As somebody who loves to craft, the Fabric District in Downtown L.A. is a resource that I probably don't use enough. The streets in that area are filled with store after store of floor to ceiling fabric bolts with everything from apparel and upholstery fabrics, trims, lace and more. If anything, it's somewhat overwhelming and if I were in fashion school, it would be a dream.
Given that it's a three day weekend and I had no particular plans for today, I decided to head down there and take a good look around. I've been before, but usually with husband in tow. While he's quite accommodating to my crafty whims, I didn't want to torture him with what I knew would be a lengthy stroll through that spot. I wasn't searching for anything in particular and this was really more of a mission to see what was on offer.
Parking can be a real pain and even though it's a holiday, so the meters weren't an issue, finding one can be completely impossible. I decided to pay the $4 for a parking lot and not have to deal with the painfully slow "looking for a space" traffic crawl. Fortunately, the fabric stores seem to be concentrated in a relatively small area with a few blocks in either direction of Santee and 8th. With comfortable walking shoes, it's a breeze.
I'm going to use Joann as a point of comparison for pricing, as that's a good standard, although I know there's lots of places online with more competitive prices. If you're looking for apparel fabric, there are tons of places that have offerings starting as low as $0.99/yd. I'm a big fan of brocades and while those usually run about $9.99/yd at Joann, they seem to average about $3/yd downtown, which is a nice savings. There were lots of places to get a great discount on minky fabrics, with the cheapest I found being $6/yd (compared to $12.99), and I bought some polar fleece for $2/yd (compared to $9.99 and up). I didn't look too closely at the upholstery fabric, but there was no shortage of choice. The one thing that wasn't readily on offer was quilting type fabrics, which is a shame because that's probably what I would have the most use for.
Some shops have their prices very clearly marked, but other places you will need to ask. Those seem to be the places where negotiating is almost expected. For example, the shop where I purchased the fleece had quoted me $2/yd, but a different sales person told a lady that came in just after I did that it was $2.50. You definitely want to bring cash as well because most places don't take credit. The other problem can be that the fabric content isn't always clearly marked, so worth asking and making a note of as you buy.
A review of the Fabric District certainly wouldn't be complete without mentioning Michael Levine, which is probably the most well known store in that area. I did pop in for a few minutes, and they have a terrific selection of whatever type of fabric you might want - from silks, denims, leathers, flannel, Kona cotton and so on. One thing to note is that they are not the cheapest place and while I'm sure the quality is better than Joann, the prices are definitely higher. Across the street is the Michael Levine Loft, which has tons of fabric bins filled with what appear to be end of bolt or scraps from the cutting room floor. Everything in there is $2.50/lb and is great if you have the patience to rummage through everything to find suitable yardage for your project.
Overall, it's a fun place to spend a few hours, but I would definitely suggest having some idea of what you're looking for. I think I'm going to go through my clothing patterns and figure out what types of fabric/yardage I need for next time I have some extra cash. I'll probably be buying every color of minky available too! :)