Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Musings on Fabric Snobbery

I happened across a link that shows where Joann's is going to be opening new stores. It's right here if you're interested in seeing if one is coming to your area. There just so happens to be one opening about ten minutes from my house. This same store is five minutes from my work. I foresee a problem with cash flow--too much of it is going to flow away from my wallet and towards their cash registers. But then I'll be saving on gas as it won't be about forty miles round trip like it is now. I should just get a part-time job there so at least I'd score an employee discount.

There I am with my project list and sewing bits :) 

I do have a question for you folks, though. Have you ever encountered...I'll call it 'fabric snobbery?' It's when you tell someone that you bought a beautiful fabric at Joann's or (gasp!) Wal-mart and their nose wrinkles and they say "Oh" with such a disappointed tone that you'd think you've told them that you like to punch babies and puppies. It's that idea that one should only buy super-expensive designer fabrics all the time and you're just cheap and tawdry if you do otherwise. My favorite interaction is when you say "I usually get my stuff at Joann's unless I need something very specific" and they chuckle and shoot glances at each other (this requires two people besides yourself to be in the conversation) and say "Hehehe...we don't buy anything there. It's junk."


This kind of appalls me as a person who likes to shop with coupons and as a creator of things. My personal belief is that you should buy the best you can afford. If you sew only a couple things a year designer fabrics will probably fit into your budget. But if you spend a ton of time in front of your sewing machine that adds up so quickly and can make what should be a delightful hobby worrisome. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have sponsors or affiliates who supply them with fabric goodies and extra money to turn around and buy new fabric with. Are these people (myself included) not to create because we need to keep some of our paycheck to live? Are the things we create less worthy of admiration because there's not a fancy name attached to it?

Some of the most beautiful creations have been made from scraps of fabric pulled from whatever wore out to a size too small for anything else. There was beauty in reusing, in looking at something and saying "That used to be pajamas. That was a work shirt. That was my old apron." It didn't come from quilts made of fabric so expensive you'd be afraid to use it. I think that's why I love scrap quilts so much--like this string quilt I made. I know what each fabric was used for before it ended up here.

I admit it--I splurge. I buy designer fabrics that I fall in love with. But most of my purchases are not that (and when I do spend I try to forgo something else to set my mind at ease). And I certainly don't sneer at those who say "Oh, I found this at a flea market. I don't know what it's made of but it was pretty and only cost a quarter." I kind of think that's awesome and secretly feel jealous that I never have such luck. I know that the argument for designer over 'other' is that the thread count and dye-fastness is better, but I've never really experienced negative effects with cheaper fabrics (maybe three or four times over five years and tons of fabric? It's bound to happen but it's not rampant).

Have any of you ever encountered such attitudes? I don't feel like I could be the only one. And when I do I try to think of my grandmother, in her recliner hand-stitching every single one of her quilts (usually queen sized!!!!!) and saying "Oh, no, I hardly ever buy anything at the quilt shop. Who can afford that?" I'd love to know your thoughts. This 'issue' really irks me but doesn't influence my buying habits. It makes me wish the dollar store sold fabric so I could say "See?? Haha!!!! I didn't need to spend $12/yard!!" Am I overreacting? You can be honest. I can take it.


  1. I have never heard of this snobbery thing. I find it hard to grasp. Pretty fabric is pretty fabric is pretty fabric :)

  2. 10 to 15 years ago, I would never have bought fabric for quilting in a Joann's or another place. It was not of good quality. But today, that is not true. Joann's carries many quilting fabrics, and now I buy a lot there. Quilt shops are so high, that shopping there exclusively, would send me to the poor house.
    I totally get what you mean!!

  3. I am just starting out buying fabric, and have bought it from the market and quilt shops, and I am happy with both.

  4. I sooooo know what you mean! Over here (in New Zealand) standard pricing for quilt fabric is NZ $24.99 - $29.99 per metre, and that's not even designer stuff! I literally hardly buy anything that's not on sale, even at our equivalent of Joann's, because its just far to expensive. It's one of my pet hates when people obviously look down at me for buying fabric on clearance or at thrift shops, especially when sewing and quilting in general comes out of a context of thrift, reusing and making do.

