If you’re going to start making your own clothes, you need to get your hands on some fabric. There’s a reason seasoned sewists stash hoards of cloth in cupboards, beneath beds, stuffed in side drawers and hiding in the laundry pile. Fabric shopping is fun – way more enjoyable than buying clothes. It’s an exhilarating exercise in inspiration as you wander past bolt after bolt of silk, linen, velvet, lawn, tweed… Then there are the colours, prints, weaves. Soon, you’re busy imagining your perfect outfit. If only you can find the right fabric… Fear not! I have exhaustively shopped on your behalf. (I know, I’m selfless like that.) Here is my totally subjective round up of shops.
Belle Fabrics, Leigh on Sea
Leigh on Sea – the best kept secret in Essex, until now! I love this coastal town and so should you. You can eat fish and chips in the Old Town, trawl through the best charity shops in throwing distance of London, then hit up Belle Fabrics, an independent store that’s been in the town for generations. I always visit this place when I go to Leigh on Sea and I never leave empty handed.
Guthrie Ghani, Birmingham
This is a brand new shop, recently opened by one of the contestants on The Great British Sewing Bee, Lauren Guthrie. As the bloggers tell it, the opening day goes down in history as the most fun a person can have when parting with their money. The bricks and mortar look stunning and the fabric selection is just gorgeous. If you’re in the Black Country and looking for inspiration, you could do worse than pay Lauren a visit.
Walthamstow market, East London
No round up would be complete without an homage to my spiritual and sewing heartland – Walthamstow market. You can find a handy guide to the stalls and shops here. Visit on a Saturday, when the market is at its best. Don’t try to visit on a Sunday, as you’ll only find the ubiquitous Farmers’ Market. (Though, you know, the sausages are good!) Fabric here comes cheap, sometimes as little as £2 a metre or even less, which makes it a mecca for beginner Sewists. You won’t have to cry over a make gone wrong if the fabric costs you less than a fiver.
If you’re looking for the best fabrics shop in Scotland, you could do worse than visit Edinburgh Fabrics. I bought some beautiful navy wool here and made a wool/leather mash up skirt with it. They stock the unusual as well as the obvious – I found stretch lining fabric here, a rarity – and it’s a good old, independent store that probably doesn’t need our support but deserves it.
Some of the best fabric shops can seem unprepossessing from the outside. Mandors is up some concrete stairs, hiding behind a concrete exterior but inside is a huge shop floor of fabric wondrousness. It houses one of the largest selections I’ve come across, covering a wide range of prices. There’s something for everyone here, and probably something you didn’t even realise you needed. There’s also a Mandors in Edinburgh. They can’t get enough of this place, up Scotland way!
Stone Fabrics, Devon
It’s a long way for most of us to travel to this fabric shop, which is why it’s so great that they have a subscription-based swatch club, posting swatches of new fabric collections four times a year. Their swatch deliveries are the highlights of my sewing year, and they never fail to inspire me with their varied selections.
Goldhawk Road, West London
Okay, I’m cheating here. This isn’t just one shop, it’s a street of over twelve independent shops. For my money, this is the best place to go fabric shopping in London, especially if you have something specific in mind. There are quality fabrics here at realistic prices, as well as bargains to be found. You’ll want to turn a visit into a day trip. Don’t rely on Sunday or late evening opening hours. This is old school shopping, but with an added bonus – it’s fantastic for people watching. I’ve eavesdropped on fashion students, got chatting to couture sewing teachers and bumped into sewing friends.
Macculloch Wallis, London
More an institution than a shop, this little haven off London’s Oxford Street can seem intimidating to new sewists. Do everything you can to overcome any hesitation, because stepping into this shop is like walking into an Aladdin’s Cave. Spread over three floors, you will find every fabric, ribbon, interfacing, lace, feather or buckle you could possibly need. The shop has a friendly Facebook page, where you can see their unusual fabric finds and even more unusual customers. (Look out for the parrots, that’s all I’m saying!)
Royal Fabrics, Leamington Spa
This family-run business comes recommended by a good sewist friend. It’s the type of oft overlooked independent shop that doesn’t have a swanky website, but has a personal service that can make or break the fledgling career of a new sewist. When you’re scared and uncertain, surrounded by bolts of fabric, you need a friendly and encouraging face – and that’s what you’ll find here.
So, those are my top ten shops – but I know for certain they won’t be the only outstanding fabric shops in the UK. Don’t be shy. Let me know which fabric shop you really recommend.