I’m not sure the traditional image of Santa Cruz comes with sewing machines and knitting needles but it turns out that Santa Cruz is actually a veritable goldmine of craft shops and fabric stores. Then, when you’re done with your shopping, you can grab an ice cream and go hang out with the seals on the pier. That is, if you don’t get trapped forever wandering around the vast expanse of Harts Fabric.
Harts Fabric is massive, warehouse-style expanse of fabric playland that covers everything from upholstery to lace. This is a completely all-purpose fabric store that also carries a range of haberdashery items from buttons, ribbons, a token amount of embroidery hoops and ‘modern’ embroidery patterns. If you’re looking for quilting fabrics specifically, they have a good collection of solids and an impressive amount of batiks for a non-specialist store.
Everything about the shop is expansive. You have huge amounts of room to swan between fabrics, the collection and scope of which is a little mindboggling, and the store does its best to be a one-stop-shop for everything you could need from threads to accessories to tracing paper. Given that many independent shop owners are struggling with high rents, it makes sense to make use of every square meter, but it is nice to go somewhere that you know you’re not going to be in the way when you spend fifteen minutes dismantling a shelf in search for the perfect batik.
The disadvantage of trying to be a shop that is all things to all people is that Hart’s fabric collection doesn’t really excel anywhere. The batik choice is surprisingly good and they have a nice selection of modern printed cottons but a lot of the patterned silks were a bit ugly and there isn’t a huge amount of choice for very lightweight chiffon-style fabrics either. The collection of synthetic furs is pretty good, though a lot of the prices of those were comparable to Britex Fabrics, so the place isn’t exactly bargain basement. Maybe I like overly exciting furniture but a lot of the upholstery and harder wearing fabrics were a bit drab with most of the colours being variations on a theme of beige too. Chien Vert this is not.
If you’re a bit beiged out by the upholstery section where Harts Fabric is really awesome is for playing the ‘hunt the comedy fabric’ game. I am an incredibly mature individual who takes craft shopping very seriously which is of course why I would never be found wandering around a store trying to find prints so ridiculous that you wonder how more than one person ever thought it was a good idea to commit the ink to fabric.
The winners are here.
Though the collection of hideous cat fabrics is a close second…
Who buys this stuff?!? Why does it exist?!? Is there any photographic evidence of a finished project using it that wasn’t an incendiary gift designed to end a friendship?
The dressmaking/sewing pattern selection isn’t great as the store has chosen to focus on ‘indie’ designers rather than stocking the big names like Burda or Simplicity. While restricting yourself to small designers isn’t much a restriction in the world of crochet or knitting, no doubt at least partly due to the success of Ravelry for pattern-sharing, I didn’t see anything too inspirational here. However, it is good to see people making a concerted effort to support independent designers and this definitely helps differentiate Hart’s from your average craft shop franchise.
I’m not sure quite why I found Harts Fabric a little bit uninspiring as a store. It’s light and airy, and you can actually move around in it, which is a very unusual and refreshing feature in a shop. The batik collection is really great and if you’re into combining lots of different fabric types then you’ll be right at home here. The collection of fabrics and accessories is honestly very impressive. The customer service is unobtrusive, which I don’t mind at all, but I guess in California qualifies as actively hostile but my one small gripe was the speed of the service. Yes, it’s a big store, with a few separate areas for cutting and paying, so difficult to staff efficiently but even after being served, I thought I was going to miss my return flight the following week as it took so long to ring up all the items.
Everything about Harts is technically good and it’s clear the staff are all sewers themselves with a lot of good technical knowledge and advice to share. I think maybe it’s the sleek, minimalist, modern feel to the place that just lacks a little charm and atmosphere but if it’s buttons, trims (their trims and bindings selection is excellent) or a sampling of every type of fibre and textile in the world you need, then Harts is the place to go.