Photographs by Michael Garland
Begin your San Francisco fabric-shopping trek downtown at the 56-year crown jewel of California fabric purveyors, Britex Fabrics. For fabric lovers, there is no experience like the first visit here. The first floor display of floor-toceiling bolts of luxury wools runs the full length of the store, all 120 feet from Geary Street to Maiden Lane. Though many fabrics are high-end, including couturier silks, Britex caters to sewers of all incomes with its four floors of merchandise.
The third floor, notions, is just as jaw-dropping as the first. Here, there are 36,000 styles and sizes of buttons, including vintage varieties, and over-the-top selections of appliqués and purse handles.
And then there are the ribbons: wire, double-faced satin, silk, sheer, printed, antique, each in multiple colors and widths. Helping make sense of the staggering inventory are longtime employees whose knowledge runs deep.
After Britex, head to one of four outposts of a local bargain fabric store, Discount Fabrics. The downtown location of this “wholesale to the public” operation is located near the train station on Fourth Street in a utilitarian setting, with cement floors and warehouse shelving. And it has the bargains to match. There are plenty of 99-cent and $1.09- per-yard fabrics, and surprises, such as denim from Levi Strauss and recycled fleece.
The Discount Fabrics store in the Haight-Ashbury district carries more theatrical fabrics and fur, and the store near Golden Gate Park has more children’s prints and home dec fabrics. The well-organized shop in Berkeley includes leather, fur and wools and trims.
In the Richmond District, on Clement Street, Fabrix is known for their low prices, and has regulars who stop by religiously knowing there are new bargains that arrive weekly. Here, fabrics are arranged by price, not type.
Many of the bolts are remnants, and a good number are unlabeled. Most upholstery fabrics were under $10. The 100-percent cottons included Indian batistes and beautiful Italian prints for $1.99.
A few blocks away is a store that reflects the sophisticated tastes of its owners, sisters Susan and Alice Miyamoto, who have owned Satin Moon Fabrics for 35 years. The sisters specialize in fabrics for clothing and home decorating and their well-edited inventory is irresistible.
The utterly unique fabrics at Satin Moon lures customers from all over Northern California. The sisters specialize in fabrics for clothing and home decorating, and note an uptick in interest in garment sewing starting about five years ago. “Now it’s more about having something that’s unique--as well as the joy of making something yourself,” said Alice.
The store’s cottons include Amy Butler and Liberty of London prints, selections from Moda and FreeSpirit, pima solids, and satin batistes.
The only true quilt shop in San Francisco proper is not far away. Black Cat Quilts, in the Lakeside district, has been in business for a dozen years. The store’s more-than-2,000- bolt inventory is particularly strong in batiks and Asian prints, and lots of tonal and novelty prints.
True to the store’s name, there is a large selection of cat-themed cottons, as well as a resident black cat, Pepper. Owner Gretchen Nelson offers more than 200 classes annually.
The Haight-Ashbury district is still truckin’ after all these years, and is a shopping destination for anything handmade, recycled, retro, or on the fringe. Aptly-named, Mendels Far Out Fabrics has been around since the dawn of flower power in 1968.
The shop has an incredible collection of plush and fake fur, 30 different patterns of oilcloth (all 49-inches wide for about $7 a yard), and has the corner on edgy novelty prints with skull and Day of the Dead motifs.
There is also a good selection of unusual, colorful buttons. Mendels is also an art and craft supply store, making it a useful stop for beads and tie-dye supplies.
There are plenty of worthy reasons to venture to the East Bay for fabrics. One is Silkroad Fabric in downtown Oakland, a family-run business that has hundreds of bolts of silk from China and India, as well as interesting sheers, well-priced upholstery fabrics and some 100 percent cottons, including African prints.
Among the silks are washable silk dupioni and nubby raw silk noil in more than two dozen colors. Fashion designers and bridal dressmakers are regular clients, as are sewers looking for satins and taffetas for prom and quinceanera dresses. The well-organized store has about 1,800 bolts, all of which are clearly and fully labeled—a real plus.
Stone Mountain and Daughter in Berkeley has all the personality a shopper could want in a fabric store. It is owned by father and daughter duo Bob and Suzan Steinberg. It is owned by father and daughter duo Bob and Suzan Steinberg, part of a family that has been in the fabric business in California since 1919. This location has been open since 1981. (The name “Stone Mountain” is a translation of “Steinberg.”)
