maison21 needed some fabric for a pair of vintage club chairs for one of our current clients. the the budget for this project is tight, so our dollars really have go a long way to get the look we'd like, so we headed to downtown los angeles fabric district to see what affordable fabric we could find!
the fabric district occupies the southeast corner of the larger garment district, and is clustered around 9th st., between wall st, and maple, extending out for a block or so in all directions. you'll know it when you see it, as tons of tiny stalls line the streets, packed with bolts and bolts of fabrics, spilling out to sidewalk displays. about two-thirds of them are devoted to dress making fabrics, but there are enough that carry home decor fabrics and trims to make it worth a day's adventure. we have to warn you, though- while bargains abound, but this is not fabric shopping for the faint of heart. the PDC it ain't!
not all of the fabrics are incredible bargains, of course, and you won't get the selection you would in a showroom- no 20 colorways of 7 different weights of linen or nuthin'- and you will see far more fugly fabric then chic, but if you are like m21, and love a bargain (and a treasure hunt), then the fabric district is for you.
the stalls have the air of a foreign bazaar, and like a foreign market place, the rules are often inscrutable- even to frequent visitors. prices are not marked, and can change if you visit twice in the same day; some stalls will bargain, some will not (don't be afraid to ask- it's pretty much expected); some offer great deals for cash, and some don't take credit cards at all. the shop keepers can be in your face aggressive and yet some will ignore you, and fair warning- some shopkeepers are just plain mean- don't take it personally, it's just part of the charm of the place! some shops will give you swatches, some won't, and there are usually minimum yardage requirements to cut into a bolt- 2 or 3 yards, and many will refuse to cut the bolt at all, if the price per yard is especially low (like a couple of bucks per yard low). so if you only want 10 yards, you might have to buy 30 to get it, but at 2 bucks a yard, if you love the fabric, who cares? make pillows or a matching dog bed with the leftovers!
an exception to the chaos of the stalls is the michael levine showroom (on maple), which is a traditional retail fabric store, albeit with slightly better prices, and slightly less selection. no haggling, and no cash deals, but it is blissfully air-conditioned and well organized- a great oasis to retreat to if the madness of the streets become too much... ;-)
because m21 is like a magpie and always attracted to shiny things, we immediately were drawn to this shiny gold metallic vinyl at michael levine- not that we could ever imagine a situation in which we'd use it (a nightclub maybe?) but we liked it nonetheless:these printed cottons were cute, and all in the 20-25 dollar range:
we were mad for this cork fabric- at $75 a yard, it was the most expensive thing we saw all day. still, in comparison to PDC prices, a good deal we thought, and we can't wait to use it on a future project!
we hesitate to even publicize the home fabric showroom because the owner is, well, difficult (he basically threw m21 out for taking photos, even after we explained we were giving him free publicity, and we asked one of the other employees that worked there if it was ok first). but home fabrics really does have an extensive selection of silks and velvets, and the prices are reasonable, so we'll put up with some unpleasantness if our decorating needs are met. like michael levine, it's well organized, and again, blissfully air-conditioned (can you tell it was hot the day we shopped)? we wanted to show you some of the pretty embroidered floral silks at home fabrics too, but we were cut off from our picture taking after snapping the below wall of prints by the mean owner (our advice, deal with one of the ladies when you shop there).
here are the swatches we pulled from various stalls on our trip- we wanted a plain, textured blue to blue-green fabric for the chairs to offset the more formal chocolate velvet used on our sofa, so the below fit the bill and ranged from $15 to $22 a yard. the periwinkle blue and natural thick woven cotton on the far right was sadly the wrong color direction for this project, but we want to use it somewhere since it was pretty, and a true bargain at $7.oo/yd!
these embossed vinyls were all bargains at $7 -15 bucks a yard. we love vinyl used in moderation, and we pulled these earlier this year for a young single guy's loft we were working on. sadly the project fell victim to the sour economy, and we never got to use them, but how hot would an ostrich vinyl platform bed have been?
some additional tips for shopping the fabric district: park in a paid 5.00 a day lot, the meters are only good for an hour, and are expensive to boot; dress comfortably, but not not flashily- it's safe, but you don't want to call attention to yourself needlessly, plus, the nicer you dress, the higher the prices some shopkeepers will quote; bring water- there is no shade and the stalls are hot; and never fear- it's not as uncivilized as m21 makes it sound- there is a starbucks on 9th! last, and most importantly, never, ever, ever go on a weekend- half the stalls are closed because the owners observe the sabbath, and the place is mobbed with crowds shopping the adjacent garment district- seriously it's madness, so steer clear!