Fabric shopping in Paris – a comprehensive starter’s guide!
The first time I visited Paris with my mum @meggymooknits, we walked from where we were staying at the Arc de Triomphe to La Droguerie, as mum had heard it was a good place for wool. The walk, which didn’t look that far on the map, took about 2.5 hours (admittedly we did pop in to a couple of shops on the way) and even I nearly considered giving up, so goodness only knows how my poor non-sewing sister felt. Weary but excited we finally made it, and at least we’d walked enough calories to justify a large glass of wine.
The first time walking in that shop was awe inspiring. Beautiful old wooden cabinets, jars of beads, the softest fabrics, bias binding for days and floor to ceiling wool of every colour reached by a ladder like you’d see in an old library. It was like nothing I’d ever seen, and we both knew then we had to come back. Since then, we’ve visited almost every year and spend the whole time shopping for fabric and sitting in cafés. Thanks to mum’s trusty notebook, we’ve visited quite a few places over the years – here you’ll find our favourites. For videos and pics from inside some of the shops, see the stories highlighted on my instagram account @sewsarahuk
Montmartre fabric district
A Mecca for coupons (set 3m lengths of fabric), the streets of fabric shops at the bottom of the Sacre Coeur are a great place to shop if you’ve got an eye for a bargain, at all levels of budget. From 3m of fabric for €5 up to around €280 for pure cashmere coating, you’re sure to find something you’ll love here. If you’re heading there for the first time, just stand at the bottom of the Sacre Coeur and turn left. You’ll see the imposing 5-storey Marché Saint-Pierre (2 Rue Charles Nodier, 75018 www.marchesaintpierre.com) in front of you, where you’ll find a huge range of fabrics on the roll.
Most dressmaking fabric is on the ground floor, including a good range of denims, cottons and African wax fabric. After getting your fabric cut, head to the wooden cabin for payment. On the opposite corner you’ll find my personal favourite Les Coupons Saint-Pierre (1 Place Saint-Pierre, 75018 www.les-coupons-de-saint-pierre.fr). They stock a lot of denim, cottons, silks, linens and viscose and I’ve always been really happy with the quality of my fabric. Not to mention I think it’s one of the most reasonably priced coupon shops (€15/3m denim, €20/3m linen) and I never come away from here empty handed.
Tissus Reine (above) next door is a spacious shop over many floors, although for most dressmaking fabrics you’ll see all you need on the ground floor. There are some quite reasonable chambrays, cottons and viscose fabrics available on the roll alongside liberty fabrics and pure silk satins at a more pricey €40/pm price tag. Head past Marché Saint Pierre and you’ll find Frou Frou (6 Rue Livingstone, 75018 www.frou-frou-mercerie-contemporaine.com). If there’s something you need I’m pretty sure this shop will have it – trims, sewing kits, Liberty-style fabrics, patterns, gifts and one of the biggest selection of buttons I’ve ever seen. They also have a range of dressmaking fabrics outside, although the core range of products is suited more towards quilting and general sewing at the quality end. The last favourite in this area is Sacre Coupons (4bis Rue d’Orsel, 75018 www.sacres-coupons.com) which has two shops next to each other. The first specialises in jersey coupons and leather. As well as selling full hides of various colours, thicknesses and finishes, they also supply some bag hardware and small offcuts for around €2 each – perfect for small pouches and zip ends. The shop next door sells mainly coupons but also has some wools and cords on the roll too. It’s clearly organised by fabric type, although near the end of the day, as in all of the coupon shops, it can become a bit of a jumble, so be prepared to rummage and it helps if you can spot a good quality fabric when you see it. Silks are priced around €45/3m, Linens €25/3m and they have a fabulous selection of wool coatings and suitings, although still with quite a hefty price tag.
The other main fabric district is the Sentier, which is aimed more at students, the trade and designers. Here you’ll find a cluster of shops selling ex-designer and haute-couture fabrics and although some look like a back alley storage room, don’t be put off. The service might a be bit hit-and-miss but you might just find some really special fabrics from some of the great fashion houses. Some will have a 3m minimum purchase, although my two favourites don’t.
