The Lonely Crafter’s Guide to London
London can be a difficult and expensive place to source sewing supplies — demand is not high, space is at a premium and rents are exorbitant. Depending on where you live, your nearest decent fabric shop may be quite a trek. What’s more, fabric and haberdashery (notions) tend to be sold separately, so you may have to make two trips to assemble everything you need for a project. I buy a lot of stuff online, but there’s times when you need to match a color or feel the drape of a cloth, or just perv out on fabric you don’t really need, and that’s where bricks-and-mortar shops come in.
Shops I’ve visited in person are marked with a star. There are still plenty of places I haven’t yet investigated, and I’m continually adding to this page. Suggestions, corrections and recommendations welcomed and any excuse to visit fabric shops taken — feel free to drop me a line!
- If you only have one day
- The Lonely Crafter’s Map of London
- Fabric shops
- Haberdashery & supplies
- Recommended only for children of oligarchs or those with far more patience than me
- Further reading
If time is limited, head for Oxford Circus, where you’ll find everything you need (for a price!) within a 15-minute radius at MacCulloch & Wallis, John Lewis, Liberty, Morplan, Barnett Lawson, Kleins, RD Franks, DM Buttons, VV Rouleaux, The Button Queen and the fabric shops of Soho. [See map.]
Apart from the old standbys John Lewis and Liberty (of which more below), the best-known spots for a fabric shopping spree in London are Berwick Street in Soho, Goldhawk Road (west, zone 2) and Walthamstow Market (northeast, zone 3). If Berwick Street is the oysters Rockefeller of the fabric shopping world (luscious and bad for the wallet), Goldhawk Road is pho (cheap and satisfying) and Walthamstow Market is KFC (dirt cheap and largely synthetic, but it has its own appeal).
Berwick Street (explore with Google Streetview)
Berwick Street bristles with fabric shops, including plenty of silk merchants. They cater mostly to fashion, film and TV, though, and are stocked accordingly, so if you’re looking for workaday, season-appropriate dress fabric rather than shot silk or brocades, you may leave empty-handed.
- Cloth House (47a) [warning: sudden music on website]. The kind of place to browse for hours. Beautiful window displays, shelves of vintage laces, trims, ribbons and rickrack and buttons in Mason jars, plus a soundtrack of 1930s jazz. Emphasis is on natural fibers and their fabrics include organic cotton, ikat, batik, seersucker, ticking, shirting, corduroy and moleskin. Staff are friendly and helpful and prices run from reasonable to regrettable. 47a Berwick Street, W1.
- Cloth House (98). At the opposite end of Berwick Street, this sister shop is bigger and carries more specialty, textured and sophisticated fabrics, including laces, velvets, wool knits, metallics, tweeds and lots of cotton and silk jerseys. 98 Berwick Street, W1.
- The Silk Society. Small but competently stocked shop specializing, naturally enough, in silks. Not too appallingly priced, despite wanky Flash website. 44 Berwick Street, W1.
- Soho Silks. Promisingly grubby and smelling slightly of stale ciggies, Soho Silks carries a mix of synthetic and natural fabrics, including wool crepes, linens, laces and tweeds. Ask for Rebecca to get a good deal, apparently. 22 D’Arblay Street, W1.
- Textile King. Mostly catering for men’s tailoring, this airy shop has a small collection of vintage fabric as well as a good selection of wool suiting, linings, tweed and shirtings. As so often in London, prices are set in direct proportion to the amount of floor space visible. 81 Berwick Street, W1.
- Broadwick Silks. Crammed full of such shiny and beautiful silks I couldn’t bear to go in. “Couture” is French for “prepare to hemorrhage money”. 9-11 Broadwick Street. W1.
- Borovick. Cheerfully garish and specializing in shiny synthetics (sequins, lame, leopard print). Also carries leather, real and faux fur, suede and a basic range of thread, needles, zips and Dylon fabric dyes. 16 Berwick Street, W1.
- Berwick Street Cloth Shop. Glammy and rammed with special-occasion and novelty fabrics. If it’s embroidered, fringed, beaded, feathered or textured, they probably carry it. Plenty of knits, synthetics and silks. 14 Berwick Street, W1.
Goldhawk Road (explore with Google Street View)
- Classic Textiles: Probably my favorite of the Goldhawk Road cluster, this shop crams an amazing amount of fabric into a cramped three floors and has a particularly impressive selection of natural fibers, especially silk, at startlingly low prices. Friendly, knowledgeable staff. Highlights include silk jersey, wool suiting and discount Liberty prints. 44 Goldhawk Road, W12.
- A-One Fabrics: My second favorite. Lots of felt and silks, including affordable embroidered silks, habutai and silk velvet. Also a ton of cotton shirting and wool suiting. 50-52 Goldhawk Road, W12.
