Trip to the Fabric Market

Keeping ourselves in decent clothing is a challenging. Except for Hope, we are not the shape of most Chinese people so few shops, and no inexpensive shops, carry clothing that fits us. When we go to America we stock up on new things, but by the time we have been back in country for a year, most of those are looking quite ratty. I’m not sure why our clothing seems to wear out so quickly but a few reasons come to mind – public transportation is quite dirty so anything light colored gets dingy fast; we rarely have more than a week’s supply of reputable looking items so those are worn and washed often; the polluted water with which we wash clothes is not pristine so they never really get super clean; and we have never discovered good quality spot cleaners in GZ. Whatever the reasons, our year anniversary of being back in China passed in February, making us now overdue for some replacement clothing. What’s a tall, overweight, or differently proportioned foreigner to do? (Differently proportioned translates to someone who actually has thighs or hips!)

After a number of years here, we finally discovered that we could go to the fabric market, buy cloth, and get a tailor to copy the clothes we already have which we like or duplicate clothing from a photo out of a catalogue. Isn’t that expensive? Well, it didn’t used to be! Now it’s costlier than purchasing items at WalMart or on sale at other stores, but similar to paying full price at mall shops. Prices aside, it’s just what we have to do to have decent clothing, so we do it!

Going to the fabric market is kind of fun. We usually set aside a full day to do it because even if we’re only there a few hours, we’re exhausted when we get home since the market is four or five stories high in two different buildings! It is a feast for the eyes and the senses! These pictures are in order as we came to the shops. If they seem kind of random, that gives you a better idea of our shopping experience! One can find linens in an amazing array of colors, patterns, and qualities…

Probably fifty stalls have Chinese silk. The ladies stand out in the openings of their stalls and when we walk by they say, “Silk-a, silk-a!” (Excuse the photo quality- they are cell phone pics!) There are silks from all over China. On the right of the sales lady you see dark greens, maroons, browns… Those are Guangdong silks. They are soft and luxurious feeling- good job Guangdong! The ladies offer us cigarette lighters to try to burn the edges of their silk. If it’s the genuine article it won’t burn.

But not everything is silk-a! We call this the “tacky shop”. Taken individually, some of the cloth is quite pretty, but altogether it looks as if the flower fairy overate and regurgitated here!

These ladies sell all kinds of trim and decorations. The selection is mind boggling!

Each little stall is independently owned and operated. Prices vary wildly and are higher until the vendors realize that we actually live in China and have some sort of a clue about the norm.

Here and there throughout the market, tailors have set up shop. They make some clothing “on spec” as you see hanging in the back and tailor for others to your specifications. Those prices vary wildly, too, as does the quality of the workmanship. 

We were looking at some fabric in the “Beautiful Flower and Fashionable Cloth” shop when Joy and I decided to try a little experiment. We had carried along the clothes we wanted duplicated and the lady assured us that the fabric we were looking at was perfect to make Joy’s skirt. (The fabric we look at is ALWAYS perfect! Apparently we have immaculate taste.) Anyway, I whispered to Joy, “Ask her if it would make a good pair of pants.” So Joy says, “What do you think, would this make good pants?” “Oh, YES! Very good!” “How about a bathing suit? Would it make a good bathing suit?” “Very comfortable swim suit! Very good.” “What about a nightgown? Could I use this to make a nightgown?” “Of course! This would make a perfect nightgown? So very comfortable!” “Hmmm. Or underwear? How would it work to make underwear out of it?” (Straight face. Slight pause.) “Very comfortable underwear!” Joy and I quickly dodged out of the shop before she caught us giggling! Seems we had found the perfect all purpose cloth- skirts, pants, night wear, swim suit, unders…. We hope the sales lady had as much fun that night recounting the tale of the crazy foreigners who wanted to make underwear out of linen as we did!

As you can see, the choices are almost limitless.

Button, button, who’s got the button? Why, the owner of this shop, of course!

Some of these vendors are very eager to sell their wares, but others not so much. Once at the fabric market we approached a stall similar to the one below. Deep in the recesses of the mess was a lace we were interested in for our daughters-in-love’s wedding gown. We asked the attendant, “Would you please get this ream down for us so that we could look at it?” Said he, “Not unless you will buy it.” Said we, “How do we know if we want to buy it if we don’t look at it up close?” “Not my problem. If you won’t pay for it first I won’t get it out.” “Well, how about we get it out ourselves?” “No. We’re not getting it unless you buy it first.” “We’re not buying it unless we can see it.” “Mei banfa (No solution).” Ok, then, well… We went on our way without his fabric wondering, “What in the world?” Go figure!

These little stores, as you see, are jam packed with fabric, small, and crowded. We were looking in this nook when, surprise! This little lady peeked out at us from between the patterns on the back wall! At another place, suddenly feet descended a hidden ladder from the ceiling where the shopkeeper had gone to retrieve something. Never a dull moment at the fabric mall!

Imagine floor after floor of small cubicles chocked full of linens, cottons, silks, laces, polyesters, nylons, rayons, blends, suiting, buttons, beads, spangles, bows, zippers, elastic, snaps, threads, needles in every color of the rainbow! Maybe that’s why it’s so tiring to go- the senses are almost overwhelmed! But for the seamstresses and quilters among our readers, I imagine it would be great fun for you. Come visit, we’ll take a day and go wandering. Fabric anyone?

And for inquiring minds, this is what we bought minus a few pieces we’ve already had made into clothes. Lots of dark things that won’t get ruined right away.

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