Dear Liberty

by Erin on November 28, 2007

I finally got over to Liberty, and … well, it was disappointing, to say the least. They've reduced the space given over to dressmaking fabrics again, to about 3/4 of what it was the last time I was there, which was itself about 3/4 of what I saw on the visit before that!

Look at how anemic (or, as I'm over here, anaemic) the shelves are:

Liberty of London Nov 2007

Liberty of London Nov 2007

And when I asked about twill, the clerk (who I recognized from previous visits) told me that Liberty isn't making twill any longer — "no one was buying it," she said. Well!

So, being in the UK, I've decided to write a sternly-worded letter to Liberty, in the hopes that they will reconsider their decision to essentially abandon the home dressmaker …

Dear Mr Williams:

I visited the dressmaking fabrics department of Liberty in Regent Street this week. Liberty is usually the highlight of any trip I make to London, and the fabrics department is the highlight of any trip to Liberty.

However, I was tremendously disappointed. Not only did I walk away without having made a fabric purchase (which has never happened before!) I was also greeted with the dispiriting news that Liberty has decided to stop producing their designs in twill.

Although I have lately seen Liberty prints available through partnerships with other manufacturers (Lands' End, Converse) and I think that is a lovely development, I would hate to see Liberty abandon the home dressmaker, especially as interest in sewing and dressmaking has been surging recently, on both sides of the Atlantic.

I was told that people haven't been buying the twill, and that's the reason for stopping production. Might I suggest that people aren't buying it because it is so difficult to obtain? Liberty does not sell online, and I have been hearing from independent shops in the US and Australia that Liberty is also reducing the number of patterns available to them. If you want to sell your fabric, you ought to be making it more available, not less! I buy at least twenty yards of Liberty lawn, twill, and wool fabrics a year (and I buy at least sixty yards of fabric total in a year, and often more, mostly online), and I would buy more Liberty if more patterns and weights were available to me. If I could, I'd sew with nothing BUT Liberty!

Liberty is by far my favorite fabric. The prints are outstanding and the quality of the weave is unmatched. I, and many other home dressmakers, will be heartbroken if this downward trend in the number and availability of patterns continues.

Sincerely,

etc., etc.

I'll print this out and mail it on real paper (more likely to be taken seriously) when I return to Chicago. So suggestions welcome in the meantime. I wanted to start it with the very British "Sirs:" but since the name of the head of customer service is available, it didn't make sense not to use it. If you'd like to write or email as well, details are here

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Vicki Jane November 28, 2007 at 4:39 am

Yet more evidence in the percieved decline in home sewing/knitting and yet more and more DIY stores seem to sprout up overnight. Is this the difference between the little ladies hobby and Manly pursutes?But then I do forget that making your own clothes can only ever be a hobby as we have entire malls filled to the brim with identical clothing kindly bought to us by the sweat shops of the world.Thanks for the link Erin. Rest assured I will be doing my bit.

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Rachael November 28, 2007 at 5:45 am

Hi ErinI wholeheartedly agree, and I think it’s great that you’ve taken the time to write and complain. I would disagree with their claims that no one is buying fabric, as time and time again I’ve overheard customers complaining at the lack of stock. I’m sure that it comes down to economics and that they can presumably make more profit by producing their fabric for wholesale. It really makes my blood boil, and it’s exactly the same at John Lewis on Oxford Street – the fabric/haberdashery department shrinks year after year and yet I hear the same story that “there’s no demand”. Rubbish! It’s always busy in there!Anyway, hope it hasn’t spoilt your trip too much!

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Kate November 28, 2007 at 5:55 am

Rachel, and Erin – I’m a student at the London College of Fashion, just round the corner from John Lewis, and one of our lecturers told us that the sales in John Lewis’s fabric/sewing department have INCREASED by 75% this year – God knows how, as they’ve taken all the tills away (don’t get me started). Point is, they know (or at least SHOULD know) that these hobbies are on the increase. I think Liberty has restructured the department a bit to increase the knitting side, but also I’ve noticed a new, alarming tendency to produce its own branded goods – bags, etc – at high price points, aimed at tourists, so I suspect maybe they will end up using the fabrics exclusively for their own goods. Which would be very depressing indeed.

