Friday, February 24, 2012

Where Have All the Fabrics Gone?

Gone to graveyards, everyone? (Thanks Peter, Paul, and Mary, and Joan Baez. I am showing my roots.)

Well it seems they are disappearing for some retailers and it really upsets me. First, let me share a bit of fabric shopping history that I know a few of you share.

Once a upon a time there was this decrepit ram shackle old building on probably one of the busiest corners in Manchester, N. H. It's parking was awful. It's smell sometimes worse, but oh, the fabrics! Mr. and Mrs. Harold Levine were the inhabitants of this building, or rather their "rag" business was. The Levines were real characters to say the least. I watched them age. I watched Mrs. Levine scream "Harold, get down here" at her loving husband more than once. Their bickering, the kind often seen in older couples so sure of their love that they know they can say anything and nothing will change, was entertaining. You could see how time had worn them into a couple who knew each other inside out all. It was fun to shop at Levine's. The place was jammed with rolls of fabric in niche after niche. The huge cutting table was manned by Mrs. Levine while Harold always seemed to be off somewhere. She would snip and cut and always throw in that bit of "lagniappe", the end of the bolt. She would inspect for defects and if found would just start cutting where they disappeared and throw in the rest. She definitely knew how to make you come back. Their staff was VERY knowledgeable. I bought some incredible fabrics at that store. Harold's trips to the Garment District would bring in the very best at rock bottom prices.

One day Mrs. Levine became ill with cancer and eventually passed on. I don't think Harold was ever the same after that. He sold his  valuable corner property to a major convenient store chain and went to retire without his precious wife to Florida. The business was sold to a passionate employee and her spouse. The women who worked in the store loved fabric as much as you and I and it was a natural transition. Her husband was hooked up with Harold's contacts and reopened the store in an old mechanic's garage of Rt. 93 on the West Side of Manchester. Most of the Levine staff was kept on and it was my absolute go to place for fabric. Now it was called the Fabric Fix and yes, I had to have my Fix whenever possible.

A couple of months ago I went in and was surprised to see a corner set up to display some nice jewelry and other consignment items.  Because what I saw was quite nice, I didn't really mind that valuable fabric space was being taken over by consignments. Heck, it was a tough economy. I left there purchasing nothing. But that was not unusual. This was a hit or miss store. Sometimes I walked out with dupionis and cashmere and other times I didn't. That was OK because part of the charm was never knowing what you would find.

This trip I went to the Fix as per usual. I was shocked at how little fabric there was. The staffer told me a trip was being made to the Garment District in NYC the next day for goods but that they were just having a hard time finding fabric. Several years back they had twenty various vendors that they would visit to bring back the deals we all so loved to shop for. They are down to two vendors. Textile manufacturers have all gone off shore and there is no manufacturing being done in the district any more, well maybe a teensy bit, but not enough to have leftover bolts that a merchant from New Hampshire could gladly relieve them of.

This all breaks my heart. I will keep going there, of course, hoping to hit it right as one certainly can. This is my place of touching, draping, feeling. Its a place where others, including the staff, love to touch, drape, and feel. While we all know we must support local merchants so they can continue to feed our passion, that is not so much the case here. This place has a following. It just needs fabric. I know I can buy online, but what will feed that spark, that vision, that creative high I get when going to a fabric store? Not a click of the  mouse........................Bunny

15 comments:

  1. I'm refolding and organizing fabric today and have had exactly the same thoughts. I started collecting and stashing "good fabrics" about 12 years ago and bought them from local fabric jobbers. But even though those stores still exist, the fabric quality has declined so very dramatically. Not their fault, it's what's available to them here. RTW fabric quality has been on the same downward trajectory. What previously seemed like middle of the road RTW can now only be found at the exorbitant designer level in stores. Another 99 vs 1% ? Makes me love and appreciate my fabric collection even more but also makes me feel sorry for new sewists. Yes, online is possible and I do indulge but you can learn so much in a local fabric store.

