Last weekend, although I have enough fabric to sink a ship, I visited my favourite London fabric shop. I realised I had never reviewed the shop, so here is my review.
While London may not be as good as New York it has quite a few fabric shops and markets, supplying both top end designer fabrics down to the most humble schmutter. I know that the Goldhawk Road shops are popular with many, and the markets (particularly Walthamstow) supply many home sewists with cloth, my own heart lies in Brixton, at the end of the Victoria line.
Here nestles a small shop (actually two shops) that could easily provide all my needs.The second shop has notions, some remnants, linings, curtaining, interfacing, muslin, etc. The second shop is convenient rather than special, but it is fit for purpose. In recent months I felt the main shop it had gone off a bit – but I think it has found itself again. Robert has stepped back and Leo is in charge – the shop is much tidier than it was and it is going a bit upmarket, which is fine by me.
Last weekend my friend Megan said she needed to get some wool, at a low price, for her tailoring class. She, plus two of her colleagues who had come from Italy and Germany to learn alongside her in the East End, met me at the tube.
They were not disappointed. Simply Fabrics has a wide range of tailoring wools, mostly selling at £6 p/m. These end bolts, including relatively small quantities, are sourced from factories and tailors who create men’s suits; and if you want grey, blue or occasionally something more interesting, you will find a suitable cloth here. In addition there are two bins with less salubrious cloth. One sells at £3 p/m and the other £2 p/m. My intrepid young friends found several pieces of wool in the £3 bin – ideal for making basting, herringbone and pad stitching samples, pocket styles and to create their own sample books. I told them that when I was learning to sew the class would buy 10cm samples of high end cloth and then share out 10cm squares amongst the whole class – I had camel, vicuna and quite a few interesting coatings.
The young tailors kept gravitating towards some large rolls of high end cloth. i often buy from this pile. Here the fabrics are from £10 to £20 p/m but you really do get some excellent bargains. Robert and Leo buy up end of roll fabrics that have been used by designers like Paul Smith, Roland Mouret and many others that vary from time to time. Generally they will tell you where they come from (nothing much is labelled). At first I was a little sceptical, but these are honest men, and after searching the internet, and going to Harrod’s designer rooms, I can confirm that they are what they say they are. At present there are around 20 rolls of wonderful Paul Smith woolens – including some colourful stripes, cashmere mix, and beautiful navys. If you want to make a smart coat, jacket or skirt this would be a good place to go. They also still has some super primrose yellow fabric that would make a marvellous party or evening dress. Over the past few years most of my SWAP garments started their life in this shop.
In addition they have a good range of linens, some Liberty fabrics if that floats your boat, lots of colourful rayon, cotton and jersey. Plenty for the local African market in terms of laces, heavily embroidered/embossed/blinged up fabrics; and for young designers all the modern synthetics like scuba, and other interesting textures that work in structured outwear.
I also have to commend the owners. Robert works at weekends, and Leo in the week. Both are very knowledgeable, friendly and helpful (although always busy – I have rarely had them to myself). Robert kindly arranged a burn test to show the students how to tell the difference between silk and wool by nose alone. I am not sure I can tell the subtle difference myself (relying on more obvious visual and tactile clues). As nothing much in the shop is labelled they will give you their best guess. I suppose if the exact provenance of your fibres is important to you this may be a little worrying, but let me assure you that you will not generally get quality like this, at this price, anywhere else in London.
If you are not very experienced at buying fabric, you may find a shop like this intimidating. I have to say my own trip to Loop last week (a famous wool shop) left me confused and a little uncomfortable – if you don’t know much it is really hard to know where to start. It can be embarrassing to ask beginner questions. It is easy to feel fobbed off with what someone else decides you need. But Simply Fabrics is not intimating really, Feel free to ask the proprietors, or even the other customers. It sometimes feels like a party is going on here.
One time I was in the shop and two nicely dressed, slightly effete young Irish men were looking at the linens. They were weighing up various light shades – beige, peach, white, cream. I thought maybe they were looking for soft furnishings. Eventually they pulled out a light beige and took it over to be cut. They asked for a very large quantity. I was waiting too, so asked what they would be making.
“Oh nun’s outfits. For sisters who are working in Africa”.
When they left Leo said
“That was a surprise”. And it was. We didn’t see that coming and to be honest, it’s that kind of shop.
I have been thinking about this shop and why I like it so much. The thing is it is an honest shop. They don’t push you to buy. They don’t give you any flim-flam. They help you if you want help, but if you take the merchandise to the counter that is fine too. They cut generously. They knock off 10 per cent for students. They give you a little snippet to take home if you want one. They put up with some crazy customers, local designers and makers, beginners, people who ask for £1 p/m cloth for all sorts of weird purposes. They are self-effacing and competent gentlemen, selling great cloth at fair prices. I cross London for this shop and if you are in the capital, or nearby, I still make this my No 1 shop.