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The SCA Visitor’s Guide to Fabric Shopping in Toronto

Magistra Nicolaa de Bracton

I can’t recall how many times in the past couple of years I’ve been asked by SCAdians who plan to visit the Toronto area about our wonderful selection of fabric and notions stores. It occurred to me at Pennsic that perhaps an online guide would help me to stop repeating myself. Note that I do not endorse any of these stores, and they’re not paying me anything for this; they’re just places I’ve shopped and had a good experience.

All prices are in Canadian dollars. As we speak, the Canadian dollar is worth about $0.82 US. Prices do not include PST and GST, which total 15%. Visitors from outside Canada who intend to spend a fair bit while here should keep their receipts and inquire at the border about the GST refund program.

Silk

Toronto has a wonderful East Indian district on Gerrard St. East (just west of Coxwell), known as “Little India.” This is the source for our famed “silk as cheap as cotton.” Not all of the saree stores sell yard goods. Sonu Saree Palace has an excellent assortment of silk taffeta in every colour of the rainbow, as well as silk dupionni, from about $7-$12 a yard. They have a good saree assortment, plus other garments for both men and women. Satyam carries a similar assortment of dupionnis, silks, and very nice brocades ($14/yd).  Kala Kendar also carries silk dupionni, and an assortment of silk-synthetic blends in gorgeous colours and patterns, in about the same price range. Kala Kendar is an excellent place to bargain for sarees. If you have never purchased a saree, be aware that they come in cotton, synthetics (aka "art silk" or artificial silk--most of which are much nicer than synthetic silk substitutes found in regular stores) and many grades of silk.  You can pay as little as $50 for a pure silk saree, or as much as thousands.  Most of the nice sarees are kept behind the counter;  tell the clerk what colour you are looking for and they will bring them out for you. They also have an excellent trim department, and the prices are quite reasonable.

The stores in Little India tend to open later than mainstream stores, but they close later, too. This is one of the few places in Toronto you can go Sunday shopping in the evening.  Check out the Gerrard India Bazaar website for a complete listing of stores in the area--not just fabric stores, but groceries, jewellery, music, gifts, and of course, restaurants.  

Another source for silk is G&S Dye and Accessories, 250 Dundas St. West Unit 8. They sell a wide variety of weights of silk, starting at very fine Pongee silk as low as $3.99 a yard, as well as the materials to dye what you buy (the majority of their stuff is undyed).

Linen

Linen for $6.99-$7.99 a yard can be had at Affordable Textiles, 531 Queen St. West. The linen is on the right hand side of the store as you enter, towards the back. They have decent prices on woolens and velvets as well.  Warning:  This store is quite literally packed to the rafters in fabric.  It can be difficult to move in there, but there are some excellent finds to be found. Fabric Fabric, at 442 Queen St. West, also has an excellent selection of linens in many colours and weights, particularly during the summer months.

Woolens

Besides Affordable Textiles, a number of the fabric stores in the same block of Queen St. West have good deals on woolens, but you have to scout them out. Fabric Fabric (see above) has one of the better selections of brightly-coloured wool fabrics I've found at good prices ($10-$15 a yard), especially during the colder months. A recent find is Chu Shing Textiles (on the north side of the street, at 440 Queen St. beside Fabric Fabric), which features a very neat showroom and some very nice woolens (a recent find was dark red medium-weight wool for $5 a yard). Designer Fabric Outlet (see below) also has a good selection of woolens, but they’re often pricey; however, you can get some nice things on sale. (They’re my source for the felted woolens which are the closest thing to medieval fulled wools I’ve found, at $15.99 a yard for 60” wide fabric.)

Queen St. West Hours
Affordible Textiles, Fabric Fabric, and Chu Shing all keep the standard hours for Queen-Spadina district:  Most close at 5 on weekdays.  They're all open Saturdays (usually to 5 or 6) and closed Sundays.

King Textiles
King Textiles, at 445 Richmond St W, is another large fabric store located a block south of Queen and just west of Spadina. While it can be pricey, King is a source for some quite unique fabrics (unusual silk brocades, and silk-linen and wool-linen blends, for instance) and carries beautiful fine linens.  It's always worth checking.

Designer Fabric Outlet (aka “The Orange Bag Store.”)

