Threads Magazine published a very enthusiastic feature on Vancouver sewing spots in Summer 2011 – and I have to say, while they hit up the good spots, I’m not sure the scene is as good as they say (sorry Threads…). There are a *lot* of quilting cottons, and far too many poly satins; had the author been challenged to simply scout out cotton lawn in a range of colours, or denim in dark indigo… you know, the great denims that ‘premium’ jeans are made of, or even a good quality charcoal knit, the story would’ve looked quite different! Still, I think I’ve managed to figure out where to get the good stuff…
Dressew (337 West Hastings)
Dressew, the bargain basement sewing department store par excellence, is my go-to – it’s close to where I live, and always interesting. Their notions are particularly awesome – you can get zippers in *any* length you need. They’ve got some good fabrics, but a lot that violate my cardinal rule that fabric should be seen and not heard. I find that the good fabrics are a little more diamonds-in-the-rough here than in other fabric shops – the flourescent lights don’t help – and I always ask myself ‘is this genuinely awesome, or does it just look awesome next to this other stuff?’ I definitely find with Dressew that it helps to spend some time browsing to get to know the lay of the land; fabrics with less selection – shirtings, corduroys, voiles – can be hard to spot if you don’t know where they are. With the shop being as big as it is, it’s easy for the newbie to get overwhelmed. It also helps to develop a good hand for fabric quality (I bought and sewed what I thought was a gorgeous charcoal grey suiting only to have it pill like mad in just a few wearings). That being said, they’re definitely making efforts to bring in higher end stuff to compete with other shops in the region. Those ones are often on the manufacturer’s labeled white bolts rather than Dressew’s generic bolts – though again, even on the generic bolts, there’s some great stuff.
But really, maybe all you need to know about Dressew is this: they don’t just have one stretchy catprint velour – they have a section of stretchy catprint velour. How do you not love that!?
NB: some yelpers complain about the staff. I’m in there at least 3 times/month, and I’ve always found them to be perfectly pleasant, ranging from neutral-just-cutting-the-metres to really quite friendly.
Strengths: solid colour knits, muslin (so many of varying weight, width and quality), coatings, faux fur, the Notions, the Notions, the Notions. This is *the place* for notions. Also really good for poly satins in virtually any colour/weight you need, when you need it. I also always enjoy the Dressew crowd – including bargain hunters, crafters, costumers, and lots of fashion students with cool ideas for fabrics. It’s an eclectic mix.
Weaknesses: silks, bemberg lining – they have some, but not a lot (however, if you want acetate linings, it’s a freaking gold mine). A lot of the fabric is labeled ‘fibres unknown.’ You might be fooled by context into thinking that the home dec is quite nice unless you also go to Fabricana or Rokko’s.
Atex Fabrics (150 West Hastings)
Usually worth a visit, and only a block and a half away from Dressew. I’ve only ever gotten a few things here. They’ve got a nice selection of solid colour knits, although I don’t *think* they have as many bamboos as the website would imply. No notions, no patterns – this place is strictly fabric.
Strengths: CHEAP silks – charmeuse for <$15/metre and a nice range of colours in dupioni, knits, denims (i’ve seen some nice ones), coatings. If I make a coat, I’m hitting Atex up first!
Weaknesses: The organization of the store isn’t apparent – newbies might find it hard to navigate. Polys and Silks aren’t mixed, but the dividing line between them isn’t always clear. Also, I don’t think the individual bolts are priced, so you have to ask. I prefer not asking. However, the prices are as cheap as they come so I’ll make do without that bit of overhead.
Rokko’s (6201 Fraser St – 46th and Fraser)
My new favourite fabric shop. On the right hand side of the shop they have exquisite silks, and well priced too. My favourites: crepe de chines in a little bookcase, in so many colours, for roughly $10/yard (that’s right… they sell by the yard!). And bamboo knits for approx $12/yard – cheapest I’ve found locally for a wide colour range! Super helpful, the staff is really knowledgeable, helpful and nice, and if you’re looking for something specific, they’ve got the sample books out, and they’ll special order in for you (there’s a minimum of several metres, but if you need quite a lot, they’ll help you out!). I don’t do home dec myself, but the home dec fabrics are *exquisite*. If I were to sew for the home, Rokko’s would be my first stop, bar none. They’ve got some notions, including Mettler thread, but I’m just here for the silks. The Silks!
Strengths: The silks, the silks, the silks. The Laces, the Suitings (some *beautiful* wools and wool blends), coatings in neutral colours (including cashmere… swoon!). If you’re doing costumes or dancewear, there is a *ton* of stuff. And of course, home dec that even I get excited about.
