Monday, 22 August 2016

A leather guy's notes for doing fabric shopping in Montreal

About a week ago, Avelyn, Emelote and I planned a quick day trip to Montreal to look for some good fabric for SCA garb. In particular we were looking for linen or wool fabric in appropriate colours (particularly blues and yellows) that looked at least close to what would be producible using period natural dyes. Avelyn and I consulted the weekend before with Mistress Siglinde Harfnerstochter, who was able to give us lots of good advice and show us some books and actual dyed wool and linen samples so we'd have an idea of what the right colours might be. I'd also asked around to get ideas of where people normally go for their wool fabric, so that was a bit of a starting point.

The beauty is that within the garment district in Montreal, there's a huge concentration of fabric stores in a very small stretch of Rue St. Hubert. I counted about a dozen stores within about four blocks, although some of them are more upholstery fabric than garment fabric. Within about four and a half hours we were able to hit about 8 stores and we did find what we were looking for.

We went on a Saturday, so most of the stores closed around 5-ish with a few earlier closures. There was lots of street parking, with pay machines so parking was about $1 per hour, with a max of three hours (but you can go back and get a new ticket from the machine no problem). We found it easiest to just park in one spot and walk back and forth since everything was so close.

One thing we found with many of the stores is that labeling the bolts was not even a thing. Very few of them even had prices labelled, never mind fibre content. I was glad we brought Emelote along because I certainly wouldn't have known the difference between fabrics. It pays to brush up on your haggle skills because some of the sellers seemed open to bargaining or offering a "deal", especially if larger amounts were being purchased.

Avelyn suggested I do this post so I can pass on some of the tips and tricks we learned while planning and doing our shopping trip. Hopefully this will be helpful to people interested in doing some SCA fabric shopping in Montreal in the future. About 98% of this post is unrelated to leather (I did stop at one store that had dye supplies, so if you're only interested in my leather dye project I'll put that store last on the list if you want to skip ahead).

So, below I will make some comments and observations about each of the stores we visited, in hopes it will help anyone looking to do some fabric shopping in the future.

The stores:

A C Textiles

7390 Rue St-Hubert

When I asked around to our local experts, Dame Helen of Greyfells suggested this store. I can see why, this was a favourite stop of the trip. The owners were super helpful without being pushy (and gave us some really good prices too). They had a really awesome selection of 100% wools - including Cashmere. When we were there (not sure if the inventory moves around within the store) the wools were on the left hand wall when you come through the door. The linens were  on the right hand wall just past the cash, and the silks (mostly prints) were behind the cash.

The one thing is they don't have a set inventory, so what’s there is what’s available, and next time it'll probably be all different. That being said, their prices were super reasonable compared to both the other stores we went to and ordering online (most of the wools we bought were in the $17- $25 per meter range for really high quality), so we ended buying a fair bit of stuff that wasn't the blue or yellow we were there to find. Their linen and silk selection in period appropriate colours and patterns weren't great but that could be the time of year, since we went in August the wools were probably more seasonal than the lighter fabrics. They had some nice twill-weave wool that we snapped up too.

We went back at the end of our tour and bought more from them because their stuff was what we liked the best, and the price was right.

C&M Textiles

7500 Rue St-Hubert

C&M has locations in Montreal and Ottawa (Merivale Road, in the Emerald Plaza), so Avelyn stopped in at the Ottawa location before we went to check it out. They had a good selection of wool and linen but the prices were way more than we were looking to pay and colours were OK but not exactly what we were looking for.

We did stop in at the Montreal location to check it out. I think the selection was pretty similar in the fabrics we were looking for, fair bit of suiting wool and some linen, but nothing super exciting from a colour perspective. The prices were much more reasonable though, so they must adjust their pricing because of the level of competition in the area (about $10/m less than the Ottawa store was charging for the same wool). So if you're looking at buying a fair bit from C&M, it may be worth going to Montreal at that price difference.

Note they primarily sell décor fabrics so you have to look around in the shop to get to the apparel fabrics.

Tissus Marina

7515 rue Saint-Hubert

They had a small linen section in the middle of the store, nothing to write home about. Mostly just your basic colours - natural, white, black and I think navy blue. The wool section was towards the back of the store and had some nice stuff but nothing in the colours I was looking for - mostly the same basic colours as the linen. They did have really big bolts though so for volume buying I bet it would be a good spot.

Pricing was in the mid-range, probably about the same as some of the online places I've seen (so in the $20-$40 price range for the wool.

Tissues St-Hubert

7399 rue Saint-Hubert

The review I saw about this store was that they were expensive, and I can see that because it's pretty high end stuff. They had a pretty good selection of wools, although most of them were the suiting wools, or weren't the right colours for our period use. I think if we hadn't found something that worked really well elsewhere we might have gone back here for some of it because they had some yellow that looked close, but in the end we didn't buy anything here.

