We are no stranger to fabric stores. We hit our local quilt shops or Joann’s weekly. But what happens when Joann’s just doesn’t have what you need for a cosplay? We had this happen recently, so we hopped in the car and headed to Chicago to visit two amazing fabric stores that have been around for decades.
We are lucky. We have many great fabric, quilting and sewing machine stores near us, but we needed some unusual supplies this time. So we drove over an hour to visit Fishman’s Fabrics and Vogue Fabrics. These two stores specialize is garment sewing products, so they were ideal for our needs.
For Tracy, going to these stores was fun but a little intimidating at first. She had never been to either and likely would not have gone on her own. Why? It was just a little outside of her comfort zone and she had the idea that somehow they would be expensive or maybe the staff would be pushy. Her fears could not have been farther from the truth.
Fishman’s was elegant. This store has been in business since 1903. From the looks of the store, we can see why.
It was extremely clean, beautifully organized and they had a well-curated selection of fabrics. They featured wool suiting, brocades, lamé, leather hides, silks, faux furs and lots of evening wear materials and upholstery fabrics. The selection of lining fabrics alone was staggering.
Prices here ranged from $6 per yard for lining fabrics up to several hundred dollars for leather hides. The selection was great, the staff was friendly and helpful. Overall, it was a pleasant experience and we will gladly come back to Fishman’s in the future.
Next we drove further north and hit Vogue. This store was sprawling. There were several rooms in this large store, and each room is filled with fabrics, notions, patterns, machines… It was pretty cool.
What we found most impressive was the selection of notions. They pretty much carried anything you could need for your sewing projects. They even carry boning for corsets. And not just the plastic kind you find at Joann’s. They carried steel boning – both the spiral and the flat, in several lengths.
In both stores, the staff was very helpful and they answered all of our question. The stores had a great selection of fabrics in all price ranges. Some of the fabrics were only a few dollars a yard, so don’t be afraid that a non-big-box store will be more expensive. On the contrary, both stores had a great selection of fabrics in all price ranges, with plenty of staff to help.
We found plenty of things a cosplayer needs at each of these fabric stores. If you have one near you, why not venture in? It was an adventure we strongly suggest you take!
You are getting into cosplay and the closet cosplay ideas are wearing thin. You want more. Cosplay commissions are sometimes cost prohibitive. Making your own cosplay is challenging but incredibly satisfying and learning to sew is fun. Are you ready to dive in?
What is cool about cosplay is that you use really interesting materials to create amazing costumes. What is challenging is that all machines aren’t built to stitch through all of those unique fabrics. The machines you find in big box stores near the vacuums may not be the best option for cosplay because they are made for very basic applications. So where do you turn? We will walk you through all you need to know!
Where To Shop
Sewing machine stores are in every state and you likely have one somewhere near you. A sewing store can be a Sewing machine and vacuum store, a sewing machine and fabric store, or a quilting shop. They may sell one brand of machine, or many brands. All of these types of stores will have a knowledgeable staff that can answer your questions about buying a sewing machine. We have been working overtime at Sew Much Cosplay™ to get sewing machine stores up to speed on what cosplay is so that you have a resource in your area. (And if you are a store, check out our new programs just for you!)
Sewing machine manufacturers have a store locator on their websites. Some of the brands to look for are Baby Lock, BERNINA, Brother, Elna, Janome, Juki, Necchi, Pfaff, Singer, and Viking. Try googling one of these brands + your state to find a store near you.
The bonus to buying from an independent store is that you have somewhere to go when you have any trouble. Stitch over a pin? They have repair people. Is the machine skipping stitches? The employees can trouble shoot a better needle option. They also usually offer lessons on how to use the machine so you know the basics.
Buy A Machine That Fits
Buying a sewing machine is much like buying sneakers – you have to find the right fit and see how it feels. Sewing machines have always been an investment, but a quality machine can last you 25 years or more if you take care of it.
They start at about $100 and go up to more than $13,000. Luckily, you don’t need to spend $13,000 on a machine to get a fantastic machine that will allow you to make lots of cosplay and accessories. As the price of the machine goes up, you get more features on the machine. It is just like buying a car. Do you want a Kia or a BMW? Both have great options, take a test drive to see which one is right for you. Try to buy more than features than you think you need so you are sure to get one that you will be happy with for years to come.
The Test Drive
Think about the cosplays on your wishlist. Will you need to sew with leather? Neoprene? Organza? 4-way Stretch? Each of those materials needs a different needle, foot and stitch. Ask about stitching with those materials and we suggest bringing a few different fabric swatches to try out the machines. If the store has more than one brand, try out each material on a few different models.
Features To Look For
Variety of Stitches – At the minimum, you need straight stitch and a zig-zag. The stretch stitch and overlock stitch are really handy if you don’t have a serger. Decorative stitches are great for some costumes.
Needle Threader – Not necessary, but it sure is nice!
Built in scissors – Also not necessary, but nice!
Feet – Straight, ZigZag, Zipper, Ruffler attachment, Walking foot, pintuck, teflon, roller – these are all feet you may need. Do they come standard? If not, how much do they cost? Factor this in to the overall cost of the machine too. (see more below)
Needle up/Needle Down – This feature makes adjusting the fabric easy without losing your place. It is vital for machine applique.
Free arm – The free arm is the part of the machine bellow the needle where you find the bobbin, feed dogs, etc. There is usually a removable drawer or tray here that covers this small section. The free arm is a smaller area that allows you to sew sleeves and hem pants and other small sections of garments. This is on most machines. However, some machines made for quilting and other flat sewing do not have this section. For cosplay, we suggest you get a machine WITH a free arm. Here are a few photos showing what we mean.
Questions To Ask
What feet are included? How much do extra feet cost?
Do you offer lessons on how to use the machine?
How often do I need to get a tune-up and how much does that cost?
Do you offer a cosplay night where I can come in and try your machines for free?
Is A Used Machine A Better Option?
Some sewing machine stores accept trade-ins when a customer upgrades their machine. The retailer then gives the machine a tune up to ensure that it is in good working order and then offers it for sale. Since the machine is used, you can often get a lot more machine for your money. This might be a great option depending on their stock. Sometimes these machines come with extra feet and attachments too.
Don’t overlook those machines you find at the thrift store or at yard sales either. A good vintage machine is often better than the inexpensive models you find at big box stores. Do make sure you can still buy parts and feet for the machine first and be sure to bring it in for a tune up. It’s much like getting the oil changed on your car – it helps to keep the machine running well. A tune-up will cost you approximately $100, give or take but it is worth the investment to ensure that that machine is in good working order and is safe to use.
Sewing machines are a great investment as you get into cosplay. They may be a bit intimidating at first and a bit “spendy”, but if you keep in mind that a great machine that will last you for several years will cost around $500, and that machine will stitch you up many cosplay… well, that is many, many hours of enjoyment right there! Learn as much as you can before you buy and be an educated shopper. And don’t forget: Sew on it before you buy!
Do you have any questions about buying a sewing machine? Leave us a comment and we will be sure to answer your questions.