Please, God, no more novelty prints.
December 31, 2009 1:30 AM   Subscribe

Where on Earth can you find BORING fabric?

Here's the problem: I'm a guy that knows how to sew. I'd like to start making some of my own clothes. I can't find any fabric to make them out of. I'm in Seattle.

What sort of fabric am I looking for? BORING! Close your eyes. Imagine you're walking through the men's department of your local Macy's. THOSE are the fabrics I'm looking for. Solid cotton weaves for pants. Knits for T-shirts. Heavier knits for underwear (yeah, I'm thinking about rolling my own dainty unmentionables). Jean weight denim. Have you tried finding a cotton weave in a solid blue suitable for making a dress shirt at Jo Ann's recently? Nigh on impossible, I cry!

So... where the heck does LL Bean shop for fabric, and do they send swatches?

Bonus points for sewing patterns and higher-end tailoring fabric.
posted by Vavuzi to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (24 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
So, erm... where have you tried getting fabric? The title of this post suggests you were disappointed. I was going to say you should go to Jo-Ann Fabric, the boring and/or ridiculous fabric capital of the world, but I'm wondering if you've already been.
posted by koeselitz at 1:47 AM on December 31, 2009 [5 favorites]

When I need non-hobby fabrics I usually go to a higher end fabric store, I used to live near one that sold remnants from fashion houses, so you'd often get good pant material and denim there. Jo-Ann's etc may have some ok-denim but if you want the good stuff, you'll have to look for something like the former.
posted by wingless_angel at 2:23 AM on December 31, 2009

Well, I don't have an answer for you, as to me it seems places like Joannes would be right up your alley (since I can't ever find anything NOT boring there and they surely have patterns available) but I do have a suggestion; Perhaps you should try going to Savers or whatever your local thrift store is and re-purpose some old clothes, making clothes out of clothes ensures you get exactly what you want in a fabric. And as far as higher end fabrics you will definitely have to go to a higher end fabric specialty store, which you can surely find in your phone book, if people still use phone-books, or you know, google it. good luck.
posted by madmamasmith at 2:31 AM on December 31, 2009

I think Nancy's Sewing Basket or maybe Stitches should have what you want locally.

If those don't work, I'd call up a local tailor or dressmaker and ask them for recommendations.
posted by stefanie at 2:56 AM on December 31, 2009

I bookmarked a while back, because they've got a really large selection. The search / winnowing functions aren't great, but they definitely have a better selection than JoAnn's. You can buy small swatches of some fabrics (the expensive ones, I assume) for $1.50, or just buy 1/8 yard of the cheaper fabrics. I have not ordered from them, though. is worth exploring. They have a merchant gallery. The forums there are very active and would be a good place to ask your question.
posted by jon1270 at 4:26 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you can't find what you're looking for at Jo-Ann, ask someone behind the counter if they can order some samples for you. They're there to sell you what you want, and nobody is more particular about the materials they work with than people who sew. A fabric store is generally one of the places where everybody who works there, from the cashiers to the stock people, has the same interest as the customers, and thus are more likely to help.
posted by xingcat at 4:38 AM on December 31, 2009

Chicago is blessed with the largest fabric store in the world -- Vogue Fabrics -- that has pretty much everything available. And they're online. If they don't have what you're looking for (and my quick perusal of their website suggests they do), it doesn't exist.
posted by DrGail at 5:50 AM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

Years ago, there used to be a fairly decent selection of chain fabric stores to choose from (Fabricland, House of Fabrics, Jo-ann's, etc), but quite a few have either gone out of business or been acquired by larger companies. As a result, the selection and quality of fabrics has really gone downhill. Trying to shop in Jo-ann's is equal parts frustrating and depressing.

These days, I don't even bother going to the chain stores. In San Francisco, we have Britex, a veritable mecca of fabrics, buttons, and everything else you could want to complete a sewing project. If you don't live nearby, their mail order service is fast and professional. Their prices are on the high side, but totally worth it, imho.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 6:08 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

I always find the fabric selection at WalMart to be extremely boring. You might try Hobby Lobby, also. I seem to recall an entire wall of solid cottons.
posted by fairywench at 6:51 AM on December 31, 2009

I've occasionally bought stuff at Goodwill just for the fabric. If it's large enough, it can be recut.
posted by theora55 at 7:13 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've sewn just about all of my clothes for the past two years. Sewing is awesome. It's time consuming, but cheap if you play your cards right. No one really notices that most of my clothes are home sewn and I have a closet full of garments that are exactly what I want and fit perfectly.

I prefer solids, but I will buy the occasional print, and I only sew with natural fibers. You'll want to buy cotton twills for pants and shirting (which comes in many varieties, but I find dark colored poplins and Oxford shirting to be the most handy). Wool tweed would be good for this time of year and has unlimited uses. Linen is fabulous for the summer.

