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.
Phew! 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!