WHO: Globe staff member Janice Page, Zoe Tseng (daughter, age 9), Carol Ostrum (sister),
and Ella Markianos (friend, age 10).
WHERE: Winmil Fabrics, Chinatown
WHAT: Shopping for fabrics
Even before “Project Runway” upped the cool factor for young people interested in fashion design and sewing, it was hard to beat a trip to the fabric store for cheaply dazzling family entertainment. Kids love baubles. Kids love colors. Kids love handling the merchandise. There’s nothing more tactile or visually satisfying than designing and making your own clothes. And if you happen to have a kid who loves navigating the card catalogs at the local library, wait till she or he discovers the hands-on adventure of choosing and pulling sewing patterns.
Though you can find such entertainment at a multitude of stores, I wanted my 9-year-old, Zoe, to experience the kind of place I remembered from my own childhood, when one could walk around Boston’s Chinatown and encounter a fabric shop about every 10 feet. So we headed over to Winmil Fabrics on Chauncy Street, a stubborn survivor of those days.
Full disclosure here: I can’t sew a stitch, which you would know if you could see the sad alligator pillow I made in sixth-grade Home Economics. My child, on the other hand, has a talent for such things, and she’s found a mentor in my sister, who takes after our late grandmother, a seamstress. We all made this trip together, and invited Zoe’s friend Ella to join.
We lunched on dim sum first, because it takes great stamina to shop for fabrics. What it doesn’t take is a lot of money — at least, not if you’re shopping with kids who are drawn to remnants. Zoe knew she wanted to make comfy pajama shorts. She flipped through some catalogs, chose a design she liked, then located that pattern in the correspondingly numbered drawer. We didn’t actually buy the pattern, since Zoe was enrolled in a sewing class the following week, but it helped us determine that we needed about a yard and a quarter of the adorable blue-green owl-print polar fleece she had found for $5.98 per yard. Ella, meanwhile, settled on making doll clothes out of an assortment of flashy fabrics priced as low as $2.98 per yard, which amounted to pennies per doll-size strip.
Winmil is a small mom-and-pop business. It’s not like Mood in Manhattan, where the “Project Runway” contestants seem to cover miles in search of the perfect bolt of cloth. But there’s still plenty to see and feel here, from shiny silk charmeuse to the sturdiest of wools. Not to mention dozens and dozens of scrumptious buttons and other notions that tempt like so much penny candy, or jewelry.
Maybe that sounds ridiculous. All I know is we left Winmil with several bags of inspired materials that seemed like a bargain, and Zoe’s sewing machine has been humming enthusiastically ever since. There’ll be homemade pajama shorts for everyone this Christmas.
Winmil Fabrics is at 111 Chauncy St., Boston. It’s open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. 617-542-1815.