As a fashion student, I was encouraged daily to check out the plethora of fabric shops and haberdasheries in London by my peers and tutors. Being as there isn’t much available to budding designers and graduates in Bristol or indeed, Bath, I have often found myself wandering the streets of London looking for the next big thing in fabric sourcing.
As an undergraduate I did somewhat rely on the company ‘Whaleys’, that offered coated fabrics for dying, printing and whatever else came to mind. Their site give a much better description of their services and their hertiage so take a look here: http://www.whaleys-bradford.ltd.uk/ for more information and how to order. I’ve since graduated from university and don’t have the best facilities set up at home for dying and printing (although I do have a fabulous screen printing set my dad bought me!), so ‘Whaleys’ isn’t my first choice for fabric anymore. Needless to say, they provided me with high quality silks for unbelievably reasonable prices so if you get a moment, don’t hesitate to check them out.
Now that I don’t have the fallback of having a 140 cm width digital fabric printer or enormous embroidery machines and print rooms, I have had to rely on fabrics that are already available to me. I have spent this last week thinking back on stockists I had ventured around in the infant stages of my degree and thought that I would recommend a few of them to you.
I think for most of these reviews/recommendations I will talk about variety, customer service, price, location and whether they offer samples or not. As a student, it is often hard to find places that will let you take away samples if they learn that you are a student. They must lose out lots of fabric from samples so I can kind of understand but it’s good practice to ‘bend the truth’. I often introduce myself to the assistants, saying that I’m looking for a bespoke designer that I am interning for. This often gets you better service and sometimes, more samples! This also gives you a chance to daydream about your dream job for a couple minutes!
Joel & Son
73-87 CHURCH STREET
LONDON, NW8 8EU
Firstly, I just have to mention ‘Joel & Son’. I honestly have never had better service and more choice than when I stumbled upon ‘Joel & Son’ on Church Street in London (also, there was a friendly little dog in there who gave me no end of love and attention whilst I was waiting to be served). A good friend of mine mentioned that I should DEFINITELY get down to ‘Joel & Son’ when I was next in London because it was a forgotten treasure trove of delights.
I can be quite forgetful when it comes to places friends have recommended but this time I really made the effort and I’m glad I did. Now, every chance I get, I tell my friends to go there.
They are really hidden away but that didn’t stop them being royally appointed by the queen and stocking some of the most beautiful fabrics I have ever seen. They have simple fabrics by designers you’ve never heard of and then, as you trail the stands, you come across a Valentino end of roll! They have couture to high street quality cloth and they stock the most extensive range of suiting and shirting material I have ever seen.
So they tick the box for variety!
On a price note, they are a little on the pricey side but you are paying for quality material here. Fabrics range from £7.50 a meter to £639.90 a meter so it all depends on your budget and what you’re looking for.
Location wise it would be hard to find if you don’t have access to Google Maps. At the time that I last visited, my phone was on 6% battery life and I had no idea where I was going. When I got there, it was obvious but I had to go down a lot of back alleys.
Finally, as far as samples go they are the most generous place I have been to so far with a whopping 10 samples given to me for free. next time I visit I shall be sure to buy some things!
Now, for those of us who are lovers of fine, natural cloth, this wouldn’t be the first place I’d look. Not to say that I haven’t spend hours in here and 100s of pounds in here too. This place is brilliant for the budding seamstress and amaeture designer. They have an enormous amount of choice and I always go there to buy dot and cross pattern paper and cream calico for my toiles (practice runs of garments).
They have two walls covered to the ceiling (seriously, you have to ask someone to go get a ladder to reach the higher stuff) with embellishments to applique, faux flowers, trim, buttons, fabric scissors, snips, hook and eyes, pins etc. They have helped me build the extensive collection of kit that I have today. They also have a full range of Dylon dyes and an enormous collection of threads for domestic machines and overlockers.
It might not be as chic as ‘Joel & Son’ but they do stock a variety of faux leather, good quality cottons and a beautiful collection of stretch materials and suiting.
Cost wise they are unbelievably affordable and although most universities will not allow Fabricland material in most collections, this is the perfect store for students and those with a tight budget. I know a bespoke designer who is a big fan of their crepe de chine!
They are located in the center of Bristol, near Debenhams which was always a plus if I needed to stop by before uni to pick up some thread and pattern paper. The people in there are always friendly and they are always happy to help you out or chat about your purchase. A lot of them are graduates themselves. The only fault that I can find with this place is that they don’t give samples. You can buy 25cm of any fabric and then use a snippet as your sample but they won’t give any samples for free. Which is a shame because I love their stuff! Still, buying 25cm in there will hardly break the bank so really, it’s not a bad thing.
17 Green St, Bath, Avon BA1 2JZ
Fashion Fabrics is a place I used to wander in to now and again when I worked and lived in Bath and it was a place where you could disappear amongst the cloth and lose yourself. The shop itself is remarkably small but don’t let it’s size mislead you. There is always something to be found here. Now it is located in the center of Bath’s High Street, just as you approach Milsom Street and it stands right across from a French Connection so I always pop in there too if I have time! The premise of this shop is to be a supplier of one-off and vintage fabrics so if you go in with a specific fabric in mind then are going to be out of luck. If you go in with an open mind you might be surprised at what you find and what amazing ideas it might instil in you. I once went in there for a nosy and ended up buying some beautiful fleece which I made a flying squirrel onesie out of. I still have it to this day and it’s still super comfy!
