Wellington is a very crafty city: for it’s population, it’s full of craft and fabric stores. There are booming craft markets every weekend, and incredibly popular Fabric-A-Brac sales a couple of times a year.
And yet, for all the apparent crafty fabulosity, the Wellington craft scene is rather precariously positioned. Four wonderful fabric stores have closed (or are on the brink of closing) shop in the last quarter. We’ve lost Arthur Toyes and the Asia Gallery, and Sherazad Silks and Piece by Piece are both in the last weeks of their closing down sales.
With Piece by Piece gone there are no craft stores in Karori. The loss of Arthur Toyes and Sheherezad leaves Made on Marion Lambton Quay as the only craft store in the CBD, with a few on the outskirts in the Cuba Precinct and down Thorndon Quay and Old Hutt Road. And Asia Gallery was pretty much the only vintage fabric seller in town, so they leave a big hole.
I’m in fabric and craft stores a lot, and I buy a lot and chat to the owners, and the story is the same with most craft and fabric stores in town: they are feeling the pinch. Sales are down, and times are tight.
The economy is in Wellington is depressed, and that’s part of the problem, but the big culprit is the internet. More and more people are buying their craft supplies off the internet for cheaper prices and a bigger selection.
Now, I love the internet: it is, after all, my platform. But as a replacement for local craft and fabric stores? Nope. Most suppliers are pretty big and impersonal. Many of them don’t give you any instructions and guidance on how to use your product. Many, many online fabric stores don’t know much at all about fabrics (like the time I ordered an ottoman and received a ribbed knit and when I complained they said “Look, it has a rib, so it’s an ottoman”). You can’t feel things online, you can’t trial them online. You can’t pet the silks and squeeze the wool and snip the scissors and check the weight of the crochet hooks in your hands. And all of those things are so important when you make things.
Beyond these things, local suppliers provide a community.
Popping in to any craft and fabric store in Wellington on any given day I can expect to see a sewing friend, a fellow teacher, a former student. Stopping by The Fabric Warehouse the staff greet me by name, happily show me whatever I’m after on that day, and give me short lengths of silk they got sent as samples. At Made on Marion I see people sitting on the couches having tea and a chat, while whoever is at the counter is explaining how to use dyes, or showing off the new embroidery colours, or offering to order in a special product. Over at Knit World there are ladies in the comfy chairs, knitting away. In Wellington Sewing Services someone is trying out every single sewing machine, and the staff asks about my latest event, and tell me about textile exhibitions I might be interested in.
It’s the same in every craft store in Wellington: I support them, and treat them like friends and teachers, and they support my crafty endeavors, and treat me like a friend and a valued customer.
Even with the internet, people are still using local craft stores. But they aren’t supporting them. How? I’ve seen women in quilting fabric shops, comparing prints and colours, and feeling fabric, and then heard them comment as they left, purchaseless “I can get them online so much cheaper, but I just needed to see and feel them in person before I bought.” I’ve heard of people going into craft and sewing machine shops, asking how they use a particular product or piece of equipment they had, and then mentioning that they bought theirs over the internet, but weren’t given any instructions.
Ladies (and the occasional gentleman) please don’t expect your local sewing and craft stores to supply the deficiencies of the internet without supporting them!
And please, please, please do support your local stores. Sure, you may often pay a bit more, but you get so much more! Build a relationship with your local fabric store and they will show you new pieces they have in that are in your style. Most local shops will throw in an extra 20cm or so with each cut of fabric. Online suppliers cut exact amounts. Local stores have local experts who can tell you how to use each product, so not only do you get the product, you get knowledge and support. When you actually consider what you receive, shopping locally becomes much more cost effective.
I hear terrible sad stories from sewing friends online, of communities where there are no fabric stores for two hours drive, or where the only place to get any sewing notions is Walmart (or is it KMart?). And I look at the fantastic craft world I have locally, and I feel so bad for places without that, and I think how awful it would be if Wellington were to loose any more stores, how terrible it would be if we only had the internet. If that happens, we’ll have only ourselves to blame.
So if you are here in Wellington, or somewhere else with a local craft scene, get out there and support your local stores. Get to know the owners (if you don’t already). See what they have in stock (you might be surprised about how much is on offer. Find out what they have to teach and share (a lot!). Make an effort to keep them in your community!