Fabric shopping is one of my favourite things ever. I love it when a project gives me an excuse to go and browse, but sometimes it can be daunting if you don't know quite what you are looking for. I learnt so much during my degree on how to shop for fabric and I thought it might be nice to pass on some of that wisdom. So I've compiled together my top 5 most useful tips to follow when fabric shopping:
1. Know where to go. Half the battle is already won when you find a supplier that you can trust, both in terms of quality and the best value for money. In London I always hit Goldhawk Road first. Not only does it have the best prices, but because there are so many fabric shops condensed on one street you will nearly always find what you are looking for. Often the shops are in conversation with each other too so they will know what the others have in stock and can direct you to the right place if you ask their advice.
2. Think about the qualities you need from the fabric. Does it need to drape or hang or have a stiff structure to it? Do you need a shiny or a matte finish? Does it need to be soft to the touch and will you need to add a lining? It may sound really obvious, but you need different fabrics for different jobs. Taffeta will make a great structural garment but wont hang very well at all, whereas a cotton jersey will have a lovely drape to it but would be terrible at creating a solid shape. Even if you don't know exactly which fabric you are looking for, make a list of the qualities you need from it and someone will be able to help you with exactly the right thing.
3. Go with an open mind. Some of my best design decisions have come from finding a fabric that I would never have thought of normally while shopping for something else. I find that a trip to a fabric shop is a really good research tool even before you need to buy anything, particularly if you are still in the process of finding the perfect colour or print. Be sure to handle the fabric, see what it looks like far away, test how it hangs and most of all collect samples to take home with you! If you are delicate about it you can usually get a few of these for free, particularly if you have a good relationship with the shop itself.
4. Think about how you will be working with the fabric. Do you need to dye it? In which case natural fibres are your best bet as manmade textiles such as polyester can be quite resistent to dye. Does your project require a lot of machine work and will you need a special needle to tackle the material? There are a lot of technical aspects to consider that are easy to forget when you fall in love with a fabric. But even if a fabric seems perfect, you will soon change your mind if it is a pain to work with.
5. Cut a deal! Haggling is always a sensitive area and you must tread carefully so as not to insult anyone or damage any future dealings with the shop. Whenever possible, buy in bulk because this is when you are more justified to politely ask for a discount. For example, I recently bought 200m worth of fabric in one go (I know eeek!!) and managed to get quite a sizeable discount because I have shopped with the seller before and could pick it up that day at their convenience. The important thing to remember is that they still need to make a profit on what they sell you, so remember to always be respectful of their trade.
I hope these tips have been useful for some of you! And sorry about the blurry iphone pictures, I was in a rush getting too excited about all the shopping ;)
Does anyone else have any tips that I haven't thought of?