Shopping for Fabric

My bias-cut skirt made with fabric from Britex Fabrics

Once I got sewing again, I wanted to make some skirts. I really like long swingy, skirts cut on the bias (or at the crossgrain), which means that it’s cut at a 45-degree angle to the warp and weft threads. The result is a garment that has more fluidity. (For a detailed explanation, see this Threads magazine page for Marcy Tilton’s “Bias 101.”)

I bought a McCall’s pattern (M4258, now discontinued) for a simple skirt with a side zipper and began looking for light cotton fabric that was 60′ wide. I needed a fabric with a design that would could be cut on the bias and I didn’t want to attempt matching stripes or one-way designs.

Luckily for me, I work only a few blocks away from Britex Fabrics in San Francisco. This place has three (!) floors of fabric and one floor of notions with a fabulous collection of ribbons, lace, and buttons. It’s fabric heaven – but it’s not cheap – not by a long shot. This is the first place where I saw fabric selling for more than $100/yard. Why so pricey? Well, Britex sells a lot of imported fabric – silk and wool from Italy, designer velvets from France, cashmere from the U.K. – you get the picture.

I grew up in upstate New York where Joann Fabric was the only place to buy fabric (this was back when the store had more fabric than crafts). But the SF Bay Area has places like Britex, Discount Fabrics (south of Market), the Fabric Outlet (Mission district), and Stone Mountain & Daughter Fabrics (Berkeley). Of course there are plenty of places to shop online for fabric but whenever possible I like to see it and touch it in person.

Cotton fabrics are on the second floor of Britex. The bolts are displayed on shelves on the walls and stacked on large tables. (The store posts signs saying that you can’t take photos so no photo.) The prices are discreetly placed on paper tags tucked in the bolt. You have to pull it out to see it.

Because the cottons I was interested in were on the wall, bolt-end out with only a few inches of visible fabric, I couldn’t tell which ones were 60′ wide. So I asked a sales person which bolts were the width I needed. She was very helpful and pulled out a few that were 60′ and could work with a bias cut. I really liked this black-and-white cotton print. It’s very lightweight. I made this skirt (above left) from it.

Discount Fabrics

A few weeks later I went to Discount Fabrics main store in San Francisco (they have three locations) and found this intriguing fabric. The design is kind of like someone swirled some black paint on a white surface (see photo below). The main SF store is located in a huge warehouse space south of Market St. Most of the bolts are on rolls and they’re stacked on top of each other on huge utility shelves.

Fabric detail

It’s a bit of a challenge shopping here because it’s not easy to see all the fabric. Many rolls are stacked one on top of the other and sometimes you have to pull out several rolls so you can see what’s underneath. So you need a lot of time to look. But the prices are pretty good. (I’ve seen plenty of fashion design students roaming the aisles here.) Each roll is marked with two prices – one indicating the discount price and the other the extra discounted price if you buy the entire roll.

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