Friday, 30 September 2011

Online fabric shopping - yea or nay?

I live in London, a large city that has a wide variety of fabric stores that I love to shop in.


So, you would think that I would have no need to venture into the world-wide-web to feed my fabric buying habit. But I do buy fabric on the internet. In fact, I buy quite a lot of fabric on the internet.

Shopping in a real, bricks and mortar, store is, without a doubt, a very enjoyable experience. For me the main advantage of buying fabric this way is the obvious one - you can actually feel the fabric so you can judge how it is going to drape and behave as a garment and you can be certain of the exact colour and texture. And there is, of course, the pleasure of that instant gratification - you walk away with a bag in your hand and your head full of sewing plans for your lovely new fabric.

"I'll just take a quick look in here!"

However, I think that there can be a downside to shopping in a store. The array of fabrics piled high can be quite overwhelming so that it can be difficult to consider options and decide on the best purchase. When time is limited it is easy, on impulse, to buy something pretty and colourful although you would really be far better off picking out a less flamboyant, but more useful, solid wool. Another problem that I sometimes encounter is the pushy sales assistant. In some stores the assistants will happily leave you alone to browse but in others I have found that from the minute I step through the door I am accompanied by a person who is keen to show me anything and everything they can. As soon as I touch (or even let my eyes linger on) a roll of fabric, the fabric is pulled out, unrolled and its virtues exclaimed upon. In this situation I tend to feel that I have two choices - buy a lot of fabric that I'm not absolutely sure about or flee empty handed.

When shopping on the internet, although I am denied the opportunity of touching the fabric, I can spend as many hours as I like, at any time of day or night, checking out the stock. Some internet sites, such as Gorgeous Fabrics, and Vogue Fabrics (which are two of my favourite sites) have a 'wish list' facility which allows me to gather together fabrics I like on one page. I can then see how they look together. I can get out patterns, think through what fabric will work with what style and I can check exactly how much yardage I will need. I don't have to press the 'buy' button until I'm good and ready.

Another plus side of internet shopping is that the reputable online stores give you accurate information about the fibre content of the fabric and the recommended care instructions. In real life stores, especially the discount ones, you usually don't get any of this information - the fabric is rarely labelled and the sales assistants can sometimes be, quite frankly, woefully uninformed or wilfully vague.

Of course, when ordering on the internet you have shipping costs to pay (and possibly customs duties if ordering from abroad) so these have to be factored in when considering the cost of the fabric. And then you have to wait for your fabric to arrive at your door.

"What was it that I ordered ... I seem to have forgotten?"

However, I don't mind the wait so much because when my parcel does arrive, it's very exciting - it's like getting a present from somebody who has perfect taste and knows exactly what you want!

So, I enjoy shopping in both real and virtual stores. I guess what I am saying is that I just love to buy fabric! But what about you? Do you like to order on the internet or do you have to feel the fabric before you can commit? I'd love to know ....

31 comments:

  1. I really love shopping on the internet for fabric. It is just about my only choice. I live in a very small town in south Alabama with no large fabric stores. I think that I would shop online even if there were large fabric stores, but I can easily get overwhelmed when confronted with stacks of fabric. I don't even like going in large clothing stores because of the same reason. I like the convenience of being able to "search" and narrow my searches down to exactly what I am looking for. I have had a couple of misses ordering online, but for the most part it has been 99% successful.

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  2. I'm with you - both, please! While shopping in person is a wonderful thing, I don't get a chance to do it by myself very often, and trips to the fabric store with three kids are of necessity brief. I also love the thrill of receiving a package. I get the chance to enjoy my purchases all over again, but without thinking as hard about how much I spent.

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  3. I mostly buy on the internet because the two fabric stores in San Jose, CA usually are poor quality. One is mostly quilting fabric. I HATE going to San Francisco so haven't even looked for fabric there. I really miss the days of my childhood shopping in the fabric stores. My favorite was House of Fabric. My mom made all my clothes and I got to pick out whatever I wanted. Not *as much as I wanted*, there was a limit to how many outfits I got but the style and fabric was my own.

