The Tragedy of the Local Craft Shop

Once again, my local haberdasheries do not stock the products I’m looking for.

I go to buy shirt fabric, and am told shirts are so cheap now they don’t bother stocking it. I go to buy knitting wool, and there’s nothing there without a % of acrylic. And for sewing, no unmixed wool or linen or cotton. Obviously, don’t get me started on horsehair, organza. It’s a bit of a nightmare:

  • As a craftsman, I want to see and handle fabric before I buy it
  • As a luddite, I much prefer going to a real shop than shopping online.
  • Finally, as someone who deplores late stage capitalism and the way it hollows out our high streets, I want to support local small businesspeople courageously keeping a haberdashery running.

Haberdasheries are geared towards how best to make a profit, and in this climate that’s no easy thing. Crafters: people who buy ribbon and print-cotton for quilts. I’ve yet to find a local haberdashery which even stocks Guterman thread or equivalent, instead of cheap spools (once you’ve been sewing for a while, you really notice the difference with a high quality thread).

Why do they do it? It’s expensive for shops to keep things in stock which won’t sell. I suspect that if I were to open a shop with a wider range of fabrics, it would go bust very quickly, and that’s why such shops no longer exist. What about a shop just broadening their range to sell things of both nice quality and cheap, so everyone is happy? I think this would also cause you problems. Most people simply don’t realise how ‘orrible plastic fabrics are, because they’re so common they haven’t experienced the alternative. If you sell 20 different kinds of acrylic wool at £3 each, then that’s the selection people will choose from. If, however, you also sell a couple of balls of 100% wool at £15, suddenly the plastic wool looks cheap by comparison, and I suspect sales for those would go down.

Finally: nice quality fabrics and wools are genuinely expensive. I used to live somewhere with a proper haberdashers road, where you could get real shirting fabric for £70pm and real suit wools and real silks for I didn’t dare ask. And proper posh wool shops (at least one of which priced me out entirely & wasn’t a pleasure to shop at – who spends £25 on a ball of wool?). Most people can’t really afford that. I can’t really afford that: but I don’t want to spend hours on a piece of work which is doomed to look less than it could have been due to the materials.

But it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy where many sewers – your potential customers – are not shopping at your store. So what’s to be done?

The best idea I had was to have an order book. Keep in stock your print cottons and fleece: but have an account with some real mills or somewhere which will get peculiar fabrics in. Have a book of samples in the shop, and then order in a couple of lengths of this or that as needed. I’d much rather do that than order online, which is what I’m going to do in the new year, to the detriment of my community.

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