Being close to UC Berkeley, the shop caters to everyone from non-sewers who want two yards for a toga party to fashion design students. It has a fantastic selection of threads, buttons, linens, Asian prints, batiks, Japanese cottons, mudcloth, cashmeres, and fashion fabrics.
There is an intriguing selection of garment patterns, including ethnic and retro designs from several small companies. Want to make a 1936 shaped seam skirt or a 40s nipped jacket? The patterns are here.
Berkeley has a large East Indian population, with several stores specializing in traditional Indian clothing. India Fabric Imports, in west Berkeley, which sells clothing and fabric, has been in business for a quarter century.
Owner Jaswant “Sach” Sachdev and his wife, Rama, stock over 100 colors each of dupioni silk, Thai silk, and cotton gauze. Theater designers are regulars at the store, says Sachdev, as are restaurant designers. There are beautiful imports that you don’t find everywhere else, such as painted chiffons. And how many other places can you find fabric for belly dancers?
North Berkeley’s wonderful multi-block shopping district along Solano Avenue is tailor-made for a good quilt shop. New Pieces Quilt Shop & Gallery is just the sort of shop you’d picture for the art quilters and forwardthinking traditional piecers who live in Berkeley: clear, bold contemporary fabrics, an enviable selection of Asian fabrics and inspirational quilt exhibits on the walls.
Check out the big selection of Lonni Rossi fabrics. Owner Sharona Fischrup has the open, welcoming personality that attracts customers, and the sense of fun in the shop is palpable.
One of the most unusual textile stores in California, the Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles has been in Berkeley since 1965. Founded by the late Kaethe Kliot and Jules Kliot, this treasure trove of lace and fiber scholarship, rare textiles, hard-to-find supplies, antiques and new inventory is a bit like going to a museum where you’re allowed to purchase things.
Here’s a tiny sampling of what’s available: trim and ribbons, new and antique beads, acid-free boxes, crepeline and tulle for restoring quilts, rack after rack of threads, period patterns, hat-making supplies, an enormous book section (including rare and out-of-print books), tatting and crochet threads, antique linens, floss for Brazilian embroidery, bunka cord for tassels, old belt buckles and lace collars, new and old gloves, ostrich feathers and plumes, old purse handles and celluloid, bone, metal and bakelite uttons, plus bolt after bolt of beautiful laces by the yard.
In addition to housing two exhibits a year, the museum also sponsors workshops on topics such as lace knitting, needlefelting, Victorian corset making, bobbin lace, Brazilian embroidery and ribbon embroidery.
While there, we watched manager Erin Algeo, wearing fingerless curator’s gloves, work on restoring a fine lace tablecloth, and came away grateful that the Kliots share their collections and their textile passions with the public.
To know if you go …
1. Black Cat Quilts, 2608 Ocean Ave., San Francisco, CA 94132; 415/337-1355; blackcatquilts.com 
2. Britex Fabrics, 146 Geary St., San Francisco, CA 94108; 415/392-2910; britexfabrics.com 
3. Discount Fabrics, 525 Fourth St., San Francisco, CA 94107; 415/495-4201; discountfabrics-sf.com 
4. Fabrix, 101 Clement St., San Francisco, CA 94118;
415/221-4111; fabrixsanfrancisco.com 
5. India Fabric Imports, 1776 University Ave., Berkeley, CA 94703; 510/843-4542
6. Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles, 2982 Adeline St., Berkeley, CA 94703; 510/843-7290; lacismuseum.org 
7. Mendels Far Out Fabrics, 1556 Haight St., SanFrancisco, CA 94117;
415/621-1324; mendels.com 
8. New Pieces Quilt Shop & Gallery, 1605 Solano Ave., Berkeley, CA 94707; 510/527-6779; newpieces.com 
9. Satin Moon Fabrics, 32 Clement St., San Francisco, CA94118; 415/668-1623
10. Silkroad Fabric, 272 14th St., Oakland, CA 94612; 510/763-1688; silkroadfabric.com 
11. Stone Mountain and Daughter Fine Fabrics, 2518 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, CA 94704; 510/845-6106; stonemountainfabric.com