Best of Boston

1986 Best Fabric Store

North End Fabrics

<p>It’s hard to find a decent fabric store these days. The dwindling number of people who sew their own clothes has caused many textile shops to close, and most of those that remain are either large chains with uninspired inventories or discounters selling remnants, irregular goods, and closeouts.</p> <p>In this wasteland, North End Fabrics, at 31 Harrison Avenue, is an oasis for the home sewer. The small shop on the edge of Chinatown stocks a sumptuous and well-edited assortment of high-fashion textiles including Liberty of London cottons, the beautiful silklike polyester of John Kaldor, handerchief linens, wool suiting, silk jacquards, and tropical-weight wool challises. It even has the dubious honor of carrying New England’s largest inventory of fake furs. All these goodies are tucked into barebones quarters, which on Saturday afternoons can set off an epidemic of claustrophobia among the customers. But the hard-core home sewers who flock there don’t seem to mind. “I have this theory about fabric stores,” says owner Ellen Bick. “It seems as if a kind of reverse ambience is best. Not that you want it to be grungy, but the more it looks like a mill store or a factory, the better the serious sewer likes it.”</p> <p>Just how popular North End Fabrics is with serious sewers is demonstrated by its clientele, which includes aspiring fashion designers (Boston designer David Josef shopped there during his start-up years), photo stylists, costume designer, and well-dressed professional women who want couture-quality material for the outfits they sew. October brings a colorful crowd of gay men buying sequins and gold lamé for costumes they’ll wear on Halloween at the annual gay ball.</p> <p>Many shops that operated during the heyday of Boston’s Garment District (during the early 1900s) are now gone—victims of rising rents, changing times, and chichi real estate developments. But North End Fabrics has stood its ground there for 30 years. If that doesn’t mean it’s doing something right, nothing does.</p>