Buy corduroy if that's your taste. I find it easy to work with and it's good for menswear jackets and pants. For casual stuff look for pique knits (for polo shirts), interlock knits (for t-shirts), and ribbing for collars and cuffs. Sweater knits are great for cardigans and pull-overs; you can have both without knowing how to knit. Stay away from anything with even a hint of polyester. That will always be inferior stuff.

I've ordered fabric from at least a dozen online stores. Fashion Fabrics Club has some good deals, but if difficult to wade through. Fabric Mart has limited stock, but they are a great place to get expensive couture fabrics for cheap, especially wool and silk. They change what they sell often, so it's good to check every few weeks.

My favorite is They have free shipping for orders over $35 and their site has the best organization, consistency, and quality. Check out the subsections for shirting, knits, twill and wool.

Joann does have two things that I use: heavier rib knits (mostly for tank tops and casual dresses) and corduroy. I also go there for most of my notions: thread, zippers, elastic, buttons, etc. It's reasonable if you can get a coupon from the paper.

Burda has the best menswear patterns, hands down. They also occasionally publish patterns for men in Burda World of Fashion magazine. It might be worth looking for a few back issues; the styles are never boring. Vogue has a few good things for formalwear, too, especially a well loved tuxedo pattern. Kwik sew will have good casual patterns for you. Jalie has great menswear and activewear patterns. Need a wresting singlet?

Extra tips:
Denim from the store won't look or act like the denim in store-bought jeans without some heavy, brutal washing. Buy some, and then wash it a few dozen times, preferably in a washer you don't care about with a few rocks. It will get softer and easier to work with over time.

Finally, if you haven't already bought a serger buy one! Taking the time to sew your own clothes means that they should last. Good seam finishes are key to making this happen. Otherwise, your washer and dryer will start eating your hard-earned creations.
posted by Alison at 7:33 AM on December 31, 2009 [10 favorites]

The problem is that you don't want boring fabrics, you want good menswear fabrics. You're not going to find them in a chain fabric store. You will have better luck looking in fine fabric stores, or at mill end stores. If you find a fabric you like at a mill end store, buy it -- it won't be there when you go back.

As mentioned above,, FashionFabricsClub (which isn't a club anymore, afaict); also Sy Fabrics, NY Fashion Center, the Mill End Store in Portland. IIRC, there is a mill end store in Seattle or environs, based on conversations on rec.sewing, but as I live in the midwest I never paid a lot of attention to them.

Trim Fabric is another source for mill ends and sample pieces. I've gotten some really nice fabrics from them, but they're very slow in shipping.

For patterns, Burda and Kwik Sew are pretty much all there is for menswear other than fleece or pajamas, although Vogue Men sometimes has quite nice shirts and suits.

(Oh, disregard Alison's comment about polyester in the case of fleece -- PolarFleece is 100% polyester fibers. )
posted by jlkr at 8:51 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you're willing to drive (or take the train) down to Portland, Fabric Depot is huge and utterly awesome. I haven't looked specifically for menswear fabrics there, but I can't imagine they wouldn't have a selection, and you could always give them a call and ask (I've had really good experiences with their staff--friendly and competent).
posted by Kat Allison at 9:00 AM on December 31, 2009

(PS on Fabric Depot -- be aware that what they show on their website is just a fraction of what they have out on the sales floor. They bill themselves as "the largest fabric store in America" and they may just be right.)
posted by Kat Allison at 9:03 AM on December 31, 2009

Jo Ann has pretty terrible apparel fabrics nowadays, especially if you want something simple and high-quality.

Nthing Manhattan Fabrics is also good. Once you know the name of the fabric you are looking for, wool gabardine, for example, you can look on eBay too.
posted by apricot at 9:11 AM on December 31, 2009

As far as finding fabric in a brick and mortar store, have you tried Pacific Fabrics? They have a pretty good variety of stuff in stock--especially compared to Joann's!--and they have multiple locations around the Seattle/Tacoma area. (They also have an outlet store in south Seattle, on 4th, which is always an adventure.)
posted by Vervain at 10:05 AM on December 31, 2009

2nding jlkr's point that it's not boring fabric you want, it's mens-wear fabrics, as well as manufacturer's fabrics. Joanne's and Walmart tend to have cheap fabric which is usually not what you want, except perhaps for cotton muslins and basic interfacings. But being a sewer seems to equal being constantly in search of just the right fabric, so I wouldn't discourage you from checking them out. I've just found them to be mostly discouraging. I definitely think it's worth buying top-quality fabrics for any serious project, and anything you're going to wear, particularly next to your skin.

Here's some not-previously-mentioned online resources I've found useful, or at least interesting; haven't tried them all.

Banksville Fabrics. On the other coast, but they have an excellent swatch service and a huge selection of designer off-cuts (left-overs).

Phillips-Boyne. A shirting wholesaler that sells single-shirt cuts and supplies swatches.

HempTrader. Very nice plain linens and other basic fabrics in pale colors.

NearSea Naturals. This is where I'd look for under-garment fabrics; other good stuff, too.

