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Mar 30, 2010

The plight of the vicarious shopper

As I mentioned yesterday, I spent Sunday afternoon with my Queens-dwelling doppelganger, the notorious Johanna.  Johanna will spend hours digging in the most claustrophobic, packed-to-the-gills fabric stores, and come out buying...bias tape.  I'm not kidding.  I think she is, like me, primarily a vicarious shopper (and much less blurry in real life, btw).

It's not that Johanna particularly likes purchasing nothing -- I mean, hello, this woman owns nine vintage sewing machines -- but rather, she prefers to make her purchases alone.  Still, she enjoys the social aspects of the group-shop -- it's fun.  Of course, this is conjecture on my part.  Hopefully Johanna will check in today and speak for herself.

The only problem is that if you put two vicarious shoppers together with nobody buying much of anything, it can put a real damper on the local economy (and it certainly doesn't endear you to shop owners).  Plus you can't make smug judgments like, " She's buying another three yards of polyester knit?"  That's when you need to call the Bloggettes.  They buy everything.

On Sunday, Johanna introduced me to some of Lower Manhattan's most renown, if somewhat frozen-in-time, fabric stores:  Belraf on Orchard Street, P&S Fabrics on Lower Broadway, and Fabric Warehouse (right next door), the latter two on the edge of Chinatown, just south of Canal Street.  Pretty snazzy, huh?

I admired the sequined trim, but I don't need any right now.

I found this box of patterns for $1 each, but there was nothing that struck my fancy.

I almost bought a soft, corduroy-like animal print with a short nap, but I wasn't going to pay $8 a yard for it.

So three hours later, here's what I actually DID buy:


How's that for a scintillating shopping adventure?  I'm sorry, readers; I feel I've let you down somehow.

Oh, btw, if anyone is in the market for a Senger sewing machine, just let me know:

In closing, I ask you, my friends:  Are you a vicarious shopper?  Do you enjoy watching others shop more than (or as much as) shopping yourself?  If so, when do you shop for yourself (if at all)?

Do you find others resenting you for your apparent self-discipline?  Do you refuse to shop publicly but rather prefer the stealth private purchase -- your dirty little secret, like keeping chocolates stashed in your bedside table drawer?

Confess and be healed!  We know you're getting your fabric somewhere.


  1. No fabric? How did you manage to walk out of a fabric shop having done that? Impressed. If I see fabric I love there's no stopping me, no matter who is watching...
    Btw, I just "got" your blog title, as we've just started getting this ad in Australia recently. Very clever!! I love it!

  2. Be happy you have the ability to rummage through actual fabric shops and not craft stores or apolstery fabric. When I lived in NJ, there were stores like that that I could just get lost in for hours. Here in Atlanta the best I have to look forward to is Hancocks.

  3. I can relate . . . I spent three days last week with my sewing girlfriends at a big quilting event in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We went to one quilt fabric store out in the countryside, where EVERYONE was heading for the cutting tables with armfuls of bolts of fabrics. Me? I bought a pack of hand sewing needles. People were giving me very strange looks!!!

  4. I am definitely a vicarious shopper when it comes to RTW - I can spend an entire day outlet mall shopping and come home with a pair of socks, while my friends get an entire new wardrobe. But, I also can rarely fit into any RTW, and since I started sewing my usual reaction is to look at the price tag, look at the quality, and scoff "I can make this for less than $20".

    When it comes to fabric, it really depends. I don't have sewing buddies from the internet who I get to meet IRL because I live in the middle of nowhere, so I usually shop alone. Occasionally I will make a pilgrimage to one of the more exotic fabric stores that is not within 10miles from my house and I will go in prepared to spend a lot and snatch up yards and yards of fabric, and I usually end up leaving with either nothing or some random remnant/clearance item. Last weekend I drove 2+ hours to Osgoods Textiles in West Springfield, MA with a friend to get fabric for her wedding dress, which I offered to make (yeah, I know. but she's on a tight budget and her tastes are for a more casual gown that is not currently available in the bridal shops). Osgoods is HUGE and it is literally in a warehouse the size of an airplane hanger. I went in prepared to find fabric for my wedding dress as well as other goodies. I left with silk and lace for her dress, some cheap polyester and lace from the remnant bin for the second draft muslin of her dress, and some cheap polyester satin for the muslin of my dress...and that was it. Nothing fun, nothing that was an was all, in a sense, utility fabric. I had to get fabric for her wedding dress, I needed something for a muslin, and I needed something for my muslin. I couldn't even decide on a good fabric for my own wedding dress. They had 3yd remnants of beautiful wool suiting for $15, but I left them behind.
    So I guess I am more of a vicarious shopper...but then, I have always been cheap.

