Fabric Depot went out of business and closed its doors on Sunday, October 21st, 2018. This was a sad loss. My housemate and I used to shop there and use it as a bit of retail therapy. "FabDep?" she'd ask after a trying day at work, and off we'd go. Usually we'd grab a bite to eat nearby and make an evening of it. Fabric Depot was a quilter's dreamland. They had a smaller but still respectable selection of garment fabrics, and I always found something in their remnants section. Their staff members were friendly and cheerful in their handmade and fanciful aprons. Moreover, they were a hub of other resources: Palmer Pletsch held fitting classes there; I took my serger class there; and Montavilla sold and maintained machines there.
But something happened (reports and rumors abound, but I am not in the know). The first sign was a surge of emails about sales. At one point, my housemate said "why is everything always forty percent off... are they in trouble or something?", and her words were prescient. Their in-store stock became, over time, sparser and sparser. Soon it was just depressing to go in, because there was so little! The last time I went in, the bridal department was two rolls of embroidered organza and some trims. By the time they announced their final sale, it was not a surprise.
Montavilla Sewing Centers, in an email to their subscribers sent October 29th, 2018, described the Fabric Depot closing as "heartbreaking news," saying "Fabric Depot saved our business when our original Montavilla location burned down 20 years ago, and we’ve been cohorts ever since. They will always hold a special place in our hearts." They assured maintenance customers that their sewing machines were safe and that Montvilla would not be going out of business, and would remain at that location until the end of the year.
Fabric Depot's last few days were, by all accounts, a madhouse. Everything in the store was steeply discounted. People stood in line for hours to get it. At one point on Saturday, I heard tell of a four hour line. My housemate drove by, couldn't get in the parking lot, and kept driving.
It was a sad loss of a wonderful store. There are other fabric stores in the city of Portland, so I'll take a few moments to review them (or just list them if I haven't been there). I am speaking as a shopper and a home-sewist who makes clothes.
The all-around best option for garment fabrics. Their buying model is to get leftovers from designers and mills, stocking their Bridal, Costuming, Fashion, and Outerwear sections with cloth made for the Ready-To-Wear market and not usually offered to home sewers. They have a wonderful selection of French lace, woolens of all types, and quirky unusual things like rip-stop nylon, 108-wide nylon tricot, decoratively perforated suede-cloth, et cetera. Because they buy up "mill ends", what you see is what you get. There may not be backstock of the bolt on display, and many things cannot be re-ordered. If you like it buy it.
I know less about their Cottons Department... they have quilting cottons, but I'm not a quilter so cannot review that. They also have more garment fabrics over in that side of the store. The place is enormous! Their Notions department is sometimes low on stock, and their Handycrafts section is not expansive (they have some embroidery floss but no kits, no aida cloth, few beads), but they do have unusual things in the Bargain Room and good deals in the Annex. I've never shopped their Home Dec Department, but it looks well stocked and beautiful.
I am a kid in a candy store when I shop there! When I first came to Portland, the Mill End Store was the first fabric store I was introduced to and it is still my absolute favorite! You can follow them on Instagram.
If you need a lot of showy fabric (like if you're costuming a play, or making a ball gown for a one-time event), this is the store for you. On the up-side, they have a lot of fabric, and it's really cool looking stuff... heavily embellished, or decorative, or shiny! Their prices are very low compared to other stores. On the down-side, they have seemingly ambivalent staff, and the fabric is often rolled on bolts and stacked on tables, so you can't get to the stuff on the bottom unless you have the muscles to wrestle with the ones on the top. It's not a shopper-friendly experience. Their trims are low-quality... or maybe just very old. When I bought stuff there in the past, I had to glue falling rhinestones as soon as I got it home. Still, I do like it, for what it is: Fabrics for Less!
I have wandered through this store several times, but never bought anything. It specializes in Home Decor fabrics, and I don't sew with them much. But it's nice if that's your thing!
I don't wish to dis them, but I have never had a good experience buying fabric at a JoAnn's. The fabrics are okay... very middle of the road in quality. You won't find high quality cottons there, or silks or woolens, but they've got okay fabric for children's clothing or sleepwear, or Halloween costumes. The real problem is that their cutters are not trained to cut fabric properly... fabrics which should be torn are never torn, so I have gotten home and found myself short by several inches.
See, when a fabric is folded lengthwise, selvedge to selvedge, and then rolled on a board, the two layers shift. Each time the fabric goes around the board, the inside layer has a shorter journey and the outside layer a longer one, but they are still connected at the fold. So the inside layer catches and bunches up and the outside layer skews. By the time fifteen or twenty yards are rolled on the board, the fabric is all off grain. If you simply cut what looks like a straight line on the table, because the layers are askew you're cutting a crooked line on the fabric. The solution is to cut on the crossgrain, which is tricky because the method varies by fabric. Tightly woven fabrics with thin fibers (cottons, rayons, polyesters, silks) can be torn neatly on the crossgrain. Woven fabrics with heavier yarns can be cut to a thread, if you're careful. Fabric that doesn't tear easily because of a specialty weave (brocades and jacquards) may allow you to pull a single crossgrain thread out, then cut along the mark it leaves behind. If it doesn't allow that, then you have to cut using the repeat of the pattern to guide you. Linen has long fibers with high tensile strength, and should never be torn. Wool has short fibers with low tensile strength, so you can tear it if it's tightly woven, but don't tear it if it's a loose weave or large, chunky yarn. Fabric with a woven-in stripe or plaid can be cut along the pattern's lines. Knitted fabric doesn't have a crossgrain to follow, but you should adjust the selvedges carefully to make sure there isn't any puckering or rippling in the center fold before cutting.
People who sew and are knowledgeable about fabric will either tear, cut to a thread, pull a thread, or cut the fabric according to its properties. The problem I have found at JoAnn's is that it's not really a fabric store; it's a craft store that sells fabric. The workers may be crafters of other media, but they don't know about fabric, so they just scissor everything (or maybe I wrong them; maybe they do know fabric but there's a store policy that everything gets cut even when it should be torn). This means gypping the customer out of inches with each cut, since when you wash and true the fabric you may find their cut was wonky. If Joann's is what you've got, be prepared to buy a quarter yard of extra fabric.
On the up-side, they are the place to shop for discounted patterns, and their selection of embroidery kits and floss is excellent!
I have never been to these, but would like to check them out.
Quilting, dressmaking, and history plied with the needle...
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