Shams Unleashed in the Garment District
For many sewers who visit NYC, fabric shopping is the main event, amiright?
If you have never been to the garment district in NY before, you may have heard that "it's much smaller than it used to be." Yes, this is true. Most designers and RTW operations now send their clothes offshore to be manufactured, so the garment district has shrunk.
But it's still mind bogglingly big!
If you think you can see it all in half a day, or even a full day, you are wrong. If that's all the time you have, you need to be selective. One thing you might consider is asking an expert. Mimi of Shop the Garment District sells maps, which she keeps current (because things keep changing). You can buy one of her pre-made maps or you can have one customized. For example, "I want to make athletic wear, a Chanel suit, and a leather corset and I have one day." Or "I make flannel shirts, am desperate to find good sweater knits, and I only have a half day." Or, "I'm making my daughter's wedding gown, where is the best (or most economical or most extravagant) lace?"
Give Mimi a challenge! I bet she'd love it. ;)
Also, don't assume that you can just walk through the garment district and see everything. You will see some of it, but much of it is not at street level, or even identified at street level. Often, you must enter a glitzy lobby, or sometimes a decrepit lobby, identified only by an address, and ascend in an elevator. (I never saw a business that was below ground. Does it exist?)
The elevator opens up and, voila, maybe you are facing a store front (Mood, B&J), or maybe you have to navigate a hallway to find the business (Kashi, Elliot Berman). Collect the addresses of the stores you want to visit beforehand, and make sure that the address includes the floor number, or you might be hopelessly confused!
The last time I was in the garment district was in the early 1990s and it has changed since then, though it has the same vibe. One of my favorite stores back then is gone now. I can't even remember the name, though I asked some locals. Carolyn remembers the store, and even the location (which I've already forgotten), but not the name. It was a large store and they had a mezzanine level the full width of the store, but set back a bit. Does anyone remember the name? I loved that store.
There are too many fabric and trim stores to list them all, so I'm going to list my favorites. And, yes, you can get into some serious trouble here. Luckily, most stores, at least most of the larger ones, are happy to ship your purchases home for you—even purchases you made at another store. I had four boxes of fabric shipped home.
I know, I know, but they weren't large boxes! I also shipped home a book from the Met, and some newly pleated fabric from International Pleating. So, yeah, that's six packages total. My suitcase was 38 lbs when I flew to NYC and 52 when I flew home so, yeah, it was a good trip, acquisition-wise.
By the way, I've already started sewing up two of the new fabrics, and you'll be seeing them soon.
Which was my favorite store? That's hard to say. I mean, how do you measure "favorite"? If you measure it by "spent the most money", it would have to be B&J Fabrics, hands down, followed closely by Elliot Berman. If you measure it by yardage purchased, it would have to be B&J, followed by Elliot Berman. If you measure it by "just-leave-me-alone-to-run-naked-through-the-stacks" and "wish-I'd-come-here-first" it would have to be Elliot Berman. I also found some treasures at Metro Textiles, but not as much as you might think, given Kashi's infamous persuasive techniques.
And then there are the trim stores. Omigosh, the trim stores. I went in to maybe ten trim stores. You can pretty much find anything here. I enjoyed most but only one had my heart pounding and left me with an overwhelmed-but-happy afterglow: Botani.
More about specific stores below.
I have only shopped off the the B&J website once or twice—I find it to be a little overwhelming. I don't think I looked at their site at all until I noticed Margy shopping there. B&J is open at 8am on weekdays, which is fabulous! To be able to stop by on the way to work is wonderful, and I was there, three times, at 8am. They are located on the second floor of their building, and the elevator opens to the store front.
Some of my friends who live in NY don't often shop at B&J. It's more expensive than other stores, but I felt right at home here. They have fabrics from $13 a yard to $710 a yard. The first time I visited, at 8am on Tuesday, there were some designer's assistants shopping fabrics for samples, zipping around the aisles with intense focus.
On my first visit, I focused on fabrics for my teal-black-cobalt Paris wardrobe. I found three pieces—these went into box #1. (I've almost finished sewing the first of these fabrics and have started the second.) You can order samples from B&J's website but, when you shop in person, they will give you up to 15 samples. I took advantage and came home with several samples.
I went back to B&J on Wednesday morning. Box #2.
