About me

My photo
I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


Follow by Email

Follow me on Instagram


Sunday, March 15, 2015

The ordinary woman's guide to the garment district

I have written about the garment district before and will write about it again. Thanks to the wisdom of a son who moved to NYC I go there at regular intervals.

I am somewhere between feeling pretty comfortable and finding things out that I can't believe I didn't know about before. 

What I haven't lost is my natural ability to be clueless, and like all fundamentally clueless folks I want to share when I have figured something out.

Now this is not an exhaustive or very savvy list. 

There will be more instalments when I have more to tell you in the future. After all I am not Mimi G. or Carolyn, just a visitor who is lucky to be able to go there every once in a while.


Here are some basics:


It depends if you are doing a fabric focused trip or fitting this in as part of a larger venture I guess. I have been in and out of all three airports and tried just about every configuration of taxi, shared whatever, to get myself from the airport to the garment district (West 40th- 37th between 5th and 7th Avenue).

I have tried JFK and LaGuardia. Tried booked cabs, busses and standing in those lines that never move. I have taken Ubers and illegal cabs. I have wasted hours while some shared driver drove everyone else in the van somewhere else first.


If you are fabric shopping go into Newark Airport. 

Once you get out of baggage take the Air Train (millions of signs) clean, fast and frequent which will connect you to a New Jersey train which will take you to Penn station in Manhattan where you can easily walk yourself right into the garment district. No muss, no fuss, lots of people who can help you buy the right tickets. A real get in and sit down and you are there situation. Also your cheapest option by far.

Now if you are going right from your plane to fabric shopping you might want to have a pull along case that is empty along for the ride and a change of underwear and clean socks in your purse.


I always go to Ben's on W38th. Note because the food is spectacular particularly but because it is authentic. Absolutely go there with your head set to realistic and with the knowledge cholesterol is not so much on the new hit list.

Ben's is not the place to go if you are vegan, gluten free, or want a good big salad. It is however an excellent place if you want 10 inches of pastrami in your sandwich, a matzo ball soup with one baseball sized matzo, or cabbage rolls that appear to be made by stuffing one whole cabbage.

It is also an excellent place for people watching. 

Ladies who lunch married to men who now have the garments made in the East, teenage boys actually eating 10 inches of pastrami while talking, and Latina waitresses trying to explain kosher to tables of Norwegian tourists who want milk in their tea.

Bathroom breaks:

If you forget to go at Ben's there is always the ladies at the back of the first floor at Mood.

Now the fabric:

There are the standards, Mood, and not just for the bathroom, Elliot Bermann, Parons, B and J and others like that. Most lists cover those and those are probably the first places most of us go. We figure better places better fabric.

Not necessarily so.

The thing is for first timers the garment district is sort of weird.

The best stores are often up several or many floors up in office buildings and the tiny stores at street level seem to sell only sequinned whatever, the stuff that you would need if you were in the skating competition business or going to other places at night than Joann's before they close, or the grocery store. Five inch heels kind of places.

You walk by all those stores and think "Wow that's way too flashy for this mother of three, where are the good stores?"

Aha. This is where you are being fooled by the garment district.

The idea around that neighbourhood is that the window is the best place for the fancy stuff, the fancier the better - this does not mean however that they don't have exactly what you need down back.

What you are looking for is a place so crowded they don't have a cutting table, they stand the rolls up vertical and cut like that. 

A place where they say "that sandwashed silk 54"? 

"$15 a yard," two thirds what they would charge you at Mood and half what they would charge you at B and J.

A final word.

To shop in the New York garment district you never walk into a place and say "No thanks I am just looking." 

That may work at Joann's, or Fabricville or Fabricland (assuming any staff ever approached you) but in NYC you have to tell them what is in your head and they will start pulling the bolts faster than you can look at them.

You will never find anything by yourself in these places and they expect to work it. 

In NYC everyone expects to work it.

So if what you really want to say is:

"I want something to wear to my son's wedding that is not too matronly, maybe in persimmon"

"I want something to make a summer cardigan in with holes in it"

"Or I want a summer print in cotton that doesn't have flowers in it'

Just say it.

And if they can find it at all, they will.

Tomorrow two new to me stores I really like and pictures of what I bought.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful. I want to be there right now! With a big empty suitcase and lots of cash.
And perhaps a pastrami sandwich with which to fortify myself before braving the fabric shops.
Vancouver Barbara

Jen in Oz said...

I had a rather odd experience when I was shopping the garment district last October, visiting from Melbourne. I found a nice grey wool to make a winter suit out of. It was $17.95/yd (weird thinking in yards, but I got used to it). Then the guy offered me a discount if I got more than 2yds. So I bought 3yds at $15.95/yd. When I got back to my hotel room I realised the patterns I was looking at making would actually require another yard or so, so I went back a few days later.
Found the right shop, showed him a photo on my phone of the fabric and asked for another yard. He went upstairs and came back with the fabric a few minutes later. I asked how much it was, and he said $6. I have NO idea how they work out their pricing!
I only wish I'd got all of it at that price though...
When we left the US a couple of days later, our suitcases were BANG ON 50lbs. As in, don't put an airline sticker on the suitcase because I don't want to pay excess luggage costs.
I'm hoping/planning on another trip to the US in a couple of months expressly to do fabric shopping, so thanks for this blog!
Jen in sunny Melbourne

Anonymous said...

Am heading to NYC before the end of this week -- your timing is impeccable! I need to go to Pacific Trim for some zippers but after that, am planning to nose around the garment district so your advice is a gift and will be printed out and stuffed in my backpack. (In my mind I'm smelling 10 in. of pastrami on rye with mustard and mentally drooling.)

David Page Coffin said...

Wonderful post, Barbara, full of info and flavor:) Wish there was an image of some sort, though, so I could pin it, linking back here!

Barbara said...

David just fixed that, thanks.

David Page Coffin said...

Just pinned that, thank you!

Fashionista said...

Thank you for your insider's tips. I've never been that excited about New York (it is the "thing to do" for milestone birthdays here in Aust) however The Garment District certainly has appeal. Conveniently I have a milestone birthday next year so maybe I'll need to do some planning........

oona balloona said...

as a chick who's frequently stomping around the garment district, this was so enjoyable to read, and spot on!

i'll add a great sit down pizza joint to the list, if you're into that... lazzara's on 38th st. if you take the back entrance out of mood it's right across the street. DELICIOUS pizza, but it's brick oven so patience is key :)

Anonymous said...

Wow! What a great post! Super helpful. Thanks.