Thursday, August 18, 2016

New York City, Part 4: Fabric and Trim Shopping


OR...

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.

Ahem.

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.


B&J Fabrics*

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.

A chiffon hand embroidered with feathers and beads for $710 a yard. This pic doesn't do it justice.

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.

Lovely Lorena cutting one of my fabrics

This brocade went into box #1

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.

A bemused Robin, "not buying any more fabric." LOL

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.

Playing with Robin in B&J

*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".


Elliot Berman

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.

A wool that Carolyn had her eye on

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...)

If you peek past me, you can see just one of their many aisles of fabric

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!


Metro Textiles

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!

Kashi measuring my teal silk, destined to become a delicious lining

Yes, that's right. Three yards is good.
"Is that all?"

And some of this, too, please!

There we go!

Some of my haul: teal silk, woven grey wool (with holes), polyester chiffon

Thanks, Kashi!
And thanks, Carolyn, for these pics!

Relaxing with Carolyn afterwards, enjoying some cold drinks
Thanks for taking those photos!
Photo credit: Carol of MakeItAnyWear


Mood Fabrics

Yes, that's Mood up on the 2nd floor

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.

On my first visit... it was a hot day, poor doggie

Later that same day, Tim Gunn posted this pic to his Instagram feed. I guess I just missed him! (And I agree with Swatch's apparent assessment of this fabric...)

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.

Alpaca aisle on the top floor.

Buttons on the main level

I believe the silks were on the main floor, but I might be misremembering

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!"

On my second visit to Mood, I ran into Peter Lappin, who was choosing fabric for his next Mood post. We had a nice chat.
Photo credit: Peter Lappin

With Mary Glenn
Photo credit: Peter Lappin

Mood also has some draped fabric art on display

On my second visit, I managed to catch Swatch in a more energetic moment.

Who's a good boy?!
Photo credit: Mary Glenn


Botani

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.

Just a few of their zipper pulls

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!

Their hardware room
SWOON

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.)


The Rest

Here are just a few of the other stores I visited in the garment district.

Paron Fabrics

Paron used to have a larger store than their current location, but they carry very nice fabrics!

I found this beautiful piece of chiffon

Chic Fabrics

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

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:

82 comments:

  1. I love all the detail you provided. I have already sewn one of my linens into a tunic and I am halfway through a black & white print linen (making into a jean jacket). I am SO GLAD I met up with you at B&J because I needed that linen in my stash!

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    1. Good for you, Robin! Once I get my zipper I can finish project 1. And I'm halfway through project 2, but I am short on sewing time! :D It was so much fun to hang with you in NYC!

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  2. Basement level fabric stores existed in the 70's, just off major subway hubs. They were fabric only, and all the fabric was on hangers. I would have loved a map of the everchanging fabric district when I lived there.

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    1. Wow, that would have been fascinating!

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    2. Yes, there was one by Macy's on 34th street that I shopped at in the early 80s. They sold pre-cut yardage pieces and I think I still have 1 or 2 pieces still in the collection. That was back in the days that I needed 3/4 yard to make a skirt so I would buy a few pieces and make a few skirts on the weekend! New clothes to wear to work the following week!

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    3. I'm still hoping that someone will remember the name of that other store!

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  3. It is all I can do to not get in the car (or on the bus) and head to NYC today! B and J definitely looks like the best. I've always found it very difficult to browse at Mood. It is OK if you are looking for something very specific. Thanks for a great series of posts.

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    1. Do it! Do it! Do it! It's such a fun place to be! I love San Francisco and I think the only other city I'd consider living in would be NYC. And thanks!

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    2. No, no head to Elliot Berman first! Remember what she said about disposable income. I love Elliot Berman's!

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    3. Well, of COURSE! But get thee to NYC. ;)

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  4. I went to Kashi's later the same day. I picked out 4 pieces and two were also in your box! The b/w cotton jacquard and the grey open weave wool.

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  5. Thank you for that tour! I loved hearing about EVERYTHING and looking at all the beautiful fabric. Those draped "dresses" are gorgeous! I must get to the NY Garment district one of these days. A must for the bucket list! (and before I get too old to sew!)

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    1. Thanks, Linda! And, yes, you really should make the effort to visit. It's pretty exhilarating!

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  6. Great roundup! I went to Botani for the first time last week and couldn't believe the options ... all those zipper pulls. (I ordered three custom zippers.) I loved the super-huge ones, too!