I raved so much about B&J, that Robin decided to visit on her last morning. I joined her. She had already splurged on a beautiful fabric souvenir at Mendel Goldberg and wasn't planning to buy any other fabrics, when she spied their linens.
Some of the stores with ample floor space and more of a retail-space vibe, such as B&J and Mood, have developed the fine art of draped fabrics displays. I've also seen this art in San Francisco's Britex Fabrics. They take a length of fabric, drape it on a dress form and, using only straight pins, manipulate it to look like a fabulous gown. They often add trims, also pinned to the mannequin. I took several photos of these displays—they boggle my brain.
*Don't refer to B&J Fabrics as "BJ" or even "BJ Fabrics". Just don't. In common parlance, "BJ" refers to a particular sexual act. People will snicker. "B and J" is sort of a mouthful (don't go there)—they could use a new nickname, like "Banj" (soft j) or "B's".
Of course I'd heard of Elliot Berman but, based on their website, I had no idea of the delights within. They do not have a retail space, the way B&J does. You shop in their warehouse, wandering amongst their fabric stacks. Once Carolyn and I entered, announcing ourselves to the folks working at the desks (let them know when you enter, so as not to surprise them), the owner (I can't remember his name) walked us through the stacks, showing me what was where, as Carolyn has been here many times. There are no prices on the massive bolts—you have to ask. This is a wholesale business that is willing to sell to home sewers, so they have to calculate the retail price. (Please, when you visit, don't do anything that might convince them that home sewers are too much trouble to host in person.)
And, OMG, the stacks, THE STACKS of fabric. OMG. Unlike most jobbers, this place is big. So.big. The scrumptious wools... The beautiful knits... even viscose knits... OMG.
I should have come here first, when I had the most disposable income, but no matter. I found a few gorgeous pieces that were shipped home (box #3).
I didn't take many photos here. I was too busy trying not to drool on the fabrics, stroking the fabrics, and laughing maniacally, but Carolyn did take a couple pics. They carry those oval-shaped wool panels, in many designs, with the holes for the arms. You cut out the armholes, and around the outer edge, put it on, and go. I knew that this style is not flattering on me, but the wife of the owner (sorry, I've blanked on her name) wanted me to try one on, so I did. Carolyn took a few pics and, yes, not a great look. (The back view is better than the front view...)
Despite this, I bought one of these panels. Why? Because it was red and black (I'm clutching it in the pic at the top and bottom of this post) and, because it had some minor damage, they sold it to me for $25. I need to refashion it somehow, because I love that fabric!
Kashi's reputation in the garment district is such that most people don't say, "I'm going to Metro Textiles", they say "I'm going to Kashi's". This is one of those shops hidden from the ground level—you ascend an elevator, exit, turn right, and Metro Textiles is at the end of the hallway.
It's a small, but packed, shop and the fabrics are organized by type. If you tell Kashi what you like, what you are looking for, he will direct you to various corners and start pulling bolts that you might find interesting. He's a jobber, meaning his prices are good and his inventory is at the whim of what manufacturers are selling off. I love jobbers for several reasons. One, their prices tend to be lower. Two, you get fabrics that are really used in ready-to-wear, and three, it's the thrill of the hunt. They aren't so good if you have a very specific fabric (or type of fabric) in mind—you may be disappointed. But if you enter with an open mind, and some general ideas, you will often be delightfully surprised.
On my visit to Kashi's, I found 4 or 5 pieces that came home with me. It wasn't a mind-blowing experience, but the prices were very good. Probably my favorite piece is a gorgeous silk that I plan to use as lining. At $12 a yard, it was the priciest fabric I purchased from him. I also purchased some polyester chiffon for $3 a yard. As Kashi measures your fabric, he encourages you to buy MORE yardage. First, he suggests how much you might buy, "Five yards?" When you tell him how much you want, "Is that all?!" is a common response, followed by, "What else do you like?" I enjoyed his good-natured banter. He was happy to ship my fabrics home and he'll even include fabrics that you've purchased elsewhere (box #4).
Carolyn, who is a frequent visitor to Kashi's, took these pictures while I was shopping there. Thanks, Carolyn!
"Is that all?"
And thanks, Carolyn, for these pics!
Thanks for taking those photos!
Photo credit: Carol of MakeItAnyWear
Mood Fabrics is unique because it's pretty much the only fabric store I can think of that's become a tourist destination. Well... maybe Britex in San Francisco is almost as well known, but Project Runway put Mood Fabrics on the map even with people who don't sew.
