Fabric shopping in Paris
I originally wrote this post for the Petit Paris Etsy Team - you can find the original here.
Before I moved to Paris, I lived in a mid-sized city in the UK. Although there was a great creative scene there, there weren't very many fabric shops and the ones we did have were quite far apart. So, I'm sure you can imagine how excited I was to find Paris' fabric district in Montmartre! I'm a big fan of shopping online (I also sell online, after all!), but often I need to buy large quantities of fabric for my projects. Because of this, I prefer to feel the quality before I spend any money. Montmartre is perfect for this because there are so many fabric shops and haberdasheries next door to one another! I love to shop around so I can find the best quality at the best price.
Fabric shopping in this part of Paris is different to many other places I've bought fabric before. There is no 'normal' type of fabric shop in Paris, so I'm going to tell you a little bit about my experiences in the ones I visit most often...
Lots of the establishments call themselves 'coupon shops', which means that they sell fabric in fixed 3 metre bundles. These bundles are piled high, often in no particular order, so the shop feels a bit like a jumble sale! I love this sort of place if I know I want to make (for example) a shirt, but I'm not exactly sure what would work best. I'll browse the piles, feel the material, and I'll find something that I couldn't have even imagined, like a zebra-and-toucan-and-minibus cotton voile! This is definitely the place to have an open mind, but it's also great if your French is limited because you don't have to interact with the staff too much - you just grab what you want and head to the till. And if you see something you like, make sure you snap it up straight away because it won't be there next time you come!
'Off the roll' shops
This type of shop is much more familiar to me; lots of rolls of fabric organised by type across a number of floors. These places tend to be more expensive than the coupon stores, but the quality is generally higher and you have SO much more choice - both on the type of fabric you want, and the quantity. They also tend to carry the pretty much same fabrics all year round, so you know that you'll be able to go to one of these places and get some denim, or some cord, or whatever you had in mind.
Pretty much a cross between the previous two categories; you'll find an old man sat in the back (I don't know why it's always a man, but I've yet to see a woman running one of these shops!), and a crazy mishmash of fabric rolls stacked up to the ceiling. I've also found that these places often stock a random assortment of overlocker cones/zips/seam rippers/you name it, at up to 50% less than the bigger shops nearby. As with the coupon shops, you can't go into a place like this with a very specific fabric in mind, but they're great places to pick up something really unusual that you didn't even know you needed!
Throughout Paris there are lots of places that sell fabric they design in-house, and also stock indie dressmaking patterns and high-quality trims and notions. These places can tell you exactly who designed your fabric, where it was made, and how it was made. These are the sort of places I go if I'm making a fancy shirt for my husband, or if I have some birthday money to spend.
Things I love about fabric shopping in Paris:
- Everyone is so friendly! The stereotype of grumpy French shop assistants isn't at all true in fabric shops. Could you be in a bad mood if you spent your whole day tending to fabric?!
- There are lots of assistants ready to help you, but they won't bother you unless you ask for help. I'm one of those people who can't stand a pushy shop assistant, so this situation is perfect for me.
- It's great for practising your French numbers. Instead of asking for 'a metre and a half' of fabric, you have to ask for 'one metre and 50 centimetres', which means I'm getting very familiar with this part of French vocab!
- Whenever I'm asked about my handmade clothes, I'm able to say 'oh yes, I picked this fabric up in Paris!', which is the coolest thing anyone has ever said. Fact.