According to the sales guy, a lot of their wool was still in the basement because they hadn't had a chance to clear shelf space for their fall materials yet, so it's possible if we'd come back in a week or two the wools would have been better.

The sales guy was very eager, to the point where he was kind of pushy. I do give him credit though, he's the only place that had a lighter and did a burn test on a piece of fabric to show us it was indeed 100% wool.


7381 Rue St-Hubert,

Fairly big trim store with all kinds of interesting stuff. Unfortunately they didn't have much in the way of woven trims, but they do carry a lot of the bands of trim with metallic stitch-work that you see a lot of people using for generic utility garb.

They also had trim with embedded "jewels" and jeweled applique pieces that might work for some later period stuff. I know Avelyn and Emelote thought it was neat, just not what we were looking for on this particular trip.

Avelyn’s note: If you’re sensitive to fragrances be wary of going in this shop.

Textile Couture Elle  

7361 Rue St-Hubert

They had lots of wool selection for sure in all kinds of colours and patterns, including some lightweight suiting that would have worked in a pinch (although still not quite right). It's a pretty small store but they sure do pack it tightly. The heavier wools seemed to be along the left hand wall as you come in the door, and the lightweight wool suiting was around the corner near the front window.

Avelyn bought some nice veil weight 50-linen/50-silk fabric here. They also had lovely fine, pure silks in various degrees of sheerness that she was coveting. $25-30/m.

Prices seemed reasonable, probably in the middle for the stores we saw. The staff seemed helpful, pulling things out and down of the shelves as needed so we could take a closer look.

Goodman Carlyle 

7282 Rue St-Hubert

The review said this place had a huge wool section, and boy do they ever. Massive amounts of wool, shelves and shelves of it. It was actually fairly overwhelming. It was a pretty big jumble, so you just had to walk through everything and look. They had a bit that could have worked but they didn't have enough left on the bolt. They had some interesting herringbone and twill patterns too, but not what we were looking for and nothing that we linked more than the stuff we saw at A.C. Textiles.

They only had a few linen bolts and nothing in colours that would have worked unfortunately.

It's too bad this store didn't work out because they had a 40% off sale so it would have been nice if they'd had something.

Sam Textiles

7195 Rue Saint-Hubert

Alright, so this is where we ended up buying the specific fabric we were looking for. If you go to the back of the store, on the right hand side they have a section of really lovely high end Italian 100% linen in a bunch of colours. Both the blue and the yellow looked pretty close to what Mistress Siglinde showed us. At the back of the store on the left they also had a few shelves of wools, and again they had the right blue and yellow in wool as well.

So, we bought a bunch of stuff here but it certainly wasn't because of the friendliness of the staff or the prices.

So some tips in this store: Don't, whatever you do, remove a bolt of fabric from the shelf. You are not allowed to touch the cloth because they worry about the way the shelves are organized. I got told off because I took a bolt down so I could hold it up to another bolt to see how the colours would look together, and then I got a lecture. (Avelyn says she did it though and didn’t get caught…)

Price wise, the linen was really high quality but it was also more than I had wanted to pay. But the colours were bang on and the weave is really fine, so its way nicer than the stuff we could have ordered at For day-to-day garb I'd probably just go with ordering from Fabrics-store, but if you wanted to splurge on some really nice fabric for court garb or a special occasion, and don't mind paying extra for the quality, this would be a good place to check.

Just don't touch anything without someone helping you. If I'd found anything close at any of the other stores I would have gone somewhere else without a second thought, but I guess them's-the-breaks when you're looking for something really specific.

Kama Pigments

7442 Rue Saint-Hubert

This place is not a fabric store at all but I wanted to stop in since its in the same part of the street and looked like they might carry some of my dye pigments.

Most of the store is focused on painters and other artists. But they have one long shelf with fabric dyes and chemicals/ingredients used by dyers, including some traditional dye stuffs like cochineal, madder etc. Not as much of a selection as my usual supplier in (Maiwa Supply in BC), but they did carry gum Arabic in powder form, which up until now I've only found in the US. They also sold black walnut extract, so I bought a small package of that to see if it will make a black walnut dye without the mess of having to handle the nuts themselves.

Definitely will be adding it to my list of suppliers, and the store has a neat feel to it too.


So overall I'd say the trip was successful and that we eventually found what we were looking for. I definitely think it was worth spending the day in Montreal, rather than ordering wool online - we found stuff that was in most cases much more accurate to natural dyes that would have been used in period, and the prices (when you factor in shipping costs plus the low Canadian $), means we probably saved some money too.

I think the best bet is to go not when you're looking for a specific project (although we did end up finding what we wanted), but just to see what they have and to gradually add to your stock for future projects. If you have a very specific colour or fabric style in mind, it's much harder since a lot of these stores have variable inventory. Because of that, if you find the perfect fabric make sure you snag it because there's no guarantee it will be there the next time you go.