a day in the garment district

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Thanks to the barter system and a helpful mother-in-law, I was able to sneak up to NYC yesterday for some yearned-for  fabric and trim shopping.  My friend Beth of "that 70's chair" was all too happy to grant me another installment of babysitting now that her chair is swathed in tan and her sofa is nearly done. Moms, for finding time for yourself, nothing beats bartering services with other moms.

In an effort to be frugal, I took the Greyhound Bus instead of the train, and arrived for half the price, in same amount of time (from Wilmington DE, it's around 2 hours), and surprisingly comfortably at Port Authority Bus Terminal. Port Authority is conveniently located adjacent to the garment district where most of the fabric and trim shops are concentrated in a four-block area: basically the blocks of 40th, 39th, 38th, & 37th streets between 7th & 8th avenues. I was about to make a map to post, but avid sewer Lindsay T has already created a comprehensive map that is quite useful, accurate, and even includes where to pee.
 typical hole-in-the-wall garment district fabric store
My dear friend and former co-worker Caroline, also known as the "Irish Potato-Eatin' Hag" met me there and gamely tagged along to the stores with me. I learned a thing or two from her about haggling- in the lesser stores, the "price" is not the actual price, it gets lower if you start to walk away. We were focusing on the hole-in-the wall places where you can find bargains on decent stuff if you're willing to hunt and I mean hunt. All the stores have the glitzy stuff up front and the cottons shoved waaaaay in the back. I was in the market for cheerful, slightly vintagy 100% cotton prints and checks and had moderate success. It's tempting to pay $15 or $20/yard at a well-curated and organized store like NY Elegant Fabrics on 40th Street, B&J Fabrics on 7th Avenue or Mood Fabrics on 37th Street. Maybe next time. 
rainbow of fabrics at NY Elegant Fabrics- all marked with prices and pre-cut swatches

cheerful cotton florals from Chic Fabric on 39th Street
For some reason, I have a hard time finding 100% cotton checks.  The poly/cotton kind that is readily available is a pet peeve of mine. It is slippery and frays like the dickens. If you use it for quilting, the batting can work its way through the seams. One of the hole-in-the-wall places, Hamed on 39th Street, had a sizeable stash in the back.
100% cotton checks from Hamed Fabrics on 39th Street
To get that true garment district experience for lunch, if you are there on a weekday, I recommend Nick's Place which is a tiny establishment with about 8 tables, tucked away in the back of the lobby of 550 7th Avenue (between 39th & 40th). There is no sign except for a generic one on a small brass plate that says simply "restaurant", so only garment people know about it. You can get a nice spinach pie and salad combo, a roasted vegetable quesedilla, or any number of tasty wraps for under $10. We met another former co-worker, Kris, there and reminisced about the good ol' days for over an hour. Time was getting short for trim shopping...

a tiny fraction of the selection at Daytona Trimming & Braid

It would be worth the trip to NYC for trims alone. Kris directed us to a place I'd not been in before, Pacific Trimming, where I stocked up on 1/4" patterned ribbons at $1 per yard, made mental notes on the purse hardware, and bought some buttons. When I asked for 50 of a button, the good-natured counter-outer man just shoved a handful in a bag and said, "trust me, it's more than 50". It didn't look like it, but sure enough, when I got home and counted them, there were 68. Next, I went a little crazy at my favorite place, Daytona Trimming & Braid on 39th Street where they had that elastic with buttonholes in it (that most kids' bottoms have nowadays for adjustability) for 75 cents a yard, not to mention all their fancy stuff. I can't help but pause when I walk in there, agog at the selection.  If only I'd had more time! Five hours went by really quickly. 

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