San Francisco fabric stores

Occasionally, we get asked about San Francisco fabric stores, or we get visits from out of town fiber friends intent on shopping. We are quite given to fiber tourism ourselves on other shores, so here is a quick, and very opinionated, list of what's around. We include directions by public transportation from major tourist centers, and often nearby places to celebrate your finds with good food.

The one you've most likely heard about has got to be Britex Four floors of store right off Union Square, crammed floor to ceiling with great fabrics. Knowledgeable and helfpul staff, all of whom sew. Good mail-order service for the non-buyer who's later remorse striken. For decades the best button store West of Tender Buttons in NY :-)! But it's also one of the most expensive fabric stores around, although it's great if you need something very specific (down-proof cotton? white-out drapery lining? silk organza? wedding satin?). Their remnants however are real bargains, big enough to really make something. A couple blocks up Stockton from Powell BART/Muni station, the cable car lines, Market st buses.

I'd most highly recommend Far Out Fabrics which has much more unusual stuff, a bit less immediately fashion-driven if you see what I mean, and always a great array of ethnic fabrics, fake furs, interesting quilting fabrics, and exotics such as hemp and Mexican oilcloth. Their most busy season is Halloween, because they have the most fabulous stuff in much more variety than even Cliff's in the Castro. In the front of the store is Mendel's, a really good general art/craft store. Don't miss the fabric dyes, kits and printing supplies in the little nook under the office. They have 25% off the entire store for the whole months of September and March. Accessible from any Haight st bus, 6, 66, 7 or 71, a couple blocks after Masonic, 15mn from any Market st center island.

Right up the street from them, on Haight between Masonic and Ashbury, is Discount Fabric. This is very popular with the Cool Young Fashion Designer set, and you'll find them bravely manning the tables for the employee discount. This is still a fairly good source of cheap and horrible fabric, good for muslins or for the most shocking sort of sartorial experiments. However, I find that their best and most interesting fabrics are almost always first carried by Far Out, usually at lesser cost... We love the Crepe Express on the same block, second home to the staff at the French high school up the hill and their students.

If you do have Cool Young Fashion Designer ambitions, the best place at the moment is the newly-opened Stitch Lounge. This younger take on the Sewing Workshop offers a smallish but well-chosen selection of cool fabrics of the moment, and interesting vintage pieces, all at affordable prices. You can also rent studio time (with regular and industrial machines, and sergers) and take classes, or get help with their own patterns. A real winner... On Gough near Oak, a couple blocks from Market st and Van Ness, in reach of all metros and Market st buses. Only a few blocks from Citizen Cakes, at the corner of Grove, whose pastries are alas worth every sneer the staff dishes out.

For high-quality clothes fabric in a more sedate genre, and also some great upholstery but no quilting, the best is Satin Moon on Clement between Arguello and 2nd avenue (not street!). They're as expensive as Britex and have smaller stock, but every bit is carefully chosen, unusual and amazing. They also have a lot of very hard to find exquisite Asian fabrics like textured kimono silks and handwoven Indian cashmeres. A block from Geary street and the 38 bus, one of the most frequent buses in the city and direct from Union Square.

While you're there, check out the incredible bargains at the FabriX store kitty-corner across 2nd avenue, and restore yourself at the wonderful Vietnamese restaurant 'Le Soleil'. Or go up the street to Green Apple Books on the corner of 6th ave and check out the best selection of used books in SF, including a fair amount of textile ones. Right across Clement is one of the best dim-sum bakeries in town.

On your way out to the avenues, get off the 38 bus at Japantown and check out the mall. In the Kinokuniya building, closest to the corner theaters, is a great bookstore on the 2nd floor. There is an entire section of all kinds of needlework books/magazines which you won't find anywhere else on the continent. They're in Japanese, granted, but all come with very clear charts, the crochet ones for instance are much easier to decipher than any Roman alphabet ones I've ever seen. The measurements are always given in Arabic numerals and centimeters :-). When you're done with that, you can wander the halls and see all kinds of textiles from antiques to new and good quality. I particularly like the shop on the bridge between the buildings, upstairs, to the left of the bookstore. Finally, Sapporo-Ya near the bookstore offers great ramen 365 days of the year, and you can always stop in at the Kabuki Hot Springs downstairs, for one of the most exquisite bathing experiences on the planet. On the 38 Geary bus, direct from Union Square and Market st, at the corner of Geary and Fillmore.

Then there is the East Bay. If you have time and/or are a quilter, Stonemountain and daughter is in Berkeley, a few blocks South from the downtown Berkeley BART station. Quilt fabrics really make an effort to be different, and include extensive theme collections and a very complete color palette. Good selection of wools too, all natural fabrics, hard to find knits, and the best of unusual flannels. Large and varied selection of specialty patterns, the best live one in the Bay Area. Unfortunately, service is so sluggish as to be a serious obstable, you need to allow nearly half an hour for even a non-cutting payment without a line.
Poppy Fabric is very nice too, a well-balanced store with lots of European fabrics, and the ultimate home dec section. A bit further out, it's at 51st and Broadway (near College) about ½ a pleasant walking mile from Rockridge BART, or you can get there in 20mn by the relatively regular 51 bus from downtown Berkeley, or in the other direction from downtown Oakland BART stations. They've recently scooped as a general buyer the genius who used to buy buttons for Britex, and their fabric selection has consequently become even more interesting, we're waiting with bated breath to see what happens when her selections completely dominate the store.
New Pieces on upper Solano Avenue is the biggest and most specialized quilt store in the immediate Bay Area, with rotating shows that are well worth seeing. Unfortunately it's almost inaccessible by public transportation. But if you need a rare color or a complete literature fix they could worth finding - taxi from North Berkeley BART?

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