Tissu Market has two shops next to each other. The one that looks like a regular shop sells cottons, tonnes of shirtings, denims, linens and technical fabrics, some of which look as though they’ve come straight off the catwalk. They also sell a few remnants, hides and have a cutting table I could only dream about. Their other shop next door looks like you’re heading in to a disused office, but inside you’ll find pure cashmere coating for €120/m and other various gems priced at around €30/m. Just round the corner (and past a few more fabric shops), you’ll see General Diff (44 Rue de Cléry, 75002 www.generaldiff.com) which stocks all haute couture fabrics. Head down the steep staircase for some coupons and coatings. The welcome here is friendly, and knowledgeable. We also picked up a great tip to head left out of her shop for the really high quality fabric shops and couture finishings, including Boutique Legeron (20 Rue des Petits Champs, 75002 www.boutique-legeron.com) who supply handmade flowers for couture houses. If you head right out of General Diff, you’ll find Hamon (54 Rue de Cléry, 75002 www.hamon-paris.com) which supplies the trade with sewing and tailoring supplies – including a great range of scissors – although you can buy there too.
Just by General Diff you’ll find an amazing living wall – turn left at the living wall, then right and you’ll find Maison Sajou (47, rue du Caire, 75002 sajou.fr). Founded in 1830s but relaunched in 2005, Sajou is such a unique shop, it’s worth a visit even if embroidery isn’t your thing, which is what this shop focuses on. That said, they have a huge range of heritage items such as scissors, wooden items and pins so sharp you’ll swear every time you prick yourself. You’ll also find threads of all types, including linen thread, which I’m assured, after using for sewing on my buttons I’ll never go back to normal thread. Sajou has done a fantastic job of reviving its brand and I’d be amazed if you left this shop without being tempted by something, and you’ll get a very friendly welcome here.
Come back to the living wall and head towards the imposing Marche Montorgueil arch, through which you’ll be on Rue Montorgueil. This is the start of a bustling pedestrianised street – a great people-watching spot for lunch. Near the bottom, you’ll see a left turn for Rue Marie Stuart and you’ll see Passage du Grand Cerf infront of you. At the other end of this delightful passage is Lil Weasel (above) (1-4 Passage du Grand Cerf, 75002 www.lilweasel.com). The fabric shop on the left supplies patterns from designers such as Citronelle, Aime Comme Marie, I Am and Republique Du Chiffon alongside bias bindings and fabrics from Atelier Brunette, France Duval Stalla and Liberty. Their other shop across the passage specialises in wool. Head back on to Rue Montorgueil and towards Église Saint Eustache, next to which you’ll find…
La Droguerie (above) (56 Rue des Rosiers, 75004 www.ladroguerie.com). This shop is filled with beautiful old wooden cabinets and counters and is split in two – to the right you’ll find every bead you could wish for and some trimmings. To the left, wools and sewing. Unlike previous visits, I would say it now focuses more on jewellery making and knitting rather than sewing, but you will still find a great selection of bias bindings, ready made pipings and rouleaux, iron on transfers and plenty of buttons. They also sell fabric and their own patterns, some of which are helpfully made up. Go round the shop first to decide on what you want, then linger around that general area and wait to be served. The staff always seem busy so you might need to catch their eye. They will go round the shop with you and assist with your purchases – when you’re all done, they’ll take you to the old wooden booth for payment. If you’re on the lookout for wool, they hang samples near the front of the shop, just let them know which you’d like and they’ll collect some for you from wool display near the back of the shop.