  5. I get that with yarn buying. People have no idea that a ball of merino wool costs €6 and a ball of really soft baby acrylic costs €1,50... and that acrylic has some advantages over real wool too (like the fact thta you can carefully wash it). I buy a lot f my fabrics at the Utrecht fabric market, especially solids and notions. I mean I can get 5 zippers at the market for €1 and in s sewing store they cost €2,50 per zipper... I mean, I am no math miracle... but the market does have a ring to it, right? I also love fabric shopping at Ikea. They have fun cottons and canvas that are perfect for bags. Don't get me wrong, I love buying designer fabrics but at the market there are solids and notions in all colours for great prices. Why would I ignore that?

  6. I love your re-using old items idea. A quilt becomes very personal this way.

    My daughter is currently sewing the ribbons from all the rosettes she won on her horse into a patchwork and so far they look amazing. Not sure what the end product will become, but the idea is lovely.... all those memories stitched into one item.

  7. I think being a fabric snob goes against the whole history of quilt making. Quilts were made from scraps of fabric from worn out clothes or bits left over from dressmaking. It was all about making something warm out of what was available. Designer fabric is beautiful and it's great if you can afford to work with it, but I think being thrifty and creative with your fabric sources captures the spirit of the original quilts much more accurately.

  8. I've certainly come across fabric snobs. Once I bought this non-designer canvas and paid $10 per yard after a hard bargain which is not even cheap. I used it to make a few bags for sale and a few fellow sellers kept mocking my "cheap fabric". I managed to sell the bags except for one. Each time I had a market, I would try to sell it and the fabric snobs would laugh at me, often fingering the fabric and say: still can't sell this one? I was so relieved that someone eventually bought it. I think it was an American living in Singapore. And I remember she LOVED the fabric. When I choose fabric to make bags for sale, I use a combination of designer and non-designer fabric. I personally like any kind of fabric as long as the colour doesn't bleed.

  9. You run into this ALOT on sewing blogs, unfortunately! I don't have a fabric store near me that sells designer fabric, so Walmart and Hobby Lobby are my only choices unless I go online. I just have to believe that either everyone else has an endless supply of money to buy unbelievably expensive fabric or else they are horribly in debt! Shoot, I don't even pay full price at Hobby Lobby. If it's not on sale and I don't have a coupon I just wait. It will eventually go on sale!

  10. I'm with you in buying what you can afford. There are good grades of fabric and lower grades of fabric. I remember reading once that there are something like 7 grades of fabric. So the same exact print might be printed on several different grades (quality) of fabric. Most of Walmart's fabric are printed on a cheaper grade of fabric. Feel it and you can tell. The lower quality fabrics feel stiff and not soft. But sometimes you can find good quality fabric at Walmart and other stores that are similar. They buy in huge quantities from several sources, so you never know what grade the fabric will be until you touch it and see it yourself.

    I have been to quilt shops too that not all of the fabric is top grade. So you must be a savvy shopper and buy what you can afford and what feels nice too. Some fabrics are almost like cardboard or paper in how stuff they feel. Sometimes fabric is so soft and drapey that trying to cut and sew it would make it distort a lot.

    In the end, when you show off your beautiful quilt, will anyone even know where the fabrics came from? They might love a particular fabric in the quilt and when they find out it was from Walmart of JoAnn, they might change their mind about shopping there. I can't afford the quilt shop prices and if I go there, I shop in the clearance section only. I buy on sale only no matter where it is purchased. With fabric lines changing every year who can keep up fast enough to make something that year anyway?

  11. I follow so many sewing blogs, and I often wonder how these women can afford to buy all of the "designer" fabric that they use in their projects. It seems that most of them shop for fabric on line. I have yet to purchase any fabric on line, because I want to feel and touch and see what I am buying before I buy it!! I am like you and pick up fabric wherever I can - Wal-mart, Joann, Hobby Lobby, etc. I live in a small town, so my choices are very limited. We have a quilt shop here, but (a) I hate their selection and (b) their prices are way too high. I currently have to drive almost 2 hours to get to a Joann or Hobby Lobby, but fortunately they are building a Joann store here that should be open this summer.. yay!!!!

