I’ve always said that if I were a fashion designer I’d never get past sourcing fabric. Thrilling to the eye (especially in print), soft to the touch and transformable into wearable art, textiles reel fashion lovers in. Given free range, I’d likely fill closets (or perhaps storage units) with swatches of the stuff.
Shopping at a chain store for fabric is about as appealing as showing up at prom in the same dress that 12 other girls are wearing. With no Mood Designer Fabrics to flock to, finding fabulous fabric in Tampa Bay is a challenge worthy of Project Runway.
Designers like k.hendrix and Sara Stonecipher of Misred skirt the situation because they source vintage materials to spin new threads. Sandra Hagen, who usually works with new fabrics, was excited to show me a thrift store find she plans to deconstruct and turn into something much more fabulous than the original garment. And just recently Tampa Upcycle — a retail store that collects and offers used (and some new) art, fashion and craft supplies with pay-as-you-wish pricing — posted a pic on FB with a few bolts of fabric they had available at the shop. Not bad. They also offer Intro to Sewing classes ($40).
So yes, there’s hope for those who are hopelessly in love with fabric. But where do you go when vintage or renew, reuse, recycle isn’t your thing? It depends…
If you’re Holley Sinn and your best friend commissions you to create three custom bridesmaids dresses for her wedding, you head straight to Jay’s Fabric Center in South Pasadena, which has been in biz since 1959.
“They have a whole wall of sparkly fabric which I obviously love,” Holley said. “The prices are a little higher than they are at chain stores, but the selection more than makes up for the price difference. They also do pretty frequent discounts on select fabrics, so if you go at the right time, you can find some pretty amazing deals.”
For the bridesmaid dresses, Holley used a silk blend for the linings, translucent overlays covered in sequins, and other shiny fabrics to complement the overlays.
“Jay’s is really the only place I’ve found that carries the breadth of fabric I like to use. They specialize in fabric and notions instead of carrying machines and craft materials, so they are able to focus more on bringing in fabrics that can’t be found anywhere else.”
All the way on the other side of creation, which is to say South Tampa, you’ll find Queen’s Fabrics. Queen’s has been part of the fabric of this community for 25 years (20 in its current location at Carriage Trade Plaza on South Dale Mabry), and was purchased by a fashion designer (originally from Spain) who’s got some big stuff in the works — so, at her request, we’ll assign her the mystery name “M.”
Queen’s Fabrics is like Candyland. M’s own brilliantly colored and printed custom fabrics mingle with those favored by top designers such as Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Michael Kors and Vera Wang, to name a few. Bolts fly in from around the world — mainly from Italy, Spain, France and Turkey — with some traveling three continents before arriving here (beaded and embellished in China and India).
Silks range from $29-$89 per yard and laces from $45-$210 per yard, but designers on a limited budget will find fun prints, samples, trims and fabrics from $9 per yard to indulge in. “All exclusive,” according to M who also provides an explanation for why the fabric industry is so lackluster here: “Sewing is approached more as a craft,” she said. “There is not an industry to produce and train tailors and great patternmakers, so the few that sew are afraid of new textiles, but more are willing to take a chance.”
I wouldn’t know the first thing to do with the black and white butterfly fabric I first fell in love with in the Queen’s window.
But I have to believe they would make a fab pair of palazzo pants!