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  2. Oh so true. On-line shopping just doesn't cut it with me. I do it, of course, but miss the days of spending blissful hours touching every bit of fabric in the store!

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  3. I could browse a good fabric store for hours... no matter how small! The feel of good fabric... yikes! Manchester... my old stopping ground years ago! Didn't sew then... but now I know where to visit next time I visit the fam!

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  4. It's pretty much the same everywhere. The stores that do exist really don't have that many wonderful fabrics. Most of the fabric stores are half craft/floral and have a pile of really cheap fabric (the kind you don't even want to use for muslins) at ??bargain?? prices. I shop on-line but I keep an open mind. I may think a fabric can be used for one thing, but when it arrives I realize it qualitites dictate it be something else.

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  5. Amen. I remember Levine's, too. Yes, the Fix is hit or miss, haven't been in a long time. Don't even start me on what happened to Martin's. Sigh. Those were the good old days.

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  6. It's even worse, here in Canada where I live. Fortunately, I am only a little over an hour from the U.S. border, and it is better than here. But I long for the days when we had an amazing selection of fabrics. I have been sewing for over 55 years, and as my skills improve, the choice of fabric goes down......where is the justice in that?

    Mary

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  7. The woman who owned Timmel Fabrics once told me to stockpile nice fabric because it was going to get scarce thanks to offshore manufacturing. Looks like she was absolutely right....

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  8. I think its even worse in the UK - when I was younger there were several places to go and buy fabric - now,in my local shops, I can only name one shop that sells fabric. As you know my main source is my local and London markets, especially those that deal with the Indian and African communities who seem to sew much more.

    It is so sad when you hear of shops that have been around for years changing or going out of business.

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  9. I saw this all coming, mainly when they discontinued Home Ec classes in the schools around here. Then slowly, the only thing you could find in fabrics was craft/quilting. The choices in apparel fabric dwindled so bad I stopped sewing for 20 years, frustrated in not being able to find the perfect fabric. I'm sewing again, ordering online, but it is always hit or miss once the fabric arrives, as to the quality. So hard to choose from a picture without touching it. This is really so very sad :(

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  10. I'm not sure if your comments make me feel better or not. I thought my problem was because I am in WV, where good stuff has always been hard to find. Now to find this a problem everywhere?! ACK!!

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  11. How sad! One of the greatest ways to spend a day (for me, of course) is in a fabric/quilt store. My precious hubby has spent many hours in the car reading a good book and walking the dog while I immerse myself in fabric loveliness.

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  12. We can always become like the group of women out of Syracuse who make two trips a year to NYC to shop for fabrics :) A friend of mine sent me the newspaper write up about it.. they make a party of it and hire a bus tour and all! I know, it's sad not to be able to touch. There are online vendors that describe the drape which helps but there's nothing like really being there. Plus, computer monitors can do funny things with the colors. I'm feeling your pain!

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  13. I used to live close to (the main) Vogue Fabrics in Evanston, IL. LOVED to go there but I really didn't have alot of time to sew back then. Moved out west, and had to (basically) resign myself with being satisfied with Hancocks, and I would sometimes find some real treasures. Then, their store closest to me closed and eventually, the final one in the area. We still have three "kinda junky stores" in the area that I've also found some treasures at in the past, but even at them, (and one really had to be a die-hard fabraholic) the "treasures" have become harder and harder to find. I know EXACTLY what some of the others (above) have described about getting lost in a fabric store - most people don't understand this. It makes me very sad about all this as well.
    On a positive note, I LOVE your slip-covered chair, and can't wait to read more about your D&G jacket.
    Designdreamer

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  14. Oh, how I remember the Levine's store in Manchester, NH. Today, whenever I go to Manchester I make a point to visit Fabric Fix. Buttons, zippers and other adornments are one of the favorites they carry.....I never make a trip without bringing home some. Yes, their stock has dwindled but I go there into they decide to close the doors. The staff is friendly, helpful and full of ideas....wish I could say the same about Martin's.

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