  5. I like shopping alone. I usually save up enough money to have a crazy shopping spree where I pick up anything and know I'm going to have enough for it and by the end of the day I will have spent it all! I don't like going out with friends because the ones I have readily available to go shopping with make me feel bad for having money to spend (even though it took me forever to save it all up). They make comments that I can take as little jokes but they never really feel that way. They start getting bored and just want to leave to another store when I'm not even half way through browsing the merch. I usually just go shopping with people when I only have a small amount to spend. I usually have to lie and say I'm broke so I'm not spending anything and then end up making a fake splurge purchase but at least that way they let me look at everything with out comments.

  6. I prefer shopping alone, as none of my friends know anything about fabric or sewing and I get annoyed hearing them say "Oh! That's beautiful fabric!" or "Oh! That would look great on you!" when my stunned brain stops to ponder over how some buyer/manufacturer thought shocking pink animal print lamé was a good idea.
    Also, I tend to go back several times to look at the same thing, as I try to figure out if I own anything that will go with shocking pink animal print lamé. Eventually my friends become bored and start talking about getting lunch or they become fascinated by something in a window across the street and wander off.

    P.S. I just found your blog and now I have to forgo my plans for the day in order to read all your posts. I'm sure my boss will understand. : )

  7. I, unfortunately, am not a vicarious shopper. Between me and my fabric-shopping friend, I am usually the purchaser and she is not (her role is the enabler). I have a hard time saying no to something beautiful in a fabric store. But, that being said, I am trying to get better than just buying fabric for the sake of buying fabric. My stash is getting larger, so now I am only allowed (self-induced rule) to purchase fabric for a project that I currently working on. If I see something else that doesn't fit the project, I walk away. I do glance back longingly though, and think about what could have been ;)

    See, Peter, watching you walk away from all that amazing fabric has encouraged those with much less discipline to try to retain some composure when faced with mountains of fabric that we want! The other perk: my wallet is much happier.

  8. omg, I'm the same way!!!!! altho, to see my fabric stash you sure wouldn't know it!

  9. I would give my pinky toe for the "Senger" machine. For real. I would!

  10. I've got a great reputation as a shopping buddy, and I LOVE vicarious shopping. I'm good at keeping my own opinions turned low and focusing on asking the questions that help my friends decide. Peter, I bet you're the same given your coaching profession! And, I have to admit that shopping with my well-heeled MIL is a lot of fun since she can afford the good stuff. She once said it makes her feel guilty to spend in front of others, but I say "by all means- I love to help!" since she's worked hard and earned it and otherwise I'd never get to play with this stuff. I've never tried shopping for fabric with anyone since I don't have sewing buddies in real life. Next time you organize a get-together, I'll be there to try!

  11. When it comes to fabric, I do prefer to shop solo. I do buy things when others are with me, but I am more self-conscious about what I select and the quantity. I actually buy most of my fabric online anyway.

  12. I prefer to shop alone because otherwise I end up trying to outshop the other person. And then I just end up feeling awful, with little money and a pile of crap.

  13. I tend to be a fast and speedy shopper because my mom is always along and she hates shopping. Since all we have in my area are chain stores, I spend time looking at their websites and picking my fabric before I go to the store. And then, I wait until I either have a coupon for at least 40% off before I go and buy it. And I'm always going back to look before I buy. (I have to know that I reeeaaaaaly need it!) When you have someone behind you telling you to hurry up because they don't want to be there....

  14. Well I just got back from shopping alone and it was fantastic! Well the end result was Fantastic! I ran for the nearest Hancocks and pulled what Vogue patterns they had in my size and almost bought a bunch I didn't want but were in my size. Mentally slapped myself. Purchased the ones I came for and rushed home to the internets so I could buy the rest I had picked out ahead of time. I'm on cloud 15 on my way up to 20. I can't wait till they all come in the mail! Would have preferred getting them from the store though...

