A guide to fabric shopping I :: Be prepared

Fabric shops can be daunting places, especially if you’re visiting one for the first time.  My friend Jenny over at Sew Confident wrote a blog recently about some negative experiences she has had in fabric shops and since I have a little bit of experience in this department I thought I might offer some general advice from the other side of the counter … (to you not Jenny!)

First of all, this post has nothing to do with the shop that I work in.  I am not speaking on their behalf.  I want to be absolutely clear that this is just my own personal advice on how to shop in any fabric store.

I always do my best to be as helpful as possible to customers, they’re always right after all 😉 and no buts!

((BUT)) sometimes customers are confused or overwhelmed  upon entering the fabric shop environment and feel intimidated, possibly by their inexperience and possibly by the “procedure” for getting served not being immediately obvious.  It’s not an exclusive club by any means and if you’re made to feel stupid or unwelcome by a member of staff then you should make note of their name and contact management about it.  Sometimes though, customers just don’t feel they’re leaving with what they went in for.  Both customers and sales assistants are human beings and sometimes don’t fulfill their potential.  Here’s my advice to get the most out of your visit.

Before you go to the shop:

Be prepared

I'm A Brownie

I’m A Brownie (Photo credit: Joybot)

No, I’m not reverting back to my joyful youth as a Brownie, I am hitting straight out with what is probably the most important piece of advice I could give.  You’re probably going to the fabric shop because you need some fabric right?  It’s a good idea to have at least a starting off point.

These points are all mostly about bringing stuff… (in your little Brownie knapsack)

  • If you want to make a repair to something bring it with you if you can or some pictures if it’s too massive, be aware though that a colour is not accurately shown in a photo.
  • If you want to match a colour bring something else that colour or the one you want to coordinate with.  So many customers try to describe a colour and it just doesn’t work.  One man’s Aubergine is another man’s Damson.  You say Turquoise, I say potato.
  • If you’ve been in before and took a sample and now want to buy more of the same then bring your sample.
  • If you’re making something from scratch then have an idea of what you want to make, bring pictures or a drawing.  A bit like when you go to the hairdressers!
  • If you’re working from a pattern, bring your pattern!
  • If you are using a dressmaker or perhaps taking a class and the dressmaker / tutor have told you what type of fabric to buy and how much, write it down and BRING YOUR LIST!
  • If you want to make something specific like curtains, a cushion cover or recover a sofa bring accurate measurements of your window, your cushion, your sofa.  I have lost count of the number of people who’ve told me that their window is “normal sized” or that they’re making a “basic dress for a seven year old.”  The thing is we live in a complaint culture these days and it’s not out of the question (in fact it’s fairly standard) that someone might expect a sales assistant to work out the amount of fabric they require based on estimated measurements and then come back and complain when they get home to find it’s wrong. Since fabric is cut to a specific length at the time of purchase, it remains that length when you try to return it and may not be any use to anyone else in that amount.  For this reason along with the fact that no one likes to be complained about, I for one am reluctant to guess or work with vague measurements.  It’s my job/reputation on the line after all.

Allow enough time...

Parking meter, 1951

Parking meter, 1951 (Photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives)

  • I know it’s a busy busy I’m late I’m late world but you can’t fabric shop in 5 minutes.  You need to choose your fabric and even if you know which one you want it has to be cut.
  • Ikea is one thing but in most fabric shops you don’t cut your own fabric.  It probably has to be cut for you by a trained member of staff and if you want it done right it’s not in your interest to try and rush them.  You try cutting a straight line with someone standing over you shouting “HURRY UP!”
  • If you’ve parked on a double yellow or the meter’s running out or have to be at nursery in half an hour then you will still have to queue and have your fabric cut and this takes as long as it takes I’m afraid.

Maybe don’t bring the kids

I’m not saying kids are not allowed or anything because they totally are, just think about whether you should be bringing them.  Obviously it’s not always practical to leave them at home but if you are going to bring them then you should know this:

From my experience fabric shops drive children WILD!  Maybe it’s all the bright colours, the textures, the shapes…it looks like a playground, like kiddie heaven!

The reality though is that it’s not a very child friendly environment.  There are sharp scissors on every table, pins on the floor, heavy bales of fabric… but it looks really fun so they run around and want to play hide and seek.  They also want to touch everything (as do you and I because it’s such a tactile environment).  I’m sure that as someone children tend to accompany you are probably aware of the perils of shopping with them and don’t need me telling you that they might misbehave or die of excitement etc.

It’s just that:

  • it takes longer than you think to pick fabric and have it cut and they will get bored
  • you have to do maths before you decide what you’re buying, maths is hard without distractions!
  • you have to chase a tiny, drunk on colours and buttons maniac around so that they’re not crushed to death or wielding scissors
  • There’s a likelihood that the jammy handprint they’ve just made on a roll of white satin has just set you back £50 per metre
  • And once your fabric is cut that’s it.  There’s no going back, you can’t play the “sorry I wasn’t concentrating because my child tried to swallow a packet of pins” and now I realise that I don’t need all this card.  If you asked for it and it’s been cut then there’s not a lot we can do.

Of course, a lot of customers do bring their children and it’s fine, some of them are pretty adorable and no trouble.  I only mention this last point as a warning to people who are new to fabric shopping, I reckon the scenes I often witness are akin to what might happen if you took your child to Toys R Us with the intention of buying something for yourself and not them. So if you can make the trip on your own or bring a kiddy wrangling side-kick, you would probably be wise.

I hope that this has been useful and not come across as condescending or unfriendly.  Next time I’ll be writing about identifying stuff and its’ uses.

Also!  Don’t forget to enter my Sewing Pattern Giveaway which ends on 1st March!

Win all 5 patterns!

Win all 5 patterns!



5 thoughts on “A guide to fabric shopping I :: Be prepared

  1. Pingback: A Guide to Fabric Shopping II :: Types of fabric and fibre | Sew Kapow!

  2. Pingback: A Guide to Fabric Shopping II :: Types of fabric and fibre | Konnie Kapow!

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