THE SEWING DIVAS sewing, design, fashion

May 28, 2007

The (Sewing) Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Filed under: Fabric,Industry,Musings — phyllisc @ 8:27 am

I just got back from reading a post on Pattern Review about Wal-Mart scaling back fabric departments and Hancock’s Chapter 11 filing (I know, this is not news from either company and the sewing forums have been buzzing about this for months.)

It’s fascinating to see that while interest in sewing is increasing, the traditional retail outlets for patterns and fabrics are decreasing. What does this mean? Is this really a result of retailers either speaking only to shareholders (Wal-Mart), or being unable to manage their business(Hancocks)?

Personally – I think the internet has a lot to do with it. Most of my favorite fabric stores are now virtual and internet based, and the best internet fabric sources work because of the expertise, trust and personality the owners communicate to their customers. And I suspect that as soon as pattern companies figure out how to deliver downloadable patterns in a way that won’t require me to tape together 48 sheets of 8.5 x 11 inch paper we might see where retail pattern trends are headed.

In the end I really believe that access to fabric and patterns is not going away – we’re just in the midst of a sewing revolution right now, and the future state is still out there.

I think this is an exciting time to be sewing!



  1. As someone who has just recently gotten back into sewing it is hard to find reliable sources for sewing fabrics and notions. The Hancocks in our area is one of those that is closing. That leaves JoAnns and nothing. I have been reading blogs and looking for mention of favorite sewing sources. It is very helpful to find a mention of where the fabric was purchased. I find inspirition from blogs such as yours and trust your leads.

    Comment by Linda — May 28, 2007 @ 9:17 am

  2. I know that 90% of my sewing fabric & supplies are purchased via internet. The only store I have is a small JoAnn’s, not well stocked, hence mostly what I buy is patterns & thread there. I don’t usually buy anything at WalMart. When I do a review at PR I always try to mention where I got my fabric online, for others. Finding a reliable source, understanding weights, types, etc with just pics & description was hard. Joining a couple of swatch services helped! But my selection is so much biggger & nicer online then at my local store!

    Comment by LauraM62 — May 28, 2007 @ 9:49 am

  3. I too am thrilled to have found such a wealth of fabulous fabric available on line that isn’t available to me locally and I’ve never been one to purchase much in the way of fabric at the local chain stores. Change, while we all resist it, happens, and sometimes the results are really positive. I don’t think fabric is going away, I don’t think we sewists have yet to fear being relegated to dinosaur status.
    The only thing that I do find of concern is that there are fewer resources for newer sewists to learn what fabrics are what, how they drape, etc.

    Comment by Marji — May 28, 2007 @ 10:09 am

  4. I can see a couple of reasons why the local retail fabric outlets are in trouble. As cheap RTW floods the market, people who used to sew because they needed to save money have stopped sewing at all. Those of us who are left sew because we love it and because we can afford to love it. (Sewing machines, gadgets, good fabric, a wealth of notions – we spend a bundle on those things, and most of them are luxuries.) Stores like Walmart and Hancocks have continued to operate as if we *needed* to sew to clothe our families, when in fact, those of us who are left sew because we love the process and the luxury of creating one-of-a-kind, custom-fitted things. We don’t need 5 yards of crappy faded cotton so we can make 2 school dresses for our kids; we want luxurious, great quality stuff and the expensive thread and beads and buttons and interfacing to go with it. In short: they lost sight of the changes in the market. I’m willing to bet that demographic analysis would show that today’s sewers, while fewer in number than 50 years ago, have far more disposable income – money they’re willing to spend on good stuff *when* (if) they can find it. Look around, ladies (and occasional gentlemen). You are the elite. Support your local fabric store if you still have one, then finish up online. Long live the internet!

    Comment by Karla — May 28, 2007 @ 11:38 am

  5. I agree with Karla. I sew almost all my daughter’s clothing, and many pieces for my son and stepson at their request. It is porbably more expensive for me to sew than to outfit them in cheap RTW, but the boys love having one of a kind things, and I want to make unique things for my baby. When I sew for myself again it will not be because I can’t afford to buy some of the clothing I want, but because I want special pieces and details and a perfect fit.

    It is so difficult to find lovely fabrics anywhere local. By the time I discovered my local Hancock’s carried organic knits and bamboo blend fabrics, it was too late – they are closing.

    I love the internet, I am rarely disappointed with my online orders, be it from a fabric purchasing co-op or from established online retailers. In fact, I have found the customer service to be far more considerate and personal in online stores than at my local JoAnn’s. That said, sometimes I wish I could just touch some fabrics before I buy them, or at least understand a bit better how they will drape before I buy.

    I love sewing. I don’t know if I’d love it as much if I *had* to clothe my family.

    I always loved when my mother and grandmother made things for me.


