One of the things I love most about working with fabric: the infinite number of designs that can be put on it! Every designer has their own take; every culture has their own style. I've vented a few times before about the differences between "modern design" as a movement versus "modern design" as an aesthetic. The movement is one I love, but the design aesthetic is only one of several that I adore.
Today, I was working on a list of fabric shops for an upcoming quilt recipient to poke through. I don't know what she likes, or what she wants in a quilt backing, and the best thing I could do for her was distill my idle online shopping time into a list of useful fabric shops that might help her find what she's looking for, even if she can't articulate her desired style in words.
Along with this has to go a caveat: I do, emphatically, support my locally-owned fabric shop whenever humanly possible. (Thank you, Patches and Stitches
employees -- you know my name when I come in, you ask what I'm working on, and I do my best to funnel as much business to you as possible.) However, fiscal reality dictates that P&S, or any local shop, is going to cater to what their clientele wants to purchase. I know what P&S is likely to carry, and I know that some of my beloved styles of fabric have to be purchased elsewhere because there just isn't a market for them in Huntsville. Reality is tough stuff, sometimes.
So, in no particular order, here are some of the places I love to go.
Liberty of London's fabric line is best known for delicate, small-scale florals, but the secret? They carry two lines of fabric. Their "Classics" are reprinted year after year, decade after decade, in different colors. You're always going to be able to get a meter of Strawberry Thief, but one year it might be green and another blue. Their "Seasonals" are designs that are offered once, for a single season, and are not seen again. Seasonals are packaged into collections that typically have a theme of some kind, albeit some themes are looser than others. Their "Tana Lawn" is a deliciously compliant lightweight cotton that is a joy to work with.
So you love Liberty, but you don't love the price. A fair complaint. I'm not sure how Shaukat keeps their prices so low, but I've ordered from them both online and in person and their prices on Tana Lawn cottons are shockingly low. They won't have the new season fabrics the moment they go on sale, and you can't buy anything less than a meter, but at their prices, you will not care. Images are consistently dark on their website, but the fabrics are perfect and the prices are lovely.
eQuilter is the Everything Compendium Of Quilt Shops. It's utterly insane. If you need a blue fabric with tea cups, they'll likely have it. The categorization of fabrics is lovely, because sometimes you find yourself saying "I need something Art Deco but I don't know what color." If you get on their mailing list, and watch their sales, from time to time they will put multiple-pound bags of scraps and trimmings on sale. I bought a five-pound bag of strip scraps a few years ago and have never regretted it; I got some of the craziest, most awesome stuff that I never would have purchased otherwise.
I'm always surprised that no one seems to know about French Connections. They're doing something unique in the US fabric world. Want African fabrics? They have them, sorted by color. Want French fabrics, including toiles, Provençal fabrics, or Souleiado fabrics you can't turn up online anywhere else? They have it.
If Kaffe Fassett's fabrics delight you, or Keiko Goke's childlike prints, this site carries both. I thought they carried more designers, once upon a time, but those are the main ones I see on the site now.
I tend to think of there being multiple styles of "Japanese" fabric. There's the stylized (air quotes intentional here) "Asian Print Fabric" and then there's the cheerful, sweet, soft aesthetic; Super Buzzy carries mostly the latter. If you're interested in seeing a lot of names of designers who are following their muses in their own directions, there's a 'Designers' sub-section under the 'Fabrics' section. You can get everything from Yoshiko Jinzenji's abstract neutrals to Naomi Ito's soft and minimalist "Nani Iro" line to Etsuko Furuya's "Echino" line.
Maybe what you hunger for are the vivid, technicolor African fabrics called by a lot of different names: African wax fabric, Dutch wax fabric, Super-wax fabric. Digressions on the true nature of these designs (Javan? African? Dutch? a hybrid?) are something for anthropologists to tackle, not me, but know this: if you want a stunning six-yard swath of fabric unlike anything you've ever used for a quilt backing before, get thee to Vlisco posthaste. You can buy some of these fabrics stateside, but I haven't found a good supplier yet. Vlisco, like Liberty, keeps some patterns around for years but some come and go quickly. Know that they're intended for apparel sewing, and typically only come in 6-yard lengths; don't bother asking if they can be cut for you, because they can't. Luckily, Vlisco's started carrying 2-yard and 4-yard swaths, making these ultimate batiks a bit more affordable.
