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Jun 20, 2012

Sewing and the Decisive Shopper



Friends, meet MPB reader, Minnesotan Ann V.   Ann is in New York for a few days on business (top secret) and asked if I would take her to a few fabric stores in the Garment District during her one morning off yesterday.  Never one to resist the opportunity to be treated like a celebrity (well, a celebrity tour guide), I said yes.

Ann suggested we start early and, still wiping the grit out of the corners of my eyes, I showed up at 9:30 am -- luckily I'm a morning person.  Ann insisted I photograph her outside the All-Male Adult Peep Show; I don't think they have those in Minneapolis.  Oh, btw, Ann has a blog which she hasn't updated in nearly a year.  Get with the program, Ann!



Ann made her cool stretch knit top AND her fabulous capri jeans, so right away I realized this was no fly-by-night seamstress.  Over the next four hours, we hit eight fabric and notions stores and Ann bought something in every single one (well, seven of the eight, but I bought fabric in the eighth).  Ann is what I call a decisive shopper.  I even pointed this out to her and she agreed that this is precisely what she is.

Here's where we went yesterday, in case you want to recreate our itinerary.

1) Spandex House (263 West 38th St.).  Readers, I never shop in Spandex House myself but I will admit it is a fantastic fabric store.  When most people think of Spandex they think of gymnastics uniforms and figure skating outfits but Spandex House carries everything -- stretch lace, stretch sequins, stretch fur (!), stretch denim and so much more.  Lighting is intense so adjust makeup accordingly.





I'm not at liberty to share what Ann purchased, but let's just say she won't have to buy yoga pants for the next few decades.  Ka-ching!



2) Sil Thread (257 West 38th St.)

I love Sil Thread, especially since they started putting price tags on the merchandise.  There's not a lot of service here but they have an amazing assortment of notions.  They specialize in thread, in hundreds of shades.





Their zipper selection is also quite deep, and 8" metal YKK zipper are only $1.15 apiece.  Ann scooped up quite a few.  I bought a seam ripper.





3) AK Fabrics (257 West 39th St.)

There's something comfortingly old-fashioned about AK Fabrics, and frankly, I worry about them.  They offer actual service and have a very well-organized selection of fabrics.  I especially like their soft cotton flannels, which are hard to find these days.  Ann picked up some beautiful black cotton velveteen.



4) It's a Material World (257 West 39th St. -- yes, the same address as AK Fabrics)

The former H&M, It's a Material World is the fabric dive I visited weekly during my early days of sewing, when their cotton was all $2/yd.  Those days are over, but they still have an enormous selection of fabric, spotty service, and clouds of incense that will knock you over.  Breaking news!  Remember Nahir, across the street, the best or worst fabric store ever, depending on whether you were served by the moody owner?  Well, it burnt down!  And the moody owner can now be found at It's a Material World -- he even waited on us!  Ann bought this fabulous knit and I can't wait to see what she makes with it.



PS - You can still purchase this Ascher rose print polished cotton -- two years later!





5) Paron's (257 West 39th St. -- I know, same address)

Paron's is famous and rightfully so.  Gorgeous selection, not overwhelming in size like Mood, excellent service, many discounts.  Ann bought this beautiful stretch denim -- one of her shopping goals yesterday -- and some stretch cotton shirting.  Think Pink!



6) Steinlauf & Stoller (239 West 39th St.)

This is my favorite notions store, very old-school.  They have everything you need to make tailored jackets and pants (among other things).  Ann bought shoulder pads.

7) Fabrics for Less (239 West 39th St.)

These days, I love Fabrics for Less.  It's where I bought my toile de Jouy (still in stock) and I love their selection of wide-bolt linens.  I bought this fabric to make Michael a shirt.  He wants pants so that's what he'll get.  More about that tomorrow.



8)  Chic Fabrics (225 West 39th St.)

Are you exhausted yet?  Chic is another fun store with good prices and they have a beautiful selection of silks.  Look at this silk-satin-on-chiffon fabric Ann bought.  (The photo doesn't really do it justice: the flowers have the shine of charmeuse, but the blue background is sheer.  Don't ask me how they make this.)



Readers, at this point, I was tired and hungry and dragging Ann's 20-lb Spandex House bag behind me.  I needed to rest my weary pins so we grabbed a light lunch at Pret a Manger where, I've found, you can refill your small coffee at the self-serve dispenser till you've drunk as much as a large -- or two.
 
Lunching with Ann's many bags.

After lunch, Ann's bags and I found her a cab, and off she went, back to her hotel.

Readers, I hope you've enjoyed coming along with Ann and me on our fabric shopping excursion.  I am so glad I still have the stamina for these four-hour jaunts -- how many more decades can I continue on like this?

