Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Shopping for Fabric in NYC


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While I was out on my recent travel excursions – I went to visit three of my sisters who live in the Northeast – I was able to pop into New York City for a short bout of fabric shopping.

The Garment District in NYC features some great fabric shops, where, if you have the stamina and the guts, you can spend days exploring fabric inventory.

I didn’t have days, let alone stamina and guts. I had a day, and more specifically, a morning. And while I could have spent that entire morning in one fabric shop, I didn’t want to spend my short time in shops with overwhelming inventories. It’s just too much, and I’m not that kind of shopper.

I was thrilled to receive a very kind recommendation from a reader for a place in NYC to shop for linen, and after giving one of the larger shops on my list a quick glance-over (and determining that it wasn’t for me), I decided to seek out this particular recommendation. I’m so glad I did!

Gray Line Linen Corporation linens, NYC

Tucked into a bright, clean, quiet, narrow shop on 37th Street in the Garment District in New York City, I found my own particular slice of Linen Heaven.

Gray Lines Linen, Inc. is a small shop featuring a lot of linen! As soon as I walked through the door, a particular sort of happiness fell upon me.

Perhaps it was the relief at finding a manageable-sized store. Perhaps it was the bright lighting and the clean store. Perhaps it was the friendly greeting. Perhaps it was the walls lined with bolts of delectable linen. I suspect it was a combination of all of the above. But whatever the case, it was pure relief to walk on in!

Gray Line Linen Corporation linens, NYC

Gray Lines features all kinds of linen, but I have to admit, their selection of striped linen grabbed my attention before anything else.

I love striped linen. Whether it’s used for toweling, for household furnishings and decor, curtains, Roman blinds, tote bags – I’m drawn to striped linen! And golly, do they have a fabulous selection.

The linen that I toyed with at Gray Lines is European-made linen. I don’t know the exact countries of origin of the types that I handled, but they’re nice. I immediately loved the feel of the linen. Not scratchy, not over-coated with sizing. There was nothing about the feel of the linen that set off alarm bells. It was all Good Stuff.

Gray Line Linen Corporation linens, NYC

I love the stripes.

Oh, I love the stripes!

The problem is that, considering the linen from an embroiderer’s point of view, the striped fabric might not seem to be too useful. But I have ideas! Oh yes, I have ideas!

You know how it is, though. In retrospect, looking at my purchases now, I regret that I didn’t purchase some of this, some of that.

But guess what? They have a website! And shipping is less expensive than an average lunch in NYC.

Gray Line Linen Corporation linens, NYC

If stripes aren’t your thing, never fear! They abound in solids as well. This particular plain-weave linen is available in two weights – a lightweight 4.5 oz and a medium weight 5.5 oz – at 112″ wide. And at less than $25/yard, it is affordable.

I haven’t washed my selection yet or stitched on it, but it has a nice feel, and I’m eager to try it. It comes in white, oatmeal, off-white, and natural, so I picked up a little natural and a little white.

This linen is sold for bed sheets and similar projects, so I suspect it will wash well. I’ll let you know how it goes! (And no, I’m not making bed sheets…)

Gray Line Linen Corporation linens, NYC

This is what I walked away with. Stripes ruled the field, I’m afraid.

The light blue in the photo above is their handkerchief linen. It has a nice hand – it feels good. And they have a lovely selection of colors in it. This is another one I’m eager to work with, to see how I like it for stitching. But that blue – oh, it is So Lovely! I have no idea what I’m going to do with it, but I’m definitely going to test it for surface embroidery applications. It runs about $12/yard retail.

Strangely enough, given the amount of fabric and textile-related stores in NYC, this is the only fabric store I spent time in or bought any fabric from.

There are other interesting fabric stores that I’ve been to before in NYC – like LaLame, Inc, which sells a wide selection of ecclesiastical fabrics and trim – but since I’ve already been there and I can order from them online, I didn’t use my time that way.

Shopping on the NYC scale of things can be a bit overwhelming, especially when you don’t have a lot of time and leisure to devote to the pursuit.