Each year we try somewhere new and this year we visited Ultramod (above) (4 Rue de Choiseul, 75002 @ultramodmercerieparis) which has two shops across the road from each other. This pair of shops has character in spades, with wonky floors, old wooden cabinets and an atmospheric light. One shop stocks buttons, zips, ribbons, trimmings and fastenings. The buttons here are beautiful, and a new find for me was their selection of snaps – a cross between a sew on snapper and a popper – making for a more sturdy fastening. The other specialises in trimmings for hat making and for upholstery. Worth a visit if you’re close by, just for the experience if nothing else. It’s just a few minutes walk from the Sentier.
If you have the time and vintage is your thing, try a flea market. We were limited for time this year so avoided Les Puces de Saint-Ouen and headed instead for the smaller and more manageable Marché aux Puces de Vanves which is open every weekend of the year. Alongside random paintings, kitchenalia and cinema seats (bit big for the Eurostar) you’ll find vintage French linens, haberdashery, clothing and accessories. The stall owners here were friendly, and happy to barter. I bought a completely hand sewn cotton slip for €10, a vintage-but-new tea towel for €5 and a hand embroidered napkin case. All of which I bought with the intention of re-purposing, but all of which will now stay as they are because I can’t bring myself to cut them up.
Fans of French fabric brand, Atelier Brunette (above) (atelierbrunette.com) now have the opportunity to stroke all the beautiful fabric at the new flagship store in Paris. The brand was founded by Annabelle Kumar in 2013 and since then it has been delighting us with stunning, sustainably sourced dressmaking fabrics that boast bold colours and dreamy designs. The boutique stocks the brand’s fabric, haberdashery as well as a large selection of French and international sewing patterns. Pop in to this sewing wonderland located at 16 rue Keller in the 11th arrondissement.
A few other shops worth a visit – Mahlia Kent (19 Avenue Daumesnil, 75012 www.malhia.fr) is underneath the Coulée Verte René-Dumont – an old train line which was converted to a peaceful mile-long green walkway. The converted arches underneath are home to galleries, makers and artisans, including Mahlia Kent, which weaves fabric for fashion houses around the world. You can buy some of the fabric here, but if that’s not quite in your price range, we’ve also bought remnants which can be used for smaller projects such as bags and pouches or homeware. If you’re feeling up to it, you can walk from here up to Bastille and past the Place des Vosges, meander through the Marais and past Entrée des Fournisseurs, which is in a courtyard, so keep your eyes peeled in case you miss it. Alongside patterns and fabrics (in particular, a good range of linen), it stocks an extensive range of buttons, bias bindings and trimmings – including some typically French woven labels for personalising your clothes.
• Take a swatch book of fabrics in your stash. The selection of buttons and trimmings is so great, you’d want to focus your purchases.
• If you’re thinking of buying a few coupons, it’s amazing how heavy all that fabric can be. Take a shopping trolley. You might not look sophisticated and stylish, but it’ll save your back.
• Take a note of patterns you’re thinking of sewing, along with the fabric requirements so you’re not second guessing as to how much you’ll need.
• Check the up-to-date opening hours before booking – some shops don’t open on a Saturday, or may close early. None open on a Sunday and some also close at odd times in the week.
• If cooking is your thing, a visit to E.Dehillerin is a must – just a few doors down from La Droguerie.
• When booking accommodation, consider the area you’d like to visit. The Sentier, Ultramod, Lil Weasel and La Droguerie are all clustered together, although the main roads between them are quite busy and impersonal. For quaint streets, boutiques, cafés and bistros, the walk through the Marais from the Place des Vosges through to La Droguerie takes some beating (and a wee bit of energy, but you can always stop at a café or two on the way).
• For an experience, try Bouillon Chartier (Rue du Faubourg). It’s not fine dining, but it’s a Parisian institution and the atmosphere is electric. Queues snake out of the door at peak times so avoid 1-3pm and 8pm onwards. The very reasonably priced menu changes daily and you’ll never know who you’ll sit next to. Great people watching! Plus if you need to walk off the lunch, the Montmartre fabric district is about a 20 minute or so walk away, and if you go up Rue Du Faubourg Poissonnière you’ll pass by a few haberdashery shops.