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htwollin November 28, 2007 at 6:12 am

I really become quite annoyed when stores do this because there is no way anyone can buy fabrics if there are no fabrics there to buy. On the other hand, this tendency to eviscerate apparel fabrics offerings has produced a very healthy trade on the internet. You would think that someone at Liberty would take their head out from under the cushions and take a look at all the very successful retail fabric businesses on the internet and realize that Liberty could increase their offerings AND make bushels of money doing that as well. Would I rather go into a store and actually look and feel the fabrics I buy – absolutely, but in my part of the country, my choice is one large chain store(that again does an abysmal job with apparel fabrics and devotes 70% of their floor space to “crafts”), so I have to travel to New York or Philadelphia to shop or use the internet. Liberty is missing a chance here to not only expand their business in the UK, but also to expand their retail end internationally – but perhaps they would rather not.

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Anonymous November 28, 2007 at 6:43 am

liberty has most definately lost it big time!!! The brand has been synonomous with craft, design and styling for long and, now, when at last we’re seeing a resurgence and government commitment to the creative economy, Liberty is downsizing. I visited both sewing and knitting departments last week and was equally disappointed by both the range (if thats not too loose a definition) and their haberdashery staff who are nso disinterested. I’m losing my will to sew because I just can’t go find great fabrics anymore.

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rebecca November 28, 2007 at 6:58 am

Well, A-daggone-men! I have searched and searched (virtually and concretely) for Liberty and have found only the puniest of offerings. I’m on my way right now to write a polite, if slightly heated, letter.

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Fiona November 28, 2007 at 7:20 am

Oh dear, Erin, that sucks- walking out of a fabric store without a purchase (shakes head in sympathy) It really saddens me that its getting harder and harder to buy quality fabrics in the UK. The city where I live in the south of England boasts one fabric shop (a medium-sized chain store). But most of the fabric- even in the Special Occasion section- is kind of cheap looking and most of it has a high polyester content. When I asked for silk fabric recently I got waved towards a table of swatch books and was told they could order it in specially. Can that really be good business sense? Personally I am faaaaarrrrr more likely to put sewing time into making something special in a nice fabric rather than a creation in stretch holographic foil (unless its Halloween, of course!) or trying to emulate the cheap identical clothing kindly bought to us by the sweat shops of the world that Vicki Jane mentions in her post above. (Maybe I’m just too picky, or a “fabric snob”?) I also expect and am prepared to pay more for a quality fabric, and Im sure the mark up on it must be higher???? So I buy a lot of my fabric mail order from websites in the US, and it always strikes me as a touch ironic that a fair amount of it has been imported from Europe in the first place!

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enc November 28, 2007 at 7:59 am

You know, I’m sad about this, and I don’t even sew. I’ve always loved Liberty. I used to get excited about my waiting time in Heathrow because it meant I could mill around the Liberty outpost in the Terminal. I could while away an hour just poring over the prints on the shirts, trying to choose one. I was never able to choose just one.I’m sorry Liberty is cutting back. I hope your letter will have some effect, and I hope they’ll come to and re-instate some of the fabrics.

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htwollin November 28, 2007 at 8:52 am

Erin – I just got this in my mailbox and thought of this discussion of Liberty’s claim to not having a market in home sewing fabrics:http://springwise.com/weekly/2007-11-28.htm#styleshakeObviously, there is a severe disconnect between consumers and providers when someone (and I’m sure these are not the only people providing this service) recognizes the need/wish/desire to have stylish, semi-custom dresses in this way and sets up a business to do it in the UK.

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Jonquil November 28, 2007 at 8:59 am

Gah. Where are the non-florals?!??! I can buy florals anywhere; it’s the big Art Nouveaus that make my heart sing, that I visit the London store for, that I stockpile.

