Last year at the beginning of December I walked into a very large retail fabric store in Perth. If you’re an Aussie you know the one. This store is less than 10 minutes from my home and has long retail hours so it felt like an easy choice.
We were planning on helping the kids decorate tea towels for their grandparents for Christmas, and I was looking for some pale linen to use: white, cream, beige or flaxy. I was keeping my mind open. All i knew was i wanted it to be light coloured, and good quality.
I stood in front of a wall of linen which was actually mostly blends of linen + polyester or cotton and “linen look” fabrics. It all felt cheap and thin. I asked the sales assistant for help. She immediately snapped “whats here is what we have”. I was a bit taken aback, so i asked again, very politely if they had any pale linen, anything 100% linen. Did she know? The bolts of fabric didn’t seem to be organized and i was quite confused. She turned to me looking quite irritated and said that she didn’t know and what was there was there. It should be noted that as i was asking her these things she was stacking linen on the shelves and updating all the prices.
My confusion turned to frustration, and after pulling out a number of bolts and sorting endlessly (on the ground with the sales assistant less than a metre away from me and ignoring me) i finally found a kind of nice 100% linen that was cream coloured. Victory! Or so i thought. At the register i was told that the fabric was $75 a metre. Huh? At this cheap store? I asked them to check, and it took 2 sales assistants quite some time to figure out that it was $75 a bolt, and no they couldn’t cut me one metre and that i had to buy the whole bolt. I pointed out that this was different than what their signage stated, and shoulders were shrugged. I asked for the manager- which turns out one of them actually was. I wish i was making this up.
By this point i couldn’t take it anymore, and told them exactly what i thought of their customer service, and left.
The next day i drove in the opposite direction to a small independent fabric store. One of my favourites – but i had avoided going as it was a slightly longer drive (20 minutes), more expensive and the opening hours weren’t so convenient.
As soon as i entered the sales assistant greeted me cheerfully and asked how she could help. When i told her the plans for our project – she said she knew exactly what i meant. She immediately pulled out three bolts of beautiful 100% linen and laid them out so we could look together. She gave me advice on which would work better for the kids to decorate, and which would hold up to drying dishes. Which colour is the cleanest looking? How much shrinkage should i expect? She didn’t rush, she didn’t walk away or look bored or irritated or tell me she didn’t know.
I admired her outfit and she pointed out which fabrics she had used from the store, and chatted about the sewing patterns. Other customers arrived and we all laughed at our inability to leave with one thing and our mutual love for every fabric in the store.
My purchases were wrapped and put inside a little paper bag, and i was wished luck with my teatowels. I walked out feeling immensely pleased.
I had spent 3 times the amount i would have spent at the large retail store, and I didn’t even care.
Do you see what I’m getting at here?
At the end of the day you always get what you pay for. Always. The big retail stores will always be cheaper. They will always have a wide range of cheap junk and sales assistants who don’t care about you and know little about sewing.
The independents care. They are more expensive, yes. But because their products are a higher quality and their service is at a higher standard. They are like you and me, they sew and they love it. They are one of us. If you need help they will actually give it to you.
I know many have said it before me, but it bears repeating. Next time you head out to buy fabric, skip the big retailers. Take the drive to the small store with the heart. We should be supporting the stores that actually care about our craft and practice it with us.
(Oh, and the tea towels turned out really great)