Shopping for fabric in London – market shops review

posted in: Shop Review | 9

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.

Dalston Mill fabrics
The Vintage Rock Chick herself

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.

Ridley Road market
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).

Ridley Road market
African snails

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.


9 Responses

  1. Jane

    Bromley market has a very good haberdashery stand, also some interesting fabric stalls. Useful if I am in the area but I would never go specifically.

    I’m always jealous that Karen from Did You Make That manages to find so many lovely fabrics in Walthamstow market. I went once but didn’t come away with anything.

    I suspect I’m too lazy – I don’t like having to trawl through lots of dross to find the gems underneath.

  2. thedementedfairy

    I’ll have to join you for a London trawl one of these days [although I’m pretty certain that I have access to almost as much variety right here at home]
    Two market trips for me in the next week, and I WILL NOT BUY. Mustn’t. Can’t. I am offering to do errands for some online friends who are stuck with their fabric hunts though, so at least I get vicarious pleasure!

    • fabrickated

      I think you have just as good suppliers in your area DF. It’s generous of you to lead these expeditions even though you have more than enough fabric (like me). I have no where left to store the stuff. However I am looking for drapey, Japanese-Oriental floral fabric in navy, emerald or dark brown but in no hurry.

  3. Linde

    Oh Kate you have taken me back to a past era full of nostalgia. I was born in Ridley Road and my first memories are the wonderful exotic smells of that market. Then it was mainly Jewish with a few West Indian newcomers. The market always had stalls and shops full of end of line fabrics and I can still hear the bartering for a reduced price. There was a posh shoe shop which had an X-ray machine that we children used to put our feet in to see if the shoes fitted properly. Can you imagine that now! Thank you for awaking those memories and reminding me that it is about time I revisited the other side.

  4. Jane

    I had just replied to an email from Gill before moving on to read your blog and there was a photo of her! I’m meeting up with her in Chichester later in the year. I have one is her needle cases too! I’m very impressed with Megan’s £20 shopping limit! It is so easy to spend that on almost nothing these days but she did very well.

  5. Gill

    I’ve only just read this – been too busy with house-moving stuff – I’ve barely had time to get on the computer! It was lovely to spend an afternoon with you, even if we didn’t buy fabric (or maybe BECAUSE we didn’t (less to pack!)

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