Weaknesses: quilting cottons (though you might consider that a strength!!), prints… most of the silks are solids or embroidered or beaded, shirtings.
Fabricland (Park Royal Mall, West Van)
Oh Fabricland, you mainstream fabric shop of mainstream fabric shops you. If there is a home of the diamond in the rough, Fabricland is it! Some of my most gorgeous fabrics are from here, but there is a whole lot of polyester and mumsy prints you gotta wade through to get’em. Fabricland’s sales, for which you need a membership (it pays for itself quickly) are near-constant (and often, hilariously, named ___ MADNESS). I wouldn’t buy fabric regular price here, and I don’t think anyone in the know does. As for the memberships, if you buy one mid-calendar year, they pro-rate it, which is nice. I think they do brisk business with home ec students and their moms.
Strengths: notions, the one or two really beautiful pieces you’ll find, good selection of patterns, the sales. The ‘featured’ fabrics, nicely displayed at the front of the store, are usually pretty decent, though the best ones go pretty quickly. Every bolt is coded with a number that tells you how to care for the fabric.
Weaknesses: The knits, at the back of the store, are piled on top of another with little (any?) organization; same thing for the linings. The regular prices. Not a lot of natural fibres (quilting cottons notwithstanding), and very few silks.
Fabricana (4591 Garden City Road, Richmond; there’s also a location in Coquitlam)
In a word: dangerous. I try to limit my visits because I always drop too much $ here! And not because it’s super expensive, but because there’s a Lot of really good stuff. If I were to bring a non-sewist to a fabric shop, it’d be Fabricana. The fabrics here *look like* the kinds of fabrics you get in nice ready-to-wear (I’ve seen some fabrics here that I later spotted in the collections of local designers!) And this is hands down the best place to get fabrics for the fellas – though, I still want more! Much more!!
The fabrics are beautifully displayed – even if it’s hard to sort out which type of fabric is going to be where. If you’re looking for a specific fabric type (crepe de chine, georgette, dotted swiss) it’s best to just ask. Otherwise, you’ll be wandering forever. They bring in some good designer finds (Armani, D&G, Nanette Lepore) – some in the ‘bridal’ (but not really) section, and others tucked in behind the posh coatings/suitings. It *seems* that they have notions and linings half off on long weekends, though this isn’t always advertised, at least online. And also, you gotta love a place with the suffix -cana!
Update Jan 12: In the fall, Fabricana opened up a sewing lounge. Useful for those who haven’t got the machines to do it on their own – or lots of questions to ask the very very knowledgeable staff.
Strengths: the selection – even if much of it is not to my taste, I always face tough decisions!; the Shirtings (gorgeous!!); the display methods; the thread (both Gutermann and Mettler), Kwiksew patterns, the linings – Tons of them!, the staff are really knowledgeable. That one super-drapey 5.5oz denim that I adore! The place always gets my imagination going.
Weaknesses: Is there ever enough staff on the floor? Most visits, I’m wandering around helplessly with bolts in my arms. It gets frustrating! I wish the sales were better – seldom more than 20% off. Fibre content isn’t always labeled, which is frustrating. Cotton knits (only a few colours, but never charcoal grey). I signed up for their email list, and got a few messages, but no more! What gives!? I’ve seen some of the same pieces in Dressew for considerably less – including one crepe-backed satin my mom bought me for $21/metre… which I later spotted at Dressew for $4/metre. Extreme example, but goes to show that keeping mental notes of each shop’s stock is useful.
Gala Fabrics (3135 Granville – near 16th and Granville)
I don’t go to Gala very often, though when I go in looking for something specific, and nice, they’ve usually got it. But I don’t go so often because it’s quite small (boutique sized), and I find its stock leans heavily towards formalwear fabrics, which I seldom sew. The fabrics are high quality, with matching price point, and they bring in a good selection of designer fabrics – I’ve even seen genuine Chanel wool boucle! I’ve gotten a couple of fabrics from here, and they’ve sewn up beautifully. It’s a good place to go when you’ve got a special garment planned, for special fabrics, and you don’t want to be tempted to cheap out on synthetics. The Victoria location is larger, and their range extends further outside of formalwear. Have to say, it was at the Victoria location where, in the clearance section, I found *the* fabric that my absolute favourite skirt is made of; I brought their last 3 metres home for $15!
Strengths: formalwear, they carry Colette patterns, excellent level of service.
Weaknesses: not a lot of fabrics for streetwear – or at least streetwear for the under-40 non-South Granville strolling set.