Fabric shopping in China – Beijing
I thought China, being the home of silk, would be a fantastic place to go shopping as a sewer. I was right, in a way, just not in Beijing.
On our first few days in Beijing I noticed with great excitement something on the map labeled “Silk Market”. It’s on Subway line 1, station Yong’anli and described thusly “Beijing’s most famous and well visited indoor shopping market, open daily 09:30-21:00 with all types of garments, bags, shoes, fabrics. Bargain successfully! Tailors available in the fabric section.”
So naturally I went there as soon as I could drag my poor parents with me.
The Beijing subways system is a bit odd at first but once you get the hang of it, it’s very easy. All the ticket machines have an ‘English’ button, so press that. You’ll then see a map of the subway. Select the line you want, then the station you want, and the number of tickets you want. Then it’ll tell you how much money to put in and issue you single use ic cards. It was very cheap. One way was 3 yuan, or about 60 yen!
Before going down to the platforms, you have to go through an airport-style security check with bag scanning and metal detecting gate.
After that you scan your card to go through the gates.
The signs on the platforms were pretty clear, and always in English. People are a bit more pushy than in Japan, but nothing major. All in all the subways in China were very nice.
At Yong’anli station there were plenty of signs for the silk market and even a special exit directly into the building. There’s even loads of posters up showing world leaders and famous people visiting!
So now the disappointing bit.
The Silk Market
It’s basically a mall. By far the great majority of the shops sold regular clothes, shoes, bags etc. Only a tiny fraction of shops had bolts of fabric, but they seemed to be far more interested in making the clothes for you than selling the fabric.
The shop staff were also very pushy. I like to take my time when fabric shopping. Wondering around, feeling fabric, checking prices and trying to match fabrics up with patterns in my head. But I couldn’t do that because the staff were constantly on top of me. I found it all so off putting I just kept moving on shop to shop.
It was also, rather unsurprisingly given the name, all silk. Very high end, lovely silk, but the stuff that’s very tricky to sew with and easy to mess up. It was also quite pricey – very beautiful – but too expensive for me to buy when I’m not confident in sewing it. I was hoping for more of a variety or range in prices.
We walked round and around, and of this large 6-story building only 2 floors contained some shops that sold silk. As I said it was mostly normal clothes or tourist tat.
So all in all, a real disappointment.
Especially considering the shopping situation in Shanghai – I would give the Silk Market in Beijing a miss.
Wangfujing Shopping Street
This was described to me as “Where cool, rich, young people go to shop”. It’s right by the Forbidden City, so I skipped the shops to go admire the history. However when I was telling the tour group about the disappointing Silk Market. One of the women told me about two fabric shops on this street. So I went to investigate.
Luckily our hotel was nearby so we just walked. And about half way down we found the shops.
This time the range was much greater, and the shops were huge. The staff weren’t quite so aggressive but didn’t leave you alone.
The main issue was the price. Towards the cheaper end I found these two. As you can see it’s around 400 yuan per meter, 60 usd/meter and it’s only 114cm wide, so you’d have to buy more meters than usual.
I know you’re supposed to bargain in places like this (our guide suggested to go for under 50% of the original price), but I just don’t feel comfortable doing that. So I decided this time not to buy anything. We ended up in the nearby food market gawking at horrible things on sticks. Which I would recommend – so interesting.
So if you’re looking to buy fabric in Beijing I’d recommend:
- Being really good at sewing silk
- Knowing what you’re going to make. And have the pattern info on hand.
- Work out before hand you’ll need with a narrower bolt of fabric.
- Being good at bargaining (with staff with low English ability)
- Or bring along a Chinese friend and ask them to haggle for you
There really is some absolutely gorgeous silk in Beijing. Maybe I’ll head back next year when I’m a better sewer.
See my review of Shanghai for a totally different experience