One of my favorite things to do in Los Angeles is stop by the Fashion District (more specifically, the fabric section of the fashion district) and go window shopping for prices that make me spend about 80% of my time cursing the gluttony and inflated prices of retailers like Joanns Fabrics and 20% of my time moaning over the textures and fighting the urge to roll around in animalistic ecstasy in the cloth I don’t really need.
Whenever we visit we usually find rooftop parking on Los Angeles street and then wander over to our favorite small mom and pop shop, Bahareh Fabrics. Over the years, the routine has become almost a tradition. We wander around sizing up fabric while they silently shadow us. The second we even let our eyes linger for more than 0.03 seconds on a certain roll of cloth, the couple darts over, grabs the roll and asks, “How much do you need?” We haggle prices, that usually start at $4 a yard, then whittles down to $2 to $3 a yard. And then when it’s clear we’re at the point of agreeing to the purchase, they find something to comment on, “Oh, you are dating? Ohhh, how nice!” “You are engaged? How nice!!” “You are newlyweds? How niiiice!” “You are pregnant? How nice for you!” We share in the small talk that is half trying to understand the thick accents and half pantomiming the words, and then remind them that we are regulars at their shop. Then, during the cutting, paying, and leaving process we listen to them repeat, “Oh, you are our friends! How nice! Special price for our friends!”
One thing about the fabric district, is that almost everyone with a shop here are pushy dicks. They want to stalk you around the store and bully you into premature purchases, and it gets old, FAST. I’m especially an expressive person, and when I show obvious interest in a fabric, it sends the shop workers into a near feeding frenzy of potential purchase glee. And that just bugs me. So while I can’t speak authoratively on which store in the Fabric District is the absolute best, I can say that Bahareh Fabrics has amazing prices, they are extremely nice, and they will leave you alone to shop if you ask them to.
This trip to the Fabric District we finally made it over to Maple and 9th Streets to visit Michael Levine’s The Loft. This wholesale warehouse sells remnants (and by remnants I mean, WHOLE FREAKING BOLTS and 4+ yard pieces) for only $2.50 a pound. Since our main goal this fabric run was, “Buy Gingi crap to make baby goodies and keep her busy while Jonathan is in boot camp”, I was mostly looking for laces and sheers. So while we expected to get some great deals, we did NOT expect the armfuls of goodies we’d be leaving with.
The place is literally littered with huge cardboard boxes of fabric of every imaginable color, shape, texture and weave, and you have to get physical digging through these bad boys. We dug until our minds literally got overwhelmed by the experience. And by we, I mean Jonathan, I could not even begin to lift the fabric. Seriously. Fabric is heavier than you’d think.
A shop hand saw me and Jonathan digging for small pieces and recommended we take two bags of “scraps” – basically 5 pound trash bags of fabric 2 yards and under – for free. We only ended up purchasing 4 pounds digging through the scraps, so for $10 we were lugging 14 pounds of fabric home. And we scored BIG. I got some lovely faux silk from Bahareh’s for $2.50 a yard, and then we scored everything from sheers to flannels to cottons to satins to fleece from The Loft. All in all we spent well under $20 and walked away with more fabric than we could comfortably carry. Suck THAT Joanns fabrics.
Anyway, I am far from a pro at maneuvering the urban jungle that is the LA Fabric / Fashion District, but I’ll share my few tips as a central valley girl who makes regular excursions into this wilderness:
1. Bring a checklist, or better yet, fabric swatches and images of your project
You don’t think you will forget what you need, want, whatever, but you will. The colors and sights and sounds of this fabric drenched wonderland will make your brain go full retard. If you need certain amounts of fabric, have the exact measurements handy. If you are working on a cosplay / costume / project, bring photos of the character or piece for ready reference. If you are trying to find a complementary color or texture to a pre-existing fabric you own, bring swatches. This is my BEST advice that I usually never personally follow and then spend the next few months lamenting when I’m stuck in lines at Joanns with something far sub-par and far more expensive.
2. Bring cash, in small bills, and more than you think you’ll need. Ya know, just in case.
Not only do some places not accept credit cards, (like parking lots), but it’s so much easier to haggle down on prices when you whip out a bunch of raggedy ones and clench them in your fists like they are only thing you have on your person whilst staring longingly at a fabric you would get IF ONLY it were $1 cheaper per yard. It’s not unfair, it’s beating them at their own game. Some of these guys can be manipulative assholes, and no matter how low you get them to go on their prices, I guarantee you, they’d go even lower if you were buying double the yardage you originally requested.
3. Go to the bathroom before you stop
The sight of so much fabric that you intend to buy, even if you have no practical use for it, WILL MAKE YOU PEE YOUR PANTS. So empty that bladder beforehand. But in all seriousness.. there are no public bathrooms within blocks.
4. Don’t accept the first price given
The first price given is usually $1 to $3 more than they will actually accept. Of course, when you see scrap fabric on clearance, or 40 yards of tule for $10, or door grabbers at 99 cents a yard, don’t be a jerk and haggle on those. Another thing is, the more yards you buy of a certain fabric, the lower they will go on cost. I think the lowest I’ve ever gotten a fabric for is $1.50 per yard on an English Linen that was originally quoted as $6 a yard once I said I’d buy 10 yards of it. Also, shop around before you commit to a purchase. There’s a lot of fabric here. Don’t underestimate the use of, “Well THAT guy over there said he’d give it to me for…”
5. Don’t believe every sign you read
So you need 100% silk. And there’s bucket and bundles of it for only $8 a yard. That’s awesome. Burn it before you buy it. Don’t take everything at face value. Some of these shops lie. Shocking, I know. If it’s terribly important to you to buy exactly what you need, snag a couple threads when your partner is distracting the clerk by pretending to need a bazillion yards of some gaudy print on the other side of the store and then take it outside and make sure it’s what it claims to be.
6. Have fun and eat bacon wrapped hot dogs
This, really, is the most important tip of them all. ^_^