In The Mood: L.A. Fabric Stores



Oooo, let’s go to fabric heaven, shall we?

I know, it’s pretty tough to beat Janssens et Janssens in Paris, (Fabric Shopping in Paris and…Steampunk Chanel?) but the sticker shock of getting there and buying there can only be pulled off once in awhile. I’m still in awe of Mary from the Cloning Couture blog, who took her husband to browse at Chanel first, and then over to Janssens after she’d convinced him how much money she’d save making her own. (Mary, yours is made better anyway.)

One morning in L.A., I announced to the boys that I was going to the fabric store, and not hearing any response, I grabbed my purse and ran. I drove south on LaBrea to Wilshire to hit the new giganto outpost of Mood Fabrics (645 S. LaBrea Ave.). (Mood Fabrics Website)  I had been to this location a year ago soon after they’d opened, so I knew it was huge, but now they had twice as much stuff.





Fashion fabrics on one side, leather and home dec on the other.


Pretty much anything you’re looking for, they’ve got it. Knits, suiting wools, tweeds…


Designer roll-ends, particularly printed silks…


And gorgeous fancy stuff…


I had almost convinced myself to get some of that blue and black tweed with sequins (at the bottom), even though I know sequins are a bitch to sew with. But when I came back to get it, it was gone! (I was secretly relieved.)

Here’s what really made me jealous…


A bunch of women sitting around in muslins enjoying one of Mood’s FREE sewing classes. (Sewing classes at Mood Fabrics L.A.) Behind that wall of fabric rolls is another class of cute grade-school age kids learning to sew. The L.A. Mood location offers a mind-boggling array of sewing/draping/patternmaking/designing classes for free, often taught by professional designers and costumers. Every time I get one of their emails, I want to immediately decamp for L.A. and make up a little bed for myself among the linens and raw silks.

You know what they say, give someone a fast-fashion T-shirt, they have clothes for three washes…but teach someone to sew, and… (they soon have an overwhelming pile of fabric stash?)

As much great stuff as they had at Mood, the size of my stash was on my mind, so I decided to drive up LaBrea a few blocks to The Fabric Store, which is in a stretch of high-end hipster vintage and home dec stores around 2nd St (136 S. LaBrea Ave.).  I’d read that this New Zealand company had opened their first U.S. location, and wanted to check it out. (The Fabric Store’s U.S. website)

In complete contrast to the “packed to the rafters” feel of Mood, the Fabric Store is in an open-plan store front with wooden tables and shelves, and sedate zen-y music playing.


I chatted briefly with the young, hip, soft-spoken manager, who told me that the New Zealand owners source the fabrics from their home office and ship them to L.A. What I found was a beautifully curated selection of mostly natural fabrics, including gorgeous silks and cottons…


and tempting linen tweeds…


But The Fabric Store’s claim to fame is their high-quality New Zealand merino wool jersey, which come in a range of weights, colors, and designs.



They were really something, and most were under $20 a yard for a hugely wide swath of jersey (up to 62″ width), all of it smooth, itch-free stuff.

I’m a Claire McCardell freak, and in the past year I’ve managed to track down, outbid, and over-pay for about 12 of her original sewing patterns. So I’m now starting to make them up. McCardell and Chanel were basically the original proponents of using wool jersey for sportswear, so I knew that quality merino jersey like this would work well for my McCardell “makes.”


I ended up buying some lightweight black New Zealand 100% merino jersey, a periwinkle/royal blue Italian wool/viscose jersey and some “tie” silk, all pictured above, and believe me, I could have gone home with more. I have since machine washed and air-dried swatches of both wool jerseys and they came out perfectly. I’ll definitely be stopping by The Fabric Store on my next trip to L.A.

The one L.A. store I didn’t get to this time, but highly recommend, is International Silks and Woolens at 8347 Beverly Boulevard, less than a mile from The Fabric Store and Mood. (International Silks and Woolens Website) When I visit, I go straight to the little room on the 3rd floor where they have authentic vintage fabrics that look like they go from the 30s to the 80s. They’re not cheap (usually around $40/yard), but you can find unique retro fabrics like the one I used to make this Madeleine Vionnet bias scarf. If you do buy any vintage fabrics, inspect them carefully as they may be faded at the fold, so you’ll need more yardage.


Here’s the post about how I made that scarf:  (How To Make The 30s Madeleine Vionnet Scarf)

There are a number of other great fabric/sewing/costuming stores in L.A., and if you have been to any of them, let us know what you think!

