Friday, November 30, 2012

Local Fabric Stores in the Boston Area

My latest Marden's haul:

I get asked a lot about where I buy my fabric.  Writing up a "modern fabric buying guide" for Boston area residents and visitors has been on my "to-do" list for ages.  I apologize to my readers for whom this post is irrelevant - more handmade posts coming soon!
Firstly, I need to start with a disclaimer: I must admit that I buy most of my fabric online.  There are advantages and disadvantages to buying online.  I buy primarily online because:

  • It is almost always more affordable, even when I have to pay for shipping.  I have become pretty skilled at seeking out deals and sales - something I can further detail in another post.  (I am very price sensitive (err.. cheap?!) when it comes to fabric buying - I have a limited monthly budget and I try to get the most out of it - this is why I will mention pricing frequently in my review of local stores.)
  • The variety available online is significant - I can almost always find a certain line, designer, or print that I want while the local selection is much more limited.
  • It is very convenient: I don't have to leave my house, cart my children around, etc.  Local shops rarely have evening hours and their layout is rarely conducive to a stroller.  (But who really wants to bring two toddlers shopping anyway?  I avoid it!).  All local modern stores are a minimum of a 20 minute drive for me - I think if I lived around the corner from one, I would probably go more often.
  • I tend to be pretty loyal to the designers I like - for example, I haven't met a Denyse Schmidt fabric I didn't like - so although it is a bit of a risk to buy something you haven't seen in person - I am usually pretty happy with what I find online if I stick to the kinds of designers and manufacturers that produce the kind of fabrics that I like. 
But shopping locally has its perks:

  • It is important to support local businesses, especially those that cater to the modern aesthetic.  We've got to tell the stores and companies what we want with our dollars!
  • Seeing a fabric in person is very important - it's difficult to perceive the correct color and scale on the computer screen.  It's also very beneficial to be able to touch the fabric before you buy it.  Buying fabric in-person is often crucial for certain projects when you need to get a coordinate or basic that will go with what you are working on.
  • It's fun.
Finally, here is a list of my favorite local fabric stores in the Boston area:

Gather Here is located near Harvard in Cambridge.  The best thing about this store is that the selection of fabrics is impeccable.  Guild friends have described the store owner's skill as "great editing."  You probably won't find an entire line of a specific fabric collection.  Instead, the owner seems to have a talent for consistently choosing the best fabrics from a collection. I find that the prices are average for the New England area ($10-11 per yard) but I am actually surprised that they don't charge more because the shop is located in the city where they could probably "get away with" charging more.  They only have street parking - which always feels daunting in the city but everytime I have gone there, I haven't had too much of a problem. 

Franklin Mill Store is an hour away for me but it is one of my favorites.  80- 90% of their fabric selection is modern and they always give a 10% off discount if you show them your guild membership card.  I am still hoarding 3 yards of Moda Lush Count-by-Number deer that I bought there a few years ago. 

Fabric Corner is located in Arlington.  If you get on their email mailing list, you will receive a monthly coupon to get 40% off any item in their store.  Their newer fabrics have started being priced at $13 per yard, making a discounted choice be $7.80 per yard if you use your coupon.  They often have sales too - but usually require a minimum purchase of 1 yard or more (I usually stick to half yards when I am stashing).  The manager is often very kind to our guild, sometimes randomly giving us discounts of 10-25% off when we show up at his store after guild meetings.  The selection of fabrics is kind of a mish-mash of different things: they stock every color of Kona Cotton solids, batiks, flannel, some curduroy, lots of Kaffe Fassett, and a fair amount of modern fabrics.

Quilter's Way just moved from Concord to Acton.  The store's prices range from about $10-12 per yard and they carry primarily modern fabrics.  They recently started a long-arm rental program and have lots of patterns and notions.  I often go there to get brightly colored wool felt - something I literally have not seen available anywhere else locally. 

Fabric Place Basement is a newer fabric store that opened in Natick about 6 months ago.  I have only been there once but I really liked the prices.  They seem to sell overstock from major fabric companies and their prices ranged from $3-7 per yard for the older "overstock" fabrics they had.  They had a few newer fabrics that were priced higher.  I was pretty happy with what I came home with the one time I went there.  The store is BIG and doesn't only sell quilting cottons - there is a big section of upholstery and fashion fabrics, yarn, and sewing notions. 

Cambridge Quilt Shop is a nice, smaller little store that sells a fair amount of modern fabrics.  Prices start at $11 per yard and I find that with such a small selection, I only make a point to go there if other stores do not have what I am looking for.  It's a nice store- I just find that it's far enough away for me that I don't make a point of visiting too often. 

Favorite New England fabric stores:

If I were to move away from New England, out of all the fabric stores, I would probably miss Marden's the most.  Marden's is kind of a junk store like Big Lots or Building 19 - hardly anything in there is worth buying.  You walk in there and the first thing you will see is something like a pallet of something kind of unappetizing - like "limited edition" pumpkin pop-tarts or hundreds of kitty and puppy calendars.  But the Sanford store has a true gem - a big fabric department!  Apparently the Marden's chain is the largest fabric liquidator in the world- they get hundreds of bolts of fabrics from manufacturer overstock and they have quite a bit of modern fabrics priced between $.99-5 per yard.  I went there on Black Friday and came home with over 17 yards of fabric for about $35.  I actually stumbled on two bolts of Jennifer Paganelli for .99 cents per yard - I took it all with the intent of using it for a quilt backing.  I have seen modern manufacturer companies represented in their  selection, including: Free Spirit, Westminster/Rowan, Michael Miller, Studio E, and Andover.  The employees there are very nice and usually cut very generously.  The big downside for Bostonites is that it is a haul to get up there - it take about 1.5 hours and you pay $5 in tolls each way.  I only go 1-2 times per year but it is worth it. 

Finally, it is worth mentioning two other New England fabric stores: Portsmouth Fabric Company and Keepsake Quilting.  Both are located in New Hampshire and are not a quick trip for Bostonites.  But if you happen to be vacationing in the White Mountains or find yourself in northern NH, both stores are worth checking out.  Portsmouth FC is 100% modern fabrics- they carry tons of Amy Butler, Alexander Henry, Anna Maria Horner. etc.  They have Free Spirit Designer solids and a discount section in their basement that I have found some real treasures in.  Keepsake is a HUGE quilting store with quite the variety of fabrics.  You have to hunt a bit to find the brighter, modern fabrics.  They have batik, Asian, and reproduction sections but the majority of their fabrics are sorted by color.  Collections are split up, which drives some people a little crazy.  I like that I can often find modern fabrics that I may have never discovered because they are such a huge store and carry fabrics from a variety of companies.  They cut generously and have a large sale section (which is often populated with modern fabrics because they tend to draw an older audience that does not prefer modern colors/motifs). 

I will conclude my posts on fabric shopping by detailing my favorite online fabric sources in a later post.


MalinisQuilts said...

Great and a very valuable post too. I most buy fabrics online for the variety and price point. But time to time also support my LQS.

Stephanie said...

I can't believe that you found those bicycle prints at Marden's! I really need to make the drive to check it out!

Kathy@KayakQuilting said...

Thank you so much for this post! I will have to give this Mardens a try. I had no luck at the Mardens in South Portland. Looking forward to trying out some of these local stores!