    Comment by karenlepage — May 28, 2007 @ 2:02 pm

  6. There is another reason to sew, which is, not matter how inexpensive RTW is out there, most of us have a tough time finding clothing that actually fits properly at all, or if we can find clothing, most of the time it requires major alterations, which turn the inexpensive RTW into something else entirely. For a lot of us, sewing is the only way we have clothing that not only fits but also has some semblance of fashion and style. So, for us, sewing is a necessity rather than a luxury. Now, that being said, since we all know that a well designed piece, made well, out of good quality fabric is going to last much longer and get far more wear than the inexpensive RTW out there. So, from that standpoint, from a “cost per wearing” angle, it is definitely worth it. For Wal-Mart, the fabric/notions area was always an afterthought. Despite what I have read others in other blogs write about finding the bargain at Wal-Mart, I never found anything that I was willing to put work into there. Hancocks did not seem to understand the changes in the market. I have issues with JO-Ann’s simply because their focus seems so much more into the crafts or quilting area that they don’t have anyone on staff who you can actually ask a technical question of. So, that leaves the Internet and we all know what a wondrous place that can be. On the other hand, though, I still see a real need for sewing education out there. School Home Ec classes in my area do not teach sewing any more. 4-H is still out there but seems sort of “catch as catch can.” Our Jo-Ann’s certainly does not teach any sewing classes. The only sewing-related classes we have locally that I know of are taught by a store which specializes in quilting. So, for all the interest in sewing these days (and I can tell it’s getting hot again by looking at the shelf space being devoted to sewing books at my local national chain book store), I think there is a disconnect between the knowledge people want and need and their ability to get it. Perhaps this is where the Internet can come in, with online classes and so on.

    Comment by Toby Wollin — May 28, 2007 @ 3:03 pm

  7. It’s happening in Portugal too; interestingly the expensive fabric stores are running good businesses while the retailers are closing their doors or moving to smaller spaces.

    Comment by Tany — May 28, 2007 @ 4:24 pm

  8. Good fabric stores are hard to find. I do not shop at Wal-Mart because of social reasons. All of the Hancock stores in my state are closing. The only thing left is JoAnns. I called JoAnns corporate office and talked to a representative about my concerns as a sewer. The very nice lady stated that marketing is aware of the situation and that they are going to start to return to a focus on sewing. I told her that I felt the larger ETC stores are craft stores that happen to sell fabric and suggested that perhaps the smaller stores should focus solely on sewing. I do not know how well my comments were received, but I left the conversation feeling pretty confident in what the future may hold. I invite more people to make the same call as I. Perhaps someone will listen with more voices involved.

    Comment by Lynnelle — May 28, 2007 @ 5:53 pm

  9. The majority of fabric in my stash was purchased via the internet. Since most internet fabric sources are willing to send swatches, purchasing doesn’t have to be a gamble. The only drawback with internet shopping is that there is no instant gratification–but patience is a virtue after all. If there were good quality independent shops near me, I certainly would support them, but that is not the reality of today. There is a reasonably large independent fabric center near me, but their selection of fashion fabric is not as good as it was ten years ago. As for JoAnn’s, I only visit them to buy patterns on sale and pick up notions.

    However, since interest in sewing is growing, I think that more businesses like Stitch Lounge will take off offering sewing lessons and advice for all levels. I believe that this is the future of sewing. Perhaps places like Stitch Lounge will be where the new independent fabric shops will once again start popping up.

    Comment by MarilynB — May 28, 2007 @ 9:13 pm

  10. Hello! I recently discovered your terrific blog-love seeing all your wonderful creations! I’m an American living in Norway, where fabric is very expensive to buy as it is often imported from the States or England. I do most of my fabric purchasing online. Trips to the States to visit famil& friends, I often try to do a little shopping for goodies to bring back, especially fabric! But where I come from in Pennsylvania there are fewer & fewer places to buy fabric each time I go home it seems. It often means having to drive a distant to get to where there is some fabric. I didn’t know about Hancock’s closing so many places…Will they still be selling fabric online? While I do enjoy ordering fabric online, it’s not quite the same thrill as being in the stores and looking at things, touching things. It will be interesting to see what happens in future.

    Comment by Tracy — May 29, 2007 @ 5:02 am

  11. I have no problem buying everyday things from Walmart. Even clothes on occasion. But I see them for what they are, cheap “McClothes.” When I want something special I am willing to pay more and then I’ll shop at a local fabric store or online for fabrics and put the time into making something. I’m not going to spend hours and hours on a garment for $2/yard fabric. However, it takes time and experience to learn what good fabric is (and I’m still learning) so it’s a shame when any retailer of fabric drops off the radar, even Walmart. For some people, that is all they can afford, or all they are willing to spend. So, it is sad to lose that source.