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  4. Haven't yet resorted to ordering fabric on-line. I live in a part of the US where there is still a good bit of fabric manufacture going on. There are 6-8 outlets in the immediate area that cater to upholsterers and furniture manufacturers.Tons of fabric samples get dumped on the sidewalk in High Point, NC after each furniture market. We have a so-so Hancock's Fabrics sort of on my side of the county, and a dreadful Joanne's Fabrics farther away. Walmart still carries patterns and basic notions, but their fabric is mostly "fun fleece" and slimy polyester. Am old enough that I still want to feel, see and smell the fabrics I buy.

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  5. The same for me, really. I live in Wales, and while there are a few places, I often come to London to get the chance to "see" a lot of things in one go. I would love to know which sites UK-readers use though, as I haven't found any (so far) that I feel inclined to spend a lot of money with!

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  6. Fabric shops (3) in Luxembourg do not offer a huge selection, so I do both. I'm prefer to touch and feel, but if I can't find what I want I go online. I'm aware though that If Indon't support the local shops they might disappear one day.

    Croft Mill in the UK have an ever changing selection and they offer fair shipping to Luxembourg.

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  7. Well, I love internet shopping because I can get much better quality fabric there. Here in the south, there are practically no wools to be had, nor silks. Not many people buy quality fabrics, it seems. Everything is polyester and synthetic. Which is fine for some things, but not most.

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  8. I love shopping offline and online. There's a certain thrill in walking into a store and being surrounded by beautiful bolts of fabric. I often turn to shopping online when I can't find a certain fabric for the right price in stores. Today I got a package of very affordable gray wool crepe that I had forgotten. It definitely felt like receiving a present, like you said.

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  9. It's about 2 hours for me to get into NYC so it's not like I can just browse for fabrics, I really need to have a plan so that I buy only what I really need. You don't usually find pushy salespeople in the garment district but the enormous choice can be overwhelming. The internet is easy to use and I buy quite a bit of fabric online. MY favorite site is emmaonesock not just because her service is excellent but I like her taste and that's really what it boils down to. She has fabrics that I itch to make into clothing.

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  10. I love internet fabric shopping, even though here in the N. Calif we have several great stores. I do shop at those stores but sometimes I just have something specific in mind and can't find the color I am looking for. Plus the late night browsing which watching TV is fun.

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  11. I'm not buying as much fabric, after collecting for more than a decade, but I too love having the internet as well as local and regional fabric sources. I encourage my newer sewing girlfriends to join a swatch club but most seem reluctant, not quite sure why. I think most of us like fabric and work with our "resource center" and a smaller number buy fabric for a specific project at a time.

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  12. I love both, but I am truly grateful for internet shopping. I can buy great quilting fabric locally, but nothing else with which I would want to sew. My nearest "good" fabric shop is several drive away, and the selection is necessarily limited. Internet shopping gives me access to quality, varied fabric. Of course it also occasionally gives me an internet surprize, such as a very different hand or different shade from what I was expecting!

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  13. I love both ways of shopping for fabric too, but there's something really fun about getting a package full of fabric. It's like a fun little present just for me! As for shopping in a brick and mortar store, I am interested in all these fabric stores you mentioned in London? I am coming to visit my daughter in November and she has promised me a trip to Liberty, but are there any other shoppes you would recommend?

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  14. I just returned from the Fabric District in LA and even I have not found everything I want. I have yet to order fabric online but am anticipating put an order in right now from Fabric. com. Interesting post - I tend to buy my fabric in person - but you are correct - that does result in more spontaneous and less thought out purchases!

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  15. I have never bought fabric online. I know, sheltered life. But I have to say thank you for introducing Gorgeous Fabrics! I am loving their sweater knits selection and love the pattern suggestion links that they have with their fabrics.

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  16. I am with you Eugenia- both are great! Now that both of my daughters are going to full time school, I am going to try Walthamstow market with a friend. It's really not that far away and I have never been. My expectations are kind of low though (usually the best way not to be disappointed!)