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Anonymous November 28, 2007 at 9:14 am

I know of a source of Liberty goodies…A-one fabrics on Goldhawk Road in Shepherd’s Bush. It’s right across the street from the Goldhawk road tube exit, next to the Sheoherd’s Bush market. Don’t have the phone number to hand but try directory enquiries for it…they always sold 3 yard cuts of Liberty twill, cotton and wools in a huge range of prints. Good luck!Trudy

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YayaOrchid November 28, 2007 at 10:04 am

Sorry, I had to comment. Your post brought back memories of a year ago approximately, when a gazillion women all joined in a letter writing campaing to “Walmart”, which is a superstore that had always carried fabrics, and essentially was for so many women, especially in the rural communities and small towns, the only source of fabric. You see Walmart, in their vast wisdom, had decided that fabrics were not as important as selling crafting supplies. So they did away with the fabric sections of almost all their stores. Well, you can imagine the outroar that caused. And you would have thought that with all the input they were getting from so many women, who threatened not to shop there any more unless they brought back the fabric (myself included), that they would have sought to appease us. H-E-L-L-O! Turns out the almighty dollar was more important to them. So what do I say to you ladies about your Liberty store? Good luck getting their corporate offices to hear or to care!

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T-Rex November 28, 2007 at 10:57 am

Erin, be sure you include the URL to your blog in that letter. Might be good for the Liberty folks to read these comments, as well as the posts you have made about Liberty fabrics in the past. If they are at all inclined to look, that is.

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nomm is ... November 28, 2007 at 11:02 am

Erin, what a wonderful letter. Forceful, yet polite (of course).I too suspect economic processes and I hate them. In the end it boils down to the realisation that ‘creating’ consumer demand creates higher revenues than actually listening to consumers and supplying what they want.I love the idea of liberty fabric. I wouldn’t use it, but I want it to exist and exist in every possible variety.

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rosanne November 28, 2007 at 11:08 am

Your letter really hits home, Erin. I was in London this past October and visited Liberty and left literally wondering what all the fuss was about. Yes, I thought their prints were lovely, but I was shocked that 95% of their limited (puny)stock was shirt weight mini floral patterns. Sure it was quality, but what a contrast with their knitting department! It was clear even to my husband that their focus was on knitting, where the department was bustling and the staff was both interested and engaging.

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Anonymous November 28, 2007 at 11:56 am

I agree. I remember being thrilled when Liberty finally got a website back in the late 90′s, and being almost immediately disappointed when I found that there was no way to buy fabric.This, back when their retail stores had fabric available that surely could only be surpassed by the fabric shops on the other side of the Pearly Gates. For that matter, I hate and deplore the licensing arrangement that the Laura Ashley company has gotten itself into, with the US portion of the business controlled by ding dongs who have diluted the name and are slapping the name on cheap crap, while meanwhile in the U.K. “Laura Ashley” still makes beautiful wallpapers and so forth that can’t (due to the licensing arrangement) be sold in the US! I’m sure Laura herself is spinning in her grave.

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Pamela November 28, 2007 at 12:47 pm