    Comment by thesecretpocket — May 29, 2007 @ 8:08 am

  12. I live in Norway (Oslo) too. Tracy – would you like a sewing buddy? Bet I could show you a couple of immigrant fabric stores in Oslo. Other than that I buy all my fabrics via the Internet. I have a couple of Norwegian sources, two Swedish ones, a couple of Danish ones, lots of German sites, a couple of Dutch siters and lots of American sites. The last few years, I have teamed up with some friends and gone shopping in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London. We are going to Kiel in october. Email me, Tracy, at if you wanna come to Kiel as well, or just meet up for lunch and shopping in Oslo.

    Comment by Vibeke in Oslo — May 29, 2007 @ 10:06 am

  13. edit my adress is

    Comment by Vibeke in Oslo — May 29, 2007 @ 10:07 am

  14. I just got back from a wonderful and refreshing trip to Japan. In the large cities of Tokyo and Kyoto, even the high-end department stores (Takashimaya, Isetan) have decent-sized home-sewer departments with fabric, sewing machines and sewing notions. Yuzawaya, a mid-level department store, has three floors of crafters’ supplies in their largest location, one of which is entirely sewing-related, mostly garment-related but with home-dec as well. The fabric there is wonderful and at the current exchange rates the prices are good. And of course, the flea markets are full of second-hand kimonos which offer an affordable trove of beautiful fabric! I don’t ever envision the situation changing in the US to be so home-sewer friendly, but it was refreshing to visit someplace which really serves the hobbyist sewer so well.

    I have not purchased fabric online, and as a relatively new sewer with minimal expertise, I still need to go to the store to really understand drape and the differences between materials, and to compare colors and patterns. Perhaps you experienced sewers can delight in internet fabric shopping, but I don’t think new sewers will ever gain the experience and confidence with fabric if we can’t pick it up at the store, feel it, etc. Without that capability, home sewing can die out (again!) from lack of interest and opportunities to hone our skills and gain expertise.

    Pattern Review, along with this site and others, make for a great resource for the home sewer (and hooray for Threads Magazine, which I’ve been loving as it has reinvented itself over the past couple of years). But sewing is hands-on, and fabric is hands-on, and I hope that any sewing revolution still has room for real live bricks-and-mortar stores in enough communities to keep sewing alive for the newbies.

    Comment by Sara — May 29, 2007 @ 1:51 pm

  15. What Karla said.

    The same thing has happened with knitting. Chain retail offers mostly acrylic and low-quality yarn; knitters buy largely via the internet.


    Comment by Helen — May 31, 2007 @ 12:34 pm

  16. I am an avid garment sewer and former Hancock employee. One of the things that saddens me the most is that with the closing of so many fabric stores, there is no longer the face to face, hand to fabric, knowledge sharing forem that the cutting tables afforded. One day I had a job I loved and hundreds of friends I only knew by their first name. Now I am in mourning.

    Comment by kate lamar — June 1, 2007 @ 5:28 pm

  17. Like many of you, my fabric purchases are almost exclusively from a few online fabric merchants. At first I thought online fabric shopping was a bad idea because you cannot touch it and evaluate the drape, etc. However, I have had to make a point of educating myself on the kinds of weaves, knits, and fibers, and the best way to do that is to subscribe to the swatch services because they always tell you the weave and content. Sometimes online merchants will also tell you the weight expressed in ounces, that that helps too.

    If I am interested in a certain fabric, I will write customer service and ask about it’s weight and drape if they do not provide enough information.

    I have made a few online purchasing mistakes–but my successes FAR OUTWEIGH my mistakes. Color matching can be tricky since your monitor influences the color. I’ve also learned that when the description says it is a certain color to believe them more than believe my monitor.

    As far as sewing newbies gaining confidence, seminars and workshops can really help.

    Comment by Becky — June 6, 2007 @ 4:03 pm

  18. I just got back from vacationing in Hawaii where we spent a couple of nights in Hilo on the Big Island. We needed an extra bag so stopped in the Walmart there and found tons of beautiful fabric of good quality. No sign of impending closure of the department. Unfortunently, DH was with me and fabric stores make him nervous so I didn’t bring any home. Hilo gets up to 300 inches of rain a year (!) and has fabric everywhere – I guess because there’s so much time to sew, kind of like Portland.

    Comment by Kathi Sorensen — June 10, 2007 @ 12:02 am

  19. Viva la Internet! That you for your blog. I am really enjoying it! Interesting discussion. From my point of view, large retailers seem to be a bit unaware of today’s sewing and crafting enthusiasts. While “this new generation” of home seamstresses want challenge and fashion forward ideas, retailers remain risk averse. Internet retailers are often small mom-and-pops, who share your enthusiasm and are willing to source interesting fabrics and inspiring patterns, not because they have an 80-page marketing study, but an excellent gut that tells them what their customers/friends want. It’s these little guys that keep it fun and inspirational for me.

