Sunday, October 14, 2012

Somebody bring me some haaaaaam! Fabric shopping in New York City's Garment District...

custom dress shop
You a fan of the TV show "30 Rock"? You know that scene where Liz Lemon gets her own talk show, and when she shows up to see the set for the first time she starts belting out a gleeful song: "I'm a star, I'm on top, somebody bring me some haaaaaam." Cause, you know, she really really likes coldcuts. Clip here. Well that was pretty much me last week, traipsing with inspiration through New York City's Garment District. My home here in Ottawa, Canada, is a pretty small place by comparison, and our fabric options locally are limited to a few small speciality shops and one large chain of fabric retail stores, will remain unnamed but starts with "F". Service is pleasant but there's never enough staff on hand, selection is ok but often limited, fabric quality varies and I find the price high for what you actually get. So, NYC was a real eye-opening experience as to what's possible...

I stayed largely between 2 blocks, and 4 streets (36th to 39th), and shopped for about 5 hours. Heading into the Garment District, you'll stumble across a info kiosk for visitors - I got giddy when I spotted the huge button with needle going through it at the top of the booth, hurry, someone get me some threeeeeead (sung in my head a la Liz), I'm in the mood to seeeeeew!

I did lots of research before going, and used this website to narrow down the list of stores to visit (note: they also offer tours). I also made a list of my needs and shopping rules using my sewing storyboard for guidance, so that I wouldn't get all starry-eyed and start buying everything in sight. You can buy from all of these places online, keep in mind the selection in-store is much larger than what's on the website, but all the same you're bound to find lots of goodies. Most store are 'jobbers' servicing the industry, so if customer service is at a minimum it's because they are busy filling orders for the day. 

It's a busy spot with lots of foot traffic, go early, take your time, plan to stop for a little coffee break so that you can sit back and watch the District come to life. Here's a run-down of the best places I went to, and would visit again if given the opportunity to return. Trust me, you'll leave with some kind of song about ham, or thread, or whatever tickles your fancy in your head too...

Steinlauf & Stoller  

239 West 39th Street
Scissors and sewing tools, bra cups, boning, shoulder pads, zippers, hooks, slides, rings, rivets, etc.

My first stop was this great little shop, which opened at 8am before the other stores on my list. The service was good, and while the gentleman prepped my supplies, I took a look around. High on the wall above the cutting table was a great sample board of various mens and womens shoulder pads. On the side wall opposite the table were bins of bra cups stacked up high..."D" push-up cups ladies, found at last. Behind the cutting table, box upon box of slides, rings, hooks in all styles and sizes. People bustling to prepare work orders. I felt a little like Alice in someone else's wonderland, here I am a meager little hobby sewer standing in this amazing shop. This store stocks stuff I have not been able to find locally in Ottawa, decent bra cups and underwire in my size for example, it will be my go-to store for supplies going forward, even though that means paying for shipping. If you're planning on dropping in, I suggest you visit their online catalogue and make a list first, the staff mostly gather the supplies for you and a list makes things a little quicker for them. With my first purchases in hand, I sailed out on to 39th street eager for more adventure...
- push-up bra cups $6.50/set
- bra underwire 12 sets $17.50
- Rigilene boning $1.50/yard
- bra extenders $2-3/each
- bra hoops & slides 12 sets $13.00
- ez glide stick for zippers $1.99
- bodkin for turning stuff $1.89
- covered button forms $4-6.00

Paron Fabrics 
257 West 39th Street
Small selection of common fashion fabrics, with the exception of a wider selection of beautiful silks.

By the time I was done at Steinlauf & Stoller, Paron Fabrics nearby had opened its doors so I headed on in. It's a relatively small store, with bolts of fabric stacked up against the wall, too bad I didn't think to get pics inside. A very helpful sales lady offered to give me the lay of the land, and she walked me through the types of fabrics they carry and where to find what. Frankly, I could barely focus on what she was saying, I nodded and smiled but couldn't take my eyes off the beautiful silks I'd spotted at the front of the store. I reached out to check the price on an intriguing pale pink teardrop print, and my heart sank at the price - $48/yard. Yikes, too rich for my blood. But there, nestled amongst the prints and solids, a beautiful rose-mauve 100% silk stretch charmeuse caught my eye. At $18/yard, it was still more than I was used to spending but I knew it would perfectly suit a LeChateau blouse knockoff I've been wanting to make, so I bought it. The sales lady told me if I was taking 2 yards she'd bring the price down to $15. Sold! I got excellent service, enjoyed chatting with the staff, and walked away with quality fabric and a huge grin. I will continue shopping there online, see link to Manhattan Fabrics on their site, I don't see the teardrop print but there's still a good selection and in my opinion their silks are worth the hassle of shipping to Canada. Silks run from approx $18-$50.

- 100 silk stretch charmeuse $18/yard

Spandex World

228 West 38th Street
Stretch: spandex, hologram, velvet, vinyl, lace, denim, slinky, etc.

Small shop, lots of crazy bright fabrics, so I had to search a little harder for jems. Head up to the second floor, you'll find the lace, mesh and ponte knits.

But man oh man, if you're looking to make spandex tights in neon green goth skull print, goooooo wild. Shudder.