SafeDenim. Looks like an ideal place to get real-thing jeans fabric. BTW, f you want to get that puckered-seam effect that RTW jeans develop, use the denim before washing it; the puckers come from shrinkage.

I'd also suggest you drop in on some small local tailoring shops to see if you can order yardage from their swatch books, whenever you decide you want high-end woolens. Here's an online source that sells that kind of thing: Expensive!

I've written a couple of books on sewing shirts and pants that each have source listings (the pants book is much more recent, and includes a disk with hundreds of active links to suppliers), and have several blogs with more sources, some video clips on copying shirts and pants without taking them apart, and that sort of thing. Questions welcome.
posted by dpcoffin at 11:24 AM on December 31, 2009 [5 favorites]

Oh, disregard Alison's comment about polyester in the case of fleece -- PolarFleece is 100% polyester fibers.

Right. Fleece and some moisture wicking sports fabrics are all polyester. I will admit those as exceptions.

However, polyester knits, cotton-poly blend, and those awful "silky" fabrics (a.k.a 100% polyester) are not worth the money. You'll probably only be tempted by cotton-poly blends if you're doing menswear. They don't do well in the wash and don't really absorb sweat on hot days; it's like wearing a zip-loc bag with arm-holes. Trust me. I've already made that mistake.
posted by Alison at 12:06 PM on December 31, 2009

OMG, David Page Coffin is "metafilter's own!" (I seriously feel like I'm in the presence of tailoring royalty!)

I'd ask this question over at Pattern Review as well. It's a great resource.

Gorgeous Fabrics has a nice selection of shirtings (most of them feminine but some nice basic stripes as well.) I've heard great things about Michael's Fabrics as well as Emma One Sock.

Seattle Fabrics and Rose City Textiles are good for outdoor fabrics. (Annette at the RCT retail store is totally awesome and helpful so if you're ever in Portland stop by and visit her.)

and don't forget to buy good interfacing and other notions!
posted by vespabelle at 3:34 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ebay! Seriously. I've seen and bought from sellers who apparently hawk the factory direct cotton knits and fleece and... well, you name it, right down to the buttons that Lands' End uses to make their stuff. Ok, it's not LL Bean, but surely Lands' End qualifies as equally boring and yet of good quality, as far as fashion and fabric choices go. And of course if you don't need specifically Lands' End or alternate insert-boring-brand-name-here fabrics, you can sort out what you want via search fields to specify plain, non-patterned, 100% cotton pique knit in basic tan, navy, white or whatever your boring fabric preferences desire - nary a novelty print in sight! Some sellers will even send samples if you ask.

As for how it works, you usually auction the price for a yard and then can buy additional yardage at the price you won the auction for, which is usually very, very good compared to what you'll find at a fabric store, though some auctions are for a set yardage. Make sure you read through the whole listing.

Search in the crafts section under fabrics, and make sure you include store inventory in the search options. I just checked now, and at the moment all that's up for 'Lands End' tagged sewing/fabric-related auctions are buttons, berber fleece and cotton cording, but I'm fairly certain that's due to seller holiday distractions, so I'd check again in a bit & see what comes up... I've seen Lands End fabrics available regularly since the summer, and purchased some quite recently. You can also do things like save and set a search to email you when fabric tagged Lands' End pops up, which is handy.

And I'm going to go purge the words 'Lands' End' from my vocabulary now. Joy.
posted by involution at 6:19 PM on January 3, 2010

I think all the good online sources for men's apparel fabrics are covered, but I wanted to add one more that has some cool, understated prints (they are overruns from a boy's clothing label, but some would work for grownup men and women): Bolt 44. They also have knit solids.
posted by kmel at 6:24 AM on January 5, 2010

I just want to jump in and nth the Mill End Store in Portland if you can't find what you are looking for in a brick and mortar store in Seattle. Worth the trip if only for research purposes. They carry a large selection of fabrics designed for clothing rather than simply quilting (Fabric Depot has a small selection of men's wear and other fabrics but Mill End is far better). I highly recommend seeing in person the fabrics you are interested in and taking some notes (designer, manufacturer, line, etc.) or buying samples so that you have a much better idea of what you are looking for when you turn to online sources, especially given the fact that shirting fabrics, wools, twills, etc. are more costly than quilting cotton.
posted by rosebengal at 10:26 AM on January 6, 2010

Go ask an Amish woman or man where they get their fabric. Seriously. Even if they get it from a department store, you at least then have a tip on looking harder in a place you've already visited. Can't hurt anyway.
posted by DisreputableDog at 9:29 PM on October 11, 2010

Where the (some) Amish get their fabric.

I last saw their no-pictures catalog back when I wrote my shirt book (early '90s—they're listed in it as a good source for high quality basics like chambray, denim, flannel and muslin). I just called them and confirmed that they still do sell fabric; gave 'em my address for a current catalog.
posted by dpcoffin at 11:37 AM on October 12, 2010

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