    Comment by fledgling — June 15, 2007 @ 1:17 pm

  20. I’ve learned from a lady that owns a store in Canada that a lot of the stores are closing who sell fabric. She told me that the majority of fabrics are in indonesia and that it is hard to get it to the united states. She told me that more and more shops are going to be closing. I was under the impression that Canada had a larger choice of fabrics, but she informed me that it wasn’t so and that they were experiencing the same problem. I live in Chicago and we have JoAnns which I hate, and Vogue fabrics(the mother store in Evanston) those are my only choices. If anyone knows of reputable on line stores please email me at i would also love to hear anyone who could encourage me to keep going because the choice is dismal here. I was even willing to move to another place that had more fabric selection. Someone said get a life. Like you..I like to feel the fabric..graze the store. Miss it.

    Comment by Brandy — June 18, 2007 @ 2:53 pm

  21. I love the online stores. There is much more variety and better quality than I can get where I live. I get fabric swatches from one, which isn’t quite as good as seeing it on the bolt, how it drapes, etc. But so far, I haven’t been disappointed. With the prices they offer, it’s just as cost effective for me to sew as it ever was — if I want quality. If I’m in a hurry, or want something to bum around it, I buy RTW. I didn’t sew garments for many years because I could not find decent fabric. I have to say that the internet, with the many sewing forums, blogs, and online fabric stores, has been instrumental in my getting back into something I dearly loved and missed.

    Comment by Deborah — June 23, 2007 @ 6:29 pm

  22. The problem with likes of Hancocks and Walmart is their uninspiring pattern selections. Home sewers are not sewing simply for utility but to make a statement about their clothing. It’s disappointing that great fabric cannot be found in places such as these when their is an obvious demand for fashion forward and high quality fabric. JoAnn’s seems to be able to get by but I htink it’s because they sell everything so cheap and that is a different market they appeal to.

    If Hancock’s hired a good Marketing Manager that understood the fabric demands of today’s sewers and the need for quilting fabric collections, I think they would find that people really would prefer to buy locally. I personally like to see and touch my fabric and find it difficult to shop for fabric over the internet.

    Comment by Page — June 29, 2007 @ 11:54 am

  23. Big stores come and go with fabric dept. In some cases fabric dept’s are a separate vendor. I used to buy fabric at Sears at Pembroke Mall in Virginia Beach.
    Now in Atlantic Beach,FL, we have a Joann’s but they claim they are threatened by the new WalMart opening nearby.

    Comment by erin — July 3, 2007 @ 11:22 am

  24. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one suffering from “fabric withdrawl”. I live in Tampa Bay, and aside from Jo’ann’s which I hate, there is only one independent, and they are slowly drifting towards “cutesy crafty”. I too shop mostly on line, and for the most part, have been satisfied. I do miss the ability to walk into a store and see beautiful fabrics. I grew up in the NYC area, and do miss the good old days. Every year, before school started, my Mother would take me to Macy’s, where there was a huge department devoted to fabric–AND, there were
    actually fabrics that coordinated! What a Concept!

    Comment by Jeanne Thomas — September 29, 2007 @ 10:51 am

  25. Hi Sewists,
    I’ll bet if all of us took it upon ourselves to raid our own stashes and network to trade resources, we could create enough garments by applying and/or trading our own fabrics among ourselves to keep us busy enough in 2008 to not need those who are on the way out of business.

    Unfortunately, I believe we ARE a dying breed and the few of us left will have to get used to ordering things by email. If you will google Wachter’s Silk Shop in Asheville, NC you will find a fabulous selection of fabrics, notions,buttons and delightful patterns, advice/swatch service/classes etc. etc. to be fully satisfied. (no I am not related in any way). Sharing such fine resources may help assure that they continue to thrive.

    Comment by Carole — December 23, 2007 @ 10:45 pm

  26. Correction of the spelling of Waechter’s. Don’t forget to include the silent “E”.

    Comment by Carole — December 23, 2007 @ 10:50 pm

  27. I am new to sewing, I haven’t even been into this hobby for a year yet. I do look around online for fabrics, but like some of you have said, it’s not the same as being able to touch and see the fabric up close. I could never really buy something online, unless I really really wanted it and would find a plan for it no matter it’s texture. Joann’s is the only main stream store here, and it’s not even in my city. The closest one is over 30 minutes away so if I need something, I have to plan ahead to buy it. There are many other small buisness fabric stores here, few with a better selection in fabric than joann’s. But for notions you have to shop at joanns. It’s very frustrating. Maybe some of us should take the lead and open our own sewing stores, ha.

    Comment by Amanda — July 16, 2009 @ 10:06 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: