Dear fabric stores (particularly JoAnn’s, as that’s the one I know the best),
I’ve never been someone who hates clothes shopping. I’d rather not do it when I’m tired, worried, or otherwise already in a bad mood; shopping for some things (bras, vintage clothing) can be exhausting and often frustrating, and it’s best to choose when to do it. But sometimes I succeed in finding what I’m looking for, or what I didn’t know I was looking for, and I walk away content.
Walking into a fabric store is a different matter entirely. I usually (not always, but usually) wind up at fabric stores with a mission, and even if the mission isn’t strictly fabric (I know I use JoAnn’s for jewelry-making and other miscellaneous crafting as well) I can still feel fairly confident that I’ll achieve it. I don’t know that I’ve ever walked out of a fabric store when I went in for a purpose feeling completely unfulfilled, and that’s the great thing.
The thing about fabric stores and other craft stores is that they are helpful and accepting places. I’ve gone to find supplies for recreational jewelry-making for friends on the regular, but more often than that, I’m there looking for things to put together cosplay stuff, and it’s never weird. I can go, as I did today, and ask an employee what fabric paint would be best for painting on faux leather to make it look like metal, and they don’t bat an eyelash. They just give you the information you need to the best of their ability. I can go, also as I did today, as a growing woman in the company of her adult mother, and instead of looking at me strangely when I give her a pep talk at the fabric counter, the employee cutting yards of lining for us can just jump in and playfully tease us like we’re old friends and it’s a routine we have. No request, no behavior, is too strange for them.
Furthermore, I would like to commend the materials that fabric stores stock. Not saying anything additional of the actual material in a variety of colors, or the notions and decorations and accessories and supplementary tools in every variety, the patterns. Pattern books are a thing that I’ve loved since a child; I will admit that my youthful Halloween M.O. was to go and look at patterns (as early as July) and go “oh, I like that one, let’s do that!” Bonus points if it reminded me of something in my life (how else to explain the year I went, after finding a pattern for pioneer dresses, as my Kirsten American Girl doll?) I found patterns in those books that were surprisingly obscure, now that I think about it; one year, I was the pink and green one, Tamara, from Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders. Another year I was Sailor Jupiter, and we recycled the pattern a few years later (and modded it) so I could be Super Sailor Mercury. I don’t remember if they were licensed patterns, but while we could probably have drummed up a sailor uniform from other patterns, I can’t imagine that they made poorly disguised versions of costumes attributed to a 90s cartoon that I’m pretty sure I had maybe one other friend to even watch it with.
Nowadays, we (cosplay is a joint effort; though my mother doesn’t sew for herself [she dresses up when pressed, occasionally, but only around the town] she enjoys helping me drum patterns up out of nowhere) are more ambitious than that. We come in with a specific (often relatively obscure, often television-related) idea and we have to find patterns that we can use for it as best we can. With heavy modding, but here’s the thing: pattern books can often be ridiculous (the non-licensed patterns that are clearly doing licensed characters are still a favorite of mine, like the pages and pages of ripoff Jack Sparrows and hobbits and, this year, Katniss Everdeens and Snow Whites) but they have so many different things. They realize, or it seems like they realize, that a lot of the people buying their patterns are people who like to do specific things, be they fictional, historical, or both. And they cater to that.
Last year, we had the adventure of finding a reasonable-to-make corset pattern. Old-fashioned underwear is surprisingly easy to find patterns for, though once you get picky about accuracy and feasibility, as well as what could be worn as outerwear, it can take a little while to really sort through the collection. We’ve modded the life out of dress patterns, combined them and fixed them and edited them. This year, it’s a different story: while we’re taking the bodice and front out of one Renaissance dress pattern for a top, we’re completely building a pattern, one for the aforementioned leather-that-will-look-like-metal. And you know what? Fabric stores have the stuff you need to do that. They have varieties of fabric, they have patterns you can use for basing, they have the skinny modeling tape they use on Project Runway to figure out where patterns fall on the body. This stuff is available to everyone.
This availability means that a fabric store trip is basically always successful; furthermore, I like fabric stores always, because when I walk into them, I do so with a sense of purpose. Even shopping for materials is a step in a creative process, one that you can begin to imagine the result of fairly easily. Sure, it’s a basket of fabric and tape and metallic Tulip paint, but you know that it’s going to be something, it’s going to be a project that you do and one that’s a positive way for you to spend your time. Fabric stores are stores where sure, there’s clothesy stuff involved, but it’s a positive process the whole way through, and for that, I say thank you.
–your fangirl heroine