Located at 1360 Queen West, Designer Fabric Outlet is a pilgrimage site for many SCA people. They have one of the most extensive brocade/upholstery departments I’ve ever seen, a wonderful trim department, every colour of silk known to mankind (starting around $14.99 a yard for dupionni), including shot silks and fabulous embroidered silks and brocades starting at $50 a yard. Make sure you look through their mill ends at $6.99 a yard. You can also buy medieval-style tapestries here, starting at under $10 up to nearly $2000. This is a store to explore. They’re open 9-5 weekdays (late on Thursdays and Fridays) and ‘til 5 or 6 on Saturdays. Closed Sundays.

MacDonald Faber

At 600 Queen West. MacDonald Faber (or MacFab) is a dressmaking supply store. They keep metal corset boning in two widths (1/2” and 1/4", in a variety of lengths) in stock, as well as farthingale hooping, hat blanks, corsetry material, silk threads in several weights, and undyed cotton muslin in several weights (the lighter weights are very nice for shirts, and at around $1.50-$2.25 a yard, depending on the weight). They also have a nice selection of buttons. Open ‘til 4:30 weekdays only, except Thursday, when they’re open ‘til 7 pm.

Textilehouse Canada

For those of you not able to get to downtown Toronto, this store is highly recommended.  Affordable cottons are surprising difficult to find, but this store carries a good assortment in many weights (particular the heavier twills good for fighting gear), as well as a good assortment of silks, woolens, tapestry materials, etc. Textilehouse Canada is located off Dufferin, between Finch and Steeles.

Buttons

Capitol Buttons, at 2501 Steeles Ave. West, is a button wholesaler. You’ll get the best prices if you buy by the dozen, using cash. If you buy by the gross, you can get even better deals. You can find very nice metal buttons starting at under $5 a dozen (but ask for prices--many styles are much more pricey!). They also carry wooden buttons, frogs, and metal clasps. Only open 9-4, Monday-Friday.  A similar selection can be had at a Queen St. West store on the south side called (I believe) "Fabric and Button."  Unlike Capitol, they are not a wholesaler.

Leather and findings

Capital Findings and Leather, at 160 Tycos Dr, is owned by former SCAdians, so if you show up looking for leather for medieval shoes, they won’t look at you funny.  All grades of leather, all kinds of findings, bolo-tie ends (otherwise known as “aiglets”, for you late-period costumers), and one of the few places I’ve been able to find linen thread in a weight suitable for sewing. Phone (416)784-5888

Findings and Jewellery supplies

Arton, at 523 Queen West, carries all kinds of beads, buttons, and findings. In the glass case at the front, check out the semi-precious stones set in silver findings.  There is a relatively new bead shop in the same block that should also not be missed.

Amariche, at 428 Queen St. West, carries beads, appliqués, frogs, and all kinds of nifty things.

Wholesale

John Bead, at 20 Bertrand in Scarborough, is an amazing place. They carry all sorts of beads (semi-precious, glass, metal, plastic), findings and charms, feathers, appliqués, jewellery findings, trim, tools for making jewellery, and supplies. The hitch is that you have to be a business to buy from them, and there is now a $300 minimum for the first purchase, $200 on subsequent purchases, and at least $600 required per year.  They do not mind, however, groups of people shopping on one account, so if you're doing a high volume of work or can find a group to collaborate, they're still worth it. Most things are sold only in bulk, but the more you buy, the cheaper the unit price; for example, one strand of freshwater pearls is about $2.10, but if you buy 10, they're $1.80 apiece.

Chinatown

While not precisely related to fabric, you should check out Spadina Ave south of College and north of King St., Toronto’s main Chinatown district. You can find Chinese slippers, fans, straw hats, really cheap feast gear, straw mats for your pavilion, parasols, and the like in this area.

Getting There and Parking

Toronto parking enforcement is strict. You will be towed—quickly—if you park in an area restricted during rush hour. Parking is at real premium in the Queen West area (other than the meters, look for the city parking lots, marked by a white "P" in a green circle); luckily, the Queen St. Streetcar makes this area easily accessible by public transit. Little India is best reached by car, and you can usually find parking down the residential streets.

I would be happy to answer any specific questions. As well, I expect to update this page from time to time with any new places I might discover.

Thanks to Dame Madinia (our original Little India pioneer) and Duchess Marion fitz William for updates and suggested links.

Copyright 1998, Susan Carroll-Clark. All rights reserved. Updated January, 2005.