If you live in the area or are visiting (one of my sisters lives about 2 hours from NYC, so I consider that “in the area”), your best bet is to take public transport into the city, and while you’re there, either to walk (especially if you’re shopping within one district) or to make use of public transportation, a taxi, or Uber (depending on your means). Do some research ahead of time so that you don’t waste a lot of time in places you aren’t really interested in. List your “absolutes” – a few places you know you want to explore – and then make a “maybe” list of possibilities. If you make it to your “absolutes,” you did well!

I only had three places that were “absolutes” on my list, and a few other places that were “maybes.” I made it to the absolutes, scratching one of them off completely as soon as I walked in and saw the scale of the place. It was too much for my interests. I spent the rest of my shopping time at Gray Lines Linen and one other place, and that was adequate.

I’ll share my other exploration (for beads) later on!

And I’ll share any findings about the fabrics I purchased as soon as I can start playing with them. For now, though, it’s back to the grindstone – I left a lot of work undone, and now it’s time to catch up!


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(24) Comments

  1. Lovely! What gorgeous linens!
    A friend shared this article Which I used as a reference when checking out the garment district. A few shops were no longer in business, sadly. But oh, the trims, laces, and beads..!
    (My sense of direction is woeful.. next time I need to remember which direction the one way streets I’m on are headed.. I mistakenly back tracked a lot!)

  2. I have to tell you that last summer I DID sew myself some linen sheets, and I. Love. Them!!! I had to switch them out for flannel once winter settled in (we heat with wood stoves in the woods of Maine, so bedrooms can get a mite chilly), but I am SO missing them. I did make the bottom sheet flat vs. fitted, so that made it a lot easier. But, don’t be afraid to try them. SO worth it!!

  3. Hi Mary.
    I’m glad your linen shopping in my home town was a success! I’m not a shopper in general, and I find the stores in the garment district very overwhelming. Gray Lines Linen looks like my kind of store, so I look forward to seeing how you like the linen after it is washed and you have stitched on it.
    I’m also looking forward to hearing about your bead shopping!

  4. Woohoo, perfect timing! I fly to NYC the day after tomorrow, and I haven’t been to Gray Lines…yet.

    I can hardly wait to hear your bead findings. Happily, I know I’ll be going back to the city: my daughter lives there. ❤️

  5. What a delightful shop and a beautiful goody bag you came away with! I liked your description ‘a particular sort of happiness’ … I can remember feeling similarly the one time I made it to the Knitting & Stitching show in UK … the feeling of ‘this is my kind of place’. And I feel similarly in bookshops and places that serve proper Afternoon Tea!

  6. I had explored Gray Line Linens website quite a while ago, got distracted and forgot all about them! It’s nice to hear an opinion of someone who was there and saw the goods IRL! I wanted to make a natural/oatmeal linen tablecloth and napkins for my dining room (which is actually very casual) and this just might be the source I needed!

    Happy to hear you had a good time and thanks for sharing!

  7. I love Gray Lines! My favorite NYC shop. I am from Canada and have made the trip to NYC for fabric shopping 4 times in the past 10 years. Like you, I always return with some scrumptious linen.
    Now that I know they have a website, I think I am in big trouble… lol !!

  8. Yes, Mary, I shopped at the Gray Lines Linen store. Beautiful linen! I bought linen for a skirt and a blouse.

  9. Thanks for this post. Gray Lines has been bookmarked on my computer for a while, but with fabric one just never knows about quality. (Yeah, I know, samples, but where to start?)
    I’ll likely be ordering something from them.

  10. Hi Mary – I was surprised and intrigued when I saw the subject line of your newsletter in my Email – Mary Corbet! in the City?! Shopping for fabrics!! In that Garment District??!! Even I, Mary, dare not try it! Hahaha!!! Not since my younger years anyway!
    Gorgeous linens at that shop – I plan to go to their online shop so thank you for the connecting link. The feelings that overtake you at the busy shops is due partly to the vast amount of stock they carry, partly due to the less-than-quiltshop-pristine order, and part due to the heavy amount of frenzied energy that other shoppers bring with them, especially those who are looking for a particular cloth, in an exact weight and color, etc. The harried energy creates an “electric aura” and there is just no place to convert the energy so it dissipates! Into the charged atmosphere! Where others are hit in the face with it as soon as you enter the store! Not fun at all when you want a calm shopping experience. NYC has only a mere fraction of the fabric sellers compared to years ago. At least you had a chance to visit the Garment District before even THAT is gone!