I really think the problem is that clothes are more cheap than they ever were, both in cost and frequently in quality. Young people do not know the markers of a high quality garment and so few people know what a good fit is. Also we are in an anti-floral phase of fashion right now. So where does the demand for exquisite Liberty fabrics come from, if that is the case? These changes have made it so that the need to sew for cost, fit and quality is not as great as it once was. Instead we sew for creativity and style, which is a good thing. However, perhaps more people are sewing, but not at the skill level seen in the past. There is a lot of sewing of bags and skirts. I’m hoping this current surge in sewing will produce sewers interested in stepping up to sewing Tana lawn and Varuna wool! I know what I had to spend on clothes when I started working in the 70s and I know what my daughters can buy now….much more than I was ever able to afford. I admit I spoil them when they show up with a ghastly fitting jacket or poorly finished cocktail dress and I reconstruct the offending garment. My daughter was recently shocked that a BCBG dress she bought looked “poorly constructed” to me. It was not designed to be altered either. Believe me, clothes cost so much less now relative to income. My DDs have a lot more clothes than I ever had, and I was able to sew many of my clothes! I have educated them about fibers and construction. There are rules, like no pure polyester – it doesn’t breathe, no high content of acrylic – it pills, the garment must fit in the shoulders and the hips -the rest can be altered,etc. They tell me none of their friends know any of this stuff. If they don’t know, why would they be attracted to the good stuff, like Liberty? I think people simply fall for designer names and are unable to assess quality of its own accord. Face it, if you took all the labels off a dress made of Liberty fabric, some of us would still know it was a quality dress -provided it was made well.My older daughter needed a blue dress for a themed party. Of course she told me with 10 days to go. Well, surprisingly, there was no cocktail dress type blue fabric in my overwhelming stash, so off to the fabric store I went. We were thinking navy velvet, lace and tulle, to copy a Valentino dress she had seen on TV. I even had 75 yards of 50′s French Chantilly galloon lace in navy. No navy velvet available at Joann’s, only a very ugly bright blue and only a shiny, shiny cheap looking tulle, none in navy of course! Even worse, there were no acceptable blue fabrics in the store! I could have done the dress in black, I have a stash of vintage black Chantilly lace; and there was a nice black velvet & tulle available. With no time for me to order fabric on line, she was forced to buy a dress. She bought an Issac Mizrahi dress at Target, which failed the polyester rule, but is fine for a one-time event. I don’t think I could have sewed a dress for $50, but at least my dress would have looked expensive. I am so sad to hear about Liberty, as it has always been a highpoint of my trips to London. Your suggestion about online availability is one I hope they listen to. I have to admitt, except for trips to NYC, I do most of my fabric shopping on-line now. I miss crinkling fabrics to check for recovery, or truly assessing the weave and quality. At least with Liberty, you have a good idea of what you are getting; i.e. Jubilee cloth, Varuna wool, Tana lawn, etc. It would make good sense for them to sell online.

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oracle November 28, 2007 at 2:26 pm

I like your letter, Erin, and agree with t-rex that you should make reference to your blog and your blogging about Liberty.Yayaorchid, concerning your story about Walmart and concern about Liberty, not all corporations are the same (in spite of how economic conditions may push them to be so). Walmart has a reputation for being one of the most heartless corporations around — that’s why we hear stories of citizens banding together to try to keep its stores out of their local communities. But other corporations have tried to hang onto a vestige of “heart” in spite of the pressures they face — let’s hope that Erin’s letter weighs in on Liberty to that end!Besides, one of the implications in Erin’s letter, also indicated by some of the comments today, is that having “heart” can bring in revenues that heartlessness would miss out on!Cheers!

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Anonymous November 28, 2007 at 2:45 pm

I have to say I have never commented here before, but oh I feel your pain. I just ran out of the truckload of Liberty fabric I bought, er, about a decade ago when I went to London. I’m embarrassed at what I bought and barely made it through Customs; fortunately the inspector’s wife was a sewer and a piece offering of a lovely piece of silk smoothed the process along. (She made a lovely dress and sent a picture along a year or so later).I am coming to London next spring and was so hoping to enhance my stock, so I’ll definitely send a letter along, despite being from Canada.Yours truly,Christine

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raven November 28, 2007 at 3:11 pm

Those are some very sad pictures!!This doesn’t have too much to do with the lack of availability of Liberty fabric, but I was at Savers ( a local thrift store) looking for costume pieces for a show, and found about 15 men’s Liberty shirts. I recognized the fabric immediately and checked the label, and sure enough, Liberty of London. There were some that were three of the same pattern in different colorways, and some unique. They were my sweetie’s size, but I wasn’t sure I could coax him into wearing them, so I left without. Now I am kicking myself for not getting them, and figuring I could rework them if nothing else.I think your point of their fabrics not being available enough is spot on. If they set up a simple online shop, I’m sure they would see a boom in sales, especially among those of us who are not in London very often!!

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Monabel November 28, 2007 at 4:33 pm

Thanks, Erin. As the Quakers say, “Thee speaks my mind.”

