Revisiting Dongdaemun Market

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My visit to Dongdaemun Fabric Market in Seoul last year left me with the impression that this was one of the best fabric markets in the world. Having the chance to revisit it this year, I’m pleased to report that it is just as fabulous as ever with plenty to see and do.

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You can find a more detailed breakdown of the floors and levels in my previous post on my visit there, but I just wanted to mention one or two ‘highlight’ stores for me and a little more detail on finding some stores for hanbok fabrics. These are by no means the only stores you should visit, because there are so many amazing places that I could probably spend a few months reviewing them all, but hopefully they might help if you’re after something very specific. I’ll list stall numbers too to try and make it easier to find them although be warned that opening hours can be somewhat variable and seemingly random – each stall keeps to their own time while the market is open. Early mornings during the week are generally best for maximising the number of open places.

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The letter of the code tells you which building section the stall is in, the first number is the floor number (e.g. 5000 – floor 5) and the last digits are which stall it is. Good luck hunting, there are maps near the central staircases with stall numbers but it’s so hard to not get lost!

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First of all, for the embroiderers, Silk Roads (A5114) and stall B202 (I can’t read hangul so I’m not sure what the name is!). Both of these have great selections of thread, patterns and books. A5114 even sells Appletons, just in case you’re hankering for some crewel wool while in Korea. They’ve got many, many thread types, from the standard DMC flosses, to Rosa wools which I hadn’t seen before and silk ribbons. There’s some good Japanese embroidery books there and more tools and supplies than you could use in a lifetime. B202 has some particularly cute boxes and trinkets designed to be covered with a little fabric for mini-embroidery projects and I did pick a few up – I’ve been thinking a lot about some miniature works, like cards etc. as a way of doing sampling without the commitment of something bigger and, without making something that needs lacing and framing in a boring way, so these are a great idea! The Mokuba embroidery ribbons definitely caught my eye – they’ve got a lot of the standard colours and sizes but then they had a few exotic things, including some semi-transparent incandescent pieces that I couldn’t resist picking up some to try!

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As you might have guessed from my recent machine foot purchase, I’m rather interested in all things cording and string lately, and also on floor five at B5010 there is the amazing ‘all things cording’ store. If you’re looking for maedeup supplies, this is a great place to go and they just have every kind of string and cord imaginable. The prices are incredibly reasonable per yard and what I love is how unusual some of the pieces are. I think some of the glittery shiny cords will be great for inclusion in some goldwork, whereas the thicker braids might make some very flashy piping for a cushion at some stage in their lives. Great service here too, the staff are super friendly and don’t seem to mind too much if you take 100 different reels and only a couple of yards each. Dongdaemun, especially for fabrics, has a lot of commercial customers, so some stalls don’t always appreciate buying small quantities.

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I recently bought a copy of Embroidered Boxes: Techniques and Projects which is a really lovely, very unusual embroidery book combining several of my favourite things, boxes, bling and velvet. There are some amazing projects in the book, ranging from simple square gift boxes to travel jewellery boxes with inserted mirror and false bottoms. There’s some incredible designs, from using canvaswork Bargello to cover a box and even how to implement a locking mechanism with key. Needleless to say, I have been raring to give some of the projects a try and on the hunt for some nice velvets as a covering (and also because I need to make myself a new velvet board…). Velvet is an interesting fabric as there are so many varieties, from stretchy polyester, to lustrous, drapey silk velvets. The best thing is really be able to see and feel the materials to work out exactly what you need.

Thankfully stall A4099 has a gorgeous selection of standard colours, whacky colours and all things sparkly. They’ve got some really interesting fabrics there and the store owner was so incredibly kind when I was buying things – I got plenty of extra free material as there was some damage on the end of the bolt and they insisted on me taking sample cards of their full selection. Many of the stalls at Dongdaemun don’t have their full collection at the stall, in fact some have barely any stock (particularly on the lower floors of the market) but will have sample collections you can order from. You can arrange for collection or delivery for an address and I think some of the turnaround times can be quite fast if you see something you absolutely can’t live without!

By the way, for box making fans, the Royal School of Needlework also has a book on embroidered boxes coming out soon! The project descriptions sound a bit like Embroidered Boxes so it’ll be interesting to see how they compare (the photographs and instructions are really high quality in Embroidered Boxes so it’ll be hard act to follow).

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Finally, hanbok fabrics. Hanbok is the traditional Korean dress and I guess what springs to mind for most people, is the style worn during the Joseon dynasty by the more affluent people with lavish fabrics, gorgeous colours and lots of interesting accessories. The fabrics are often highly decorative with Jacquard-type patterns, but sometimes you will see the wonderful tradition of silk printing (with gold if you’re important enough) directly onto the fabric. You can get these types of fabric in silk or polyester, with a price difference to match, but I will say many of the polyester fabrics are still very nice to look at even if they don’t quite have the handle of the magic of silk.

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Floor 2 is the place to go for all things hanbok, and if you dig around enough, you might be as lucky as I was to find a lot of remnants and offcuts for a ridiculously cheap price of both the woven fabrics and more transparent, lightweight pieces that I always think of being used in Byojagi patchwork. Good spots are near the Dongdaemun subway station – if you stay underground near the huge JW hotel you should find a small cluster of shops – and then further into the main fabric market building.

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Many of these stores are not strictly fabric stores but sell custom hanbok, so maybe if you were feeling particularly adventurous you could have something made up! Most of the stores have quite extensive collections but I guess are more used to keeping things around to show for designing rather than selling fabric by the yard.

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I came back with quite a haul – I have to say I find prices at Dongdaemun really very reasonable and the unique opportunity to look at so many types and varieties of fabric very worth a visit. If you get the chance, then go, and let me know where your favourite stalls are!

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