…extends for a kilometer along Walthamstow High Street, Tuesdays to Saturdays (more information here). If you’re not picky about natural fibers and can handle the hordes, you’ll find a selection of no-frills (heh) fabric and trim shops and stalls. Pickings vary from suitings and cottons to garish synthetics. I went in search of linen one Saturday in November and found it so cheap and cheerless I never went back, but your mileage may vary. Karen from Did You Make That? rates it — check out her field report here.
Elsewhere in London
- For those who hate shelling out for fripperies like food when there’s fabric to be bought, Shaukat in South Kensington is an oasis of happiness in a very spendy neighborhood. This airy, unpretentious shop sells scores of Liberty prints as remnants or off the bolt for under £15/m. Paradise for quilters and clothes makers, it has lots of lovely silks, printed and solid cottons and linens and wool suitings. Recommended by A Dress a Day and seconded by this blog. 170-172 Old Brompton Road, SW5.
Jasons Fabrics has a very shiny selection including lots of the latest designer fabrics. 310 Edgware Road, W2.
A few doors up, Hadson also stocks some tasty fabrics. Haven’t been in, just pressed my nose against the glass at night. 318 Edgware Road, W2.
Those with a taste for glitzy Indian fabrics or rock-bottom prices can happily lose a day to the shops around Tooting Broadway station.
- Tooting Market, right next to the station, has several stalls selling cheap fabrics. Time 2 Stitch carries haberdashery, trims and lots of buttons. Sew Much More provides tailoring/seamstress service and alterations.
- There are several fabric/saree shops along the road for two or three blocks towards Tooting Bec station. Some of them sell fabric on the bolt, some only sell fabric in pre-cut saree lengths. Selection includes some gorgeous embroidered silks.
- The Wimbledon Sewing & Craft Superstore has a modest selection of not-particularly-remarkable fabrics and a comprehensive selection of haberdashery, trims, machines, equipment and interfacings all under one roof, for slightly cheaper than in zone 1. Friendly staff, too. 292-312 Balham High Road, SW17.
Brixton Market has a few lucky-dip fabric shops, paradise for those who like adventurous prints.
- Atlantic Silk Fabrics on Electric Avenue in Brixton is not terribly inspiring for fabrics but has a small, competent selection of thread, zippers etc., including denim topstitch thread. I’ve heard S&S Textiles, around the corner on Atlantic Road under the railway bridge, has yielded finds for other shoppers.
Brick Lane has a couple of small fabric shops, as does Bethnal Green Road, catering mostly for the south Asian communities there — get your sarees here!
Beyond Fabrics on Columbia Road in Bethnal Green has an exciting-looking selection of retro prints (including Moda!) suitable for garment making and quilting, as well as fabric bundles, threads and ribbons. Sewing classes offered. 67 Columbia Road, E2.
New addition Our Patterned Hand on Broadway Market offers “fabric and haberdashery, sewing workspace & tuition”. Intriguing. 49 Broadway Market, E8.
Lewisham is near where I live now so I really ought to give Rolls & Rems a visit. 111 High Street, Lewisham, SE13; other locations in Holloway and Edmonton.
Tikki in Kew is a quilting and patchwork shop reputedly worth visiting, preferably after a champagne picnic in Kew Gardens. 293 Sandycombe Road, Kew Gardens, TW9.
The Quilting Bee is located in Enfield between Oakwood Station on the Piccadilly line and Enfield Town. 14 Enfield Road, EN2.
- MacCulloch and Wallis. Sigh. I wanted to file this shop under “Recommended only for Children of Oligarchs” etc. below, but the truth is it’s just too damn useful. Their business motto seems to be, “Hey, where else are you gonna go?” Yes, they are extremely conveniently located off Oxford Street, a stone’s throw from John Lewis and Soho. Yes, they generally stock whatever it is I’m looking for, from guipure lace to corset busks to interfacing to thimbles in various sizes. Yes, I tend to end up buying most of my trims and haberdashery there. But the customer experience is usually so abysmal I never know whether to laugh or rage. What’s worse: the languid, stony-faced staff? The rigid, parsimonious “1-metre minimum and no overage” cutting policy? The brazen overpricing that means a few buttons, a zipper and thread can double the cost of a project? The draconian “NO refunds! NO returns! NO exchanges!” signs sprinkled around the shop? Oh well. Grit your teeth, grab your habby and don’t get suckered into buying their fabrics. 25-26 Dering Street, W1.