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  17. Where I live in Berkshire we only have a Fabricland, so I'm green with envy when I read about all the fabric shops in London. I've ordered a lot from Gorgeous Fabrics, which is so easy with the brilliant descriptions of the fabrics, an also joined the Chrysalis fabric club, which sends swatches 4 times a year. It always feels like Christmas when a parcel arrives! But in Rome recently I visited Tessuti, which had room upon room of fabrics, which was breath taking, but too much, and I came away with nothing, so maybe the laid back internet way is best for me.

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  18. I just have to feel the fabric, so I am very fortunate to have a wonderful fabric store near me with non-pushy and well-informed staff :) I have bought fabric online,but was ultimately disappointed with the whole experience. I just love the thrill of the search, the purchase and walking away with my prize, as you described!
    Thank you for your very kind comment about my son, was very much appreciated. Your comments are so lovely. :)

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  19. I'm only 20 minutes by train to the centre of London, but I still have to make a special trip, so I try to think very carefully about what I might buy to make the trip worthwhile.

    I've not used the two online sites you recommend, I've mainly used Online Fabrics http://www.online-fabrics.co.uk/ Their customer service is brilliant and the speed of delivery is so fast! I think I'm possibly safer buying stuff online, I don't spend as much as I can keep a running total more easily!!

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  20. Thank you! Thank you! Eugenia. I also live in London and whilst I am very grateful for the fabric shops we have I do wish it was easier to browse slowly and have a think about what I am going to purchase. I also get frustrated that sometimes it seems quite difficult to buy every day basic fabrics like corduroy or cotton twill, whereas silk velvets and chiffons seem to be every where!

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  21. Good post, Eugenia! My office is right near the NYC Garment District. So I am VERY lucky to be able to support the brick-and-mortar shops there and draw inspiration from fabric that I can touch and see. BUT it can be overwhelming and I also do some shopping on line when there is a really good sale, something catches my eye or I want something specific. My current favorite on line shop is FabricMartFabrics.com

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  22. You said it so well! I do like the surprise-aspect to internetshopping but on the other hand I can browse through real fabricstores for hours because I love to see and feel the real thing.
    In the years I've been internetshopping fabric there has only been 1 time that I was really disappointed. But most of the time it's like you put it: getting a really nice present.
    Aside from that, I'm glad there's the possibility of buying through the internet, as real fabricstores are becoming a rarity in the Netherlands, which I think is a real shame and a sad thing.

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  23. I shop for fabric on-line. Most of the time I get it right, but have been surprise/disappointed a few times. There is nothing to beat touch as a judge of quality.

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  24. I am so much like you Eugenia! I love the traits of both you've laid out and for the very same reasons too! However, I tend to lean more towards the internet, only because the amount of brick & mortar stores are very limited in Tampa. Nice topic!

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  25. I occasionally buy online but live about an hour away from the LA garment district which is incredibly fun and cheap to shop at.I also love to buy vintage fabric and part of that thrill Is the challenge of the hunt and I'm too scared to buy vintage fabric on the Internet.

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  26. Hi Mary - It's great that you are coming to London and Liberty is certainly a lovely place to shop. As you are going to be in that area I would recommend that you also go to The Cloth House - they have two stores, one at 47 Berwick Street and the other at 98 Berwick Street. Berwick Street is just a few minutes walk from Liberty and in-between the two Cloth House stores there are quite a few other fabric stores that you might also want to take a look in. If you want to travel a little further and are looking for discount fabric then I would recommend the Goldhawk Road which is in Shepherds Bush - there are a lot of fabric stores there. If you want something luxurious then the upmarket place to go is Joel and Son at 73-83 Church Street, London N8. Hope this helps :)

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  27. I do both--way too much! I love online for the vast resources it offers. If you want a specific fabric, online is your best bet. But for browsing, a brick and mortar store is too fun. The thrill of the hunt, I suppose.

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  28. Thanks Eugenia for the shopping tips. I'm not sure how much shopping time we will get, but it's great to know where to focus our time. We are going to go catch Winter Wonderland in Hyde park, which we have heard is fantastic and should be fun for our grandson. I really appreciate your thoughts.

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  29. Mostly at stores, because like you, I must feel and drape.

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