Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Fabric Shopping in Dalston

This post may not be of much interest to those who don't live in London, but there are some pretty pictures at the end, so stick with it.

I've lived in Dalston 17 years - I'm quite attached to it! I've seen it go from an undiscovered, slightly neglected little corner of East London, to the so-called 'New Notting Hill', with a new coffee bar/art gallery/cool pub opening every week. Where previously when you told someone you lived in Dalston, the reaction was usually 'Where?' or 'Ooh, it's a bit rough there'. Now it's 'I wish I could live there, but I can't afford it now that it's so cool.'

But I sort of miss the scruffy old Dalston that was here when I moved into the area in 1994. (Don't get me wrong - its got a long way to go before it's considered posh...) It worries me that all of this 'improvement' will drive out all of the things which made Dalston unique. The cheap and cheerful Turkish restaurants, the £1 jewellery stalls and cheap housewares on Ridley Rd market, and all the afro hair stores. And my favourites - the fabric shops and stalls. Normally, I like to keep all of my secret places to myself, but I'm going to share a few with you, in the hope that a few people will check them out and support them.

First, the stalls of Ridley Rd Market:

Fabric stall, Ridley Rd.
On any given day, there are at least 4 fabric stalls on the market, as well as several permanent shops, selling a variety of goods, mostly viscose and rayon, some cottons, sometimes even a bit of wool. And they're all cheap as chips! I love the 50p stall:

50p stall
 This is where I bought the fabric for my leopard dress from last Halloween. 

I also love this stall, just for it's craziness. I always find intersting buttons and trims here:

Haberdashery explosion!
A few more stalls:

But the store I seem to use the most is Dalston Mill Fabrics, which is a permanent shop at the end of the market.

Dalston Mill Fabrics, trading for over 30 years

This relatively small entrance hides an Aladdin's cave of fabrics and haberdashery. There isn't really anything they don't have, from everyday fabrics to fancy evening silks and beautiful woollens. It's not the cheapest, but the selection is brilliant. This is just 1 room:

A sneaky picture I took of the suitings room...
There's also an extensive range of haberdshery, as well as a small selection of knitting wool, beading, and embroidery supplies. They even have huge feather boas and fox furs hanging from the ceiling. Every time I visit, I go in with one idea and come out with something completely different. And they have a great selection of oil cloth's, of which this is one:

How insane is that?!

Next, another long established Dalston business - William Gee:

If you want a truly vintage experience, visit William Gee for linings, interfacing, buttons, zips, and all the paraphenalia you need for dressmaking. Established in 1906, this still has the feel of a shop from Edwardian times - you enter a somewhat bleak room with 2 long wooden counters, where you have to wait in line to be served by the next available member of staff. Everything you would ever need is stacked in neatly labelled boxes behind the counters, and unlike some stores which also sell wholesale, no request is too small. And they have some fab window displays:

A recent bias tape themed display
 That's it for my round up of Dalston's best fabric shops. if you're ever in the area to attend a Japanese Jazz workshop, or check out the latest in artistic, sustainable roof gardens, don't forget about all of these businesses that have been here through thick and thin to make Dalston what it is today.

And here are the pretty pictures I promised - rainbows over Ridley Rd Market, taken last week:


  1. I love mooching around fabric shops, Birmingham has the Rag market which is pretty wonderful and so cheap.
    Love that kitsch oil cloth. x

  2. OMG! I have on my wish list one day go to that beautiful country in sightseeing ... so I'll scoring sites ... Thank you for sharing this.

  3. what a great choice, very envious there is mothing like that in any of the towns near me.

  4. I love fabric stores ,but the ones around here are always too expensive.

  5. I shall definitely be making a trip soon it looks great, I am quite lucky to have Walthamstow market on my doorstep, which is really good for fabric to if your ever want a change of scene!
    My mum made me a bag recently from that very oil cloth! I can't decide if I love it or hate it, I guess as she made it I should definitely love it but what possessed her to choose that fabric I will never know!:)

  6. I haven't been to Dalston since the late 80s, I bet its changed a lot since than. Those material shops look very tempting especially William Gee.

    1. Only just seen this. Thanks so much for the article. If you cannot get down to our shop in Dalston, you're more than welcome to browse our online shop at www.williamgee.co.uk. Many thanks again. WG.

  7. Hello! I just found your blog through Lakota's. Dalston is my old manor/stamping ground! I love your pictures and before I read the post I was wondering if William Gees was still there, I'm so glad it is. I lived just off Forest Road and used to wait for the bus to work outside there. I lived there from being born in Barts until I was 26, my mum used to do her shopping down Ridley, there was a Tesco there when I was a girl. Great to see your pictures. I feel all nostalgic now and want to go for a stroll round Newington Green!

    1. Yes we very much are still here Missy! 108 years on now...All the best, WG.

  8. I love the Ridley Road fabric shop! The staff are quite eccentric but very nice. The best bit is the little haberdashery cave at the back.

    You should pop up to Stoke Newington some time, the new sewing/craft shop on the high street is amazing, every time I go in they have more stuff. I counted 10 different kinds of piping cord on my last visit.

  9. Thanks for the useful blog post. Went up to Dalston today on your recommendation - it's true, there's loads of stuff! Dalston Mill Fabrics is huge and overwhelming - just when I thought I'd whittled my choice down to three or four fabrics, I came across loads more I hadn't spotted before. And then I couldn't find the ones I'd seen originally. And then the man fetched his ladder, which opened up a whole new world of possibilities... Bit intimidating for a beginner, but fun nonetheless!

  10. Oooh! So glad to know of these fabric stalls and shops! My boyfriend and I are always going to the Rio.

  11. I also love shopping at dressmaking fabric stores. Nice pictures by the way.

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