- Kleins is like MacCulloch & Wallis’s less popular but far friendlier younger sister. It’s small but jam-packed with trims, haberdashery, bag-making accessories, fabric dyes, interfacings and craft supplies. Highlights include velcro and elastic in lots of colors, vintage hem tape, twill tape and zippers. Staff are helpful and approachable and prices are slightly less offensive than in M&W. Weekend warriors need not bother stopping by, though — they’re only open Mon.-Fri. 5 Noel Street, W1.
- DM Buttons, around the corner, make custom cloth-covered buttons and supply and repair fasteners. If you struggle with buttonholes, like me, their dingy basement workroom is worth a visit — having eight professional buttonholes put in a blouse I made took less than five minutes and cost me £3. 11b Wardour Mews, D’Arblay Street, W1.
- John Lewis, Oxford Street, has a competent basic assortment of patterns (including Burda), zippers, buttons and supplies in addition to its limited range of fabrics, but see below. 300 Oxford Street, W1.
- William Gee on the Kingsland Road supplies haberdashery and equipment to the tailoring trade, but their shop, unless they’ve undergone a serious revamp recently, is one of the saddest retail spaces I’ve seen in my crafty travels. Difficult to navigate unless you know what you want, but they do have a pretty comprehensive range of professional tools, up to and including tailor’s canvas and pattern design and drafting supplies. 520-522 Kingsland Road, E8.
- The London Bead Co., bang opposite Kentish Town Road station, was a pleasant surprise. Their emphasis is mostly on bead and needlecraft (embroidery, cross-stitch and crewel), but their inventory is better chosen than most London craft shops’ and includes lots of stuff with sewing appeal, like pure silk thread. They also carry some quilting supplies and a limited but well-chosen range of fabrics, interfacings and (mostly hand)sewing equipment, including some less-common stuff like darning mushrooms and eyelet kits. 339 Kentish Town Road, NW5.
- Morplan, conveniently equidistant between John Lewis/MacCulloch & Wallis and the fabric shops of Soho, isn’t a sewing supply store per se, but it supplies London College of Fashion students with pattern design books, rulers and various whatnots, so is always worth a look. It also sells dress forms at various price points and useful things like wooden skirt and suit hangers. 56 Great Titchfield Street, W1.
- Barnett Lawson, just around the corner from Morplan, feels like a sewing speakeasy — it was recommended to me by an anonymous tipster, and there’s a procedure for getting in (know where you’re going, press the button and wait for the buzzer). This subterranean shop is crammed from floor to ceiling with trimmings, tassels, buttons, braid and lingerie, millinery and upholstery findings. Geared towards the trade but open to the public, BL can be a little intimidating to the hobbyist (much of their inventory has 10 or 25-m minimum cuts) but staff are nice bonkers, and you may find stuff here you can’t find anywhere else. 16-17 Little Portland Street, W1.
- The Button Queen in Marylebone, an easy walk from Oxford Circus, carries a great selection of new and vintage buttons. 76 Marylebone Lane, W1.
- RD Franks is London’s best-known fashion bookshop, stocking everything from pattern blocks to books on the history of millinery. It’s mostly geared towards the industry (lots of trend reporting from the bleeding edge of fashion), but there’s plenty of stuff of interest to the hobbyist. Conveniently, and dangerously, located near all the other crafty shops around Oxford Circus. 5 Winsley Street, W1.
- VV Rouleaux makes me wish I lived in an era of silk gowns and lavish hats. It’s a paradise of posh trimmings — ribbons, braid, tassels, feathers, lace and piping abound. They also carry some stretch trims and lingerie elastic. Prices range from reasonable-for-the-location to wince-inducing, but there’s no denying the lusciousness of the stock, and minimum cut is a sensible 10 cm. 54 Sloane Square, SW1 [moving October 2010 to 261 Pavilion Road, Sloane Square], and 102 Marylebone Lane, W1.
- London Trimmings is a haberdashery, trimmings and supplies wholesaler whose Whitechapel shop is open to the public. 26-28 Cambridge Heath Road, E1.
The two shops everyone always mentions for sewing in London are John Lewis on Oxford Street and Liberty on Regent Street. I find John Lewis’s fabric selection limited, unremarkable and not particularly competitively priced, and seamstresses from previous generations confirm that it’s gone way downhill in recent years. However, they do carry a few Amy Butler prints and patterns (at a markup), which I haven’t seen elsewhere in London.They are more useful when it comes to haberdashery, though, and have an okay selection of buttons, zippers and equipment, as well as patterns from the Big Four and Burda. However, if you aspire to do more than dabble in sewing, you may find their stock disappointing.
There’s no denying the appeal of a good Liberty print, but they are much more appealing when priced at £6-£15 a meter, as you’ll find them at Shaukat in South Kensington or Classic Textiles on Goldhawk Road.
The Traveling Quilter’s Guide to London has a very thorough rundown of some American quilters’ quest for fabric in London.