May 7, 2015

Kyoto calling! (A Tale Of Many Fabric Stores)

Konichiwa! Hello, yes, can I please speak to the person in Kyoto responsible for fabric stores? Hmm. Yes, I’ll wait. Right. OK. Well that sounds bad for my wallet. Arigato!”


Kyoto’s our last stop in Japan and thank goodness, because I already bought one new bag to carry fabric and notions in, and I can’t physically carry another. Kyoto’s the historic counterpart to busy Tokyo, but has no fewer fabric-buying opportunities, you’ll be relieved to hear. So let’s start at the beginning: the secret needle shop.


I was tipped off to the existence of this most-unlikely shop, which sits in a courtyard behind a modern shopping arcade, by Norma, by way of Thewallinna.  It took a while to find (I’m going to write up a summary post with detailed directions to this and all the other stores soon!) but once I did: what a marvel. It’s been around for 400 years, and everything in there is lovingly made by hand. In addition to every type of needle you can imagine, he also sells the most kawaii tiny handmade pins you’ve ever seen. Dogs! Cats! Ducks! Sewing implements! Geraniums! They’re so small it’s hard to make your iPhone focus (surely a modern standard). He was also selling adorable tiny boxes which are travel sewing sets, complete with handmade snips, a pack of needles, three threads and a pincushion.  I bought one of everything (almost).


Next up was Nomura Tailor which has two outlets around the corner from each other. The main one is 3 storeys of heaven. It’s mostly grown-up garment fabric, with a whole bunch of cottons, silks, laces, knits and everything in between. Of course there’s still lots of cute animal print. Of course. The notions floor at the top is also a treasure trove of really soft bias piping in a rainbow of colours, more of that amazing knit bias tape, untold handbag making accessories and every woman’s must-have: furry pom poms. 


Turn the corner, and Nomura Tailor House is smaller and more cutesy – mostly quilting cottons with a few exceptions (those seersucker ginghams! be still my heart), and lots of other crafty things like needle felting kits. Of course, it was mostly comprised of cute animal prints. And cute animal sew-on patches.



In addition to the garment-making fabric stores, Kyoto abounds with “furoshiki” stores. These are pieces of fabric which have multiple purposes – I think the most common one is to wrap gifts (instead of wrapping paper), but they can also be transformed into slouchy bags with a ring and a few twists, or a nifty scarf, or a wide range of accessories that are available in the stores. I didn’t end up buying any this time because the prices are significantly higher than by-the-yard fabric, but I still took in the eye candy, of course.


I wasn’t intending to head to Avril, the famous knitting store, but accidentally ended up in front of it, and I took that to be a sign from above. And what can I say: it’s flipping gorgeous. I don’t plan on starting knitting but if I ever change my mind I’ll be back here in a flash. More interesting to me were the two stores that flanked Avril both called idola, which sell beads and buttons. The vintage buttons are again, outstanding – they look like they’re from Paris, but who knows. The taste level here is insane. 
Kyoto6Phew! So that’s about it. I did pop into a few other places that I’ll mention in the roundup, but these were my faves. Contrary to appearances, I *did* see things other than fabric stores while I was here. We strolled the medieval streets for hours, walked the Philosopher’s Walk, meditated in front of Zen gardens (and/or took Instagram photos) and enjoyed sitting on the floor in our lovely ryokan hotel.


Do you have trouble resisting fabric shopping when you’re on vacation? What’s the craziest place you’ve ever bought fabric? It makes me sad that so many things are available everywhere these days that few places are special any more, but Japan is definitely one of them! Do you know others?

And… if you can’t make it to Kyoto for regular monthly shopping adventures (sigh, if only) I recommend checking out Miss Matatabi – you can get nearly all the same fabrics delivered to the US and Europe!


31 thoughts on “Kyoto calling! (A Tale Of Many Fabric Stores)

  1. Joen says:

    While in Curaçao my friend and I spotted a fabric shop!! To our dismay it was closed 🙁 but that didn’t stop us for pressing our faces to the window to see what was inside.

    1. Ah that’s the worst! Now I feel I need a Caribbean vacation though… 🙂

  2. Eleanor says:

    Wow! You lucky duck! I’m not sure that I would have been able to take enough money on this trip of yours.

    I am really enjoying seeing your adventures. Japan fabric shops sure are different from Joanne’s. Soooo much better. 😀

    1. I do feel incredibly lucky! And I too wish that we had some of this Japanese pizzazz in the UK.. Maybe we can convince Nomura Tailor to open a NYC branch!

  3. I’ve loved seeing your posts… looking forward to a round up one too… with addresses!

    Pretty much everything in Shanghai (or Guangzhou for insane bulk fabrics apparently) that I’ve seen so far has been unique fabrics… but it’s insane and not as clean and beautifully presented as Japan. Singapore’s fabric markets were amazing for me and overwelming at the time (because I’ve mostly sewn with vintage/thrifted fabrics, I just get bombarded by the choice)… but Shanghai has been staggering.

