Shopping Abroad

cross-posted from

I'd love to tell you that this Irish lass is sleeping off her St Paddy's Day, but sadly, it was not meant to be this year. I'm away from home in London for the last of my 4 weeks traveling. It meant missing the occasion, but did give me the opportunity to do something I love- craft shop!

I craft shop every time I'm away- dragging swatches with me across continents. I love the adventure of it. Fabric/craft shops are rarely in the tourist areas, and finding them often takes me to interesting parts of cities that I otherwise would never have seen. It's a different way to view a city.
It occurred to me that I'm rather lucky to have experienced crafting on multiple continents, because craft shopping is a very different experience in the U.S. and Europe.

Most of our Craft Hacker readers are likely familiar with the U.S. experience of large warehouse buildings that seem to have everything except the one thing you need, but that provides so much in one shop it's hard to justify going elsewhere. The smaller, boutique shops are thought of lovingly and have their own character but seem to be highly specialized for a certain craft (quilt shops anyone?) but the need to make multiple shops rarely becomes significantly problematic.

It's different on the other side of the pond. I've spent years lamenting the lack of a Michaels or JoAnns or heck, even Hobby Lobby and one of those is always on my Must See list for any trip to the U.S. However, today I realized that I don't want to go back to warehouse shopping all the time. Sure the convenience is great, but there are options that you end up losing.

Markets are really the home of small businesses. Every stall is someone's pride and joy and sweat and tears. In Europe, it is also the home of fabulous deals. Markets aren't just for food and veg, but you can find handbags, shoes, clothes, books, stamps, furniture, toys, and even, most crucially, crafting supplies!

Having lived here long enough, I have realised what gems these places can be and make it a point to stop by them wherever I go. Shopping markets is much like shopping other places in Europe- you will likely need to hit a number of places before you find everything you need, but the effort will be worth it when you walk away from a stand with 6x 22-24" zips, 5 metres of bias tape, 2 cotton thread spools, and 3 metres of elastic for a whopping £4.50 (which works out to about $6.64 USD or €6.26 Euro).

The other thing you get with having many smaller sources is variety. I went in about 7 shops today, stopped by 4 market stalls, and I don't think I saw the same fabric twice anywhere (excepting standard cotton). Various places will specialize in different types of fabrics, so where some will have silks and laces, others have stretchy, furniture, or woolens. Plenty of places stock "ends" of bolts- where manufacturers send partial rolls to be gotten rid of.

Shopping while abroad can be difficult, as you rarely know where everything will be, and whether timetables will work out, and I rarely can plan on finding a specific fabric. However, if you've an open mind and a willingness to give it the time it takes, it can also be a real pleasure.


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