Being a tourist is often regarded as one of the most morally reprehensible things a person can be. No one wants to be the hapless soul, guide book in one hand, oversized Canon camera round the neck, clogging up the pavement taking photos of the local highlights, such as cracks in the concrete and public benches.
Having lived somewhere was definitely a tourist trap in the summer I can sympathise with the tourist-hatred somewhat. I still have no idea how the floor can be so endlessly fascinating to squawking tour groups and quite why the secret to a good photography is maximum inconvenience to other passersby.
In the modern age of the smartphone and Google Maps, I’m usually fairly confident getting around independently. However, sometimes it’s nice for someone else to do the thinking, and as I only had a few days off for sightseeing in Taipei, I needed to be efficient about it and thus began my quest to see if it is indeed possible to take a photograph without causing a traffic jam and find out the local crafting hotspots.
I ended up doing two separate tours with My Taiwan Tour and cannot recommend them more highly. Booking is completely straightforward online, they’re responsive to emails and they really know how to run a tour. The tour guides are awesome, and if you’ve got something in mind that you want to do but are just looking for help getting around and with a translator, they offer a custom tour service too.
The first of the two tours was the Vintage Taipei tour, which covers some temples, a tea manufacturers and, of course, Taipei’s main fabric market. As the pace is quite relaxed, the guides were very happy to make accommodations if anyone wanted to spend more time in a particular area. Anyone who helps enable my fabric habit is more than alright by me.
I’ll write a little more about Tapei in another post as the Yongle Fabric market deserves a post of its own. I thought I was spoilt in Japan, with craft shops with bolts of fabric as far as the eye can see. That was all before I went to Yongle Fabric Market.
From the outside, the building looks a little grubby and dishevelled but as soon as you go in, it is an absolute paradise. There are three floors to the market, with the top floor being mostly filled with tailors. As part of the tour experience, we had the chance to pick some fabric that was machined upstairs into a lovely drawstring bag but if you have a bit more time, you can pick your fabrics downstairs to have them made in clothes, coats, cushions or whatever you fancy.
It’s hard to capture the scope of Yongle fabric market without exhausting every superlative in the dictionary. While I’m sure it’s not the biggest or best fabric market in the world (and if anyone knows any that are better, please let me know!) it’s sufficiently mindblowing that you could easily lose a few hours in here. Possibly quite literally as the layout can be a bit challenging to navigate.
It’s a traditional style market with hundreds of stalls inside. Each stall is overflowing with fabric, fabric, fabric. Metallics, check, Jacquards, check, velvet, check, traditional Taiwanese prints, check, Japanese prints, check, upholstery, fringing…. I’m sure you get the picture.
Stalls start to shut around 5-5:30. It’s apparently a bit of a ghost town on Sundays, so try and go during the week if you can. It is roughly divided into sections for different types of fabric, such as dressmaking, upholstery and fine fabrics. There are a few quilting stores but you might have more luck on the streets around the market which are also a veritable goldmine of textiles. If you have a house you’d like to remorgage, there are a couple of shops along the route from the market to the Baiana MRT station that sell fabric from designers such as Versace.
As far as scraps go, Yongle is scrap heaven. All of the stalls have very generous offcuts buckets and you can get some absolute bargains. A lot of the pieces are also of decent sizes, so you won’t be piecing together tiny little slivers for your next piece of patchwork.
English-speaking ability varies between the stalls but I didn’t find that hindered my shopping at all. Fabric is generally sold by the yard, although you can ask for it by the metre too. For the silks, prices are typically around 240 NWD per yard (around £6 at current, abysmal exchange rates) but there are cheaper polyesters available if silk feels a bit extravagant.
As you can probably tell from the photographs, I bought rather a large haul some of which I have to confess I’m not entirely certain what I’m going to do with! I want to mix some of the metallic fabrics with some of the Japanese prints and obi fabrics I have to do some patchwork pieces. I’m thinking some pen wraps/sewing kits and bags. The silks are all so beautiful that I feel they need something really special to show them off… If any of you have any ideas, please let me know in the comments!