Sunday, 27 October 2013

Fabric Shopping in London

I know, I've been a bit quiet lately.

I'm struggling to find the time to get all the posts up that I want to get up. As it is, my sleeve is sitting there, I'm pretty sure it's looking at me in a judgmental way. But hey, I am only one woman. I can't keep up with all the things I want to do! Christmas is getting close and I have a few gifts planned to make too, which means another demand on time. Why are the days so short?

This week I have been reading, shopping and thinking up new ideas for my next project. Or rather, attempting to prioritise my extensive list of ideas.

Finding appropriate fabric is a factor which slows me down. As usual, the clearer I am in my head about what I want exactly, the more likely I am to be unable to find it. I did recently buy three identical inexpensive scarves, because I liked the fabric and figured if I bought three I would be able to make a whole dress. The lady at the checkout looked at me kind of funny.
Bemused cashier: "You know these are the same, right?"
Me: "Yes, I know."
Bemused cashier: "It's just that most people buy different ones."
I think she found my response a little unsatisfactory. But these are desperate times.

This weekend, as something of a long awaited antidote to a general sense of cloth related melancholy, I went fabric shopping in London.

I lived in London for about 4 months. I came to the conclusion that London is a lovely place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. It felt so busy, and to be honest I don't like getting lost in the crowd.

But Berwick street in Soho is an absolutely wonderful place.

I did not even care that it was raining.

Berwick Street has a collection of fabric and haberdashery stores like Aladdin's caves. This is the place where theatrical costumers shop, or the fashion school students in London. It has a rich history as being a key place for the rag trade, and among other things, the first place tomatoes were sold in London. There's a site here which includes a history of Berwick Street. If it interests you.

The stores along the street also include lots of retro and vintage clothing, costumes, art supplies, a comic book store, newsagents stocking high end fashion and art magazines, music (particularly vinyl) and all sorts of cafes and restaurants. There is also a market at one end of the road. And it's just near Carnaby Street and Liberty of London, with its iconic Liberty Print Fabrics.

Inside Liberty of London.

Button Cabinet!

Liberty lawns!
 It's pretty normal for fabric in this area to be around £65 per meter. And twice that is not the least bit unusual. But you can get absolutely anything you ever imagined, and a bunch of things that never even occurred to you. Japanese fabric? No problem. Heavy duty felt? Latex? Silk velvet? What colours do you fancy? Embroidered silks? Wool jersey? It's easy to get a bit giddy.

So in the interests of staying focused, I had a list - invisible zippers in particular colours, interfacing, and fabric for one upcoming project where the offerings at my local place (where fabrics are more around the £4 a metre mark) has come up disappointingly short despite watching for the last few months. I bought this.

I also purchased this fabric - a green viscose jersey. I had managed to resist on a previous occasion. There it was again, although there was much less on the roll. And I almost walked away. Then some else looked at it. She even asked for a sample. That was it. I swooped in and bought the last 1.2m on the roll. Take that design student! There is a very real possibility that I will eventually get to the stage where everything in my closet is green. I don't care.
I can't show you how beautiful this colour is. It just doesn't work in a photo.

I looked at so many beautiful wool fabrics for coats, and didn't buy any since they aren't in my budget just now.  But I negotiated with myself that I will look into this, as soon as I finish the coat I am making for winter 2012. :)

The best part of this is that I find it completely inspiring. That it may seem like we're alone in sewing for ourselves sometimes, but out there, there are people making unique individual garments at a very high level, keeping the skills alive and well. The conversations you hear in the shops reflect that, as people discuss the pros and cons of their prospective specialisations in menswear or textile design.

Here, I can be reassured that even though the chain store offerings flood the market, and it seems like there isn't an alternative, something else exists. And it gives me something to aspire to, because some people are working at such a high couture level, there is always going to be something new to learn. And I love it.


  1. It looks like you had a great day out. There is so much more choice in London. I know what you mean about time, I have lots of ideas but just don't have the time to get done!

    1. So true. It would probably be better if I didn't cut out half of my ideas before getting distracted. :)