Fabric-Shopping Memories

by melissa on January 22, 2013

Quilt or fabric shops are about as personal as underwear styles. You might go one place for one type of fabric (bikini) and another place for a wider selection of notions (hipster). Or there’s a third place where you just know you’ll find unexpected fun (thong). You get the drift.

No matter what draws you to a shop, though, you have your fave. It’s a gut-level “ahhh!” the minute you step in the door. Not an errand on a to-do list, but a destination treat.

Several of our staffers also work part-time in fabric or quilt shops, as teachers or counter help, so as “ Visit Your Local Quilt Shop Day” (Jan. 24) approaches, we found ourselves thinking about the whole fabric shopping thing, and how it figures in our past/present/future as sewists. Then we asked some of our staff members to share…

What’s your earliest memory of buying fabric?

“I’m sure I visited fabric stores as a very young girl, but this memory sticks out: I was a fourth grader, and my mom asked me to help pick out fabric for a jumper she was going to sew for me. I chose (e.g. was probably steered toward) a plush wide-wale deep green corduroy, because it was so soft.  I kept stroking the fabric on the drive home. And a few weeks later, when my grandfather unexpectedly passed away, I remember wanting to take my grandmother a big chunk of that fabric so she could hold it and be comforted.

“It wasn’t until I started 4-H sewing in junior high that I really got to have some fun choosing outfits and coordinating apparel fabrics. My poor mom who went through those years with four daughters! A trip to the fabric store was probably an all-day event! (Now that you think about it, what’s wrong with that?)”—Melissa Thompson Maher

“I started making quilts about a year after I taught myself–often poorly–to make clothes. I didn’t know what a quilt was (for real) but saw a pattern on a magazine cover and just did it. And I was hooked. But for many years, I was quiet about my new addiction. This was the late 1980s and I would slink into my area fabric stores to hunt for calico and cabbage rose print fabric. Like a junkie grabbing my fix in a back alley, I never made eye contact and carefully looked both ways before leaving the shop. I wasn’t embarrassed, but I was shy and just didn’t know there were like-minded creatures out there. And I was completely intimidated by the older ladies who worked in the shop.

“But one day, a very sweet shop lady who was actually within a decade of my age asked me what I was making. No one had ever wanted to know what I was making before! So I reluctantly pulled out a magazine pattern of fall leaves scattered across a quilt and she looked at my 20 1/4 yard cuts in yellows, oranges, reds and browns. Then she treated me like a real live quilter and gave me my first major color lesson in two sentences: ‘You should consider adding some plum and eggplant to your line up. Purple is a complement to yellows, and will also make the oranges sparkle.’ Oh, she was so right! And she opened up my eye to the world of complements, shades and tones which continues to this day to feed my hunger for color.

“I no longer duck into quilt shop corners hoping no one will pay attention to me. I’ve learned to ask for guidance when I feel stuck, and to not be insecure about my creativity. To me, a quilt shop is like walking into a university of stitching. The experiences and skill levels of the people working there represent a wide range of styles, techniques and information and I’m a willing student.”–Jake Finch

My earliest memory of being in a fabric shop is from way back in the 70s. My mother and sister both made clothing and we had a very large fabric chain called Cloth World that we would go to – I doubt it still exists and I can’t remember the name. I remember walking through and touching all of the fabric. I would try to figure out how the fabric hung from the bolts – the bolts would be displayed on round tables with the bolts standing up on end. One thickness of the folded fabric would be flipped over the top of the bolt so the fabric would hang down and drape beautifully. My mom and sister would spend what seemed (to me) like forever in there.
“I also remember quite vividly going to the Fashion District in New York. The last time I went was just before my wedding. I wore my mother’s wedding dress that my sister revamped for me. The dress had held up surprisingly well, but there was a front panel made from tulle that had discolored a bit. We went to the fabric shops in NYC to try to find something to use. I think I had a mini-heart attack as my mom and sis found a sequined lace that cost $200 per yard. I think we only needed a yard, so it was much more reasonable than I imagined. My mother reminded me that my sister was too afraid to cut into it. She turned to my mom and said “I can’t cut it… you have to do it. If I cut it and ruin it you won’t forgive me. ” My sister is one of those miracle workers with fabric and an amazing seamstress. She took a beautiful dress that was made for a 5’2″ bride and transformed it into a dress for a 5’8″ bride.”–Tracy Mooney

Tracy's wedding dress, with the so-pricey panel of sequined lace from New York.

So Q-bies…your turn! Share your fabric-shopping memories with us!




