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Fabric Shopping in Chiang Mai: The Experience

gaye of notionally better

I can’t actually describe my fabric shopping trip in Chiang Mai without first raving about my new friend Gaye of Notionally Better. She drove into Chiang Mai from nearby Lampang to spend the day taking me shopping. I guess it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that two sewists could instantly become friends, because sewing people are great people, but, after only one day of hanging out, I adore this woman! I had a brilliantly fun day fabric shopping and much of it was due to Gaye’s wit, friendliness, energy, and enthusiasm! So many thanks to Gaye for taking the day to play with me!

Warorot market

All of the fabric stores that we went to were around the Warorot market, a daytime market that is centered around two multi-story buildings but extends out into the streets and lanes nearby. All of the fabric shops that we went to were on the small streets nearby. Unlike many other markets in Chiang Mai, the Warorot market isn’t just a tourist market, so it offers a very interesting glimpse into daily life, which I love to see when traveling.

chiang mai fabric store

I had grand intentions of putting together a little map pointing out the fabric stores we went to to make it easy for someone to follow in our footsteps, but I quickly realized that it wasn’t going to be possible. All of the store names were in Thai (duh) and very few of them also had English translations. The street names were the same, if I could even see a street name. I’m also directionally challenged, and we doubled back a few times as we left our trajectory to get a drink or use the toilet. Even Gaye got turned around at times, and she speaks Thai and shops for fabric in Chiang Mai regularly! So, my words of direction to anyone that does want to fabric shop in Chiang Mai? Go to the Warorot market and start wandering around. You’ll stumble into the fabric stores, and that’s all that matters!

organized fabric store

Most of the fabric in most of the stores was very similar to what I could buy in the States, with three major differences. 1) Unsurprisingly, it was significantly cheaper. 2) No name brands, although Gaye did tell me that she ran into a bolt of Robert Kaufman fabric recently. I did see some signs trying to claim that there were designer fabrics, but a little bit of savvy will refute the fact that the boucles are “Channel”. 3) There were almost no knit fabrics.

fabric store chiang mai

There are two major reasons that I didn’t see any knits. First, the weather is hot here almost all the time, and wovens are more comfortable in the heat. The other reason is that nobody sews their own clothing here. Ready-to-wear clothing is cheap and plentiful (everything is made in China and China isn’t very far away) and tailors aren’t that expensive. What about all those fabric stores you went to, you might ask? People buy fabric at the fabric stores to take to tailors.

cutting fabric

I will admit that it was delightful to have someone that spoke Thai with me to ask questions and request fabric to be cut. However, most people speak a bit of English and pantomime and a calculator go a long way in communicating, so if you’re not lucky enough to have Gaye along with you, don’t be afraid. Interestingly, many of the fabric stores are owned by people of Indian heritage and they tend to speak flawless English.One oddity is that the fabric comes in different units of measure. Most go by the meter, although we found some by the yard, and occasionally they are in a historic unit of Thai measure. I mostly encountered the last unit in pre-cut lengths of fabric where 1 unit corresponded to 2 meters.

mudmee thai cottons

It is definitely possible to find Thai fabrics at the Warorot market that you won’t find back home. The stores with generic Western fabrics (with storefronts that look a lot like the L.A. fashion district) tended to have only that, or the Thai style fabrics that they carried were actually just designs printed onto cheap material. With a bit more exploration, you should be able to find at least a handful of stores that carry beautiful cottons woven locally, in northern Thailand.

favorite chiang mai fabric store

This is the sign in front of my favorite store where I bought (and even made a second trip back to get more, patient husband in tow!) gorgeous mudmee (the Thai word for ikat) cotton. I highly recommend seeking them out however you are able if you too are fabric shopping in Chiang Mai!

hmong trims wawrarot market

The one store for which I did get an address carried Hmong (a northern hill tribe) embroidered trims and panels as well as some finished garments. Pan Dao Wa Nish Shop – 44/5 Chang Moy St. Lane 1. It’s definitely worth a stop to ooh and ahh over all the bright, gorgeous geometric designs!

Comments 22

  1. We did have a good day, didn’t we? And I was thinking exactly that about a fabric shopping map after our day out. I’m going to start working on it.

    1. Hi Gaye,

      I am coming to Thailand to find some authentic fabric. I’m really looking to see where the woman and men weave the fabric. I would like to find a very underground experience. I’ve been researching a little bit and will be doing a lot more before I head there in August. Any pointers, small villages etc., that you can suggest would be greatly appreciated. I can also be reached via my email if that is easier.
      Thanks you Erin for posting this and the knowledge I’ve gained so far from what you have shared.

      1. Hi Kristin I’m sitting in Chang Main and spent the morning visiting the Silk Village shop and also and umbrella making shop at the Craft village well worth a visit to both

  2. Wow, how much fun was that?!?!? Thanks for this tour. I doubt I will ever make it to Thailand, but if I do, I will be referring to this post!

  3. I have also been to Chiang Mai and found lots of 100% cotton for quilting. Unfortunately I cannot find the right stores in Bangkok. Can someone please advise where to go in Bangkok?

    1. Post
      Author

      I didn’t actually make it fabric shopping in Bangkok since we were only there for a day at a time as we flew in and out, but I’d be interested in hearing any recommendations in case we ever make it back!

    2. In Bangkok go to China World, a shopping mall entirely devoted to fabric! It’s a one edge of China Town. Taxi drivers in the area can take you there.

  4. Hi there! Any lycras or spandex fabrics that you came across at all in Chiang Mai? Travelling to Thailand in October and was told it would be great for my dancewear business but am struggling to find many lycra / spandex sources. Am now contemplating whether I need to switch my travel plans as it is purely for the business :( Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    1. Post
      Author

      Sorry, but I saw very few knits, much less lycra or spandex. That doesn’t mean that they don’t exist since I was primarily trying to find local cottons and silks so I probably would have looked right past them. Sorry I can’t be more help.

  5. Hi
    We are looking for ready-made mudmee style clothing, where we can find? If it’s difficult then have to follow directions given in you lovely and informative post. :)

    1. Post
      Author

      I’m sorry, I don’t know anything about purchasing ready-to-wear clothing. I am sure that the fabric stores could point you to a reputable tailor that could make them for you from your fabric selection. Good luck!

      1. Thank you very much for guidance. Mudmee cotton fabric is available in Chiang Mai? Any place you recommend to shop for. I will be travelling to Thailand in Middle of next month, hoping it will not be that hot during that time :)

        1. Post
          Author

          Yes, mudmee cotton is available in Chiang Mai. I don’t know of any specific addresses, but I found at least a couple different retailers in the Wararot market. This blog post shows a picture of the sign of my favorite, although I don’t know how to give any more specific directions. Perhaps your hotel or a local guide could help you find them based on the sign? Enjoy fabric shopping!

    1. Post
      Author

      I’m not sure where to buy jersey material in Chiang Mai. Most of what is sold is woven because it’s more comfortable in heat. I would look around the Warorot market as there were many vendors that had a large variety of fabrics.

  6. Thank you for this ingenious post!
    I have been shopping in Warorot once, years ago, and your post proves me it is worth going back! Probably today already.
    I am so excited!

  7. So glad I have stumbled across your blog! I am going out to Chiang Mai for fabrics for windbreaks- would like to get them run up out there – any suggestions of where to go for this? I am going next month. Thanks in anticipation…

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