When you exit the elevator into Mood's store front, you first have to check your bags with security. I visited twice while in NY and it was pretty much a zoo both times. Swatch, a celebrity in his own right, seems to mostly hang out on the main floor, near the entrance. Like most any celebrity, he's unimpressed by crowds or photographers.
Not counting the separate store front at street level which houses Mood's Home Dec fabrics, Mood consists of 3 floors of fabric. I crawled all three, with particular focus on denim, knits, and brocade.
I really like the Mood website. It's easy to search, and I often find must-have fabrics there. But, despite two in-person visits, and the second visit was a long one, I found very little that I wanted to bring home. I found one piece of a heavy rayon, and it is gorgeous, but that's it.
I also bought a tee shirt: "Thank you, Mood!"
Photo credit: Peter Lappin
Photo credit: Peter Lappin
Photo credit: Mary Glenn
Have you heard of Botani?
Margy brought their website to my attention two or three months ago when she ordered some giant snaps from their site. I added them to the list of shops I wanted to check out but I would have found them anyway. They have a very prominent store front on West 36th Street. I passed by their shop many times during my stay.
I was drawn to their store like a moth to a flame.
What first caught my eye when entering (once I got past all those buttons) was their zippers. They carry two brands of zippers: Lampo, made in Italy, and their own name brand, made in Korea. Both brands are high quality. What really excited me was their aisles of zipper sliders. I frequently order custom zippers from ZipperStop. ZipperStop carries YKK Zippers which are a great brand but, frankly, I'm getting a bit bored with their limited selection of sliders.
I want more variety!
Botani has a huge variety.
They are happy to customize a zipper by cutting it to length and adding your chosen pull. I ordered four custom zippers while I was there. I also confirmed that they are happy to take custom orders by phone or email, if you know what you want. I've already ordered a custom zipper since returning home.
Unfortunately, their website shows only a limited selection of their slides. Because I had photos of their slides, I emailed them a picture of the slider I wanted, with the pull circled, like so:
Botani doesn't just carry zippers and buttons, oh no. As I was waiting for my custom zippers, I noticed another doorway. I entered their second room, full of hardware! Buckles, studs, snaps, and rivets, oh my!
While trolling this room I noticed another open doorway leading to a fabric room! This store is much larger than it appears from the front entrance.
The only downsides to Botani are a) their website shows only a tiny fraction of what they carry and b) they are more expensive than ZipperStop. For comparison, the custom zipper I ordered on my return (38", 2-way separating, size 5, black tape, charcoal teeth, custom slider) was $41, including a $10 shipping fee. Last June, I ordered a similar zipper (38", 2-way separating, size 5, black tape, silver teeth, Foxtail slider) from ZipperStop and it came to $26, including $9 shipping. But, if you want a special zipper, this place has many options. The other hitch is that my custom order got "lost" in their system. Almost two weeks later I was still waiting for my zipper. I phoned, they looked it up, and it hadn't been shipped. Oops. I guess this happens when one goes rogue with the ordering system and doesn't follow the usual process. Next time: get a tracking number right away. (It's now en route to my sewing room.)
Here are just a few of the other stores I visited in the garment district.
A small store, stuffed with treasures. I found this silk chiffon burnout. (I saw a lot of silk chiffon burnout in NYC—it must be a trend.)
SIL Thread is a notions store. Do you need French curves, rulers, tape measures, flexible rulers... you can get those here.
SIL Thread warrants special mention because they have an entire aisle of Hug Snug seam binding, favored by many sewists.
They also have an impressive selection of off-the-shelf zippers. (They don't offer a customizing service.) They have aisles of zippers.
And, yes, they have loads of thread.
I'll stop here, though I also visited M&J Trimmings, Daytona Trimmings, Pacific Trimmings, as well as many other fabric stores—too many to list or even remember!
Oh, wait, there is one fabric store I should mention: Spandex House. This is THE place for all things spandex. I bought two very cute swimsuit fabrics here.
There were also stores I didn't have time to visit, but I'll be back... :)
And this is my last post on my trip to NYC. Phew! If you've missed my earlier posts, you can find them here:
- New York City, Part 1: McCalls Tour, High Line, Chelsea Market
- New York City, Part 2: The Museums
- New York City, Part 3: International Pleating and Blogger Meet Ups
- New York City, Part 4: Fabric and Trim Shopping (this post)