In closing, do you consider yourself a decisive shopper?  I thought I was until I met Ann.  There's something very inspiring about making up one's mind quickly -- and intimidating too -- am I right?

Have a great day, everybody!



48 comments:

  1. You are such a nice person to take Anne out like that. I am so glad you dragged us along. I think decisive people rule the world. While Anne does not seem like a power mad sewist, you just never know.

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  2. If I like it I buy it. Quite decisive I'd say. By the by, I'm still recovering from reading "stretch fur" ! x

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    1. Can't you just picture someone strolling down the street in their stretch fur leggings??!!! I would fall out if I saw them!! LOL!!!

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  3. Hi Peter,

    Your post is almost as good as being there, without the tired feet. I'll make a note of it, in case I'm every in NYC, but you accept an invitation from Cathy to join her at the couture shows in Paris and so, can't troll the fabric district with me. :-)

    Beth

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  4. I'm so decisive that I rarely buy anything. I have to love it to buy it. (I guess that comes from my days living in a teeny-tiny NY apartment. Old habits die hard.)

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  5. New career for you--fabric tour guide. Do you want fabric or cash for a tip?

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  6. Wonderful tour--thank you for the introduction to these fabric stores. Please inform the uninitiated: how is it that these several shops can have the same address--but be differnet stores? Thanks in advance.

    Carla

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    1. I'm guessing that when addresses were assigned way back when there was just one big space, or a different building. Beckenstein's, a famous store that sells mens suiting and shirting, also shares that same address.

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    2. Have you been in there? I know those pure cotton shirting fabrics can cost a fortune! I'm trying to find some 100% cotton lawn and handkerchief linen......they both cost as much as the finest silks nowadays!

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    3. I presume by cotton lawn you mean Liberty-type prints? You can often get cut lengths from resellers in the UK. Spechler-Vogel in NYC do Irish linen in a handkerchief weight as do Ulster Linen http://www.ulsterlinen.com/

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  7. So does this Nahir character OWN Material World or does he just work there? Was he just as surly? I wish you had taken his picture!

    For a big fabric shopping trip like that one, I'd have to make list and be serious. Or save up A LOT of money so I could just spend spend spend.

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    1. He might have tried to snatch the camera from their hands! I would like to see what the surly ole' booger looks like!! Lol!!

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  8. What a fun day you had! I do know that weary garment-district-with-40-pounds-of-fabric feeling, though. I may have to entice you to take me to Spandex House on one of my visits to NYC. I'm not doing it right. I never find anything there, despite it being so huge!

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  9. I'm making a list
    And checking it twice
    So I can hit all those stores in september

    Thx
    Daisy

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  10. Peter,

    Ann-envy is giving me an all-over rash!

    Stretch fur...oh, the possibilities!

    I just KNEW you were a flannel man.

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  11. Folks, if you are ever in NYC you must pester Peter to be your garment district celeberty tour guide/giant shopping back carrier. He's absolutely the best!

    This is my first time in NYC, and I'd never seen so much fabric in one place in my life. This recap is very helpful for me, as my trip was kind of a blur. After every store Peter asked, "Would you like to go in another store?" and I said "Yes!" until he finally reminded me that I should probably eat some lunch.

    Also, I promise I will dust off my poor blog when I get home!

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  12. thanks for this I actually went to NY to find fabric and being a country girl never got where I wanted to go. I will have to try this in the fall

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  13. That's so great that you took Anne shopping. I hope she blogs some the clothes she makes with the fabric she bought!

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  14. I was JUST at Material World. I bet it was the infamous Nahir who waited on me too. He actually offered a slightly better price on some GORGEOUS printed swiss cotton voile and wasn't at all surly with me. Anyway, my favorites stores are Material world (H&M) and Chic. They have the best selection and prices.

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  15. yay spandex house!

    you're reminding me that i haven't been anywhere but Mood in ages. I need to go get out & see the new Parons soon. :)

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  16. I heard some of these NYC fabric stores have material you cannot get anyplace else. And I heard many do not mail order or sell over the internet (you gotta go to the store to get it). It probably takes weeks for a out-of-towner to survey all the stores. That photo of Ann besides rolls of fabric reminds me of a fabric store in San Jose, CA. They have a lot of material, somewhat disorganized, not many speak English (they are all Vietnamese but are helpful, you point to what you want, write a number for #yards), but spend enough time you may find a bolt of material you probably didn't think it existed.

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    Replies
    1. Anon,
      Please do tell me more about this fabric warehouse in SJ! I'd love to visit it.
      Many thanks!
      Ellen

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  17. Nice haul! I agree with Marsha: you should start the Male Pattern Boldness Tour Co.

