April 9, 2014

What kind of fabric shopper are you?

En route to Gertie’s Sewing Retreat last week, I had the chance to go fabric shopping in NYC, the true Mecca for all American seamstresses.

What kind of fabric shopper are you?
Demonstrating my new printed neoprene…

I had a fab time, but yet again, I went through the Four Stages of a Fabric Buying Spree (FSFBS, obvs).

1. Pre-spree excitement. Folks, was I excited! There aren’t too many options for fabric buying in Boston (Grey’s Fabrics and Gather Here have wonderful small but curated apparel fabric selections, and apart from that it’s all polyester bargain basement). So I get hyped up like a toddler on Coke when I have a trip planned.

On the train to NYC. Already getting overexcited..
2. Crashing overwhelm and anticlimax. After all that hype, I enter my first fabric shop and WHOOSH. I’m totally overwhelmed and overstimulated. Fabric stores are busy, busy places with ALL the colours. And ALL the textures. And ALL the types. It’s seriously hard to concentrate, and what happens to me during the first half hour is that I become convinced that I don’t like any of this, and simultaneous become anxious because I want to find fabric and have a nice time. I have been known to seriously doubt my own love of sewing at times like these… 

Just some of the spandex options in NYC…. 

3. Focus returns. I’m now learning through trial and error that what really helps me is going to stores where the selection isn’t *too* big. Mood is OK but sometimes sends me into a spin too quickly. However my new favourite place is Metro Textiles (thanks to Carolyn for sending me there, via Instagram!). First of all, you feel like a total fashion insider for getting there, because it’s in an unmarked apartment building, up 9 floors, past a Chinese sweatshop and round a corner. Second, they have a wonderful selection of really unusual fabrics… but it’s limited. And Kashi the owner will point out all the things you’ll like (he will also try to hard-sell you on them but if you laugh at him, he takes it well 🙂 ) As a result, it stopped my feeling of overwhelm and just made me happy!

Metro Textiles (if you’re British, read this in a Newcastle accent… Metro(centre) Textiles, like!)

4. Victory. After that rollercoaster, I invariably end up with a bounty. And it’s all worth it.

My latest haul includes….

Bright orange neon textured cotton and amazing printed silk (top and maxi skirt?)

An array of spandex for swimsuits

Black wool crepe and amazing horizontal lace (for a lace overlay gathered skirt!)

Lightweight denim shirting and a printed cotton

I now have a set of tips for myself to try to maximise the fun of fabric shopping and minimise the stress:
  • Go with your gut. I sew enough now that if I find a beautiful fabric, I’ll find a pattern for it later. If I start by thinking of patterns I tend to find myself getting overwhelmed more quickly. 
  • If you love it, buy it! I don’t get many opportunities to fabric shop in person, so it’s worth picking up things if I’m going to be thinking about them for ages
  • Keep the energy levels up! Is it just me, or is fabric shopping totally exhausting? I need to remind myself to keep taking breaks, drink water and eat snacks. I’m particularly partial to the Bryant Park Le Pain Quotidien… 
  • Buy enough fabric. Only problem with not having a pattern in mind is you don’t have a fabric length to buy and there’s nothing worse than excitedly schlepping your stash home only to find you don’t have enough.  To help avoid this type of catastrophe, I use the following rules of thumb: sleeveless top 1.5 yards, sleeved top 2 yards, straight skirt 2 yards, dress 3.5 yards, maxi anything 4 – 5 yards. It works pretty well!

Now I just have to work out what to make from my new stash….

What are your fabric buying strategies, Cashmerette readers? Do you get a bit stressed too, or is that just me?! Do you prefer the bigger stores or the more curated ones? And do you have any other secret stores in NYC? 

22 thoughts on “What kind of fabric shopper are you?

  1. Michelle says:

    How do you allocate your budget when you do a big day of fabric shopping like this? When I’ve gone to the fashion district in LA or fabric shopping in Portland (Mill End!), I tend to do one of two things–blow a big chunk of my budget for the trip in the first store or two or the other extreme of not buying (hardly) anything in the first store or two, then feeling bummed later in the day at not having bought something that I actually really wanted in the first store.

    And to answer your question–I like the big stores. I’m a sucker for a lot of variety.

    1. Jenny says:

      Hi Michelle – that’s a great question, because I have that exact problem too! Whether or not to buy in the first store or wait, and how much to spend… I think that these days I have accepted that I’m into sewing for the long haul, and I have a better sense of which types of fabrics are hard to find (e.g. high quality cool print jerseys). So, I tell myself that I should buy in the first store if I *love* the fabric and especially if it’s one of those rare ones. However, I do still struggle with this!

  2. Laurwyn says:

    Mmmm, new fabrics!
    I quite recognize the states you go through 🙂 I also get the same when I go to any new exciting place (especially on vacation).
    I am a semi-wise fabric buyer. I usually go for a budget and with a plan and list of projects. But I always have a little extra for a surprise fabric crush…

    1. Jenny says:

      Ha, yes I have it on vacation too! That’s one reason I really like going back to places for a *second* time because I don’t feel a need to rush around and see all the big sights, I can just stroll around neighbourhoods instead which is often a much nicer experience 🙂 I think that your semi-wise approach sounds very wise!

