I often get asked where I source fabric from for my costumes, having had another such request last night, I think it’s high time for me to put together a list of the local suppliers I frequent. There are more out there that I haven’t included here, mostly because I can’t remember the shop names. I’ll try to add them on if I do remember.
North Tyne Indstrial Estate, Benton
First for Fabrics is the place I usually recommend first to anyone asking for good fabric shopping spots. They stock dress, plain cotton, printed cotton, dance, craft, novelty, curtain and upholstery fabrics along with basic haberdashery supplies, some ribbons and trim and other bits and bobs. The staff are lovely, and very helpful. It’s easy to drive to (the entrance to the estate is just opposite the big Asda at the Rising Sun) and you can walk to it from the metro, if you’re determined.
From a LARP perspective, you will have to search to find suitable fabrics. Dance costume fabric takes up most of their dress making section, with a whole rainbow of satins and sequins. They stock some gorgeous linens and boiled wool in earthern tones, but it’s expensive. They have some very nice high quality faux fur, but again, it’s expensive. You will pay less for their sheeting and plain satins than you would in the city centre shops though. You might find some suiting fabrics here you could use, they have a good range, and there is the odd gem in the upholstery section. There is also a sale rail, where you can grab end of rolls with a couple of pounds knocked off. The upholstery trim section at the back is well worth a look, a lot of it is very hardwearing and has a chunkyness that suits LARP costumes.
This is a good place to visit for a general idea of what’s available and how much you can expect to pay for it. It’s usually my first port of call when I’m starting a big project.
I found this place fairly recently, but it’s swiftly becoming my favourite fabric haunt. The website will tell you its outlet is in Prudhoe, but it’s the Blaydon Business Park I’ve been going to. You might have to call to get the exact address, but it’s well sign posted in the estate once you get there.
The Factory Fabric Centre is, mainly, a curtain shop. They do pre-made and made to measure curtains. But they do stock fabric on the roll and, even better, have it displayed in hanging swathes! It’s such a wonderful idea, you can see how the fabric hangs, run your hands over, see how the pattern overlaps in the folds, lovely. Ahem, yes. They stock heavy brocades, print patterns, satins, heavy weaves, silk (including pure silk!), voiles, nets, a small selection of upholstery trim, lots of tassels and a huge colour range in velvets. They also have a reduced end of rolls section and a scraps bin for bargain hunters. There’s more here of use than you might think, and some amazingly low prices. You won’t find what you’re after every time, but there are the odd gems for those willing to hunt for them.
North Tyne Indstrial Estate, Benton.
It’s just across the way from First for Fabrics, and that’s really the only reason I visit this place. It’s a beautiful shop, well laid out and stuffed full of pretties, but they are high end designer pretties and come with high end price tags. Mostly curtain and home furnishings fabrics here, some of which might be suitable for costumes. They do have some beautiful brocades that put me in mind of elaborate Elizabethan gowns with stiff folds, but I’d have to have something very special in mind to pay enough for a full skirts worth.
Dainty is an Aladdins cave of a craft supplier. The store opens with florestry supplies, but will take you through paper craft, sculpture, jewellery making, bridal and fabric crafts before it’s done with you. They stock novelty fabrics, with a wide range of fun fur (the type used for soft toys), craft felts, vinyls, printed cotton, some poly cotton, suiting and dress making fabrics. They do seem to like their bright colours, you might struggle to find much for realistic or historic costumes. Their general fabric section is reasonablly priced.
They also have a wide range of bridal fabrics, with sumptuous silks and satins and all sorts of veil fabrics. They have expanded from plain white too, with a suprising array of dreamy shiny things in this section. You will fall in love with something breathtakingly lovely, but check the price tag, and the care instructions! Bridal fabrics are not made to last, and will leave a severe dent in the wallet.
Daintys main advantage lies in it’s haberdashery and mixture of supplies. You can pick up pretty much any sewing tool or notion you can dream of here, as well as stocking up on other craft supplies at good prices. Go with an open mind and see what they have on offer.
