Friday, May 24, 2013

Road Trip to Philadelphia's Fabric Row

Several weeks ago, one of the members of our local PatternMaster users' group suggested a road trip to Philadelphia's Fabric Row. The last time I visited this small enclave (roughly 4 blocks long) was back in 2002, when the American Sewing Guild conference was in Philly. I had heard dire things about the shrinking number of stores, but hey, it is closer than New York!
We set out at about 7am on Thursday the 23rd, and with all the chatter between the four of us, the trip just flew by. After a somewhat amusing detour to find a Jo-Mar store, only to discover it shuttered and permanently closed, we got to Fabric Row (located in a part of the city called Queen Village) and started our adventure.
One of the things I always forget to do is take pictures when I'm out and about, so I don't have a lot of images of the actual day to share... I was too busy enjoying myself and the company of other fabricholics! However, we tried to be vigilant about picking up business cards so we could remember where we had gotten our treasures. And there were certainly treasures to be found!
Many of the stores reminded me a lot of the Garment District in New York: narrow passages, tight stairwells, bolts piled high and deep. And almost without fail, the people working in the stores knew exactly what their inventory contained, and so were able to help guide us to the items that most interested us. Only a few of our group had specific goals: I was looking for shirting to make more work shirts; Stephanie was looking for something for making shades for her bedroom; Regina was hoping to find some insertion lace.

So here, in no particular order, are the stores we went to, along with what I got.

This store was packed tight with all sorts of fabrics: wool, linen, upholstery, drapery, you name it. I managed to find a cotton fabric (meant for scrubs) that was very close to what I wanted; it was a good price so I picked up three yards. I also found a wonderful knit border print:
Here it is draped on my dress form so you can get an idea of the scale of it. I'm thinking of making a simple sleeveless sheath dress with it.

Albert Zoll had everything you ever wanted in cording, binding, rat tail, webbing, ribbon and more. They also had a lot of blingy rhinestone trims and appliques.
I didn't get anything too exciting: just two different webbings. The wide was $2/yard and the narrow was $1/yard.

This was another "You want it, we got it" place. I found some black ripstop nylon for making shopping bags.
Here's Lynn buying some blue fabric for making a pair of pants. See those bins below the counter? These were scattered throughout the store and had all sorts of close-out stuff: boas, spools of ribbon, zippers, you name it.
Regina and Stephanie ready to head for the next store. This was one of the more spacious stores: you could actually pass someone in the aisles without a problem. In other stores, this was an issue!

We almost didn't go into this store, due to its rather nondescriptive name. However, there was a little sign out front: "Memorial Day Sale: All Fabrics $5/yard." Oh yeah, had to see that.
This ended up being one of our favorite stops on the whole trip, due to the owner's droll sense of humor. Howard kept cracking jokes and we were all laughing along. We found some real treasures here: Lynn stumbled across two bolts of Ultrasuede: one a pale blue, the other a milk chocolate. I found some black pleather for recovering my dining chairs, and also some buttery-soft dark red pleather that will become a purse or tote someday.

At the southern end of the row was a store painted bright yellow outside, and there I found the perfect shirting fabric! I got 10 yards, which should get me at least four shirts. I also found a cute garden-motif cotton; they only had a little over a yard so I'll have to be content with using it as an accent on something. I also found a lovely polyester that will become either a shell top, or a lining on something.

By this time we were getting hungry, so we stopped at Red Hook Coffee & Tea. This turned out to be a lovely Bohemian hippy kind of place, with mismatched antique furniture, books and magazines to read, and really, really good food.
This chair was so comfortable!
My lunch: a "Happy Hooker"! Bacon, Tomato and three different cheeses on gluten-free bread. The little cup held a wonderful potato salad, topped with sprouts.

Our last stop was Jack B. Fabrics. We had no idea that this store was in a temporary location due to a terrible fire last month. We had noticed a building across the street had been torn down, and the businesses next to it were having work done, but somehow it didn't click until we went into Jack B.'s and started talking with the staff. The April 6 fire consumed everything in the store: fabrics, scissors, everything. They are determined to rebuild in the original location, but were worried about all the new building codes they would have to adhere to. It will be a long upward slog, but they are looking forward to being a continuing presence on the row.
Here is where Stephanie found the perfect fabric for her bedroom shades, and I stumbled across a wonderful map-themed fabric that was just begging to become window treatments for one of our upstairs rooms.

Finally, we headed back to the car...
...and loaded our purchases into the trunk.

Rather than head south right away, Stephanie suggested we head for Reading Terminal Market. We had never heard of it, but her description started off with, "Well, they have chocolate..." No further reasons necessary!!
I have to admit, I was grinning like a fool the entire time I was in the market. It was HUGE. And varied. And every stall had these amazing smells!! The first place we went was Chocolate by Mueller, which had an incredible variety of chocolates in some... "interesting" shapes! There were anatomically correct chocolate hearts, lungs, kidneys, teeth and more. And chocolate "bagels"!! And, to my delight, the biggest variety of Dutch licorice I have ever seen outside of the Netherlands. I showed great restraint in only buying half a pound.
Finally it was time to head south. As we stepped into the parking garage to retrieve the car, the heavens opened up and it started to pour! We had avoided all the nasty weather all day, but the drive home was punctuated by waves of very heavy rains, which didn't make for very relaxing driving. However, Regina and I enjoyed listening to an Anna Russell album while Lynn and Stephanie napped in the back seat.
The only think I now wish I had bought was an embroidered red drapery fabric for our bedroom from B. Wilk Fabrics. Here is the swatch I got, next to the fabric that's already in the bedroom:
 I just wasn't confident enough that it would look right next to the gold fabric. But now I see that it will, indeed, look terrific, so I will be calling the store to have the fabric shipped.

All in all, it was a fabulous day, and I can't wait to head back north and do it all again!! (But this time I'll remember to take the rolling bag I had put in the trunk of the car and forgot to take with me... but the weight of the bags probably prevented me from buying too much!)


  1. Oooooh lucky you, got to go to the PA Fabric Outlet!!! A friend of mine told me about it just before my DH and I went to Lancaster for a camping trip. Each time I mentioned it to him, he cringed visibly, but I still had hope I might make it there. On our way home, it took me a little while to discern that he'd started our journey just east of where we'd have needed to be to pass by PAFO. Rats! Next trip, I'll be better informed. Thanks for the info!

  2. It's most definitely worth it. But remember, there are TWO locations. I went to the one on Fabric Row, in the middle of Philadelphia. They have a larger location in Lancaster, which is actually closer to me, and I plan to hit that up in the near future!

  3. Sewing related road trips are always fun. Reading your post reminded me of the great time I had on Fabric Row when the Pattern Review Weekend was in Philly several years ago. And that I still haven't sew some of the fabrics I bought there. Got to work on that!

  4. It was fun to read about your day and see all your purchases at the back of your car! Those kinds of trips are the best, aren't they???


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