Shopping for Fabric in New York’s Chinatown

When in New York, especially the Manhattan borough that a lot of people associate with the image of New York, sewist and fashionistas instantly gravitate to the Fashion/Garment district for fabrics and sewing related needs. I did that last time and reviewed them here. However, with image also comes price, like a brand name commands it even if the quality is no better, or worse, than another equivalent product. This is why you head outside the Fashion/Garment District for some deals, though that’s not to say there’s nothing good for quality and selection diversity there. I would actually recommend checking out some of these shops first, if you had the time. It would give you a good idea what’s available at what price, before visiting the Fashion/Garment District, if you have any concern about price when purchasing your fabrics and notions.

On this latest trip to New York, I checked out the handful of fabric shops in the Chinatown area, mostly on or off Broadway in the Chinatown district. All kinds of fabric stores used to be here, apparently, the owner of Broadway Fabrics and Textiles told me. However, the place changed. Rents went up. People moved or retired or went out of business because of it, and a handful of shops were all that was left. Some were also there in nearby little Italy, but I never got there, having spent plenty of time at the shops in Chinatown. Here was what I found.

Broadway Fabrics & Textiles

Off of Broadway, at 60 Walker Street, is Broadway Fabrics and Textiles (Yelp reviews and map). It looks a bit like a small run down warehouse, proudly displaying the Ghanaian flag of the owners, but there are definitely deals there to be found. For starters, there were lots of decent and good fabrics for $6 a yard at 60 or 72 inches wide. That’s a price you will not find easily in the Garment district for anything of the same quality. If you do, it’s like small selection of remainders and such.

This store had mostly upholstery and curtain sort of fabrics, but had some for regular clothing as well. Hersel, an owner, was real nice to work with, not pressuring you like a lot of folks in the Garment District stores do. Staff also cut fabric generously, giving you pretty much a metre or more for every yard bought (about 10% more), and not just a few inches more as stores typically tend to do in NY. The store also carried some brightly coloured and patterned African garment fabrics, which was nice, but not yet in my design vision. Finally, there was the occasional gem to be found like the My Little Pony panels that were 60” high and 36” wide, for a mere $3 a yard or panel. I’d have bought the whole roll if I weren’t flying back because I’m sure I could find enough people who would like it to buy it or buy clothes I could make from it! I only walked away with 6 panels and already found people who wanted them all. I’m not reselling, however. I’ll be making designer garments out of them. What remains to be seen, but I’m thinking a long gown for expansive skirt that can show the big panel, and lolita dress for its youthful cut to go with the youthful panel imagery.

P.S. Fabrics & Crafts

At 359 Broadway, not far from Broadway Fabrics & Textiles, is P.S. Fabrics and Crafts (NY Shopping Magazine reviews, Yelp reviews). A medium sized fabric and crafts store with a lower level not clearly marked, this store had lots of buttons and trims, and a fair amount of nice fabrics. Their buttons, when not part of a commercial collection like La Betite, was very reasonably priced. Many did not have prices written on it so you’d have to get someone to open the box to look at the price, something that really irks me as documented before. However, many had prices on them, and they were the cheaper ones so it was good to be able to consider those easily. The La Mode and La Petite button collections, which I had never seen in Halifax where I live, shows how interesting buttons could be. Seriously, look at the buttons on those sites! I can only wonder why the people who order buttons for fabric stores in Nova Scotia have such dead conservative tastes.

The staff at P.S. Fabrics included two very kind Jewish gentlemen and some Hispanic ladies, all of whom were very helpful. Mark, one of the owners, gave me all kinds of deals on the buttons upon my hesitation at either the prices, or how many to buy. That’s not to say if you did, he would give you a deal, but some deal was better than no deal, and you didn’t have to harass him, which isn’t nice anyway. These people are trying to make a living, too.

As for the fabrics, there was some nice stuff at reasonable prices. I saw some vibrant knits which I’ll be excited to make things out of. But most of all, the piece I’m most excited about was the yard of black spandex with white skull and crossbones on it! Wait till you see my running outfit in that! That was among a couple of dozen rolls of spandex I saw, but most were more on the conservative side, which probably sells better than the wild stuff at Spandex World in the Fashion/Garment District. P.S. Fabrics also had a fairly long couple of racks of pieces about 1-2 yards at 75% off. That made most of them about $2-3 a yard, and a lot of it was nice, too, not just left over crap. I got about 3 yards of nice spandex on which to hone my spandex sewing skills at about $2 a yard. Nice, but just not flamboyant enough for me.