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Lucelu November 28, 2007 at 6:57 pm

Hello, florals are very in for spring, check the NY Mag’s Look issue link. Liberty is daft.It is very depressing to go to a fabric shop, one with which you are looking forward to and not find anything because the stock is abysmal. I’ve never been to London and don’t know if I ever will, if Liberty had their fabric online to sell, I would probably order from them. I’m currently contemplating an Amy Butler binge. Especially after going to Joann’s for dress fabric and finding only panne (panne I curse thee). These things happen you know.

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Dawn November 28, 2007 at 7:37 pm

We used to have 3 or 4 Piece Goods Shops in our town, and they were great! Now, just Hancocks and JoAnns, which are not. We do have some nice quilting stores that carry good quality cotton and sometimes have an interesting print that makes a fine shirt. I haven’t bought fabric online but probably will soon. It is so disheartening! I live in North Carolina where we used to make lots of good quality textiles, so I could rant about this on several levels…Dawn

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Nancy Bea Miller November 28, 2007 at 9:17 pm

Because I don’t sew I probably should not weigh in but here goes. First, I’m truly sorry you were disappointed: what a drag! But, since Liberty’s is a business whose intent is to make money, you have to assume that they are reacting intelligently to market pressures, i.e. more knitting, less sewing. Looking around at my own circle of friends, while I do know a few people who sew (and I honor them for the goddesses that they are), almost EVERYBODY knits, or is learning to knit, or has just bought a beginner’s fluffy scarf kit etc! Just saying.

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Megan Rose November 28, 2007 at 11:56 pm

Great letter Erin. I’ll be following the link. I live in Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand, and we have similar sounding fabric problems. I don’t think there is any fabric made in NZ anymore, but even if there is, there is a lot of imported fabric. Because of this, the fabric we get is usually quite expensive. Also, the selection is a bit limited. I’ve started shopping online and, apart from not being able to feel the cloth, it’s great. So, hear hear to Liberty starting an online shop!

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Anonymous November 29, 2007 at 4:18 am

Another one bitterly disappointed with the state of fabrics shops in the UK, and with Liberty in particular. I know plenty of younger people who would be interested in taking up sewing, but it’s been so pushed to the margins that it is hard to get started unless you’re really interested. I think I might drop a line to Liberty myself now you’ve inspired me.

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Pencils November 29, 2007 at 4:19 am

I don’t sew (I’m impatient and useless with my hands), I read this blog because I love dresses and pretty fabric. And I think Erin is great. So, don’t think I necessarily know anything about the home sewing market. I work in a particular genre of publishing, and I’m constantly hearing from our fans that they would like one author or another’s works to be republished in hardcover. Or published for the first time, if it’s an author that was published as a paperback original. They say they would buy the books, and their friends would buy them, and they checked on the Internet and all those people agreed they would buy the books, so the fan doesn’t understand why we think we’d lose money. But that’s really only a few people, and people online say things they don’t necessarily mean. There’s a big difference between saying you’d buy something and getting out your wallet. We know we’d lose money on the project. Brand-new hardcovers sell well for the first months and then drop off. Special editions that we publish occasionally sell briskly for a week or two as the fans’ pre-ordered books ship, and then sales abruptly drop off and we end up losing money in the end. It’s our business to know this. It costs a great deal of money to produce, print, warehouse, and ship a book, and we need a certain number of sales to make it worthwhile. Republishing older titles as hardcovers for the specialty market just isn’t financially feasible. We’re sorry to disappoint the fans, but we’re a business, and publishing is in trouble as it is. So, even though you all love fabric, and buy it, it’s possible that it’s similarly just not financially feasible for Liberty. The money generated per foot of the fabric department is likely lower than many others, so it’s natural they’re going to reduce the size of the department. And it probably just cost too much to produce twill in the first place. If not, maybe they should sell online. However, unless Liberty has changed in the last year, they have an awful website with no internet sales. Maybe in future they’ll make online sales a priority. I hope so, I love Liberty!Anyway, I think it’s a good idea to write to Liberty and state your position. But don’t assume they have no idea what they’re doing.

