When I mentioned I was going to do a little family vacation in Paris, of course, all my fabric loving friends had questions.
There were questions about the kids, questions about where we would be staying, questions about how long we would be gone but I could see it in their eyes; they had “real” questions. Questions like: How much time would there be for fabric shopping? What stores was I planning on visiting? Could I pack them in my luggage as a stowaway or, at the very least, as a good friend, couldn’t I bring them back something lovely, in my suitcase. I was assured they’d love me forever.
Well time was short and my luggage already too heavy so instead of bringing them all back a little fabric treat I decided I’d make them a sweet guide on Paris fabric shopping so they could go experience it for themselves. And since we’re all friends here, I’m sharing it with you too!
Where to go:
Montmartre, at the base of the Sacré Coeur Basilica, is a great place to explore. With limited time (and 2 kids in tow) it seemed like the place to be with its wide variety of fabric and notions shops with everything from designer brand off-cuts (think Louis Vuitton and Chanel) to cheap and quirky imports and everything in between.
How to get there:
I’m a big fan of public transport at home and when traveling abroad. The Paris metro system is vast and (mostly) efficient if a bit circuitous. If you’ll be in Paris for a few days - a week or less - I highly recommend purchasing the Paris Visite Pass. You can purchase it when you arrive at any station and choose 1-5 days of use. There are other options and there are rules to be aware of, of course, but with the Paris Visite Pass you may use all the different transit options within the city such as metro, bus and overground (plus the funicular I’ll tell you about later). You’ll want to do a bit of research into your options but, the Paris public transport system is one of the most expensive that I’ve used when traveling in Europe so it’s nice to have a ticket that will basically get you anywhere you might want to go.
To get to the fabric in Montmartre I like to take line 2 and get off at Anvers station which will drop you right near the steps of Sacré Coeur. Walk out of the metro station, cross the boulevard and walk straight up Rue Briquet. You'll know when to turn again because the fabric will be calling your name down Rue d’Orsel. “Come and buy me” it will say, “I’ll fit in your carry-on, I promise!” it will whisper on the wind. I’m not saying you shouldn’t believe it but I am saying I had to check an extra bag on the way home
As for getting around Paris, on the whole I found that downloading the CityMapper App was very useful (in Paris and other major cities across the globe as well). It’s free and does a great job of figuring out the best possible routes and any slowdowns to be aware of on the way.But enough of being a tour guide here’s what you really want to know: Was it fabulous!? Génial!? Magnifique!?
Yes. Yes it was. Much like any fabric or fashion district I’ve been to like San Francisco or Los Angeles, it was packed with fabrics. An assault to the senses really. So much color, textures galore, Parisians walking by with baguettes in their totes (no really, we made a game of counting traveling baguettes on our trip and stopped counting at 34). It was everything you’d want Paris to be but it was also more. Everybody was friendly. Maybe not overly anxious to wait on you as sometimes seems to be expected in the states but friendly and helpful. I got to test out my basic French and nobody clutched their chest and gasped at my butchering of the language, they simply listened intently then nodded and proceeded to speak to me either in English or by gesticulating and speaking slowly. I think it's safe to say that language will never be a barrier between fabric lovers.
There was so much to see, many shops lean toward a particular type of product - maybe upholstery and home décor or costuming or woven apparel fabrics but other shops were a mish-mash of options including notions and other supplies. Several shops occupy more than one floor and it’s worth the climb to see what treasures you might find.Then there’s the “coupon shops” where pre-cut yardage is sold for a flat price. No muss, no fuss. There’s generally no cutting table in these shops so you simply pick out what you want and pay. You may not know the fabric content but you can handle the fabric so you'll likely have some idea of the quality. This really is an exciting way to buy fabric and thank goodness for luggage weight surcharges on air travel or I might have bought more than I could sew in my lifetime. If you’re a bit shy about asking questions or trying to navigate a different language, a coupon shop is a great place to start. You’ll pick out what you want. bring the pieces right up to the counter, they’ll ring you up and you can pay simply by tapping your credit card. They may ask, or you may request “un sac, s'il vous plait” if you need a bag for your haul.One of my favorite shops was Frou-Frou de St. Pierre (there's a second location in another part of Paris). It felt and looked very Parisian to me but it also brought to mind the few boutique fabric stores that still exist in North America. Similarly laid out with a tidy selection of fabric, neatly organized into something of a rainbow. I found a fun selection of notions and thread as well as some tools and knick-knacks anyone might need in a sewing space. They even had some “Frou-Frou” sew-in clothing labels and I couldn’t resist picking one up for some future project. Here the fabric is cut on demand and it was simple to bring my fabric up to the counter and ask for “un mètre” or “un demi-mètre” of the fabrics that I chose. I couldn’t resist some alligators for Holden. But he chose the viewfinder fabric because the writing was in English (ha!).I could have spent all day looking at every shop and Holden probably could have spent at least an hour sorting through bins of buttons and zippers but we were getting hungry and so the kids dragged me away from all the pretties and insisted I feed them.Which brings me to; What else is there to do and see in Montmartre?
Of course there is the basilica itself. It is lovely and iconic and although I personally wouldn’t recommend spending the time to go inside (unless that’s something high on your bucket list) it is lovely to walk around. Be prepared for stairs (and lots of them!) or take the funicular railway - an electric train car that runs up and down the hill - which is an included fare if you have purchased the Paris Visite pass I mentioned earlier. There’s plenty of shopping for touristy souvenirs as well as shops that cater to more local needs including clothing, food and home décor.But as we were hungry (fabric shopping will do that to you!) we were on the hunt for something yummy. There are several lovely terraced restaurants and cafés to get you off your feet, a bite to eat and to do some people watching. This part of Paris is one of my favorite places to be because, although it is definitely a tourist destination, it seems to maintain a more local feel to it. The restaurants seem to have better food at a less inflated price than say around the Eiffel Tower where there is keen awareness of the tourist crowd. We ended up on the terrace of a quaint restaurant called Hardware Société run by a lovely Australian gentleman. The food was delicious and the service spectacular. Or, if you prefer, you could stop by a boulangerie for some sandwiches or croissants and sit on the lawn or steps of Sacré Coeur and admire the cityscape while you eat.
Whatever you choose, I promise you will not be disappointed if you give yourself a day to explore fabric shopping in Paris. Like the city itself, it is a special experience.
So, now that I’ve returned, plenty of fabric in hand, I've decided I really should share the bounty. I bought 6 meters of this holiday canvas for 10€ at one of the many coupon shops we visited and I’m planning on sewing up something festive for Christmas gifts this year for each of my fabric loving friends. Now I just have to decide what!
It was so fun! Maybe someday a Gus + Steel group getaway will happen – can you imagine?!
I’m living vicariously through you! Sounds like a fun trip!