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  18. I am having "cotton sateen with red roses all over it" lust!!!!! HOW did that bolt stay in the shop so long? Cathy looks fab in it, bien sur.
    What a fun day. My feet hurt and my ankles swell just thinking about it, but in a good, worth it sort of way!

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  19. We have sex peep shows in Minneapolis! Wow that is a lot of fabric stores to go to and so many of them are in the same buildings!

    I am exhausted reading about it!

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  20. Peter, what's your opinion of B & J Fabrics? I will be in NYC over the Fourth and thought I would try to hit this one on Tuesday or Thursday. I don't think I have time for more than one. I want to make it to Tender Buttons as well, even though it must be SO East side.

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    1. B & J is a wonderful store, but it's on the pricey, high-end side. I've only been there once or twice, but I know many people love it. Definitely worth a visit!

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    2. I have a lust for the silk charmeuse that was featured in the Feb/Mar '12 Vogue Patterns mag. Not the one with the butterflies, the one with the flowers. My stash still contains some Abraham and Leonard charmeuse from the '90s, so I don't NEED more, but I want this one.

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  21. Ok, Peter, what do I have to do to persuade you to add Mood to your Garment District shopping tours? Sob, I'm trying not to take it personally! Come visit!

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  22. Just got my new Vogue Patterns magazine!!! Oh my word. They love you. We love you.

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  23. What a fabulous tour. It would be good to have a mental list of 'wants' before tackling a district with that much choice ..even if other things creep onto the list. Maybe you should post regular Tour Dates and we could all pay you in fabric ..mohoohaha

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  24. Yay you met my friend Ann! You are so fabulous to take her around and show her all the wonderful fabric stores. I can't wait to see her stash in person! Did she tell you about SR Harris in Minneapolis?

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  25. Lurking reader with a question... I am not a decisive shopper, and am mostly used to my suburban Jo-Ann Fabrics stores-- is there a trick to successful browsing and buying in the obviously far superior NYC fabric stores? I find them quite intimidating and hate to waste the employees' time with my incessant waffling.

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    1. This was my strategy:

      1. I had a list in the back of my mind of things that tend to be hard for me to find, and what I would pay for them. There were some things I would have bought shopping at home or online, but I knew I had limited space in my suitcase.

      2. I trusted my judgement. If it felt like a nice fabric and one that I'd like to sew with and wear, that was good enough for me. I don't need to know the exact fiber content or where it's from to make a decision.

      3. I don't need to get the *best* fabric conceivable. With such a huge selection, it's easy to get caught up thinking that if you keep looking, maybe you'll find even better denim or velour or whatever your shopping for, but if I found something that fits my needs and seemed nice, than I just went with that and moved on. I knew I had to maximize my time.

      Hope that helps a little bit!

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    2. Thanks! That might help quite a bit!

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  26. I tend to check our retailer's demanour while I'm in the store so Nahir would have been an easy 'character' to identify from your description.
    I shop fast because I normally have a 15 to 30 minute window to shop while DH is loitering somewhere else.
    Glad you have a great time as well.

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  27. How fun! I sit in Southern California and am jealous.

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  28. I really wish I could have joined you! Very interesting and entertaining post.

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  29. I am soooo jealous. AND I'm planning a trip to NY just to see you, Peter!

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  30. I am very much not a decisive shopper, although the more affordable something is, the more decisive I become.

    This post, however, was very useful, as I will at some point soon need some fabric, and rather than just wandering around stores, I now have some guidance about where to start. Thank you!

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  31. Oh, Peter, you are such a nice guy, really! I haven't been to NYC since 14 years and I miss it so much... If I go there I will be tempted to contact you, but I am afraid I am not at all a decisive shopper! :)

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  32. Oh lucky Ann and what a beautiful picture of you two together. You are so lucky to be close to a garment district.

    I have to leave my No. California home to travel to the closest garment district: L.A. There's nothing like a garment district fix at Michael Levine's Loft. It used to be $1/lbs. for fabric. They have now raised their prices to $2.50 a pound. Still a screamin' deal though.

    Thanks for the tour. Really enjoyed it.

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  33. I just found your blog and started following via google reader. And, I was just in NYC trolling the garment district for the first time this weekend. I wish I had seen your post before I went. I'm only 3 hours away, so I'll definitely be back. My post is here: http://www.zaaberry.blogspot.com/2012/06/fabric-shopping-new-york-city-style.html

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  34. That sounds wonderful!
    Happy to see a fellow Minnesotan on your blog (and yes, we do have a few all-male peep shows in the Twin Cities - and quite a few burlesque shows as well!).
    My dad moved to New York about a year ago, and I've had a couple occasions to visit. I'm adding "fabric shopping" to my list for the next time I'm there, though - now that I know where to go!
    Thanks, Peter!

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