The Secret Liberty Fabric Shop

30 April 2007

My favorite store in London is Liberty. I just love everything about it: the history of the store, the classic yet funky clothing designs, the old Tudor building, the cool location between Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus. If I could afford it, I would buy my entire wardrobe at Liberty's, from dresses to accessories. Granted, I do take advantage of the good sales from time to time. But it's never enough.

One thing, though, that I just can't bring myself to buy at the store is the wonderful, classic Liberty fabric. I love them all, all the prints. But they are so expensive, like 20 pounds (US$40) a meter. Which is a lot if you need five meters to make a dancing dress. And dancing dresses are what I love to sew.

One day I was walking through Chelsea, on my way to work at the millinery studio (as you do) and I stumbled across this great secret Liberty fabric shop, where they sell Liberty fabric at half off. Yes, it's true!

I recently went there (again) and got some of my favorite, classic William Morris prints, above. The tana lawn fabric is just so nice, and so classic. It's everything that a cotton fabric should be.

Aside from the William Morris prints, I also got the fun berries, in my favorite green colorway, and then again in the somewhat retro 1930s-1940s-looking red colorway, which will be perfect for swing dancing.

I thought I'd step out of my comfort zone and get a truly floral print. Now I generally veer away from big florals, especially if they're not cartoon-y or geometric. But I thought I'd try this floral, just to stir the pot a little.

And as stirring leads to more stirring, I couldn't help but get this great "map o' the world" print. Isn't it hilarious? It's really a map o' the world! In blues and purples, with longitude and latitude lines and all. Are you laughing as hard as I am? From a distance it just looks like abstract blotches of blue and purple. But up close, it's a map!

Where is this secret Liberty fabric shop?

OK, so you're in the middle of London. Go to the Glocester Road tube station (on the Piccadilly line). Walk straight out of the turnstiles. In front of you is a Tesco mini-mart. That is Glocester Road. Turn right and walk down Glocester Road. Walk and walk until you hit Old Brompton Road. Hang a right. Walk past the Duke of Clarence pub on your right (which has a really fun Pub Quiz on Mondays). The secret Liberty fabric shop is on your right:

Shaukat Fabrics
170 Old Brompton Road

I am obligated to warn you: You can get lost in this shop. It's a labyrinth. It's a little overwhelming, and sometimes scary.

When you enter the shop, notice on the left, there's a wall of cut Liberty fabrics, mostly in two-meter increments. Those are, I believe, eight pounds a meter. As you walk into the store, there are rooms off to the right, with more fabric, and with jewelry.

The big fun happens downstairs. If you can't find the stairs, ask. Honestly, I had been in that shop twice before I "discovered" the stairs and the cornucopia that is downstairs.

I am telling you: this place is a labyrinth. There are many different rooms downstairs, and little nooks. It's actually a little scary. But be brave and venture forth. You have to be bold and walk behind, say, bookcases of cut fabric, and you might discover another little "room".

Most of the 58-inch wide (bolted) Liberty fabrics are just at the bottom of the stairs. But, if that's what you love, it's really worth your time to look at all the cottons, everywhere, because sometimes the cut Liberty fabric can come in as much as four meter increments.

Last bit of advice: Be aware of the width of fabric that you're purchasing. Don't accidentally buy 36-inch wide fabric (that is folded), thinking that it's 58-inch wide, like I did once.

And don't be shy about asking about price. It's all very loose-y goose-y. Nothing is marked with any pricing, so you have to haggle a bit and agree on a price. But I think the bolted 58-inch Liberty fabric is generally ten pounds a meter although they have given it to me for nine when I buy, say, five meters or more.

When asking about pricing, be smart. A good strategy is to say something like, "How much for four meters?" rather than "How much is this per meter?" Seriously, it helps.

Anyway, good luck!

April 2009 update:

I've been working in Singapore for the past year, and so I haven't been to the Secret Liberty Shop lately. But, I've been informed that the shop has changed a bit. Apparently, it's more organized. And, unfortunately, there are prices on everything now! How tidy and uniform.

I'm sure you can still dicker with the owner if you're buying large quantities. But, I fear our days of wild bargaining at the Secret Shop are over. What a shame.

January 2012 update:

I just popped into this great shop, as I periodically do when I'm in that part of London. Incidentally, the shop is a nice stroll from the fabled Victoria & Albert Museum, one of my all-time favorite haunts. The shop is still very much the same as it was when I discovered it in 2007. The prices have increased a bit, as can be expected.

Before I buy cloth here, I always check the print registration: I fear sometimes that the fabric is factory seconds. So, I'm just sayin', check the print registration before you buy. To do this, just ensure that it's a clean print, not muddled, and all the segments of the print line up properly, and that the dyes are consistent.

Honestly, before I buy a swath of several yards, I have the clerk open the bolt up, so I can see the entire yardage in all its glory. Check for faults in the cloth before the clerk snips and rips!

Most likely, you'll have no problem. I'm just sayin' that it doesn't hurt to error on the side of caution. Have fun!

April 2013 update:

My fashionista sister just visited me here in London, and she asked that we pop into the Secret Liberty Fabric Shop. So, of course, we did.

Prices are hard set now at 17 pounds (about US$25) per meter. The unfriendly sales clerk wouldn't budge on the price, even when I was buying in bulk.

The thing that irks me now about this shop is the unfriendly atmosphere. Leila, the apparent manager who is always there, every day (that I've seen) since I discovered this shop six years ago, never says hello or anything. Doesn't she realize that when customers journey to this shop, that it's an event? I just dropped 200 pounds (US$300) on fabric in ten minutes, and gee, doesn't that deserve a little communication from the staff? If the staff were more friendly, get this: I might have hung around longer and bought more fabric. I'm just sayin'.

November 2017 update:

The Secret Liberty Fabric Shop still exists. It forges on. I pop by periodically, when I'm strolling through the neighborhood. When I enter the shop, I yearn for any acknowledgement of my existence from anybody working in the shop. They never acknowledge me. It's rude. When I'm in the shop, it's as though I'm a ghost. They don't see me. I wonder if they would see me if I just picked up a big bolt of Ianthe Tana Lawn Cotton in the Multi colorway (oh, yes, please) and walked out of the shop. Maybe then they would give me the time of day?