Fashioning Paris: Where to shop for fabric

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paris buttons
Button up for some fabric shopping in Paris. Photos: Theadora Brack.

By Theadora Brack in Paris—

This week, let’s go fabric shopping in Paris. Whether your place is in need of a supreme makeover, with some classic French upholstery retouches, or you’re on the make for material worthy of a wedding (New Yorkers, I’m talking to you!), Paris has what you need.

One of my favorite textile districts is in Montmartre. Here at the foot of Sacré Coeur, you’ll find a whole slew of fabric and notions shops. So, Cheapos, are you ready to bolt?

fabric store in montmartre

Textile bliss in the Sacré Couer's shadow.

Getting There

Let’s meet outside the entrance of the Abbesses Métro station. After strolling a block downhill (east) on rue des Abbesses, we’ll make a right at rue des Martyrs, and then a quick left at rue d’Orsel.

Ode to Jouy

Skinny rue d’Orsel is lined with a row of funky clothing shops and studios, and it’s here that I find daily inspiration. Their vitrines always make me smile.

Maybe it’s because of the close proximity to the textile district, but the designers here play with the entire spectrum of fabrics in ways you wouldn’t imagine. I recently saw a lingerie line made of rosy toile de Jouy in one shop, while another shop fashioned an evening gown out of a fetching material patterned with cat heads. Hiss-tory in the making!

fabric shop window in paris

A shop window rocks on.

You Got the Notion

As we move our way along rue d’Orsel, fabric and notions shops will start popping up around rue de Steinkerque. This is where I typically lose my heart and my hard-earned euros. I’ve been known to spend hours in these shops, picking up supplies for holiday window decorations and dinner party costumes.

Do you have a button fetish, too? Easily unraveled by the mere sight of countless spools of yarn, ribbon and thread? Let’s not forget patches, pom-poms and tassels, along with bonnets, spangles and furbelows. This shiny sequined land is your land, my friend!

All in Stitches

“Oh, the possibilities are (m)endless,” is what I always say as I enter the doors of grand magasins de la couture. Eyes well up with tears. (Actually, I do recommend packing eye drops. The dust particles are never kind!) Both the Marché Saint-Pierre on 2 Rue Charles Nodier, and the Tissus Reine at 5 Place Saint-Pierre (with its 50 miniature mannequins!) are definitely worth a peek.

Here’s the system: If something catches your eye, flag down a clerk with a ruler. They’ll measure it out for you, and hand you a receipt to give to the cashier. Also check the bins outside the shops, where you’ll often find discounted remnants or “coupons,” pre-cut lengths of fabric. Typically the coupons are about three meters (a little more than three yards).

dress in paris shop window

Dressed up on rue d'Orsel.

Get into the Groove

Ready for a break? For inspiration and homemade quiche, let’s pop by the one of my favorite art museums: Halle Saint Pierre at 2 rue Ronsard. Similar in spirit to Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum, this international gem features both contemporary and historic works by self-taught and outsider artists.

Housed in a former 19th-century market, HSP is a bustling cultural hive, boasting a café with a stunning view of Sacré Coeur as well as one of the best (and most fun) art bookshops in the whole city. And speaking of fabric, according to Directrice Martine Lusardy, a textile-themed exhibit entitled “Carnets-Livres” will open in the café’s gallery on July 15, 2011. Admission is free. How spool is that?

Still Waxing Fabrics?

bolts of fabric in paris

Bolting down rue d'Orsel.

Well, then make a beeline to the nearby Barbès neighborhood (located just a hop, skip and a jump from Halle Saint-Pierre) for fantastical African cloth. I’d start the spree at Megawax on the corner of rue Polonceau and rue des Poissonniers.

Then head up Poissonniers a few blocks and walk up and down rue Doudeauville, where you’ll find still more jam-packed cloth shops. Here I always find conversation-provoking patterns. I’ve bought cloth patterned with prints of umbrellas, chickens and eggcups, along with water bottles, mobile phones and factories.

Tip: Most of the fabric is precut at six meters (about six-and-a-half yards). Keep your eyes peeled for the €10 piles of cloth! Each one is enough to make at least two shirts. Now we’re talking cheap-o-ra-ra! Happy Hunting, Cheapos!

About the author

Theadora Brack

About the author: Theadora Brack is a writer working in Paris. Her fiction has appeared in more than 30 literary publications, including 3AM International, The Smoking Poet, Beloit Fiction Journal, Mid-American Review, and the Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal.

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One thought on “Fashioning Paris: Where to shop for fabric”

  1. Ghislaine Bulthuis

    Wow, thanks Theadora for this lovely account of a day of fabric hunting. Great fun to read, as always….


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