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    1. :D :D :D So glad you felt the same way I did!!!

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    2. It's so funny -- I was also eyeing the same fabric at Paron's!

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    3. Interesting! It was the only one that called to me on this visit.

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  7. Wonderful report and seeing you in the fabric stores brought back some great memories!

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    1. Thanks, Peggy! Can you believe that our road trip is already 6 years ago?!?!

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  8. Wonderful post. Really enjoyed reading it. Now to look at flights......

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  9. What a fab post! Just like being there. On my one visit to NYC I had the addresses of shops I wanted to visit, but I didn't realise that many were hard to find. It took allmy courage to ring the bell at Elliot Berman but I was so pleased I did. The owners were very helpful too.
    Next time I'm going to buy the map and take your posts with me. I loove that red and black fabric (in the first photo I was wondering, did she buy a cushion?) so will be excited to see what you create. You did a good job of optimizing your non-work time!

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    1. Thanks, Lyndle! And good for you to ring that bell!!! Yes, I squeezed a LOT into three days!

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  10. B&J is also my favorite fabric store. What many people don't realize is that the fabric samples on hangers are stored upstairs. You show the fabric to the clerk, and they go upstairs to cut it. The shipping option is the only way to go as lugging fabric around the District is back-breaking. My packages are usually at my front door before I get out of bed the next morning.

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    1. That's exactly right, Paula! I found some real treasures among those hangar samples!!!

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  11. Oh my, what fun you must have had. I'm so glad to have trekked along with you, albeit vicariously! I NEED that exact oval wool panel with the arms cut out that you are wearing at Elliot Berman, but I can't find it on their website nor from a Google search anywhere. I don't really know what to call it when looking. Thanks for this post!!

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    1. Charade, most of their fabrics are NOT listed on their site! Call them or email and send a link to that picture. If they still have it, I bet you can get it!!!

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  12. I'm so thrilled that you had a good time! And honestly you've reminded me that I need to pick up a few things at Botani. Can't wait to see what you've sewn already.

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    1. Hee, hee, Carolyn. Rub your wonderful proximity to Botani in my face, why don't you?! Thanks again for everything!

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  13. Thanks you for the sweet shout-out! You did a great job! Kashi wins with all things teal this year. I think just about every teal thing I've bought has been from him!

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    1. Hi Mimi! Gee, I didn't see that much teal when I was in there. I guess I didn't hit Kashi at the optimal time.

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    2. Yeah - for the past few months, I've got at least 4 pieces of teal stuff to prove it!

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  14. Oh wow, I want to go fabric shopping now, right now!. To hell with work.
    You did well. It was fun also to see what you wore :)

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    1. Thanks, Vicki! It was worth the trip. :)

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  15. Fun,fun,fun - I love all the details ! I'm heading to NYC tomorrow for DGD birthday . I wasn't going to fabric shop this time -LOL you've given me some inspiration -thx !!!!

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    1. Wow, perfect timing, Mary Ellen! Have fun in NYC!!!

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  16. Oh, the envy! I am DYING....I would go just to see all the non-web stuff at Botani...

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    1. Margy, I wish you had been there in Botani with me! You would have LOVED it.

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  17. Oh how fun! I've never been to NYC and loved seeing these pics and reading about your experience!

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  18. How big was the old fabric store you remember from the 90's? I assume if it was Rosen & Chadick (which has moved twice since then, but meets your phisical description), you'd probably remember the name. If not, my old, gone favorites are Art Max, Liberty, the place with the words "It's a Material World!" on the door... one of those?

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    1. Maybe it was Rosen & Chadick! Those other names don't sound familiar.

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    2. Mimi - she was describing a store that used to be where Lace Star was before it moved. Rosen & Chadick was in the middle of the block and while it had a balcony it wasn't like this store was where they had bargains on the balcony. I think the store started with an "S" featured silks and was run by a father and one son.

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    3. Thanks for that clarification, Carolyn. The mystery continues!!

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  19. I took a sewing friend to Botoni last weekend and she had the same reaction. I will disagree on B&J being expensive. They have some of the most expensive fabrics but comparing apples to apples the prices are fair.
    Let me know when you come back.

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    1. Exactly, Carol. They have expensive fabrics but their prices are in line with other stores, at least in my experience. :)

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  20. That was such an exciting tour, even from my couch! I have fabric envy....