- cream stretch lace $8/yard
- lavender & purple stretch lace $8/yard

Mood Fabrics

225 West 37th Street
Everything under the freakin`s their floor plan: click.

Sigh, I wish I lived closer to NYC, even if just so I could lose myself in the wonder that is Mood. As I explained above, in Canada we're pretty much limited to a particular chain of fabric stores. Mood has only 2 locations (NYC and LA), but I can't help compare its market offering to the "F" stores back least for New York, it seems to fill the same needs but with a few differences; it`s much larger (3 floors), filled to the ceilings with roll upon roll of fabric, and bustling with fashion students, industry folks and hobbyists alike. At first, it felt like a sea of chaos, and yet it was possibly the best fabric shopping experience I've ever had. I was approached by a great clerk who took care of everything. He dropped by every few minutes to see if I`d found more fabrics to be cut, carried them back to the cutting table for me, and offered suggestions and guidance. It gave me a chance to just wander, gawk, and dream about all the wonderful projects I could sew. The atmosphere was friendly, and other staff were approachable and attentive as well. I even spotted the resident doggie snoozing on a sofa, I`m told he has a real home but hangs out at the store so I`m guessing he belongs to a staff member. Having said all that, I did leave the store a little overwhelmed, just look at how much fabric is in each aisle! See floor plan.
                                 wool suiting                                                              silk charmeuse

My head was spinning. I went back again a couple of days later, I just couldn`t leave New York without feeling that I`d really explored this store. And, I`d found a few things on their website later that night that I`d missed, for example, a stack of faux leather and faux suede (pic at left). As a vegetarian who doesn`t wear leather, this was very, very exciting indeed. I now see purse-making in my future. Another store I plan to continue shopping from online, rewards card program is free...

- sweater knits $12-$14/yard
- ponte knit $8-$14/yard     - bamboo knit $14/yard
- jersey knit $12/yard         - wool suiting $25/yard
- linen $18/yard                  - vinyl $18/yard
- linen knit $14/yard 
  (I didn't know linen knit even existed!)

Fabric World USA

252 West 38th Street
Mostly stretch and spandex, fantastic beaded costume fabrics. Powernet in limited colours but a great price.

I hadn't planned to stop in, but when Mood told me they had no powernet left, I looked for other options online once I got back to the hotel. I found Fabric World USA, another small shop featuring mostly stretch or specialty fabrics like sequined spandex or beaded lace (featured in pics). Definitely a good spot for costume fabrics, some plain and printed mesh, and powernet for making the bands of bras, thank goodness for powernet, why is this stuff so hard to find? Service was ok, again it's a jobber shop so they were busy working away on orders when I walked in. There were several shades of beige powernet, and some lavender and pale pink. I got lavender to match the lace purchased at Spandex World, and lots of nude for future bra and bustier projects. Nude powernet practically screams Sears boxed bra, not to worry hubby, when I finally get around to making the bras it will be covered with sexy fashion fabrics. At this price, shut up whatever, it's worth it.

- powernet $6.00/yard

A couple of trimmings shops:

Pacific Trimming
                    ribbon, stretch lace                                                                 zippers
Top Trimming            beading & appliques

And one unfortunate incident...

At another spandex store, which will remain unnamed, I was asked to show ID to prove I was the owner of my credit card, and I produced my Canadian government-issued health care card. The individual handling my purchase took the card and wrote down my full name and card number on the 2-part receipt. I very quickly objected. The owner of the store came over to explain that Visa required him to write down not only my full name but also the full details of 1 piece of official identification. Sorry buddy, not true, I know this for a fact. He replied that Visa gave him no choice to collect the information to avoid fraud. Nahn-na, nope, not true. I quickly took possession of the 2-part form sales slip, stuck it in my purse and explained that I was trying to avoid fraud too, identity fraud. I'm not saying this shop owner himself would have done anything wrong, but to have personal government-issued info like that floating around on a piece of, I don't think so. I have never experienced this request travelling in Canada, the US, or Europe. In Canada, the privacy act prevents the collection of personal information without my express consent, I'm sure the US has similar laws. In any case, Visa does not require it. I left without my purchase, and he didn't object, even though the fabric had been cut. It just made me terribly uncomfortable, and I don't like taking chances. With the exception of larger retail-heavy locations, I would suggest paying by cash.


  1. Love your post and thanks for including the links to the stores you visited. In regards to your unfortunate experience, the credit card companies have made it mandatory for business owners to purchase a type of "insurance" that covers employee theft. It is automatically included in your statement each month. Now you can be assured that if your card information has been stolen, the business owner will have the insurance to cover any loss. It still doesn't make you feel comfortable though when you end up in a situation like yours. I think I would do just like you did regardless. I wouldn't feel comfortable with someone writing down all my info either.

  2. Here is some beautiful fabrics shop. i am also gone a fabrics shop that is Fabrics USA Inc. i think it was one of the best fabrics shop in New York.
    wholesale african fabric, Guipure Lace Fabric

  3. lovely store. want to visit there.We have a great collection of African fabrics. Good quality at lowest price. For whole sell price Visit us hope you guys love them.
    Sequin Fabrics

  4. OMG its really beautiful. Nice to see this. I found some excellent fabrics from Spandex Collectionin NYC near me which was a nice weight, not too beefy.
    Stretch Sequins
    Glitter Stone
    Designers Lace
    Stretch Lace
    Printed Spandex