  3. our heroine says:

    fantastic haul, im so sad i didn’t have enough time to check out metro textiles–next time! for my yardage buying strategy i follow the gwynhug ‘how much fabric’ reference cards i have saved on my phone, it has prevented many a catastrophe you speak of :). lovely to meet you last weekend, I cant wait to see how your dress turns out!! 🙂

    1. Jenny says:

      HI Kristen – I love those cards! I definitely have a rough rule of thumb developed from them. Was lovely to meet you too – good luck with all your many muslins – I hope I see them on the blog!

  4. catsqueak says:

    I’m jealous! I live in a small village in Hertfordshire with limited access to fabric shops. I went to Goldhawk Road recently and went through exactly the same emotions… Anticipation and then totally overwhelmed. I still remember certain fabrics and wonder why on earth I didn’t buy it. Next time I’ll go armed with your very helpful tips! AB

    1. Jenny says:

      Ah yes, Goldhawk Road is very similar! One thing I do is before I leave a shop I ask myself “are you still thinking about one specific fabric?”. If so, I go back and get it – this happened to me with some amazing grey silk with birds on it that I got at Mood LA and ended up being a Nicola wrap dress!

  5. Still not been to Goldhawk Road (or the garment district in NYC for that matter) and don’t have nice fabric shops at all where I stay. I try to visit some if I am away with work but it is probably a case of not buying anything then kicking myself about it later. Wish they had a Metro Textiles in Newcastle. The fabric shopping there is pretty poor. 🙂

    1. Jenny says:

      That’s frustrating not to have local options! Luckily there are a lot of good on-line options but it isn’t quite the same. However, perhaps you could justify a little fabric-buying trip to London…?!

  6. kittiesx3 says:

    Since you live in the Boston area, consider trying Winmil Fabrics (111 Chauncy St right near Chinatown). They’ve got some good stuff, well worth checking out. I love Grey’s also and it was closer since I lived in the South End, but Winmil had more options.

  7. gMarie says:

    I missed Metro when I was in NY last at the end of February. I did make Mood and it was in fact, overwhelming! I ended up on the 3rd floor and only bought what I couldn’t buy at home at a reasonable price. 4 pieces of wool. Enough for 3 dresses and a skirt.

    I love your purchases and your rules. I’m gonna have to check out some of the new seattle smaller shops. But since I just bought a new to me machine for using as a dedicated coverstitch, guess I’ll have to sew up some of what I’ve got first. g

  8. Haha I love your first overstimulated eye pic! I had one hour in mood on my honeymoon whilst my husband got quietly drunk in a nearby bar, and I think I had whiplash from my head whipping from side to side whilst I took it all in! I say don’t rush, have a rough plan, and like you go with what you love!

  9. Janet says:

    You are adorable! I really try to pick stuff with a project in mind. I get stressed if I have so much yardage and no time (I don’t know how people find the time…)
    I give myself one purchase that is a totally random, “I have no clue what I am going to make with this stuff, but I am practically curled up beside it….so I should probably buy it!” 🙂

  10. Gail says:

    So true! I go through exactly the same stages, which is how I managed to come away from Toronto with only one piece of fabric. I’m going to NYC in May, so I will try to do better then 😉

    I love all your choices, but especially those last 2 – the printed cotton and the denim.

  11. tanyamaile says:

    I love your fabric finds! I have been trying to only buy fabrics that are on my list as my fabric hoarding obsession is overflowing my storage bins. I’ll see if I can stick to that mantra when I’m down in the LA fabric district later this year.

  12. Katy Patzel says:

    I also find fabric shopping in New York totally overwhelming. I try to focus on fabrics I know I can’t find in Boston, ribbing, perforated leather, whatever. I find if I have a list of three or so projects I am shopping for I can concentrate on isles rather than the entire cavernous maze of fabrics. Of course if I fall in love with something on the way to my planned location I scoop it up. You can’t argue with love at first sight.

  13. prttynpnk says:

    Shopping envy!!!! I keep swatches with me to match up strays and usually buy enough of a fabric to make a winter and a summer make. Mostly I think of myself as an adoptive textile parent, with love for all and room in the closet!

  14. That striped lace is GORGEOUS! It is defintely something I would buy without hesitation 🙂

  15. elle3270 says:

    I purchase material for the pattern. I take a pix of the envelope so I’ll know how much fabric and what notions to buy. This giant JoAnn Fabric store here has a small section for fabric and the rest of the store is other craft stuff. Time to do some online fabric shopping.

  16. Divamazon says:

    LOVE YOU for that rule of thumb. I’m a total sometimes impulse, most times “I DEFINITELY have a pattern for that even though I don’t” kind of fabric shopper! No plans for a summertime fabric excursion? 🙂

  17. Joanna says:

    I’ll have to check out Metro. You know after the retreat I was so inspired by all this NYC fabric shopping that I had to go into the city since it’s been quite a few years since I’ve been to Mood. I’m telling you I wasn’t disappointed! You are right if you see something you love buy it as it may not be there later and it’s an adventure and at least you get something out of it not like loosing all your money in Vegas:)

Let me know what you think!