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jessicajlee November 29, 2007 at 6:35 am

I agree with T-rex, you really should mention that you write on of the *best* dress/dressmaking blogs to beef it up.:D

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Jen November 29, 2007 at 7:00 am

Bravo! Bravo! Here here!

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Anonymous November 29, 2007 at 1:00 pm

My understanding is that knitting was the first of the textile arts to make a comeback, and sewing seems to be the next. More “fashionable” sewing books, more “beginner” sewing books are showing up, and the store where I took sewing lessons said the demand for classes was unprecedented last year. So while knitting might be where the money is now (and I don’t doubt it), sewing doesn’t seem to be very far behind. It would be a shame for Liberty to spend all this time and money to downsize, only to have to upsize in 4 more years. I do think there’s a movement of people who want more well made, well designed things. I certainly was seeing evidence of that in Portland when I lived there. Admittedly, not so much in the middle of nowhere, where price is still king, but with the popularity of shows like Project Runway and Top Chef, I think people are realizing that there is value in making something original and making it well. I hope. :)-Elizabeth

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beth December 3, 2007 at 12:40 pm

Well, don’t despair. Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby, but I have a fabulous red geometric pattern cotton that was touted “Comparable to Liberty in Quality.” Having never actually touched or owned a Liberty fabric, I can only guess but my hunch is there will always be high quality cottons around somewhere. Far as I’m concerned, Liberty needs us more than we need them. They have only themselves to blame that you walked out of their store emptyhanded.

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Helen December 6, 2007 at 4:54 am

Erin, my heart goes out to you. My mother ran a dress fabric shop for 11 years and recently sold it to a young wipper-snapper who intends to move it more towards a haberdashers with access to fabric with which he will make you a dress. The problem is many-sided (as usual). My mother used to work for Libertys in Cheltenham, UK, before setting up her own shop when it closed. The inherent flaw with fabric retail vs ready to wear or even yarn retail is the cost of square footage vs return. All you have to do is look at 9+ a ball yarn vs 15+a metre fabric to realise the volume that fabric takes up does not return the goods. Also, my mum’s shop was sold largely due to her frustration with daily complaints by customers of ‘you just can’t find good fabric anymore…my what a beautiful selection…lovely, i’ll take four buttons please…i’ve got such a lot of fabric at home’. 10 years ago, off the rack wedding dresses didn’t exist and people truly bought wool fabrics at 15+ a metre because you couldn’t buy a ladies suit for under 150 and it represented an actual saving as well as a quality increase. While people protest that the fabrics are beautiful and if they had the stock, the customer would buy, in truth the majority of customers now want ‘something for nothing’ (including myself) and I simply won’t pay 19.95 for liberty wool when I know I can get it in Kensington or Shepherds bush for 10 – as Erin herself has demonstrated. It is a very sad state of affairs but one that I fear will take a wholesale shift in consumer trends to rectify. Customers no longer see clothing as investment pieces so why should fabric shopping be any different? I sympathise and will write a letter because the weights available in Liberty fabrics is abysmal (shirt… hankie…spring frock…anything else????) but I understand their position. The underground rumblings of craftiness in the community is heartening but I’m unsure that they represent enough of an earthquake to effect a business with a high-cost location such as Libertys on Regent Street is.Happy sewing, all!!xxx

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Leila Amin January 4, 2008 at 5:11 pm

Hi everone.Just A socking news for all lovers of liberty fabrics. i found a shop which looks like Alladin Cave. It so big and massive in liberty stock. You must see it. You name it, they have it. Their website is: http://www.shaukat.co.uk. I am saying this because i know you will love it and will appreciate my comment.

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Andrea September 28, 2009 at 11:06 am

I went there last week and I think the haberdashery section has shrink even more than when I visited last year. They seem rather busy every time I go, or rather, theyve lessened staff service. Still beautiful fabrics, I cant help but buy something when Im there!

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