AMS Washington, now http://www.simplyfabrics.co.uk/
This company used to run the fabric warehouse on the same estate as Dainty. I haven’t visited their new outlet yet, but their old one had good prices and lots of suiting and upholstery type things with some interesting faux furs. It looks like they are trying to pull in a wider range of customers with their new site, so hopefully they will have more dressmaking fabrics available. They used have dirt cheap buttons and zips, fingers crossed they have survived the move!
Ease of access is Fenwicks main plus point. Their fabric selection is limited and over priced, they have basic colours in poly cotton sheeting and satins with suiting and dressmaking fabrics in season colourways. They stock a few novelty fabrics, sparkly things and felt. They do have a wide range of wools and stock Gutterman threads. Their haberdashery is well stocked with basic supplies at reasonable prices and they have a handy range of other craft supplies too, papercraft, felting, millinery, and jewellery making amongst others. I do like their trim and flatware selection, but it is a little on the pricey side.
John Lewis haberdashery is very similar in price and product variety to Fenwicks. They have a slightly wider range of bridal supplies, so check here for sparkley things, delicate fabrics and white trim.
I couldn’t find a website for this hole-in-the-wall shop in the Grainger Market, but it’s easy enough to find. You’ll find a lot of patterned cottons here, and little else. Double check prices at Fenwicks before buying plain cottons here, I’ve found them to be cheaper. Some novelty fabrics, not much of use for LRP.
There is a knitting shop in the Grainger Market that stocks some sewing notions and ribbons. Worth a visit if you’re hunting buttons, they have a massive selection at low prices.
Not a fabric shop, although they do have a limited selection of coloured netting. This shop and it’s charismatic owner are worth a visit though. If you’re ever looking to buy a machine you’ll get good advice and service here, they also do machine maintenance and repair. There’s a small notions section to the rear of the store, and some interesting trims lurk around in baskets and on shelves. Have a dig through, there is the occasional gem, and often some brilliant reductions. If you’re after boning this is the shop for you, they stock plastic and coated steel in black and white at good prices, just ask.
Another non-fabric shop, Le Prevo sells leather and leather crafting supplies. It is the place to go for leather though, their scraps bin is full of off cuts of decent size at low price. They also stock hard to find fixings, buckles and such and a whole range of leather working tools that can be useful for traditional sewing too.
Hobby Craft is the big brand version of Dainty. Every crafting supply you could dream of, under one roof. Convenience comes with consequences though; you will pay a little more here than elsewhere. The fabric selection is mostly aimed at quilters with patterned cottons and a small range of novelty fabrics. Lots of notions and equipment though, with boning, elastic, threads, dyes and more ribbons and trims than you could ever use. They have a huge range of fancy buttons too, but they are overpriced.
Check out their jewellery making section for cheap holy symbols, and large beads that make great buttons. They also have a good range of wools and knitting/crochet supplies. Oh and every shade of embroidery floss you could dream of! Dig through the tatty plastic drawers for some lovely goldwork threads too. There’s a sale section at the back of the ground floor that can be worth digging through if you get there just after they’ve added to it.
South Shields Market runs on a Saturday and is well worth a visit. It’s the best place I’ve found near Newcastle for bargain fabrics, with a wide selection of dress making, upholstery, curtain making, novelty and more, some for £1 per metre.
Imagine you are standing at the edge of the market square, your back to the high street. You can smell the Greggs just behind you on the left, and see the cute Bede mural on the old Woolies to your right. The market pavilion is directly in front of you. The main fabric stall you’re looking for should be stretching over multiple tables on your left from the edge of the square to the pavilion. The friendly bloke who runs this stall gets end of rolls for dirt cheap prices, and stocks some regular favourites too. If you see somethng you like, grab it, you won’t see it again next time. The stall is split over several tables with fabrics arranged by price, most are pound per, but he does stock some proper priced things too. You’ll find poly cotton sheeting and lining fabrics on a shelf at the bottom of the tables, and a huge selection of curtain and homeware fabrics on top. Most have some pattern, but there is usually plenty here that can be useful for LRP costume. I take a rucksack and a helper when I visit, it’s a fair walk back to the car park and I rarely leave with less than 30 metres.