  12. I have come across this snobbery several times both online and in quilt shows and it always leaves me wondering how people can afford to pay for designer fabric for everything they sew. I know I couldn't with my pay check. I know some get free fabric to use in their projects as to show it off on their blogs and so on but all these women who can't even consider a non designer fabric for the backing( for gods sake...)
    If I like a fabric I buy it, it has to feel nice and be of ok quality, because you do invest so much time and energy into the finished product you don't want it falling apart after the first wash, but, if it is out of my price range which most of the designer ones are here in Sweden, then it will just have to stay in the shop to be petted every time I go to have a look at it.
    I do admire designer fabrics but what ever happened to mixing and matching OUTSIDE of the current popular line? I've heard people going nuts because they couldn't find enough fabric of a certain line to finish their project. What happened to matching and making do with something similar that you can't tell apart from the original line in the finished project anyway... I'll get off my soap box now. Just one last thing. Try going scrappy, there is no need to return to boring matchy matchy after that. ;)

  13. I agree with you on the fabric snobbery. They are out there,and they have way more money than I do. If i splurge, it is usually a fat quarter and I did last month on some pretty civil war fabric. Which happened to be 3.25 a FQ. Otherwise? Jo
    Ann's with my coupons and Walmart at times. Heck I've even bought a couple things at Big Lots when they have it. Granted, I don't want paper thin fabric, so I will forego on that kind. :)

  14. I don't think it's the designer element, but the quality of the fabric that's the issue. Cheaper poly-cotton blends just aren't as hard wearing, and don't last well, whereas the more expensive stuff is pure cotton which is hardwearing. That isn't cheap, just because the global cost of cotton is high right now. The perception is that the 'hobby shops' stock lower quality fabric, although I know that there's been a couple of designers in recent years, Denise Schmidt being one, that have done special deals with bigger brand shops (I think Joann's in the US and Spotlight in Aus) to exclusively stock some of their fabrics.

    How do people afford it? Check out the sales, online shops are often cheaper than brick and mortar ones to start with, most American ones offer free US shipping, and there's almost always at least one coupon valid at the big shops through someone's blog or sew along if you google it. If you don't want up to the minute stuff, there's a couple of places sell off older lines at $6 or so a yard. A lot also have pre-order low prices, it's just a matter of knowing the shops (Intrepid Thread and Pink Castle are 2 big online shops that sell more cheaply than the RRP)

    Notions and things though? Now those I will pick up in many places, because there's less of a quality gap.

  15. walmart and jo-anns are my shopping places, i do get what i just love on line but i shop their sales , good sales is all i can afford and i used hubby shirt in a quilt for his daughter

  16. Thanks Bethany, for pulling me back down to earth! I've been wanting many of the fabrics I see featured in a variety of blogs but can't justify the cost. I'm a Joann's shopper (I used to work there too, but ended up spending my whole check there!)and always will be. I've also bought fabric at Walmart, prints that I never saw elsewhere. If I need something specific I can always try an online shop but I love the quilts and bags I make from my Joann fabrics! Don't let the snobs get you down, there are plenty of people who appreciate good workmanship and don't need a "designer" fabric to persuade them to buy. Oh, and if you ever shop at the Springfield/Marple store give me a buzz, we can do lunch!

  17. I accept people having preferences, but when they turn it into judging I draw the line. The people who judge your fabric choices or my yarn choices are sad, strange little (wo)men and they have my pity. (Gotta love a good Toy Story reference!!) :D It's so lame to be a snob anymore...seriously, haven't we been enlightened enough to get past that social taboo? But, having said that, it seems it's human nature to self-select, deem worthy and create cliques...Lordy, high school all over again!! So, I will leave you with what I tell our teenage daughter...those who would judge you for your outward appearance can't be very deep themselves and aren't worth your time trying to "fit in"....just feel sad for their shallowness, find like-minded girls and have fun!!! :)

  18. I can barely even afford fabric from Joann's most of the time! I have to use a coupon or wait for a sale. I can't imagine only buying designer fabric, although I admit to loving the feel of it so much more than what I actually buy. Considering that I've made three skirts with fabric from the hardware store (Drop cloths!)and loved the drape of the fabric, I think the biggest thing is to just choose what you love.

