in the centre of town. The fabrics are inspirational, and I like the way it is laid out by colour. The store carries mostly deigner ends, which means it is full of really interesting and unusual textures, fibres and prints. There is no shortage of stuff to get you thinking about adventurous and exciting sewing. I should add this is definitely the place to shop for showcase fabrics rather than the bog standards, and the prices while not unreasonable for what you are getting are not where I would be pitching for everyday stash enhancement.
Clegs - Clegs stocks quality, and expensive, showcase fabrics for clothing. I don't much care for the 'craft' fabric they carry, and I find most of their other stock is way too not me - silk suiting and bridal fabrics and the like - but they have a good range of more interesting knits and the odd Liberty print I like. Worth a squizz when in checking out the yarn or buying haberdashery and notions.
Darn Cheap - kind of like a spotlight without the glare. I personally like the Heidelberg store more than the Glen Huntly one (it's much lighter and has great staff and is better organised). There are some fabulous bargains at Darn Cheap but it helps a lot to know a bit about fibers and fabric types and quality because a lot of stuff is all junked together and not well labeled. Good for pragmatic purchases made with a watchful eye on quality.
GJs - GJ's is kind of like 3 stores in one: the ground floor is a bit like a smaller version of darn cheap, though a bit more hit and miss, out the back is the discount warehouse which is mostly scary crap with the odd gem and the most extensive collection of lycra and lycra added fabrics I've ever seen, and then upstairs is a good sized patchworking store. Over the years I have bought some great stuff at GJs, like some wool knit that was identical to one across the road at clegs for about 40% less, and a hand painted and embellished linen that was divine. In the last few years I think the clothing range downstairs has declined but the top floor patchwork stock is really excellent now, with no shortage of great prints and designer ranges.
Rathdowne Remnants - in the same vein as GJs and darn cheap, a lot of the stock here is poorly labeled and of dubious quality. Stock changes frequently and some great stuff comes in at excellent prices, but sometimes there isn't much of interest or fabrics don't hold up to closer examination.
Cutting Edge - I love this store, mostly because I always find something here that is unlike anything else I have ever seen. It specialises in designer run offs - some rolls have pictures pinned to them of garments in fashion mags made from that fabric for example - and highly unusual weaves, prints, fiber combinations and textures. It is a store in which I often find myself imagining the creation of outlandish garments and losing track of time. But in the main these showcase fabrics don't come cheap, not withstanding the occasional bargain and fabulous remnant, and I limit my visits!!
Amitie - Amitie is a patchwork store and stocks an extensive range of really fantastic high quality craft fabrics, especially super gorgeous Japanese and designer prints. I find the store positively overwhelming with the sheer number of things I could happily buy, and indulge in all kinds of crazy project plans whilst there. Another store I can't imagine living closer to. My head would most likely explode.
Patchwork on Central Park - Very similar to Amitie. Mind blowing.
Joy's Fabric Warehouse - The Rathdowne Remnants of Geelong. I have bought some fantastic bargains here from in amongst the junk. On the upside has a good open layout and a great toy box for keeping kids amused. A good stop to or from beaching on the coast!
Kimono house - Definitely reserved for small pieces of showcase fabrics. Wonderful Japanese fat quarters, fabrics by the meter as well as trims and other oddments. The shop is small and only has a limited selection, but it's never difficult to find something to love here.
Asia - No, not a shop, a continent! I have a lot of fabric in my stash from overseas trips, and in Asia textiles are easy to come by, cheap and often quite stunning. If you are planning a trip it is worthwhile finding out before you go about the local textile industry. And aside from the delights of the local exotica there are often places where the excess from overseas exports can be found - I bought loads of things in the markets in Northern Thailand that I later saw in shops here.

Fabric online - I used to find it hard to buy something as tactile as fabric without being able to touch it, but the new breed of fabric designers have cured me. At the absolute forefront for me are Ink and Spindle. I love their designs, their base fabrics, their sustainable business practices and their attitude. Gorgeous stuff and for hand printed fabric, their prices are pretty good. I buy in small quantities for bags and other crafty projects. - I remember when Kristen first started offering her hand printed designs, and thinking what a new and exciting idea that was (I am, like, old). Kristen can always be relied on to bring out something new and interesting - plus she likes red a lot and so do I. - Like Kristen and the Ink and Spindle crew, Shannon at Aunty Cookie keeps producing new and fun designs to really explore the potential for fabric to make a project sing. My daughter totally loves the Aunty Cookie character which embellishes quite a few of her clothes. - Another aussie producer who creates distinctive and engaging designs that inspire great craft. - I've run out of superlatives for the indy fabric designers and printers, they are all fantastic and worth watching and buying from! - Kelani is an amazing one stop online shop which stocks Japanese, prominent mainstream as well as indy designers (and tonnes of cool patterns and other stuff which isn't really fabric, so not what this post is about but, well, anyway). Never any shortage of good stuff to buy here, and they even carry a small range of pragmatics like denim and linen and have a loyalty program that's actually worthwhile. - Another aussie (Melbourne in fact) store which carries a great mix of designer and indy prints and patterns and other bits. And free postage! - Japanese everything to add extra cute to anything you make. You can go cross-eyed looking through all the sweet stuff here, and there's Japanese mags and other non fabric stuff too. Just, you know, while you're there. - another Japanese cute etsy store. Much grat adn tempting stuff here too. - OK, you have to pay postage from the US and that's not good, but when the aussie dollar is strong, this is offset by the much cheaper fabric prices. Lovely and amazing fabric similar in feel to Kelani's offerings, but with a bit more cuteness and emphasis on international and reproduction stuff.

I suspect I have left out heaps of places - just writing that all down has made me dizzy. Please leave comments or email me about your favourite fabric habitat.


Ren said...

How you manage to get around to all these places really amazes me. You're a PT person like me, but you seem to be able to go to these places with such ease! Very impressive.

sooz said...

It should be said Ren that I do not visit these places often, or necessarily easily. Some entail a whole day expedition and get seen five or more years apart! Especially the expensive ones :-)

Darn cheap for example isn't close to home, but is close to the doctor I see for my asthma - so when I go see her (one or two years apart) I cheer myself up with a visit there too.

Part of the beauty of having a good size stash is that I don't need to shop often, I have no trouble finding suitable fabric for pretty much any project I might decide to do from what I already have. When you are a PT person this is really important for time management - I go out less often and stock up when I do so I can spend more time sewing! ;-)

Colleen said...

Bookmarking this page, STAT!

Couldn't agree more about Patchwork on Central Park. I spend hours in there, sometimes I think the women wish they could shoo me out with their broom. Or whack me on the nose with a rolled up newspaper when I pick up YET ANOTHER fat quarter I don't need...

I was lucky enough to purchase some gorgeous fabrics from Amitie Textile's stall at the Stitches and Craft show this year, and I'm so impressed. I can't wait to see the store in person!

I can't wait to visit some of the other places you've mentioned. You're my Melbourne Craftista Mentor!

Colleen said...

Also, if you like a alittlegoodness, you'll LOVE Karaku! I got some gorgeous japanese fabrics from there a while back and I'm in awe of them everyday. They're the highlight of my stash.

There's a HUGE range of stamps and other cute japanese goodies, too. Great linens and gorgeous prints.

Fiona said...

Super post and I share your sentiments on all those retailers you mentioned (esp 'Spotters'!) I've bought a few fabrics from Tessuti's online shop and have just discovered via their blog that they'll soon be opening a Melbourne store. Not sure where or when but it looks promising!

eeloh said...

Thanks for that list, Soozs - it'll come in handy - and especially the quantities you tend to buy. I was wondering about that.