Tuesday, 22 October 2013

A bit of advice from an old hand

... on the purchasing of fabric. 

Buying online is not easy when it comes to fabric, but often there seems to be no other option.

Imagine having to buy your vegetables from an on-line retailer who can't tell you - and doesn't care! - if what you are buying is a carrot or a parsnip, or whether the potatoes you've ordered are Maris Pipers or Jersey Royals. 
Abakhan fabric shop in Manchester city centre
This is a rare beast - a city-centre fabric shop!

As for whether the plums have got mouldy spots on them, well, if the seller doesn't know if he's selling big fat Italian plums which never seem to ripen, or squishy English Victorias - just that they're plums, and have stones in the middle - why would you even expect them to care?

That's the equivalent of what many sewers and crafters throughout the country encounter whenever they buy fabric. 

Although I chuckle to myself when browsing fabric websites and see statements such as '100% polyester silk' and 'pure linen cotton' (yes, I have seen both of those within the past few months!), it really isn't funny and could be considered fraudulent at worst, misleading at best. It is certainly 'sharp practice'.

There are all sorts of problems with the online purchase of fabric, even from the very best of shops.

Accurate colour-matching is well-nigh impossible, and until 'telefeel' is developed, no estimate can be made of the hand, weight or drape of fabric. How opaque is this fabric? Will it need lining? What shade lining will enhance the pattern colours? Will that fabric crease too much, or will the other fabric hold a crease at all? 

None of these questions can be answered with any real degree of accuracy by even the best web-site.

Some of the better suppliers make valiant attempts to address these problems, with mixed degrees of success. I especially enjoy the sometimes tongue-in-cheek descriptions on Croft Mill's website, which is written by enthusiastic experts. Their website has a useful glossary, too. 

Samples help, of course, but are often too small to give a real indication of drape and hand, and if the pattern of the fabric is large, may not even give a good rendering of the colour. Sending for samples merely adds to the delay, uncertainty and expense inherent in any sort of remote purchasing.

This is a fabric shop - unless you already knew 
it was there, would you know what it was?
A large number of old-established, reliable fabric retailers shut up shop in the past 20 - 30 years, only to be replaced a few years ago by an influx of new sellers, many of whom have just jumped on the bandwagon of the needlecrafts boom, and have no knowledge of what they are selling at all.  

Of course there are many reliable, knowledgeable retailers of all types - I wouldn't want anyone to think otherwise - but it can be hard to find those which don't have an internet presence.

Especially if you're a new sewer, it's easy to think you have no option but the internet. For some of you, that will be true. Long before the days of the internet, mail-order fabric supply was flourishing to areas remote from fabric retailers.

There might be fabric retailers closer to you than you think, though! 

Although it's rare to see fabric shops while driving to the supermarket, wandering along the local High Street, or having a day out shopping at a mega-mall, they are still around.

They will most probably be in the 'poor but respectable' part of town, in the part where recent immigrants live, on the old open market, on a slightly down-at-heel trading estate, on the edge of a regeneration project that never quite got regenerated, in an old mill, a deconsecrated church, under the railway arches or round the back of the bus station.You get the picture. 
Liberty silk-and-wool on a market stall
Quality fabrics at bargain prices

These shops may not be in the first rank of fashionable retail destinations, but by 'eck you can often find some bargains!

Even the more up-market fabric retailers are usually to be found in a lower-rent area - the space required for fabric storage, the relatively low profit margins and lowish turnover dictates this.

Dismissing market stall fabrics - as some do - as being limited to 'cheap and nasty' garish polyester prints is simply foolish (and often a form of personal insecurity or lack of confidence) when there might be fabrics like these on the left available!
Inside a big fabric warehouse
Fabric, fabric everywhere! Someone reviewed 
this shop as 'not having much in'.

Claiming that there is 'nothing much' in a fabric shop because the stock isn't 'displayed' but is merely stacked in rolls as a space-saving measure, is both lazy and untrue.

Shopping at a well-stocked fabric retailer is a delight for the senses. Unlikely colour combinations jump out at you as you caress thick velvet pile; a tumbling river of chiffon catches in the draught from the door and ripples sinuously as if alive. 

Go on,  if you normally make your fabric purchases on-line, hunt around on yellow pages,  get on a bus which goes through the low-cost areas and peer out of the windows, or visit the local open market - and find a bricks-and-mortar fabric retailer to visit, and wallow in the sheer sensuality of it!

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