Wander back to that starting point we talked about. Our next port of call is beyond friendly blokes stall to the left. It’s past the pavilion on the other side of the market, and one or two rows over. You’ll walk past a curtain stall that sells coloured voiles at reasonable prices on the way, can be handy. What you’re looking for is a long, low stall made up of four big tables. You’ll catch the glint from all the shiny, sequinned dance fabrics as you get close. Some of the pretties laid out here for your perusal are pound per, but even the full priced ones are reasonable. The main tables probably won’t hold much of interest unless you are after satins (they do some lovely chinese style ones) but there is often a sale table in the middle of the aisle to the right of the stall that has heavier, plain fabrics at low prices.
You should be fairly heavily laden by now, but we still have two more stops to go. This time, turn right from our starting point and work your way along the edge of the square. In the corner there should be a tatty looking stall with a white awning waiting for you. This one is small compared to the others, but don’t discount it. The odd gem lurks here, plain coloured heavy curtain fabrics with subtle traditional patterns worked into the weave, heavy cottons with a plain weave and dark, muddy colours that no sane person would want in their home. Perfect! Don’t be too disappointed if you leave with nothing, this one is pot luck. Sometimes all you’ll find are hideous neon florals and used bedding, but it’s worth a shot.
As you’re heading back to our starting point, look to your right. There’s a tiny stall dripping with ribbons, lace, piping, buttons, tassels and every other bit of bling you can stick to fabric. Dig through those baskets, there’s bundles of ribbon roll ends going dirt cheap, perfect for Fools and Heroes players or for making trim. You’ll find cheap overlocker cones here too.
You might find other fabric stalls at Shields Market depending on when you visit, but the ones I’ve mentioned are the regulars who are almost always there. I really recommend visiting this market. You can’t beat it for price, but it may take a couple of trips before you find what you’re after. There’s some good tat stalls too, and the charity shops on the main shopping street often have curtains and sheets in.
Chester Le Street, Fridays
The friendly bloke from South Sheilds market heads here on a Friday.
Metro park, Gateshead
The fabric section in Ikea is really quite small, but it can be worth the trip depending on what you are after. The bold Swedish prints probably won’t be much use to you, but there are often some plain heavy cottons lurking here. The colours available vary wildly, sometimes there’s a lovely loose weave brown, occasionally a nice bold red, but you can’t rely on them being in stock. What you’re really after here is Bomul. It’s a fairly light weight unbleached cotton, 150cm wide and £1.50 per metre. Simple! And almost impossible to get elsewhere for anywhere near this price.
Bomul is the most useful fabric you can buy. It’s just the right weight for undergarments, shirts, chemises etc. It’s unbleached, so lovely from an accuracy point of view for your smalls. If you do want white, it bleaches easily. Make up your garment first, then bleach, for an instant aged garment (the seams won’t bleach as much as the flat sections). It takes dye very well, I’ve had great fun using natural dyes like tea leaves and pulped blackberries. It’s cheap enough and close enough in drape to plain cottons to use for toiles. It gathers nicely for underskirts, and layers well.
My main love of Bomul stems from playing a physician in Fools and Heroes. This stuff is the best I’ve found for making bandages. At 150cm wide, it’s generous enough for the tubbiest of LRPers, and it tears smoothly without too much fraying. Being unbleached, it looks the part, it’s smooth enough to roll up easily and robust enough to last unhemmed. Really, you can’t beat it. Buy 10 meters for 15 quid and you have 100 bandages that will last you much longer than the scraggy used sheet bandages most folk use.
Bomul does have a couple of big sisters, chunkier unbleached cottons that will cost you a little more but have the same dye potential. They are a good emergency option if you’re really struggling to find the right colour for robes or tabards. One thing to be aware of with Ikea fabrics, they are not pre-washed and have some hefty shrinkage potential. It’s all on the label, but make sure to check before buying.
That’s it for now. I know there’s two little places out west I want to add on here, but should probably re-visit first as I haven’t been to either in a fair while. There’s also a couple of fabric places in Morpeth I’ve heard of but not visited yet. If you know of anymore fabric shops in the North East do give me a kick, I’m always on the hunt for new sources of materials.