Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Ride-by fabric shopping

The sun has broken out in London recently and last week as I cycled through Whitechapel, fearing for my life as usual, it shone upon rolls of bold printed fabrics being loaded onto the street. I clocked the location - actually next to a tall, imposing concrete clock - and called back later in the day. I have written a guide to fabric shops in London, but it is nowhere near complete. I am always discovering new textile treasure troves tucked away in the seedier corners of the city.


The rolls of fabric I had spotted belonged to Paul's Fabrics, one branch of the nation wide Textile Centre Ltd, that buys end-of-roll fashion fabrics and sells them at amazingly low prices. Luckily for me, Paul's is undergoing refurbishment so is temporarily displaying their wares outdoors on street stalls. If it weren't for this I never would have noticed this hidden discount fabric shop.


The Textile Centre has a brilliant business aim. They purchase redundant fabrics, once destined for high street clothing stores and sell them to the Asian population of the UK. They aim to enable young Muslim women "to dress in the latest fashions whilst maintaining their traditional styles of dress."

Whitechapel has a history steeped in textiles. This began when the French Huegenots, who were master silk weavers, emigrated to the area following persecution in 1685. Irish linen weavers then began to populate the area in the 1730s. There is also clearly a more recent history of Bangladeshi textiles, though I can find out little about this. I recently missed a talk by Dr Muhammad Ahmedullah on Bengali textiles (especially muslin) in the Whitechapel area but I'm hoping a film of this will go up on the Brick Lane Circle's website.


There was a great range of fabrics displayed on the stall. This included plain colours, ranging from subdued greys and browns to more eye popping acid colours - minty turquoise and glaring lemon yellow - that are all over catwalks and fashion magazines at the moment.


It also had a huge range of floral and geometric printed fabrics, in multicolour and monochrome. I'd love to make trousers in any of the graphic black and white prints below. 


I restricted myself to buying only this floppy floral fabric, dappled with black velvet speckles. It is lovely, though it's not for me but for whoever chooses to use it at the 'How to make a playsuit' workshop I'm teaching at the end of May. This fabric is going to make a pretty, summery all-in-one.

 
I find fabric shopping enjoyable in a way that differs from clothes shopping. It's exciting as you are picking a material that you are going to cut and sculpt into a unique piece of clothing. You have to use your imagination as you can't view the finished piece, only conjure up a picture of how it may look. I know many people who find fabric shopping a little bit intimidating as it is so hands on, often prices aren't written on rolls and they can feel excluded through perceived lack of knowledge of technical language. I hope to blog regularly about buying textiles on the high street in the hope that I can help dispel the myth that fabric shopping is scary or requires special skills.

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