|The fabulous Kenneth King is in the house! Here he pairs a leopard-skin jacket he made with jeans and a Kenzo scarf.|
If you sew your own clothes then Kenneth King is no stranger to you. Couturier, author, Threads contributor, FIT professor, sewing class teacher, and hip hop music video extra (he played a pimp), Kenneth is a wealth of information on many topics, some of which even pertain to sewing. I chatted with him recently about my favorite topic, shopping in NYC's Garment District, and was surprised to learn he favors the small stores on W.39th Street over the more well-known stores with the pricey fabrics. A proponent of supporting local independent stores no matter where you live, Kenneth bemoans the contraction of the Garment District as production continues to move overseas. Ack, don't we all.
STGD: What are your favorite fabric stores in the Garment District?
KK: I do most of my shopping on W.39th Street. I start at Chic Fabrics, then Fabrics For Less, followed by Weaver's, and then G&R which is really good for leather. Chic Fabrics has the best prices on silk organza in town, and I just saw some beautiful wools there for $10 to $12 a yard. Fabrics For Less has a really nice wool doublecloth that is only $12. A client who was shopping with me thought that price for doublecloth had to be a mistake. [editor's note: I saw that doublecloth myself and it is gorgeous—heather gray on one side and red on the other, very soft to the touch] Fabrics For Less also has really good linen for $6 a yard. Weaver's is great for silks and getting silks dyed to match.
These and the others places on W. 39th are the stores I tell my students to look at first. They tend to be holes in the walls and you practically have to climb over bolts of fabric—if you're claustrophobic you don't want to shop here—but often you can find the same stuff that Mood and B&J has but at half the price. You just have to be prepared to put in the shoe leather and not be intimidated by the pushy sales staff. That's how you'll find the deals so unbelievable the stuff must have fallen off a truck somewhere.
STGD: Where do you go for trims?
KK: I like Daytona Braids & Trimmings. They have much of the same things M&J Trimmings carries but at half the price. I get my feathers there. Get Kim to help you, she's a scream. I like C&C on W. 38th for buttons, closures and other hardware, and Pacific Trimming for weird, unusual trims and their big snaps.
STGD: How about dressmaking supplies and muslin?
KK: Steinlauf & Stoller on W. 39th. Not a bargain but not exorbitant either. I also order online from Atlanta Thread & Supply. Muslin I get from FIT, where I teach, but I say buy this wherever you can get it cheaply. If buying 20 yards of muslin gets the price down to $1 to $2 a yard then buy the whole thing, because you know you're going to use it.
STGD: A reader asks "What's your advice for shoppers who want to avoid that 'deer in headlights' blank stare we sometimes get when entering a store full of gorgeous fabric?"
KK: Limit yourself to looking for one specific thing to avoid brain overload. Say to yourself "I'm here just to look at wool" and then explore just that category. It gives you focus. After you find your wool then you can look at all the other fabrics.
STGD: Some readers wanted to know where we can go for custom work, or to rent a cutting table, or to hire a dressmaker, etc.
KK: I use the Fashion Center all the time for help with hard-to-find items. Go to their public information kiosk [open Monday through Friday between 10 AM and 4 PM, and located on the northeast corner of Seventh Avenue and 39th Street] and they can search their database for you. You can tell them you're looking for gunmetal gray handbag hardware and they can find it for you. It's a fabulous resource. [editor's note: The Fashion Center's database is also online.]
STGD: Do you ever shop for fabrics online?
KK: All the time! One of my favorite resources is Haberman Fabrics. I've gotten fake furs and cool jacquards there. You can also call them and they're great about seeing if they can find a certain fabric for you.
Readers, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Kenneth King. If you live in the NYC area and are interested in taking sewing classes, I can personally vouch for Kenneth as a fantastic and inspirational teacher.