AT Boston: Zimman’s Fabric - An Affair to Remember

Location: Lynn, MA

This is from our Boston finalist, Kyle. Comment away!

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I'm entwined in a passionate, lifelong love affair with… fabric.

I tack, nail, or glue it to anything that doesn’t have a tail (this policy protects my dog, but just barely). Through my redesign and organizing business, people often ask me where to buy new fabric. And when they do, I get starry-eyed and wide-smiled and my mind drifts away to not just a fabric place, but to a fabric palace: Zimman’s in Lynn, Massachusetts...

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Zimman's boasts “one of the largest selection of silks in the country”, including this delicious bin of Indian 100% silks, most of which are priced at $29.95/yd.

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Owned and operated by the Zimman family for 99 years, the store hosts “the most extensive selection of fabric styles, color palettes, textures and patterns available in the Northeast.” Plenty of people know of Zimman's but few brave the trek to this fabric mecca, fearing it's too far, too intimidating, and too expensive. It's time to sort fact from fiction.

It takes me 40 minutes to get to Zimman’s from Jamaica Plain; I might as well drive to Somerville in rush hour. Organize a carpool of Team Zimman’s friends and the trip will fly. Is Zimman's huge and overwhelming? It is. That said, if you equip yourself with enough time, the right mindset, and the knowledge that the store IS reasonably organized, then you'll have a rip-roaring time.

As you enter the giant store, the heavier upholstery weight fabrics line the left side of the store while the lighter drapery fabrics line the right with a mix of both down the middle. Within those sections, fabrics are roughly organized by color, style, and subtype of fabric (e.g. chenilles, velvets, silks, cotton prints). If your goal is to see every fabric in the store, you will wither and die. Seriously. I used to try it. Just scan what you can see without effort and tap into your gut reaction. And decorating rules are meant to be broken so explore the lightweight “drapery” fabrics for the seat cushion you need to cover.

It's true that Zimman's has some really expensive fabrics, upwards of $80/yd but that's much more the exception than the norm. There are plenty of amazing fabrics that fall in the $12.95 to $29.95/yd range, and some even lower in the famous Zimman’s Basement, where you can find multi-yard remnants for 60-90% off the original price! Zimman's may not have as many blatantly contemporary fabrics as say, Mood Fabrics in NYC, but it still has a very impressive collection of modern and transitional fabrics and the sheer assortment of styles is breathtaking.

If you can only spring for a small amount of Zimman’s fabric, there are plenty of projects that introduce a jolt of color with limited yardage (e.g. seat cushion, throw pillow, framed fabric, small shelf). Also keep in mind that home decorating fabric, particularly upholstery weight fabric, tends to be wider than drapery and crafting fabric, giving you more for your money.

As most addicts do, I feel guilty… about my non-secondhand fabrics. The textile industry leaves a pretty gigantic carbon footprint. I asked Michael Zimman if his store offers any eco fabric choices. Sadly, not much. He said his customers don’t seem to demand it and the price point starts higher than where he likes to keep his prices. So if you make the trip, please express an interest in organic, natural dyed fabrics – it’s up to us to create the demand. Meanwhile, here are some of my favorite online sources for eco fabrics: Near Sea Naturals (they carry the vibrant Mod Green Pod fabrics), Harmony Art, and Indika Organics.

Eco-angst aside, if I haven’t convinced you that a trip to Zimman’s will make your design-loving heart beat wildly and inspire you to concoct small ways to introduce big impact fabrics, then here’s a VERY condensed shout-out to some other fabric sources, beyond the ones referenced above:

Local fabric stores: Freddy Farkel’s Fabric Outlet in Watertown, Fabric Place in Newton & Framingham

Online: Virginia Johnson Fabrics, Repro Depot, Cia's Palette, Pamela Simon Vintage, Ebay for vintage fabrics

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CAPTIONS:

#1 - Zimman's boasts “one of the largest selection of silks in the country”, including this delicious bin of Indian 100% silks, most of which are priced at $29.95/yd.

#3 - These “highest quality” chenilles from Italy go for $36.95/yd. You can buy a 1/8 yard sample for any fabric in the store.

#4 - Tip: Sign up for Zimman’s email list online. It’s the only way you’ll be notified of their annual January sale, which Michael Zimman, the very relaxed current owner, reveals is “more like a party.”

#5 - In addition to fabric, Zimman’s carries a dizzying selection of passementerie, a fancy word for decorative trimming.

#6 - An anomaly in a sea of large racks and stuffed bins, this cabinet holds Marimekko fabrics. You can also find these closer to home at the Marimekko store in Cambridge, MA.

#7 - A sampling of Zimman’s fabrics and their price per yard from L to R: $19.95, $15.95, $16.95, $36.95. Unfortunately, you can’t view or order Zimman’s fabrics online.

#8 - I found some reasonably priced Zimman’s fabric to “wallpaper” my office/guest room wall.

#9 - To create a shelf over my toilet, I covered an old piece of wood with circle themed Zimman’s fabric to balance the plentiful square elements in my bathroom.

#10 - I love to recover old chairs & ottomans (L-R): secondhand vinyl tablecloth from a yard sale for seat cover; hand-me-down orange fabric for chair & secondhand drapery fabric from Urban Renewals in Allston for yellow pillow; green Chinese fabric from Van’s Fabrics to cover my trash-find ottoman. Each of these projects used a yard or less of fabric so they would have been good candidates for pricier Zimman’s fabrics.

- Kyle

(Thanks, Kyle!)

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