In case someone comes across this post randomly, this is the first time I have been to Paris, and I do not speak French. This is the not-very-informed subjective opinion of an Australian sewing fanatic and fabric collector.
The chance to shop for fabric is something I look forward to with great anticipation every time I travel. I do some research. The research for this trip indicated that for a short visit, with limited shopping opportunities, heading to the fabric district at Montmarte would be my best bet for fabric hunting.
I read this thread at Stitcher's Guild with great interest.
A few months before I left, Isabelle posted this guide.
Even better, a few weeks before I left, Melissa of Fehr Trade posted about her trip. I was particularly grateful for this post, and all the links, as I planned to shop for fabric in London later in my travels, and did not want to buy things in France that would be less expensive or easier to obtain in Goldhawk Rd. Melissa gave a terrific summary of what she found that was hard to source in London.
Unfortunately for me, the only chance I had to shop in Paris, was Monday afternoon. I was a bit dispirited after reading Isabelle's post, which says that most of the shops in Montmarte are closed on Mondays, but I found by looking at shop web sites and Melissa's post that my misery was unwarranted, as many of the shops are open on Monday afternoons, although they are closed in the morning.
It was also unfortunate that my husband did a little too much research. He thought he might do some sightseeing nearby whilst I went shopping, but Montmarte has a bad reputation. Nearly every site he visited warned of pickpockets, and there were some nasty stories about muggings. Several sites advised that tourists stay away from this district in the evening.
When we cycled through Montmarte in the early morning, the very large amount of rubbish, the broken bottles lying about, and the strong odour of urine confirmed his pre- formed low opinion of the area. He decided that he would come shopping with me. This was very kind of him, but taking my husband fabric shopping, especially whilst he is suffering from a severe cold (not helped by continuing to cycle for several hours a day) was not my idea of the perfect expedition.
After he had a nap following the cycling, we caught the metro from just near the Arc de Triumph to Abbesses station. I had looked up this trip on the handy Paris public transport site.
We walked up the hill (following Google maps), and immediately saw dozens of fabric shops, and lots of junky tourist shops. The rubbish had all been cleared away, the streets washed, and the area was bustling with a local multicultural crowd and tourists. It did not feel at all unsafe. I was still careful with my money and my pockets!
I was a bit overwhelmed by the selection of shops. Being pushed for time (it was 3pm, and the shops mostly closed at 4 or 4.30) I was quite disciplined with the shops I entered. I decided to stick with the bigger shops, mainly because the fabric outside the smaller shops seemed to be mostly polyester and low-end cottons. I probably missed gems and bargains with this approach, but have no regrets.
Tissus Reine: There was a lovely selection of fabrics, well set out. I was looking for printed cottons or silks, maybe woollen fabric for trousers. I was tempted by the Liberty lawns, which worked out a little less expensive for me than the Liberty website price excluding postage (Australian $ exchange rate at the time) but decided that I would prefer to buy this in London for souvenir value. I did not buy anything here, finding the printed silks not the right colours for me, and the wools too heavy and wintery. I did not notice any bargains. Although there was a fabulous variety, most fabrics seemed to be of a similar cost to shopping in the fabric district in Surrey Hills, Sydney (Greenfields, the Fabric Place), with the exception of the Liberty, which is about $60AUS retail in Australia.
My husband fancied the linen tea towel fabric on the top floor. I assured him that I was not planning to use valuable fabric space for tea towels.
Next we went to Marche St Pierre Dreyfus.
There was a bigger selection of less expensive fabrics here, and again a good selection of silk prints, but not a great deal less in cost than in Surrey Hills. There were some interesting African prints, not very expensive, but I did not feel they were worth taking back, as they were more cheap and cheerful than high quality, and I was after low volume, high luxury or very-hard-to-get-at-home fabric, preferably a combination of all three.
There were some lovely linens of different weights and colours, and these were less expensive than in Australia, but I have a lot of linen, and was not tempted.
I did not find any silk prints in colours I fancied, but I did find some of the stretch lace that Melissa posted about. I really liked it too. Here is my piece, 1 metre, 4.95 euros. I am pretty sure it is poly, but there may be some rayon in there. It has a lovely hand. I also bought some super sized covered hooks and eyes, that I have seen on the garments of European seamstresses, but have not spotted at home.
I am grateful to Melissa's post yet again for describing this shop. I could see no indication that you needed to call for a staff member to come over to the fabric to cut it, nor that you needed pay on each floor for fabrics on that floor, but as Melissa describes, that is the practice. I would have embarrassed myself by picking up the roll and wandering around with it looking for a cutting table, then trying to walk up the stairs to the next floor before I had paid.
After this, we went to Les Coupons de St Pierre. (I had quickly scouted this before the main shop to make sure I didn't buy something at full price that was available for less). This shop was filled with huge jumbles of fabric in pre cut lengths, mostly 3m, with many Muslim women looking through the piles. 3m is apparently the length required for a traditional garment. The fabrics were segregated by fibre content - Polyesters, silks, cottons. It was quite crowded, and as I do not speak French, nor any Arabic languages, I am sure I did not respond correctly to some requests by the fellow fabric hunters. It all seemed very good natured, with people passing pieces of fabric back and forth - my impression was that the comments were in the nature of "Here's another bit of that chiffon you are holding on to" and the questions along the lines of "Are you looking for red prints or pink ?" but naturally, I am not sure about this. Maybe it was more like " That's my piece, you pusher-in-er " and "Why are you in my way?". I smiled a lot, and kept a firm grip on my selections.
I was very pleased with the price. The chiffon was 15 euros, and the the other piece, which seems a sort of loose woven jacquard, also 15 euros, both were marked 3m lengths, and are a generous cut. I have done a burn test, and they both seem to be silk, as described.
I was feeling a bit fatigued after my session at Le Coupons - it required concentration and speedy reflexes to get those pieces! My husband nobly agreed to some random wandering.
We came across a button shop called Dam Boutons (do not pull out the tubes to look at the buttons, it says so in 4 languages, but unfortunately the staff do not seem too keen to pull them down for you) and this trim shop, called Doration.
Here are my purchases.
They were very expensive, which always seems to be the case with trims, but do you see how tiny and easy to pack they are? I was particularly pleased with the lengthways striped petersham ribbon. Burda used this for a waistband on a chiffon dress last year, and I had been hunting for it fruitlessly on websites. There may be a petersham ribbon waistband dress in my future (or maybe my daughter's future)
Then my husband spied this yarn shop, Chatmoelle - 3 rue Charles-Nodier.
Hours Monday, 2pm-6.30 pm, Tuesday to Saturday 10.30- 6.30.
He was really being noble, as he drew my attention to it. All my cycling was paying off big time :). I had been looking for French yarn during our travels, and tried quite hard to find some in this shop too, but the only selection of French yarn was mohair. I have enough mohair, so bought some Spanish sock wool, and some Spanish 4ply cotton (again for socks) - I had been to Spain for 2 hours, after all!
This was a very pleasant flying visit. I started knitting some new socks when we got back to the hotel - Spanish ones. Knitting is pretty good when you can't sew.