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.
it sounds wonderful, i would love to go there. I had a friend who would test her fabric bits in the paring lot, she had her matches and a small bottle of bleach! The bleach was used on black, she did a lot of bleach effects and wanted to see the underlying colours.
Stop it, I don’t need more fabrics!!
(*goes to look for Oyster card)
great review – its always good to get recommendations. I have been to Goldhawk road several times and have always found great stuff, but am not so keen on the selling tactics in couple of shops there. I can’t think the last time I was in Brixton, so I might make trip next i’m in town.
Loved reading this – sweet anecdotes
Great review – I discovered Simply Fabrics on the recommendation of a friend a couple of years ago and now make a biannual pilgrimage from Norfolk to Brixton, returning literally with sacks full of lovely fabric and no immediate idea what to make with it – love it!
Lovely! Definitely will go on my next trip. Got to visit Ditto in Brighton and found some lovely boucle, but ran out of time before I could go back and buy it. Next time!
You are lucky to have such a great store nearby (or is it nearby?) I have to go to Los Angeles to find that kind of store.
I’ll go next time in in London. Planning to spend a few days there.
This is so interesting to me as even £20 p/m would be a low price for me to find for high quality wool (both here and in Florence, but especially in my city). I don’t mind the higher prices I suppose…maybe it helps me to keep the fabric “collection” in check to some degree? 🙂
That is surprising as I always think of the US as better value in general and assumed that applied to Canada. It would be interesting to do a price comparison between the US/Can/Aus/UK although it might be hard to compare like with like. In terms of buying wool I am adverse to spending too much too, but I am still learning what is good value as I learn to knit. And at the moment I feel like only buying what I can knit, but I suspect this resolve will melt away as I find more opportunities. I am going to a knitting exhibition next month which will be fatal. Thank goodness we will soon have a new home to store additional supplies in…..
Kate I am terribly envious about the knitting exhibition! I am in a bit of a wasteland for interesting knitting supplies and you will get the best over there.
I can’t speak for prices in places like Toronto and Montreal. Part of it is the exchange rate with the Canadian dollar and shipping from the US but the quality wools and silks I order usually range between 22 and 38 USD per metre (“good” prices for me), before adding in exchange and shipping. That said, I like the nice stuff and if I wanted to take more risk and buy from discount US retailers I could spend much less. Often the shipping is equal to the cost of the fabric though and when I have ordered in the past I have received some relative duds and there is no point in that.
At my usual shop here in Ottawa regular price would be anywhere from $60 to $100 (CAD) per m for good stuff. That said I usually buy when he has a 50% off sale or a trunk show, which brings in a guy from Montreal who sells off quality Italian shirtings and wool ends from men’s production.
In central Florence the prices can be outrageous (60-180 Euro per m) although the quality high. I have found one place with prices in line with what I normally pay from my nice US supplier and I have been told that there us a place in Prato that designers go to that I have yet to visit.
I also failed to mention additional sales taxes and duties…
I love it too! Although I find it is sometimes better than other times. Going during the week when it’s quiet is a good idea!
I like the haberdashery shop too. There’s very little you can’t get there. I often go to stock up on essentials like zips or overlocker threads.
Ooh, I’m in London at the beginning of October for a course, I might just do a detour, is it easy to find?
Hello Margaret – yes! Come out of Brixton tube station, turn right, first right at the lights. You walk past lots of railway arches turned into shops, market stalls and regular shops on both sides of the road. Simply Fabrics haberdashery shop is on the right and the main shop on the left next door to a cheap butchers. The photograph helps. For what it is worth I work in Kings Cross and I can get to Simply Fabrics, buy something and get back to work in my lunch hour.
I really appreciate your comments about the qualities of the service and knowledge of the owners. Too often we think everyone is out to gouge and when credit is due, it is well worth mentioning. Honesty and fairness are so important. It sounds like a wonderful shop. Thank you for writing this post.
I’m in London this weekend but won’t be able to visit then as the time is already allocated (darn!) but I will note the information and try to plan another stay with daughter to take it in. Thanks for the information Kate.
Regarding the burn test, you might like to view this article, video and chart from threads http://www.threadsmagazine.com/item/31497/how-to-identify-fabrics-with-a-burn-test
I have found burn testing useful, though it is not so easy to work out a mixed fabric.
I am lucky enough to live within the 3B triangle, Brixton (Simply Fabrics and plenty of shops selling African prints- and have you tried the little shop in Market Row), Battersea (Fabrics Galore) and Balham (Sewing and Craft Superstore plus Asian fabric shop towards Tooting Broadway)- all with in an easy bicycle ride so lots of access to fabric and haberdashery, even obscure bra making essentials.
I went to Simply Fabrics last week on this recommendation and bought a few lovely things. Some cashmere and lambswool twill, some silk mix brocade and some wool-mix ribbing. Great value and a good selection but although the lady serving was very helpful, the shop was busy and I didn’t really get what I was looking for….which is that ever-elusive print that goes with everything in my wardrobe and the answer to my beginner’s questions.
One comment I would make, and this follows from your online experience of buying a small amount of fabric which was off-grain and not quite a metre, I’m was dissapointed to get back home and find that the precious brocade had been cut with a large lot of samples taken from the bottom edge. This section had been included in the yardage so I have to be careful with my cutting out. Is this normal? I’ve not noticed it before. After your post I was more conscious of fabric sellers cutting on grain and had seen Gill at Ditto Fabrics do it very carefully.
Oh gosh how disappointing. I have never been sold a short measure here – it was probably an honest mistake. Was the brocade a light blue and orange/pink number? I would take it straight back and get money off or a refund.
It was a green but its not a disaster. I can work around it. The bother in the time to treck back across there isn’t worth it. But I’m glad that’s not the norm.
On the subject of school uniform, my son’s school have recently reviewed their policy following a complaint from parents about the fact that boys wear ties but girls do not. So now they all wear ties. To our European neighbors it’s seems quite bizarre that we should take such a retrograde step but I quite like it in the face of the tracksuit/trainer habit of most of our youth. I sound like my mother!
I know what you mean about school uniforms, and thank you for the interesting feedback. I think there are pros and cons to school uniforms, and I think I will try a post on the subject.
Next time I visit London, I’m going to visit this shop. I love a rummage and a search for something good. Liking the sound of the rayon! Thanks