I’ve mentioned Walthamstow market numerous times in my blogging posts, so I thought I’d supply a guided tour to fabric shopping in E17. Even if you don’t live in London, I hope this makes for an interesting glimpse into the heady delights of the longest outdoor street market in Europe.
For years, I refused to be impressed by Walthamstow’s claim to fame. ‘Great,’ I thought. ‘So it’s a long market selling a shed load of over-ripe tomatoes. Big deal.’ Part of my cynicism may have been down to the fact that I grew up in a market town in the Midlands. I know markets, okay. Move along, people, nothing to see.
My attitude has drastically changed since I began sewing last year. Via friends and the Internet, I was desperately trying to find out where to go to buy my stuff. Cargo Cult Craft recently blogged here about the difficulties of haberdashery shopping in London. But one day I stumbled down the market on my usual route to Sainsburys and looked around me with fresh eyes. I was suddenly impressed – very impressed. If you want to know where to buy your fabric and notions for dirt cheap prices, follow me…
We’re going to start at the top of the High Street, by Hoe Street and work our way down towards where the High Street intersects with Buxton Road. (Map here.)
First off, I suggest you visit Walthamstow on a Saturday. That’s when the market is at its best. Ready? Let’s start with the shop I recently discovered, tucked away behind a stall selling what looks like industrial kitchen ware:
Blink And You’d Miss It
It would be very easy to walk past this place on our right and not notice it. I have for the past ten years! So I was really excited to discover it one afternoon recently. They have some unusual fabrics and each time I’ve been in there, the place has been heaving with shoppers.
Carry on down the market and you will come across half a dozen of these:
If you want lace, ribbon, thread, needles, chalk, elastic, zips … well, anything! – it’s probably stocked on one of these stalls. If you’re a thread purist, don’t bother stopping. Their spools of thread are visibly fluffy, but I use them with gay abandon on my sewing projects, yet to discover the special qualities of expensive German thread. (I do want to buy some, just to see what I’ve been missing out on.)
My personal favourite notions shop in Walthamstow market is this one on your left as you wander down:
My favourite place
I wish I could show you some photos of the interior, but they don’t like me snapping away. This place is a treasure trove, very much geared up for people making saris, with a glorious collection of exotic laces, bobbles, appliques, gold thread and – ooh, you name it. Though, strangely, no invisible zippers. I seem to pop in here on a weekly basis and they sell huge swathes of interfacing for ridiculously cheap prices. (Or is it just certain department stores who sell these things at a ridiculously over-priced rate?)
Moving on! I advised a Saturday visit to Walthamstow, because that’s the only day of the week that this chap is here:
A real character
I love this bloke! He’s what every stall holder should be: unobtrusive but on hand should you need him. Oh, and he always has an interesting array of fabric. I bought some black raw silk from this stall to make a skirt, following one of Gertie’s tutorials. Raw silk works very well with this gathered skirt.
Further down the market we come to a stall where I bought the grey wool for my version of the Rooibos dress:
Right outside Sainsburys
If you’ve strayed past Sainsburys, you’ve missed this stall – but again, it’s only here on a Saturday. The same grey wool, bought for £20, stretched to make my lovely Jenny skirt. A dress and a skirt for £20 (including lining fabric) – not bad!
After this, cross over Palmerston Road and on your left you’ll come across Saeed Fabrics:
Ooh, look – chandelier light fittings. This place sells some really lovely stuff and it’s another of my regular haunts. This is where I bought the pink wool fabric for my dreadful attempt at the McCalls 5815 jacket.
By this point, you’re probably loaded down with fabric bought at £2 a metre, enough interfacing to stick Wayne Rooney to Fabio Capello and a bag spilling with lace trims. You’re ready for a sit down and a cup of coffee, aren’t you? So wander back up the market, past sights such as this on the left and rest your feet. You deserve it.
While you rest, ponder on what makes Walthamstow such a great place for fabric shopping. Well, it ain’t because of people like me. The market caters for people – largely from African and Asian communities – who aren’t going to find their chosen outfits any time soon in high street chain stores. I’m talking saris and caftans. As if to prove my point, last time I wandered down to the market I came across a group of people getting ready for a Punjabi wedding. Guys, this was serious – they’d hired four coaches. The street was full of people in bright, bright colours – strangely at odds with the dusty grey of an urban street. I was so thrilled when one of the ladies shyly allowed me to photograph her:
Punjabi Wedding Outfit
This is just one of the reasons that makes Walthamstow great. It’s not perfect, but it is great. And it’s home.
I leave you with an article I came across this morning in The Guardian, all about why we are turning to crafting in this day and age. Libby Brooks makes a great point about the ‘learned helplessness’ of modern day society, which means we all know how to sit an exam but not how to make a chest of drawers. Or a dress. Everyone should learn how to make a dress!