I covered the best places to shop for fabric in London and was prompted by a couple of readers to try two of our famous East London markets – Ridley Road (in Hackney) and Walthamstow market (in Waltham Forest). Happily they were ready and able to come with me to take a look, so I had a couple of nice days out.
First it was off to Ridley Road with Gail of Vintage Rock Chic. Gail felt I needed to experience Dalston Mill Fabrics in glorious technicolour. Gill used to be in the police but now she is retired and looking forward to moving to Norfolk to be closer to her family. She is a generous, sensitive and interesting woman and she kindly made me a needle holder from vintage fabrics. I am going to use this to store my special needles. Mary Funt brought me some amazing hand sewing needles, and specialist basting needles. And now I am in the market for “straws” – do you know what they are? – I will put them in there too.
We met at the Dalston Kingsland overground station and set off to examine the market goods. But our real objective was to visit this shop which looks very scruffy from the outside – Dalston Mill Fabrics.
Thing about this shop is – they have lots of stock. They have good quality fabrics. They have lots of buttons, zips etc. They have helpful staff. They get some nice end of rolls from Hobbs. But. But the prices are too high for me. The fabrics I picked out were nice quality wools, but they wanted £17.50, £25 and £30 per metre. Far too expensive for me.
Gill could tell I was disappointed. I wasn’t really. It was fun to go out and look round. But if I were to spend this amount on cloth (probably not) I would expect a high street shop, with space, prices on the rolls, not a dilapidated store with the back door open onto the railway to ventilate the place.
We went for a drink at an outside cafe run by an enterprising Eastern European (£1 for a cup of tea – which is good value). We had a good look at the African fabric shops (Gail was looking for pink), the Ghanaian hair dresser, the live African snails, the wonderful fresh fish, the inexpensive vegetables – where the contents of every plastic bowl costs just £1. We had fun talking about children, grandchildren, London, dressmaking and cooking. Gail likes making cakes but is says she is quite conservative with her taste (but she was making a Micky Mouse dress for her great niece’s birthday party).
My other trip out was with Megan from Pigeon Wishes. Megan claims she has a problem with shopping and says she is trying to learn to buy less. As a precaution she came out with just £20 for a whole Saturday. Hmm I thought.
Here is what she spent it on
Six metres of orange drapy fabric @50p p/m £3
Two cups of tea @£1 £2
Jamaican spices for curry £3.50
Aubergines and corriander £2
Black striped fabric for a dress £3.50
Green viscose £4.00
Pink fabric £2
Megan is an expert shopper. She came prepared with a list of the best shops, and a map and whisked me around with just a short break for a cup of tea (also just £1 – these markets are much cheaper than the hipster cafes of Shoreditch or Starbucks etc).
It was while we were having our cup of tea that Megan’s eye alighted on a sign which advertised fabric at 50p a yard (the markets of London often offer fabric in metric or imperial – lots of work for the cashier). We went in and found that most of the cheap stuff was very stretchy. Megan, who wants to make up a full length 1930s bias cut evening dress, was looking for toile material that would behave like silk. I offered to help her with the fitting. I love her sense of adventure.
So what did I buy on two outings to the London markets?
Mainly food – peppers, avos, coriander, parsley, salad. Some prawns. But in terms of fabrics I got some yellow linen from TMOS (£3m), some lining from Saeeds, and some stretch sateen from the Textile centre. Nothing exciting. But good fabric, good prices. The weather was very hot and we had lots of fun. But my advice would be to go early and just try three or four shops. I was exhausted when I got home.