My most recent lot of vintage sewing notions came from not Ebay, but a Philadelphian. Born and raised in Philly, both her mother and grandmother shopped nearby stores for fabric and trims. Can you believe it, a time existed without moodfabrics.com?!? I don’t know how they did it! Within the lot was this gem –hooks and eyes. The packaging was not like other vintage packaging. There was no fancy design – it was simply stamped with the name and address of where it came from. Easy Passyunk Avenue is synonymous with South Philly, but it isn’t close to Fabric Row, where most fabric and trim stores are located. When I was researching stores for my shopping guide, I learned that Maxie’s was originally located in the Italian market. An unlikely place – a meat store next to a fabric store? All of this pushed me to research Philly’s history a little more.
What is originally called “Der Ferder”, which means the fourth in yiddish, South 4th street was originally the center of Philadelphia’s Jewish community. It spanned from Lombard Street to Washington Avenue, and became a hub for kosher butcher shops, fish stores, dairy stores as well as pushcarts that sold everything from fruits and vegetables to fabrics, sewing supplies and sheets and curtains. By the 1920s, the more prosperous pushcarts moved to brick-and-mortar locations, and some still remain today. During the depression, Fabric Row ironically thrived as many people started making their clothes instead of buying them. It was during World War II that the street suffered. Supplying fabric to the government and armed forces came first and they were often left with no merchandise to sell to customers. Even though pushcarts were outlawed in the 1950s, the street continued to grow into a sophisticated fabric and trimming resource. Today, it is where I buy probably 30-50% of my supplies.
Philadelphia was also a reasonably sized manufacturing city for garment. It was never as big as New York, but was big enough to be considered one. Both Jewish and Italian immigrants worked as seamstresses in the sweatshops that dotted the city. Madalynne Studios is located in an old factory.
If you’re from or live in Philadelphia and have any bits of information I left out, please share! If you’re not from the area, does your city have a fabric center with similar history?