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April 29, 2015

Fabric shopping in Tokyo

Greetings from Tokyo! After 48 hours of brutal jetlag (I didn’t realize it was possible to drool and walk into so many fixed objects with such panache) I am fully in the Japanese swing of things. So what did I do as soon as I had a semblance of sanity?

Fabric shopping, of course!

Based on the recommendation of, well, everybody I asked, I hoofed it up to Nippori Fabric Town, which is conveniently on the main circular Yamanote metro line in central Tokyo (talking of which: is there a cleaner and more efficient subway system in the world? I think not).

Step off the train platform and this is what you see….

Fabric shopping in Tokyo

Naturally, I forgot to print off the Nippori Town Guide I’d previously been studying, but it wasn’t an issue, because pretty much all the stores are on the one street which starts at the station. There are more than 80 stores, but it’s a fairly compact area and much more calm and easy to navigate than the NYC garment district. I loved seeing all the little signs advertising the stores, and particularly loved that plaid carpeted road! The yellow brick road for sewists, I think.

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There’s a range of types of stores, from beautifully curated vintage button stores (of which more shortly), to notions shops, lace specialists, upholstery suppliers, leather shops and more. As usual, I was totally overwhelmed.

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After wandering up and down the street, my willing accomplice Anthony and I ended up spending most of our time in Tomato, which has multiple locations on the street and floor after floor of droolworthy wares.

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Here’s just a taste of what I found: (top left, clockwise) neon checked linen! reversible sweater knits! *pre-quilted* Nani Iro prints! awesome eyelet! 

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More lovely lightweight linen, Nani Iro, awesome checks, and very soft washed ginghams… I loved how many times fabrics were available in multiple colourways.

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And no tour would be complete without the piles and piles and stacks and mountains of whimsical animal fabrics. Truly, Japan is the capital of whimsy. Observe: bear, plug and badger etchings; cheeky foxes; languorous cats; and, to quote the fabric, “more cats”. I really had to restrain myself, due to the rather large gap between my fabric taste and my clothing taste. Trust me, if fabric taste Jenny got her way, I’d be full time cat whimsy, 24-7.

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Some more unusual finds included this printed grid “lace” (not sure what else to call it), multi-coloured fake fur, and a large array of lace collars. I totally fell in love with the silk crepe print at the bottom right, until I realized it was $250/meter. At which point it became unrequited love.

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The vintage buttons store I mentioned had the most amazing collection of chunky unusual buttons I think I’ve ever seen (naturally, they were whimsically displayed). I think they must have been re-mounted because the packaging was all a bit too perfect, but the range and types of buttons was awesome, and unusually they often had 10 or more of the same button (all my vintage ones are in packs of 5).

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After wrestling my kawaii demons to the ground, I did manage to make some awesome, but eminently sensible, purchases.

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First up: stripes! The top two are heathered terry – lovely and soft, and reminded me so much of Jen, a classy role model of mine. I also couldn’t resist a simple jersey stripe which was just the right weight, texture and stripe width (all sewists know, critical factors in a Breton). Then, gorgeous midweight linen! These are much more vibrant in real life, and yellow/grey and blue/green are my two favourite colour-combos so I bought 4 yards of each. Skirts and shirtdresses coming up, I think… And then finally, a lightweight seersucker-textured cotton in grey and limey yellow (again a bit brighter in person). I’m pretty certain it’s destined to be a maxi Southport
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If you ever find yourself in Tokyo, I highly recommend checking out Nippori town, even if you only have an hour to pop into Tomato. Go and stroke all the animal prints for me, please. Then, follow my lead and get a creme patissiere choux bun from Docatur afterwards. You deserve it. 

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I’m off to Kyoto at the weekend: does anyone have any top tips for sewing shopping there? I’m already looking forward to visiting the handmade needle place! (how does one hand make a needle?! The mind boggles). Oh and if you’re dying for Japanese fabric but haven’t quite made it there yet? Check out Miss Matatabi – she has a huge range of Japanese fabric, the site is in English, and they ship worldwide – I apologise in advance for the damage to your wallet 😉


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