Fabric Shopping in Shanghai

Last month when I posted that I was coming to Shanghai, reader Helen emailed to let me know that she was moving back to China and would take me fabric shopping in Shanghai. I actually couldn’t believe my brilliant luck! I never cease to be amazed by the kindness and generosity I’ve experienced from women I’ve met because of the online sewing community. I mean, she doesn’t even *know* me and she was willing to babysit me for a day!

Helen and her patiently awesome husband Hai picked me up from my hotel at 8:30 am so we could beat the crowds at the South Bund Soft Spinning ย cloth market. Helen wore houndstooth BurdaStyle.com shorts. They were so well done with piping and pockets that I truly assumed they were ready to wear. It never even crossed my mind that they were home sewn! Her blouse is La Mia Boutique. She and her husband are honestly what made me love Shanghai.

I got goosebumps when I saw the sign for the cloth market. And the market? It’s a freaking cloth MALL. Not one mall. But, like three malls on one corner. After catching my breath we got to work. The market we went to had three floors crammed with stalls. There are other markets for wholesalers. This one is definitely for the retail customer.

While most merchants do speak a little English, having a native speaker by your side is infinitely helpful. Most of the stalls have garments already made up in the fabric available and will sell you that garment or tell you how much it costs to have the dress made for yourself. There is a bit of repeat around the material. And, all the retailers have a lighter for you to test the fabric.

I bought a very respectable five pieces of fabric. Enough to fit in on my carry on. I also bought some other items I’ll post later. Including what I like to think of as the ‘I’m not dating the Vegan’ silver fox fur earmuffs and coat collar.

I mostly bought silk. I have great access to shirtings at home but silks. Awwww. They make my heart beat! Here’s what I got:

Teal coral print on cream silk
A print so large I don't know what I was thinking! I loved the colors. Loved.
Stretch silk charmeuse panels. I bought three panels.
Silk cotton blend with solid cream lining (not shown)

Everything was about 35 RMB a yard which is $4 to $5. I learned an important lesson about about bargaining while at dinner the next night from a Singaporean woman. First she said, the prices at the market don’t fluctuate much. There are many many foreigners that come and the shopkeepers know what we can afford. She, a native Chinese speaker said that she can get the Chinese price (which I think would be half of what I paid) but, she has to bargain like a Chinese. Which means she yells, stamps her feet, insults the product and gets upset. Essentially, you have to wear them down. And she asked me if that’s what I really wanted to do over some fabric. And she’s right. It wasn’t worth it to *me*.

It’s definitely cheaper outside of Shanghai. But, in Xiamen where a friend had a dress made (more on that later) the fabric was less but the selection was extremely limited. Think mostly home dec. Oh, like shopping at JoAnn!


  1. OMG, I have been waiting with baited breath for your China posts! The fabrics are beeeoootiful, I can’t wait to see what you make from them.

  2. Wow! this is exciting!! Your fabric is gorgeous…I’m staying in tune for your next post.

    Hey, are you going to be shopping for some polish? Can’t wait to see ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. We have been waiting anxiously to hear from you. This is just delightful!! Very happy to see that you are enjoying yourself and fabric shopping.

  4. oh. my. god. those silks are gorgeous!!

    And I utterly hate bargaining. I find it totally demeaning for everyone involved, it raises by blood pressure and I start to sweat and feel incredibly stressed out. I would happily pay 10x the cheapest bargained price just not to deal with the whole palava!

  5. See that’s the only thing that would make me think about boarding a flight to China – the fabric! I’m such a fabric ho that I had to catch my breathe when you said a cloth mall! Wait I need to take a moment…okay I think I’m ready now…*sigh* Your pieces are beautiful! How did you ever restrict yourself to just 5!?!

    • The fabric selection is totally overwhelming when you have just four hours. That, and I was convinced I was being cheated on prices so I was paralyzed with indecision. I could have bought much, much more. But it took me a couple of hours just to walk the entire building and survey my options. Then you want to go back for specific pieces but I didn’t write down the stall number and spent a ton of time wandering. Seriously though. The amount of choices is overwhelming. Over 400 stalls.

  6. I’ve had vendors in markets tell me how much an item would costs in my money and not to be cheap because they know I can afford it!

  7. Love the fabrics! And I had to laugh at the “shopping at Joann’s” comment, since that is all I have around here!

  8. I am truly jealous of that cream and teal print. Sounds like a great trip aside from the staring. Did you feel Angelina Jolie? hahaha.

  9. Hi Cidell, great photos! I’m a long-time lurker, but was drawn into commenting by the photos of your purchases, especially the coral-print silk as I was looking at something quite smilar. What’s the repeat like? And for that matter, any plans for it?

  10. Your fabrics are so gorgeous. I think unless you know you are being really ripped off- which at those prices for silk I don’t see how you could be- haggling people down who are very likely on lower standard of living, does have less of the feel good factor to it. I don’t think anyone should have to throw a tantrum just to get a discount, and that keeping your dignity and the stall owners intact is a far nicer thing, good choice you made there. You may have supported a family for longer and can enjoy your fabric all the more for that. What will you make?

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