  11. Mary, I also love linen fabrics (and my linen sheets and linen bath towels). I am planning to make an English paper pieced linen quilt. I will use larger paper pieces for linen that I do for cotton. Thanks for posting this great source!

    Note: instead of hexies, I use mostly honeycomb papers for EPP. I love the Lucy Boston Patchwork of the Crosses pattern.

  12. I thought I posted yesterday, but apparently not.
    Thanks for posting this fabric store review. I’ve had Gray Lines bookmarked for a while, but haven’t ordered because it’s hard to know the quality online. Sure you can send for samples, but how to choose which are representative, and all that.
    I’m likely to be ordering before long because we all need more fabric, right?

  13. Mary, I’ve seen that Leanne Beasley and a few others embroider on “handkerchief linen”. The ladies I’m mentioning are from Australia, and I know that the handkerchief linen is something that they have access to in Australia. Is there handkerchief linen available here in the States? Would they have that available at Gray Lines Linens? Any info you have would be welcomed! Thanks!

    1. Well, as I mentioned towards the end of the article when talking about the light blue linen, that’s their handkerchief linen.

      Yes, handkerchief weight linen is available here in the States. There are several companies that produce that weight. But if you’re looking for a linen that has the soft hand desirable for an actual handkerchief (you wouldn’t want something that’s in any way scratchy or anything…), I strongly recommend linen cambric. It’s available at Needle in a Haystack (www.needlestack.com). It’s distributed by Access Commodities, so if you have a local needlework shop, they may be able to order it for you. It doesn’t come in colors, though – just white. But it’s a fine, smooth, delicate linen, perfect for hankies.

      But if you’re just looking for typical light weight “handkerchief” linen, you will find it at the shop I’m writing about here in variety of colors. Ulster Linen also has a handkerchief weight linen in a variety of colors.

    2. Since your reply to Helen also mentioned Ulster Linens, I wondered if you’ve been there in person. I was impressed a decade ago by their brochure on “fine linens suitable for embroidery” and the prefinished (hemmed) linens from tea cozies to guest towels & 10.5″ handkerchiefs, and fabric by the yard. But I had no idea where their Islip location is so whether as a tourist in future to NYC it would be practical, or how the selections might be good temptations.

    3. I haven’t been. Islip is out on Long Island, though – you could definitely Google the location of the company and map it online, to see if it’s a practical day trip. I think, using public transport, it’d probably take an hour or more to get out there from the city.

  14. Dear Mary

    How exciting all those fabric shops you must have felt you were in fabric heaven, such a shame you only had a morning but I can see that you used your time well and selected only the interested shops. Still you bought a lot of fabric for a morning’s work well done and I can’t wait to see what you will make of them. I’m glad you were able to visit your family and I’m sure the short holiday was refreshing seeing family and shopping even if it was exhausting. Thank you for sharing with us your holiday fabric adventure and for the links to NYC Gray Lines Linen, Inc. Happy Sewing.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  15. Hi Mary,
    As always, I’m enjoying your feed. I tried finding Gray Line Linen on line and was taken to a landing page only. When I tried phoning the number listed, it was ok longer in service. Thoughts?

  16. Such fun reading about your shopping adventures. I must admit this type of shopping excites me! I can’t wait to hear about the handkerchief linen and what you use it for, the color is quite beautiful.

  17. Oh, that linen looks lovely! I am always amused by one Victorian embroidery book which describes designs for striped fabrics as “ticking works” – your projects should go like clockwork!

  18. Mary, thank you for the info about the Hankerchief linen. I started a quilt with the Hankerchief linen that I actually ordered from Leanne Beasley in Australia (ouch! the postage!!), so that is why I was interested in finding a source in the US. Thanks for the info!!! 🙂

  19. I’m very curious if your some of your linen perhaps bed-sheet linen has few wrinkles. I love the feel of linen and I love embroidering with it. I’m also wanting to find some good linen for pants. I’ve seen some that didn’t seem to wrinkle much when worn.
    Thanks for your blog. I enjoy reading and going on the adventures vicariously with you.

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