  15. Hm...all very interesting answers! As for me, I think it depends on what I'm shopping for...When it comes to RTW, for example, I generally prefer to shop alone, as I can be indecisive and don't want to be rushed (nor would I want to torture any unwitting shopping companions).

    On the other hand, I could happily crawl through flea markets, secondhand bookshops, art supply stores, yarn & fabric shops, etc. for hours (alone or with another tolerant party) without purchasing much, so I guess you could say I'm a vicarious shopper that way. I suppose it's more about visual stimulation/inspiration, getting ideas, plus I love knowing where to find things (should I ever need, for example, 30 yards of hot pink wool tweed...ahem). So maybe it's just the thrill of the hunt (Or maybe more like catch-and-release?).

    As for vintage sewing machines, the thrill of the hunt seems to mostly end in some kind of purchase these days =D So the answer is probably to stop looking. But what fun is that?

  16. Ah you see, those of you who live in NYC know you can go back to the store another day and find what you need. Those of us who don't have a steady resource nearby tend to shop in a panic because we don't know when we'll next find the goods.

  17. I prefer to shop alone - at my own pace without having to worry if someone else is getting bored or impatient. This is especially true of fabric shopping because none of my friends sew or know anything about fabric.

  18. First of all, let me tell you that I absolutely love your blog and your sense of humor! Also, you are such a talented man! I'm envious of your creations, since most of what I've made in the past usually has one or several flaws and I've even either thrown away quite a few things or been afraid to be seen in public wearing them. LOL

    Anyway... I usually buy alone, when I do buy, that is. I haven't got any sewing friends to go shopping with, which is sad. I bet I would get more done if I had some friends to sew and shop with. I also shop online, but always look for the bargains. The bad thing about shopping online is that you always have to pay shipping and handling and if you think about it, that's almost what you'll pay for one or two more yards of some fabric right there.

    In the past (when I had more money) I bought a few fabrics that are still neatly folded in a plastic box at home. I am now getting them out and making them into something nice... that I will hopefully dare to wear this time around. :-)

  19. My guilty secret is buying from a certain big-box store that will not be named. There is only one indie store near me that I frequent on occasion. I've been also buying from indie shops online that have great service so if you need a couple of suggestions, drop me a line.

    And I don't see how you made it out of the store without fabric. I NEVER have that kind of willpower!

  20. Is that a bunny monitor cover? Pardon my language but WTF???

  21. I am a voracious shopper when it comes to fabric and yarn. I don't care who's around or what they're doing I'm shopping! I don't always come away with a lot because I'm more discriminating than I used to be but I'm way too busy to be social so usually I end up shopping alone.
    I wish I had read this post before. I was in NY a couple of days ago and I could have used the input on fabric stores. I did end up at truemart (?) where I found some amazing ultra-suede and the perfect color of red canvas twill.

  22. I was a secret fabric shopper but then started shopping with a friend. However, now I will return to only buying fabric alone since I was called a fabric whore on our last outing.

  23. I'm so jealous that you get to hang out with Johanna! I adored meeting her at the NYC PR meetup. I will have to come down to the city sometime soon to tag along on one of your excursions.

    I'm actually a solo shopper. I know what I like, and I like to poke around on my own looking for things, especially if I plan to pop in and out of stores, go back to stores, etc. I almost went wedding dress shopping on my own, isn't that crazy?!

  24. Vicarious shopper??? Moi??? Surely you jest! I like to shop alone because I am an all business, let's get the job done sort of shopper. Not much of a browser, although I have radar out of the corner of my eye as I march toward the target. I usually go in with a list but allow myself side trips down the aisles if my radar like side glances latch onto something new and interesting.

  25. When it comes to most shopping, I prefer a solo adventure. I like the social aspects of going out with a good girlfriend or two, but for serious shopping, I prefer to be on my own. I can go at my own pace, whether that is darting in and out or spending an inordinate amount of time in just one shop.

    I'm still sad neither of you made a single fabric purchase. :(

  26. Replies
    1. That's Jem Fabric Warehouse at 355 Broadway (a few blocks south of Canal St.).


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