    1. Thanks Veronica! I’ve heard great things about Shanghai shopping – the nearest I’ve been is Ho Chi Minh City (not so near, I know!). I’m really enjoying seeing all your photos of the shopping and classes you’re doing.

  4. This is so exciting, looks like you’ve been having an amazing time! Japan has been top of my list of holiday destinations for a while, but I didn’t realise it had such great fabric shops as well, it’s just the whole package! My mum just brought a pile of fabric back from France for my stash, but I haven’t gone more exotic than that yet – I definitely wouldn’t be able to resist some of the ones in your post though 🙂

    1. Oh yes, the fabric stores are wonderful! Paris shopping is also totally awesome – I love the coupon shops.

  5. Sara says:

    I envy you your trip!

    I so wanted to visit the needle shop when I was in Kyoto last year but being in the company of two men with other ideas, didn’t make it. I did manage Nomura Tailor for some wonderful Japanese shears which cut like razors. Next time, perhaps…

    1. Ah, men, holding us back! I split up with my male companion and he happily went for a jog while I needle shopped. Contemporary division of labour, right there 🙂

  6. Cynthia says:

    Your trip sounds awesome. Shopping in Sham Shui Po (SSP) Hong Kong is equally as wonderful with reasonable prices. France has awesome one of a kind fabrics but the prices were off the charts.

    1. Oh I’d love to go to Hong Kong! I haven’t been since I was a tiny child and sadly lacked the foresight to attend any fabric stores 😉

  7. Fulvia says:

    Enjoy reading your posts very much. Knit bias tape? Tell me more, please.

    1. I”m as intrigued as you are! I think it’s mostly for finishing necklines and hems etc. on t-shirts, but I will experiment with it and report back!

  8. Hilde says:

    I’ve never even thought of visiting Japan before, but now I just might need to!! You know, an excursion…

    1. Add it to the list, for sure!

  9. gingermakes says:

    I can’t even fathom a shop existing for 400 years! That’s really amazing! Kyoto sounds amazing! Thanks for sharing your fun photos!

  10. heather says:

    hi! recently found your blog. am super impressed by your sewing skills – wish i could accomplish even a simple piece of clothing! thanks for sharing! 🙂

  11. symondezyn says:

    so kawaii!!!!!! ^____^ only one extra bag? you have the fortitude of a saint 😉

  12. Kiki says:

    Hi heading to Japan in a couple of weeks and love your tips. which Ryokan did you stay at in Kyoto? Thanks Kiki

    1. vicki says:

      Did you ever get an answer? That ryokan looks lovely.

  13. Annemarie Vis says:

    Thanks for the tips, I was in Kyoto last month and visited both the needle shop and the fabric shop.

  14. Just got back from a month in Japan. I wish I found your blog first. While I did a lot of shopping (and buying!) I missed the fabric and knitting stores. The needle shop was amazing, and I went back a second time because my husband was actually interested when he learned about the history. We also visited an indigo dyeworks that was remarkable. What ryokan did you stay in? We are planning a trip back in fall of 2017.

  15. Elaine Gust says:

    To get to Misuyabari needle shop in Kyoto, go to Kyoto City Hall subway station and walk south on Karamachi-dori. Turn right on Sanji- dori, which is a covered arcade street. Pass 4 or 5 shops on your right, including a pachinko parlor. Immediately past a narrow stairway going up, turn right into a long, narrow alley that looks like something I would never go into in an American city. 30 feet away, there’s the courtyard and the shop!

  16. Elaine Gust says:

    The precuts at Nomura are much smaller than American fat quarters. If you are smitten you might want to get two or three each of your favorites.

  17. Susan Ennor says:

    Would you please share the name of your Ryokan Hotel in Kyoto _ i will be there soon & would love a good recommendation.
    Sue (Australia)

    1. It’s called Hiiragiya. It’s very expensive, but it’s also a once in a lifetime opportunity!

  18. Hi there! Looks epic. Could I get the name of the secret needle shop please?

    1. It’s Misuyabari Needle Shop, though I’m not sure there’s a sign anywhere saying that

  19. Rosemarie Oakley says:

    In Japan…visited Nippori and a quick look at Kyoto, so managed to squeeze a visit to the gorgeous needle shop. I also bought another bag,lol. It’s a fight with all our ski gear. Hugs and many thanks, from country Western Australian🇦🇺

  20. Joe C says:

    I’m sure there is a very small chance of you remembering, but do you know the name of the store in your photo of the furoshiki? I believe I went to that same store several years ago and I’ve been trying to find it online, to no luck.

Let me know what you think!