Now to make a dent in my stash so I can go fabric shopping again.

How to make the Madeleine Vionnet 30s Scarf



In a recent post I promised details about making a scarf designed by Madeleine Vionnet, which is shown at the bottom of this post in the photo composite. As I mentioned, the Betty Kirke “Vionnet” book, which you can see on this link: has drawings of pattern pieces for a number of Vionnet gowns, and also for this scarf. The one thing that’s missing is the “key” to the dimensions of the pieces, which makes the gowns difficult to recreate.

In recent years, the Bunka fashion school in Japan took Betty Kirke’s drawing and recreated them, putting the pattern pieces on a grid. There was an exhibit of the recreated gowns, and then the book with the patterns and instructions (pictured above) was released. Currently this book is only available in Japanese, but between the two books it’s possible for an English-speaker to figure out how to recreate the patterns, which is pretty amazing. Here’s a link to the Bunka Vionnet  book:

I decided to test out a method of recreating these designs by using a relatively simple pattern, which was the scarf. Since these books are under copyright, I won’t be showing the actually pages with the pattern and direction, but you’ll get the idea.

Since I was too lazy to draw the gridded pattern onto a larger sheet of paper, I found a website called, copied and uploaded the picture of the pattern in the book, then was able to set it to print out on a larger scale. It came out piece by piece on 8″x10″ paper, and then I taped it together like a PDF pattern. After some trial and error, it worked fine.

I traced over the pattern with butcher block paper, and it looked like this:

imageIf you look closely, you’ll see that the grainline is on the bias, which a very important element in the drape of the scarf. Vionnet’s manipulation of the stretch on the bias in her garments are what made them architectural masterpieces. According to Betty Kirke, Vionnet did a line of dresses that she shipped to US manufactures that were unhemmed. The idea was that the bias cuts would stretch to fit anyone, and all the store had to do was lengthen or shorten for the individual customer. Unfortunately the idea was way ahead of it’s time and it bombed. But wow, what a forward-thinking concept!

The instructions for the scarf are all in Japanese, but I’ll give you the general jist:

Cut two of the pattern piece shown above, on the bias. Choose a fabric with some crispness, or underline a soft fabric with identical pieces of silk organza. You’ll need about 1 1/2 to 2 yards of fabric, and I suggest using something that looks interesting on the bias. Here, I used some vintage 30s wool challis from International Silk and Woolens in Los Angeles.

imageSew the “V” shaped cutouts into darts on both sides of both pieces, right sides together, and press. When sewing on the bias, be very careful not to stretch the fabric as you feed it into the machine.

imageSew two of the short ends of the pieces right sides together (you can see I’ve added a silk organza underlining to this soft wool challis).

imageFold the entire scarf lengthwise, right sides together, and sew along the lengthwise seam, again being careful not to stretch it as you’re sewing. Press the seam open.

imageTurn the entire length of the scarf right side out via one of the short ends. The lengthwise seam is now the center back of the scarf. Give that seam and the rest of the scarf a soft steam press, avoiding making creases.

imageTuck under the seam allowances of the two raw ends at either end of the scarf. Make the scarf into a circle like an infinity scarf, without any twists. Insert one unfinished end into the other and fell-stitch them together. You’re done!

imageTo wear the scarf, fold it in half and put the two narrow ends behind your neck. The two large loops will be hanging down in front of your chest. Stick your hands through the loops as shown, grab the outer edges and pull them through. The scarf becomes a bow like magic! Fiddle with it a little to hide the seam. Sometimes I find it works better to put it on inside-out so the seam is hidden when you pull the loops through.

This scarf is so distinctive, yet easy to wear. The bias cut and darts give it that bow “poof” without a big knot. What a great design!

This is why I’m doing this type of re-creation, honestly. It’s one thing to see these designs in photos, but it’s much more educational and meaningful to go through the designer’s process and then hold it in your hand. My hat’s off to Betty Kirke and the people at Bunka who painstakingly researched these patterns. It’s a rare window into early 20th century design.

I’d be curious to know whether any of you are fans of Vionnet. Have you seen any of her creations up close? She closed her atelier during WWII so I can’t imagine there are many of her gowns still circulating in the vintage world, though there are a number of them in museums, thank goodness. I’ve been getting so many interesting comments, and would love to hear more. Thanks for stopping by.