How about massively large-scale Scandinavian prints? Did I mention large-scale? I mean "flowers the size of your head." Think pop art, primary colors, bright and cheerful and completely impossible to ignore. Marimekko cottons are like that. You can buy heavier-weight cottons that are screen-printed; I've used one of those for a backing and it was utterly awesome. These fabrics will only be sold by the repeat, which makes sense when some of the repeats are 1-2 yards apiece. They're not cheap, but used correctly they ARE stunning. Don't ask how much I spent in Denmark. Just don't -- and be glad the Customs agent thought I was joking when I told him…
It took me a while to find this shop, but I'm glad they exist. I needed fabric with platypuses (platypodes?) on them for a project I was helping Jacob with, and I could not find a %!@*(&@$*&^@# platypus fabric to save my life. Until … until I had the insight that I was most likely to find them on Aboriginal Australian fabric. I've ordered from this shop and was pleased. I suspect http://www.aboriginalfabrics.com.au/
is good too, but haven't personally tried them yet, more out of a lack of need than anything else.
Hidden away in Montana is a quilt shop owner with an amazing knowledge of textile history. She single-handedly helped me save an 1880s quilt top that had been damaged by a previous owner. I called her out of desperation and described my desperate attempt to find a striped double-pink fabric that would work with an 1880s-1890s quilt, and not only did she have it, she had one that was so close to the original fabric that you really have to stare at the quilt to see where I patched it. She has amazing old sample books (the Dargate Book
and the Delaines
book) that are real resources for learning about how fabric printing methods have changed, as well as original source material for authentic reprints. She's supplied fabrics for historical movies; if you want to make a project that honors a specific time period, she's an amazing resource.
I'm cheating. There's no fabric here. However, if you've ever wanted to try your hand at English paper piecing, I can't recommend this store enough. They have paper pieces to accommodate just about any pattern, and what they don't have, they can make for you. They've made several pieces to my customizations and I've been delighted at their turnaround as well as their exact correctness (which is critical for EPP).
Your last, and sometimes best, resort for utterly unique fabric. This print-on-demand fabric shop can give you prints by indie designers -- including yourself. It's where I made my own quilt labels. Sometimes what you need is so specific, so odd, so unusual, that no major company is going to produce it. If that's the case, this may well be your place.
Honorable mentions: Oh, The Places You'll Go
Not every amazing quilt shop has an amazing web site. I get that. However, I've been lucky enough to wander through a lot of places, and there have been places that I considered highlights of visits, although I don't always use their websites. They're on my list of places I go, when I'm away from home. If I lived in these places, these would be my Local Quilt Shops:
- Portland, Oregon: Bolt Fabric Boutique, boltfabricboutique.com
- White Bear Lake, Minnesota: Bear Patch Quilting, bearpatchquilting.com
- Minneapolis / St. Paul, Minnesota: Twin Cities Quilting (twincitiesquilting.com), Treadle Yard Goods (treadleyardgoods.com)
- Atlanta, Georgia: InTown Quilters, intownquilters.com
- Manhattan, New York: The City Quilter, cityquilter.com
- Vancouver, British Columbia: Quilter's Dream, quiltersdreamfabrics.com
- San Francisco, California: Satin Moon (no website, but this page tells you a lot about what to expect)
- Amsterdam, Netherlands: Den Haan & Wagenmakers, dutchquilts.net
- London, England: not a shop, but a place. Go to the Petticoat Lane Market for more African fabrics than you can use in a lifetime. Don't drool, and bring cash. I'm sure there are other markets, but this is the one I personally went to.