One final memory for me at P.S. Fabrics was that while I was there, a really nice girl asked me for sewing advice on her Little Mermaid costume with sequined fabric. I don’t know what made her ask me out of the blue, as there were others there, including store workers, but I can tell you girls don’t ask me for sewing advice out of the blue anywhere in Nova Scotia! She was with some guy, though, so I didn’t ask to see if I could see how it turned out or anything. Just a nice memory.

Jem Fabric Warehouse

Almost next door to P.S. Fabrics at 355 Broadway is Jem Fabric Warehouse (Yelp review). This is mostly a fabric store, also with a second lower level not well marked. They had a buttons and other trimmings collection at the front, along with some beads and such, but I only bought a dozen buttons or so. To be fair, though, I had dropped about $100 on buttons by the time I had hit this store so I was pretty well spent on buttons.

Jem Fabric Warehouse had some nice fabric at reasonable prices as well. They had small collection of licensed cotton prints, which I didn’t find much among other stores in Chinatown. They had a lot of leather pieces, which was also missing from their competition’s stock in the area. They also had a fair amount of spandex at about $12 a yard, with some more or less in price depending on what was on them. The upholstery was below. I didn’t find much I liked there, though, but if you’re looking for upholstery fabrics, be sure to check out the basement.

Staff at this store was generally helpful. There was a lively spirit among them as they ate lunch together, most of them, right in the middle of the store while I was there. The total volume of fabric, I would estimate, to be larger than the other stores in Chinatown.

Pearl River

At 477 Broadway, between Grand and Broom, Pearl River is a big Chinese general store rather than a fabric store. They have a lot of everything from Chinese clothing to feng shui items for your home, including Chinese brocade and jacquard. The selection isn’t huge, but it’s nice. The brocade are generally for women, with leaves and/or flowers. It’s nothing too exotic, but it’s nice. What I liked about it was that the embroidered patterns on the brocade wasn’t overwhelming in appearance. Not too large in size, not too much in contrast, and not too crowded in space. For many fabrics, I love large prints visible from far away and high contrast for punch, but not Chinese brocade embroidery. Takes that serene and zen Chinese feel about it away for me. The brocade with too much embroidery also loses that in looking more like a mess rather than elegant art on a canvas.

The jacquard prints were more simple than the brocade, with the circular form of Chinese symbols that isn’t feminine and guys could wear nicely.

Both brocade and jacquard came in a range of about a dozen colours so you can mix and match quite a bit. That’s how I plan to get my contrast and large visuals from the garments, through interesting colour combinations and cuts on the garments. The jacquard was a bit over $10 a yard, and brocade was about $12 per yard.

The staff was nice and friendly, and gave me an overall discount for volume. I don’t think there was any rule about that. The manager was just nice. 🙂

What I Bought

Below is a gallery of the fabrics I bought in Chinatown, and at which store. You can click on the thumbnails to view a bigger sized photo.


5 thoughts on “Shopping for Fabric in New York’s Chinatown

  1. Your review was from 2012 – wondering if you’ve been back since or in touch with any of these stores. I live in Truro and am fed up with fabric and lace shopping – nothing to be had!! I’m going to NYC in June and was researching for places there when I came across this page. Any tips would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    • Hi Janice, I have not been back since then. I’m from Halifax and I feel your pain. I doubt entire sections would have uprooted and left though. A Google Map “walk through” street view still shows a similar scene. If I were to go back, I’d hit stores in Queens borough first. It’s cheaper there even. Tons of great stuff that’s been around a bit longer. Then Chinatown and Fashion District last unless you were looking for and willing to pay for really nice and/or really recent stuff (some of which isn’t all that nice). I should head back down myself cause it’s been a while. Be prepared to buy a discounted suitcase or two and pay extra to take it home if you were flying. Cheaper than all the shipping, and not much more than having your own suitcase checked both ways… plus you get to keep new luggage. Good luck!


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