Craziest. Fabric store. Ever.

I know I’ve gone on a bit about this totally crazy place in Solvang where all the fabric is 99 cents a yard and you cut it yourself and pay in the cafe upstairs… well, I promise it’s even crazier than you think it is, and finally I have some photographic evidence.

Yes, this is a fabric store. I encourage you to click on the picture to enlarge it and check out all the things that are totally insane. Notice the strange 80s ad posters of people in bathing suits up on the back wall? The mysterious short section of wallpaper border on one of the beams? The network of pipes-as-display-mechanism is maybe the least odd thing about this room. I’ve found pieces of fabric in here that range in length from one to fifty yards (I didn’t measure, there was a handwritten tag indicating the length). And this is just the first room. The other rooms have mostly bolts rather than pieces, though there are piles of small pieces too:

 

This is, I imagine, why I’ve found reference to this place being called the “Fabric Barrel”. There are about 6 rooms in total, of various sizes, spread across the basement floor of a big building. The doors to all the rooms are just open to the breezeway outside, and the first time I went it was about a half an hour before I saw anybody at all in the place.  There is someone who oversees it, I met her the first time I was there, but since then I haven’t seen anyone who works there in the fabric rooms when I’ve been browsing.  The signs all read “Find something you like? Bring it to the cafe to pay” and indeed, that is what you do.  There are tables scattered around with measuring tapes stuck to them and scissors are provided to cut off what you want:

Then you take your stack of fabric upstairs to the cafe and tell the woman at the register how many yards you have and she rings you up (there is tax, if you were wondering, so my 10 yards the other day came to $10.68 or something). The cafe is actually a separate building, but it’s all the same complex.

The first time I went here, I literally spent the whole time muttering, “what? what?! why?!” under my breath.  It is one of the strangest places I have ever encountered. Oh, and I also walked out with 17 yards of fabric. Don’t get me wrong, the place is bizarre, but I also kind of love it. Much of the fabric is terrible polyester stuff or ugly prints or both, but there’s also a lot of solid colored rayon and cotton jerseys and the occasional really nice stretch poplin or flowy rayon. Some of the fabric looks like it’s been there for decades, and some bolts I see aren’t there anymore just a couple weeks later (who’s coming here and buying a whole bolt of something? Another mystery). The story, as I understood it from the woman I talked to on my first visit, is that they’re associated with a clothing company called “Jodi California” and they get all that company’s manufacturing bolt ends or things they didn’t use (though I think some fabric comes from the LA garment district, somehow), and the proceeds go to charity, hence the 99 cent price and lack of precise fabric stocking/accounting. The whole complex is known as Shelbi Ranch, and there are equally inexplicable clothing stores upstairs as well as a western museum of some kind (according to the signs, that is. I have not investigated further). It seems like a kind of local institution that everybody knows about but doesn’t find as delightfully odd as I do.

Some of the garments I’ve made from fabric I’ve found here are my blue and black contrast yoke shirt (this fabric is my favorite find so far), the gray shirt and the blue ruffle dress (both rayon knits, I think), charcoal jersey skirt (this fabric mysteriously had two perfectly round, 10 inch circles cut out of it in one corner), the border print elastic waist skirt, the teal halter dress (another rayon knit), baker’s twine kimono shirt (this fabric had been sewn into a tube and was on the bolt like that), and the polka dot faux wrap dress (another oddly cut piece – remnants of manufacturing, I guess?). And I’ve got a bunch more fabric from here waiting to be sewn up (including a bunch of knits and a couple cute plaid shirtings).

Overall I highly recommend stopping by and checking it out if you happen to be visiting Solvang (I don’t know why you would be, but lots of people do) or just passing through on your way up or down the coast. The “ranch” is located on 1st street just down from Copenhagen. It is surely odd, but a wonderful resource.  The only real problem is that now I’m basically unwilling to pay more than a dollar a yard for solid knit fabric… and it’s terrible food for my growing stash monster!

 

•     •     •

UPDATE March 2014: I’m afraid the CFS has closed for good. Their phone is disconnected and there are ‘Out of Business’ signs posted… It was too good to last. I’m so sad that our area has lost such a good, delightfully odd resource and I will sorely miss it!

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35 comments
  1. Nikki said:

    OMG what a place! It’s unbelieveable!!

  2. Bethany L said:

    I loved your post! The funniest thing is I was telling a friend about this amazing place but I couldn’t remember the name of the area and so I typed in “bolts of fabric solvang, ca” and lo and behold, here was your post complete with pictures! I also found myself in awe upon arriving quite by accident to this delightful place and like you, I also find myself now unwilling to pay full-price for fabric. Thank you for this post, it is nice to know I’m not the only one that has found this place fascinating.

  3. Olga Gressir said:

    Help!! Please, I need some help. I used to shop at the Barrel and they had bolts and bolts of a natural canvas that I need to get now. Can someone help us get this in Taos, New Mexico. We would pay for shipping and your time. Can you call me at 575 586 1055 and begin communicating about this or my email listed below.

  4. Linda Reynolds said:

    wonderful information but I’m wondering if they have quilter’s cotton as well as all the other fabrics you mentioned?

    • aleah said:

      Actually, no, they don’t really have any quilter’s cotton. It’s really all garment fabric, of wildly varying quality. There’s very little cotton at all really!

  5. trumbelinasews said:

    This place is my heaven. When we travel, I always visit a local fabric store. Now I want to plan a trip around this place.

  6. Roxan said:

    I tried to go today, but it closed “out of business” last month 😦

  7. Cyndi Looman said:

    Is the fabric store still there? I am going to be in the area and will make a detour to Solvang if it is still there.

    • aleah said:

      Well, I’m afraid it isn’t, sadly. Someone left a comment in the fall saying it had closed for good, and I confess I haven’t been there since last summer (when it looked like they hadn’t had an influx of new fabric in months). Also, their website, such as it was, doesn’t open anymore, and their phone number has been disconnected. If you have no other reason to go to Solvang, I wouldn’t make the detour.
      It was too good to last, I guess (although by all accounts it had been open for many years before I found it!)

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