Leave a Comment

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura Valdez Identicon Icon Laura Valdez January 22, 2013 at 7:55 am

I remember when I was about 10, my Mom decided I should sew for myself. I’d watched her make clothes, make her gowns for the Potintates (sp) ball, my Dad was a Shriner and clothes for the 4 of us. She took a piece of cotton with a design on the bottom, ripped a piece from the top, handed me a zipper, the small piece and the panel and said, “Here you go make your skirt.” So with her guidance, I was off and running. I made my clothes for years, then while being a stay at home Mom, I ran a sewing and alteration business. One day a customer requested a quilt for a new grandchild. Quilt in A Day had just come out and the rest is history. I also found out that my Grandma Gladys was a quilter and I have pieces of her Double Wedding Ring, Tumbling Blocks and others that I hope to put together once I retire completely.


karenthequilter Identicon Icon karenthequilter January 22, 2013 at 2:34 pm

I think I grew up in fabric stores. My mom made most of my clothes until I was old enough to start making them myself. I have very fond memories of hanging around the bolts while she made her choices. I remember my favorite part was when they ran the fabric through the measuring thingy – it was a machine that clocked the yardage, then made a small cut. So cool to a small child!
More importantly, I remember when I got to start picking out the fabrics myself. I remember buying all the fabric I needed for a mini dress in my teens for $5!
I didn’t start quilting in earnest until real quilt shops came along. I always had a love/hate relationship with the synthetics I grew up on, so 100% cotton was such a delight! A whole store dedicated to nothing stretchy! Pure luxury!


Sandy Identicon Icon Sandy January 22, 2013 at 2:45 pm

I had an agreement with my grandmother. I would draw the clothes I wanted and help select the fabric and she would make them. I think this started about age 4. My Grandmother taught me to sew.


quiltzyx/sue Identicon Icon quiltzyx/sue January 22, 2013 at 3:40 pm

I don’t remember the first time I went to a fabric shop. But I do remember the first time I went into a quilt shop. I was taking a quilt class thru’ the local Adult Ed with a friend. We’d been going for a while, learning the basics & sewing & doing quilt-as-you-go all by hand. We had now ‘graduated’ to figuring out our own patterns & using our sewing machines. I designed a flying geese quilt & we decided to go big time & hit the local quilt shop. What a wondrous event! So many beautiful colors in cotton!! It was a blast, picking out the colors for my quilt. I did find it funny too – they ooohed & aaaahed over the mauves & blues (the very IN colors at that time) my friend was picking, but did their best to not gasp when I brought my stack of bright jewel tones to the cutting table! Hah!


Lisa freira Identicon Icon Lisa freira January 22, 2013 at 7:12 pm

Tracy that store was Cloth World. Unfortunately it went out of business years ago. I used to love it so much I actually worked for them for awhile. Ya know it’s funny I’ve been sewing for so long I don’t remember the first time I purchased fabric. More then likely I probably stole some of mom’s. lol. Along with begging to use her at the time SOOOOOOO expensive sewing machine. I consider the fact that i don’t remember the first time, an actual blessing when I realize how many woman were not as lucky as you and I were in having people around to teach us at such a young age. Sewing is an art that needs time to be perfected. Even choosing the fabric or fabrics takes a very keen eye that can be a project in itself at times. But so much fun………. And so very fulfilling in the end.


Aunt Marti Identicon Icon Aunt Marti January 22, 2013 at 8:33 pm

A couple of years ago, I was visiting in Ohio and saw a photo on a blog of Sarah Fielke’a new fabric collection “From Little Things.” I thought I would never find that fabric in a shop near my home In Colorado. Imagine my delight when I visited The Cosmic Cow in Lincoln, Nebraska and found they had just received the entire line!


Leslie M Identicon Icon Leslie M January 23, 2013 at 12:06 pm

I was in the 6th grade, feeling very grown up since I was in middle school. In Home Ec we made an apron, I’m not sure where the fabric came from, but I made an absolutely hideous off-color orange one…god awful. Then it was time for a big project…a dress. We lived in a small community that had a department store named Browns. Browns had a pattern book (Simplicity) and fabric. I selected a pattern and some lovely calico that was blue and had tiny white daisies on it. Long story short, by the time I finished the dress I didn’t wear the same size and never go to wear the dress. I still dream of that fabric and the cheery yellow buttons I bought and that dress, that in my dreams, is just perfect.


Teresa Pierce Identicon Icon Teresa Pierce January 23, 2013 at 11:22 pm

I remember going to a shop called Bond’s of Beaverdale. It was actually a local department store in the neighborhood where I grew up in Des Moines. They had the most fabulous fabric department. Designer fabrics and patterns. I made myself a Diane von Furstenburg dress using DvF fabric bought at Bond’s. Anyway, the woman who worked there always paid attention to me when I was little and would show me all the wondrous treasures of thread and fabric and notions. I’m a gadget girl to this day thanks to a great woman named Irene. Bond’s of Beaverdale is long gone, but my love of fabric and local shops will always be with me.


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