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  21. You did a great job writing about the GD! Botani is pretty magical for custom zippers (I'm a huge fan of the zips with the girl with the ponytail pull). I also love Pacific Trimming, Kashi and Paron. Kashi has shipped many times for me but I didn't know he would ship fabric I bought somewhere else too!

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    1. I think I missed the ponytail pull! I'm glad I visited all of your favorites, Kyle!

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  22. I was laughing out loud at Swatch's opinion of Tim Gunn's fabric!! Great post!

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  23. What an amazing resource--thank you for all the work you've done here! Bookmarked, pinned, saved for next year's trip, but might have to shop online in the meantime! Love your blog--thanks for sharing your passions.

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  24. Thanks for the (4) virtual tours Shame. I will be in N.Y. in September so this has been very helpful. I will have limited time to shop the garment district so I now know I need to get to Botani (I'm making a Ziggi and struggling for zippers) and will get a map to help with the rest.
    Can't wait to see what you make with your treasures.

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    1. Thanks, Material Lady! I would *love* to visit NYC in the fall! And definitely get yourself to Botani, though be prepared for a bit of sticker shock. ;)

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  25. This was such a great post! You really outdid yourself. I feel like I've had a trip to NYC!
    Did you run across any quilted puffer jacket fabrics? I've been looking for some to make a vest. I love those ultra thin silk jackets that the designers are all showing these last few years!
    Thank you so much for these NYC posts, so valuable, what a resource you are!

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    1. Thanks, Gayle! No, I did not see any of those quilted fabrics. For awhile Fabrix had quite a selection, but I think those are gone now.

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  26. Thank you so much for the informative and enthusiastic reviews of the shops! I will refer to your posts before my next trip to NYC. i have not done a real "garment district" trip, but will have to after reading all about your experiences.
    Peggy

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    1. Thanks, Peggy! I hope you do make it to the garment district!

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  27. What a treasure! I am keeping this post for reference- as NYC garment district is on my bucket list! Need to save up some $$$$ for that trip! Drooling just a bit over all the beautiful fabrics, and notions galore....OMG
    Thank so much for sharing-

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    1. Thanks, Jennifer! It's definitely quite an experience!

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  28. WOW...I'm excited and I didn't even go there! Must put NYC on my travel list!!!

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    1. Thanks, Sue! When I come to Vancouver I hope we get to meet!

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  29. What a grand visit!! I adore Elliot Berman! I adore Kasha! I adore Botani! Did you notice their very sparkly Swarovski crystal buttons? So so beautiful. What fun! I have to wait a year or two before I go back to NYC b/c I still have a couple of miles of fabrics from last time! But I never had four boxes to send home! Three maybe, but never four! I think you set a record!

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    1. Hey Claire! No, I missed the sparkly buttons at Elliot Berman, but there was so much else to see! We clearly both need to sew faster. ;)

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  30. What a wonderful trip and thanks for sharing so much info. I appreciate your time, effort, wisdom and humor! I have a fabric shopping trip to NYC in the works for next April! This is all good info to plan that trip. THANKS, SHAMS :-)

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    1. Thanks, Margene! I hope you have a fabulous time next April!

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  31. Loved all the pics and info. Result - see my green-eyed envy?!

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    1. Thanks, Coco! I hope to meet you in person some day!

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  32. I loved this post and am saving it for future reference. I haven't been to NYC in a gazillion years but I'm going to add the garment district to my bucket list.

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  33. i lived here and i still read every word about my 'hood! :) great post. the picture of you and robin with your hauls say it all!

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    1. Thanks, Marcy! I enjoyed meeting you in person! And you are sooo lucky to live there!

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  34. THANK YOU!!!! So deeply appreciated.

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  35. I visit the garment district once a year and I congratulate you on the great coverage you made there visiting all my favorite shops. I always run to the post office a block from Mood and mail home priority boxes (by size not by weight) so I don't have to fuss with jamming them in the suitcase or hear DH whine (LOL). I usually end up making a couple trips to the P.O.! Karen

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    1. There is also a post office in the garment district that is open 24/7! It's near where I stayed, though I didn't need to use it. And thanks!

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  36. I think your most recent duster is georgeous. And the necklace is great with it. I know from personal experience that if something doesn't feel right or feels blah -- it's difficult to get past the feeling. However, from where I'm sitting -- it looks fantastic.

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