  19. Oh it sounds like you've encountered some grotty madams there. I've had similar experiences with the type of yarn I use - okay splurge out every now and again if you wish, or if you can, but don't feel obliged to because others are - it's personal choice. I think as far as fabric goes, especially with things such as quilting and patchwork, surely the whole idea is to reuse and recycle - that's why it was patchwork in the first place. Surely it's so much more interesting to look at a piece of work and say that used to be my dress/a sheet/grannies apron - rather than that piece came from Joann's/so did that piece/oh and that piece did too. Obviously I am not suggesting that people should never buy expensive fabric if they have the money to do so, but sometimes I think that people forget about the creativity involved in making something - and creativity is something that comes from within and cannot be 'bought'. Ooooh you can tell it's a bit of a bug bear of mine but any form of creativity should be applauded and not judged. Now I'm off for a cup of tea and a quiet sit down! Jane x

  20. Most of my fabric comes from things I get at goodwill/salvation army. I use sheets alot of times, I'd say maybe 1/3 of my fabric comes from Joann's and I've never bought designer fabric... I'm not a fantastic sewer by any means and when I first started out mostly making bags, I'm started to get into clothes sewing for myself and my daughter and might start buying decent fabric, but as a beginner the reused & thrifted material has served me well :)

    1. p.s. I LOVE telling people how inexpensive the fabric was when they comment how much they like it.. :) made my most beautiful bags from a shower curtain that was given to me... ;)

  21. Bethany, Your post presents a balanced view about the "fabric snobbery" experience. I also agree with your commenters. It comes down to analyzing exactly who is being a snob and why. Sometimes the people denigrating those who shop for synthetics or blends may be doing so because they are online to promote the superiority of shopping at certain venues or using textiles of a certain composition.

    I go with what I can afford. No one can make me feel bad about shopping through Vogue Fabric Store Online. I most certainly would not try to make someone else feel bad about shopping at a luxury silk emporium were they to tell me. Such attitudes are contrary to the community building that can exist among those who share a common craft and creative pursuit.

  22. I encountered the worst two snobs I have ever talked to today. I work at Joann's and I shop around. I buy what I like and I love a deal. I also trained in Costume design and have been sewing for over 22 yrs. I know my fabrics and most of the Fabric companys. It makes me very good at my job.

    So today I went to a Sewing/Quilting show and was shopping the booths. The best was Second Chance fabrics. They have a website and a great idea. Sell the fabrics you don't care about anymore and buy ones you love. And I loved a Moda Ruler print for $5.99 yd.

    Now for the Snobs, I went to one booth and started talking about Alexander Henry Pinup prints and how they were selling OOP prints I had been looking for. And that at my Joanns we only received one last year. The owner who seemed nice up to that point went off on a tangent about how we had the worst fabric and that she couldn't believe quilters shopped there. I tried to correct her misconceptions, but it was a waste of breath. All I have to say is if you're ever in Lincoln, Ca. skip the quilt shop.

    The second had some Star Wars prints produced by Camelot. These prints are labeled quilt shop only but I haven't found a quilt shop that carries them. When I mentioned this to this booth's proprietor and how I would love to carry them at my Joanns. She started going off that Joann's and Walmart's fabric is printed on lower quality fabric. I told her she was wrong and tried to explain to her that our quality is very high, especially in Comic character. In the end I walked without perchasing one item.

    I feel sorry for all the Fabric snobs. Thier creativity is greatly reduced from a lack of choices. And as a customer service professional I give my customers every choice and direct them to the place where they can find what they are looking for. I build and have built a very loyal customer base. If you have to bad mouth others just because you aren't good enough best of luck to ya.



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