I’m always greeted with a smile here and you can always expect good advice when you’re thinking about making something or wondering how you would go about washing it.
Their prices vary depending on the age of the fabric and the quality but sometimes you’ll have to ask as not all of them are labelled. And as for samples, still working on charming them into letting me have some but as most of this fabric is the last roll in existence, you can imagine they are a little touchy about parting with scraps for free.
14 Berwick St, London W1F 0PP
The Cloth House is located on Berwick Street, where that a handful of fabulous high end fabric shops. I haven’t listed them all here but it’s worth parting with £6 and getting the MegaBus down to London so you can go exploring. It is a little hard to find without Google Maps but as long as you print yourself out a map you should be fine. The locals are always happy to point you in the right direction and there are bus stops and tube stations near by too.
I haven’t been to the Cloth Shop very much this past year because a lot of the fabrics I used in my last collection were printed and dyed by myself so there was no need to look for good colouring or print as I knew exactly how was going to create them.
Nevertheless, Cloth Shop has an enormous amount of choice and might look like nothing from the outside but it has a downstairs full of cottons, wools, suiting, lycra stretch, silks… you name it!
They are super friendly in there and have on sale the best fabric scissors I think I’ve ever used which have huge blades and come in a small triangular box. They are super sharp, durable and are extremely cheap!
If you need any help finding anything or if you want to know about the fabrics or whether they will order more in, then just ask one of the assistants and they will be more than happy to help. As I said previously, they, like many shops, are not so happy about giving samples to student so make sure you have a story about interning for some unknown bespoke designer and you should get at least 4 samples free of charge.
16 Berwick St, London W1F 0HP
Another great find on Berwick Street, Borovick fabrics might not look like much but they stock a lot of good quality embellished fabrics and a whole host of natural and un-natural fibres. Much like most of the more one-off stores, Borovicks stock is always changing so when you see something you like you should buy it or forget about it. When I was in there last I saw the most beautiful rabbit pelt that I had ever seen in a fawn colour but I couldn’t think of what to do with it and I definitely do not have the skills to work fur so I decided against it. A vintage piece like that should never be overlooked and to this day I regret not buying it. To be honest, I’m glad I saved my pennies because it was £60 and in the end I bought my family lots of treats from London instead and a couple of beautiful pieces for my home.
That all being said, there is little variety and if you’re looking for something specific then you’re unlikely to find it here. They have a great collection of haboutai and chiffon silks though which I always have a feel of when I’m there. The prices there are reasonable for what you’re buying and the warm welcome and attention that I receive when I visit is wonderful. The staff are very attentive and will give tips freely on what could be made of the fabrics and how it should be cared for. They offer samples here freely of what you want, as long as you’re enthusiastic and don’t shy away from them.
As for it’s location, it is just up the road from The Cloth House so as long as you can find your way there, you will find Borovicks!
The Silk Society
44 Berwick Street, London, W1F 8SE
This is the last of the shops that I’m going to talk about today but I will give you a quick list of the other places you should visit at the bottom and you can form your own opinion of them.
The Silk Society is a beautiful shop, although very small. I don’t mind going in there because the fabrics are all so beautiful and hand crafted but it can get extremely cramped on a busy day. This place is most tailored to those who are looking to make wedding gowns, prom dresses and exquisite, bespoke evening wear. This is not the kind of place you would go if you were looking to test out some design ideas. The fabrics are pricy but that is only because they are all hand made and one can only imagine how long each metre took to create.
They don’t have much stock but they do have a variety of embellished cloth and tulle which is perfect for anyone in need of an inspiration boost. They are willing to give samples of their cheaper materials and those that don’t have large embellishments on them. A friend of mine once asked for a sample of a cloth embellished with handmade roses and she had to buy a stip of them because the cloth would unravel. That piece along cost her £25.
Even if you don’t buy anything, the staff are super helpful and friendly and they are really great to enthuse about fabrics and garments that you could make. I once spent 15 mins talking to one of the assistants in there about how a silk tulle would make an excellent mid layer for a skirt.
They are located on Berwick street as well so you can find them easily as long as you’ve already found The Cloth Shop and Borovick Fabrics. This place is ethereal and wonderful so I urge any and all of you to go check it out!
I hope this little guide is helpful for you guys who are looking to get inspired and who are itching to design a collection. These places have enhanced my imagination and really helped when I got designers block over the years. I will be visiting these shops myself at the end of the month to source fabrics for my latest collection. Heres a list of some other places to have a look at if you’ve got a spare moment. I would also recommend Goldhawk Rd in London for some more fabric shop diamonds! Happy hunting!
1. Missan Textiles, Berwick St, London. Gives samples.
2. Missan Fabrics, Berwick St, London. Gives samples.
3. Husqvarna Fabrics, Charles St, Bath.
4. Roud Fabrics, Stapleton Rd, Bristol. Gives Samples.