Travel Week: Five Places To Visit For Your Costuming Needs

Clothing and Cosplay DIY GeekMom
Photo by Chris Bulle

We’re getting to the heat of con season, which means your costumes are probably well under way. Or you’re like me and, as usual, have way too much left to do. Either way, if you’re a costumer, you know the joy of a new fabric or craft store.

I travel pretty regularly for work, which means I don’t have a lot of down time while I’m in a city. I can see the highlights faster than a speeding bullet between a conference’s closing ceremonies and a flight back home. But I do like to look for interesting places to buy sewing supplies, and I have a few favorite, less-famous stops that I visit every time I’m in their cities. The FIDM store (Los Angeles, CA)

Sure, if you’re sewing and costume building in LA, you’ve got plenty of choices. But one of my favorite places is the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising’s (FIDM) store. You won’t find fabric here–they sell clothes and accessories. But if you’re not into starting from scratch, or if you just want to pick up some interesting basics, it’s a cheap and fun place to spend a little time. One of my favorite purchases there was a shiny red Esther Williams bathing suit for $5. I wanted to try embroidery on a bathing suit, but expected it to end up a big mess. For $5, I’m willing to take the risk.

Even better, it’s right next door to the FIDM Museum and Galleries, so check what the current exhibits are before you go. I was once there during Oscar week, so there was an exhibit of Oscar-nominated costumes. Later this summer and fall, they’ll be displaying the 6th Annual Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design exhibit.

Scrap (Portland, OR)

Not a fabric nor craft store, but a creative reuse center. There’s a similar place much closer to my home, but as much fun as it is, Scrap is the winner. Last summer I bought stacks of different papers, a bundle of Sharpies, a roll of white fur (for some cuffs, someday), some window shade pulleys for the wings I was building, 50 or 60 old photo slides, a mask, and who knows what else–for about $12. On my next trip to Portland, I may take a spare suitcase.

Plan B if Portland’s too far: There are also Scrap location in Washington, DC; Denton, TX; and Traverse City, MI.

Plan C: Check the Creative Reuse Directory for a similar center near you.

Sewfisticated (three locations around Boston, MA)

For those who live in cities with delightful fabric options (like Boston!), Sewfisticated might not be anything special. To the many, many of us who have few options outside of JoAnn’s and Hancock, it will be a joy, both to your fabric buying desires and your wallet. I recently bought a yard of Lycra, a hefty hunk of leather, and three yards of quilting fabric for $18. The Lycra was the cheapest, at $1.99/yard, and their quilting fabrics and batiks also run $1.99 to $2.99. They also sell whole cowhides. I got so distracted by the fabrics, I forgot to go back to the wall of cheap zippers. And dupioni silk? Starts at $6.99. Bestill my fabric-loving heart.

The Framingham location has a popular upstairs section that starts at $1/yard, or as they refer to it, “the lowest prices within 2,000 miles.” I believe it.

Dharma Trading Co. (San Rafael, CA)

If you’ve ever needed to dye anything, you’ve no doubt stumbled upon Dharma Trading Co. online. The expeirence pales to going there in person. I spent my early years avoiding dyeing and assuming that if it wasn’t natural fibers, it wasn’t going to happen. Then I discovered Dharma and a whole new world. If you want to paint it, dye it, or otherwise inject new color into it, Dharma has the answer. Heck, if you need more inspiration, they even have the white clothes for you to start from. If you’re a Ravelery geek, they carry all the yarns and roving, spinning tools, felting tools, and other fiber goods you could possibly dream of.

Mary Jo’s (Gastonia, NC)

Mary Jo’s is a veritable fabric wonderland near Charlotte, NC. I bought most of the supplies for my wedding dress there–they have a huge bridal section. It’s not much of a secret, as the store opened in 1951 and has become somewhat legendary, but it is in Gastonia, which is off the beaten path for most people. Now at 40,000 square feet, this is the sort of massive fabric store you just don’t commonly find outside of large cities. Their prices are often quite good, and they’ve got just about every sort of fabric the average seamstress is looking for. You can take a virtual tour on their website to see what you’re heading into.

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