Fabric shopping my way round Britain


I don’t like to think of myself as shallow, but I do love a bit of shopping. Not the buying – that’s always painful – so much as the looking, and contemplating the possibilities.

As the parent of a four-year old, I haven’t spent much of the last four years pondering, browsing, or pottering about. Much like the dog, my son has a three-shop limit. So a trip to a fabric store without anyone whining “Muhhh-meee, can we go now?”, is a rare treat to be savoured, relished and positively luxuriated in.

Thanks to DH, one time that I get to do this is on holiday. He has no interest in shopping either, but he does willingly look after both boy and dog while I browse. I’ve really enjoyed visiting different sewing shops in some off-the-beaten-track locations (like Bentham in North Yorkshire), and getting a little snapshot of the sewing habits of each town.

And because I also really, really love maps, I decided to keep a record – a sewing shop map, plotting the sewing shops I’ve visited in Britain.

Sewing shops don’t always have flashy websites, or even social media accounts, so it can be a bit of a mission tracking them down online and working out what they do and don’t sell. In case it’s useful for anyone else, I’ve made my map available to access on Google maps, and included a short description of each one with a date, so you know whether it’s up-to-date or not.

I’m heading to the Isle of Wight in October, so let me know if there’s anywhere you’d recommend I visit there!


Updated sewing shop map

Even though I usually shop online these days, fabric is my exception. I prefer to buy it in person, where I can touch and manipulate potential purchases to see how they drape, how they feel and how they handle.

Because unlike a pair of shoes you buy online, once your fabric’s been cut you can’t return it.

To help sewists find the materials they need, I’d like to build up a sewing shop map, listing as many tried and tested UK brick and mortar fabric shops as possible, complete with info on the kinds of things they stock. So I’ve made a start.

So you know what it’s like to actually visit each shop, I’ve decided only to list shops I’ve visited. To be listed, the shop must sell items or services that dressmakers would use such as fabric, patterns, notions, tools, workshops or sewing machine repair.

I always enjoy visiting new fabric shops, but I’m unlikely to be able to cover the whole country. (I do have a job, after all.) So if you’d like to contribute a shop or two that you love to visit, let me know in the comments and I can elevate you to contributor status!

Ultimately, I’d like this map to connect people to a great sewing shop near where they live, or in an unfamiliar town they’re going to visit.

Shopping in Cheltenham!

I went to visit my sis in Cheltenham yesterday and came back with a couple of souvenirs…

Just airing the fabric on the line  - it's such a lovely day outside - I'm hoping it'll make them smell like summer...
Just airing the fabric on the line – it’s such a lovely day outside – I’m hoping it’ll make them smell like summer…

The left one is a white, mid-weight cotton jersey so I can continue my adventures with the overlocker. And the right-hand one is a mid-weight denim with an unusual border print (OK, more like a border embroidery, then). I’ve not seen many border prints for sale – online or in shops – and I have an urge to try this on with my self-drafted A-line skirt pattern (this was the first version).

I bought both in World of Fabrics (no website that I can find) on Albion Street in Cheltenham.

Not the most inviting exterior, but worth investigating.
Not the most appealing exterior, but worth investigating.

This is a seriously old-school fabric shop. You won’t find any beautifully packaged indie patterns here, or any to-die-for novelty buttons. The inside of the shop is piled high with shelf after shelf of rolls of fabric. It goes on for room after room, nothing is labelled, and I couldn’t see much order to the way the stock is arranged. But it’s huge. I only had time to look at the fabric that was piled in front of the shelves, never mind what was on the shelves. Prepare to get lost in here for several hours and come out feeling a bit overwhelmed. But if you can spend some time here and you can bring cash (no card payments) you’ll probably find what you’re looking for.

If you need any bits and pieces for your machine, it’s then about a ten-minute walk to the West End Sewing Centre on Henrietta Street. I made a very exciting purchase in there, but it won’t arrive until next week so I’ll save the details on that for another time…

I’ve added both shops to my sewing shop map – where else in the West Midlands deserves a listing?

Testing, testing – mapping my local sewing shops

I’d like to test an idea on you… Do you find it difficult to locate your nearest fabric shop, pattern supplier or sewing machine repair person?

I find that lots of the best shops and suppliers are tucked away down backstreets, away from the main shopping areas, so it’s not always easy to find them unless you’re already in the know. And there are just so many places to look that it’s hard to keep up sometimes. Each shop has different ways of promoting itself – word of mouth, Yellow pages, classified ads, Facebook, Twitter, their own website. So I often visit new towns and come away unsure if I’ve found the best fabric shop in town or not.

Great Malvern isn't exactly thronging with fabric shops.
Great Malvern isn’t exactly thronging with fabric shops.

I read lots of blog posts about the best online shops, or the best shops in London, but sometimes I just want to go and see the fabric IRL, and without going all the way to London. So I’d like to try to map the sewing shops that I’ve visited in my local area and see if there’s a way to collate the information and make it useful to others.

I’ve made two test maps of my town, Great Malvern in Worcestershire, for you take a look at – one in Pinterest and one in Google maps.

The Pinterest map

This one relies on each business having a listing in Foursquare, and I immediately found that one of my local venues didn’t, so I can’t plot it on the map. On the upside, it’s nice and visual, and you can pull through images or upload your  own. I’m still exploring all the features of Pinterest, so maybe you can tell me what else I can do with this place board?

The Google map

You only need the address to plot the pins on the map, so it’s easy to make sure they’re in the right place. And you can also get directions to each shop from wherever you are.

It’s map-led rather than image-led, so it’s not as pretty as the Pinterest one could be, but I wonder if function is more important than looks here?

So – is this a useful way to show this information? Would you be interested in one that covered the area where you live?