I open up my email Thursday morning at the crack of 5:00 and there’s a message from Denver Fabrics saying that they’re having a sale on knit fabrics for 97 cents/yard. “What?!” I say. “Must needs be rearranging my day.”
So I did what I needed to do around the old homestead by 8:45 and I packed up Noah and we headed out. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t what I found. This fabric is ridiculously nice. Ridiculously. And there was tons of it. Some lady even found some wool jersey. All told, I walked away with 11 yards for $11.46. It was a happy day.
As things were being cut, I was talking to one of the employees and marveling at the quality of this fabric. She told me that they buy it (and most of their fabric) from designer workrooms where the fabric, having served whatever it’s purpose was originally is typically discarded or treated very ill indeed. These fabrics, for instance, though of lovely quality (can you tell how excited I am about this stuff?) had random stickers heartlessly masking taped to them, and the tubes they were on were all broken in the middle from being tossed about and packed away all smooshed up in boxes and so forth. This was all very interesting and enlightening when one considers buying fabric.
If you think about big box stores and the fabric available to purchase there, their business model is quite different than a place like Denver Fabrics. They are having fabric directly manufactured for them (note below),
so I would guess that the quality of the fabric being made for them is lower so that they can artificially inflate the price so that they make the most money. In markets where they are the only fabric store in town (and there are many around the country), who’s the wiser? So they get away with it. I won’t just randomly accuse JoAnn of having basement-quality fabric for boutique prices, so I’ll speak from my own example (I feel like when I’ve strolled through Hancock’s things seem to be a little nicer, but I don’t buy fabric there because my local Hancock’s is populated by grumpy employees who are always trying to sell me things I don’t want, like spray starch).
Below is my Frankenpattern creation that I made for the mini-wardrobe contest at PR in April. It’s made from rayon lycra jersey I purchased at JoAnn for no less than $12.99/yd (you better believe I used a coupon). It has sustained only 4 trips through the washing machine, and I wish that my camera would all you to see that it has already lost quite a bit of its original color and it’s covered in a whole lot of pilling. I won’t mention how horrible this stuff was to sew with. While pressing my bodice through no less than 2 layers of silk organza, the fabric got permanent shine marks on it. Every stitch pulled out of it on Gnomey, and my serger had a hard time gripping it too. Actually, quite a bit of my serger stitches have undone themselves through the wash. I saw a lady eyeing it on the bolts the last time there was a big pattern sale, and I wanted to tell her to run away.
To contrast, here is a maternity dress that I made with fabric that I bought at Denver Fabrics (clearly, it’s too big for me ). Anyone who has been pregnant knows how much torture your clothes go through as you grow, so knowing that this dress has been through the wash no less than 20 times and trucked with me through big, bigger, and biggest, I’m pretty impressed at how good it still looks, especially considering that my skills as a sewer had considerably increased by the time I got to that rayon shirt above.
What are my conclusions? Well, if you live in a city where you have access to a fabric store that buys from designers, go there. You’ll probably get better prices, and if you don’t get better prices, you’ll at least probably get better quality. If you don’t live in such a place, find some of these stores online. There’s tons of places that will send you swatches, and plenty of those will send you swatches for free. Vogue Patterns Magazine and Threads list websites in every issue. If you hang around the Patternreview boards for any length of time, you’ll find out places that you can shop online, too. Look for unusual sources of good fabric. You’d be surprised what you can find in grandmothers’ closets and at estate sales or in thrift stores. It takes more time than going to a sanitized big box store, perhaps, but fabric finding is treasure hunting at it’s best, no? Life is too short, and sewing time is too precious to be using fabric that will shred to pieces and sabotage your construction. I have said my peace. What say you, dear readers?