Yongle Market (永樂市場) on Dihua Street (迪化街) might not be the center of Taiwan’s textile industry anymore, but it’s still the place for professional designers and hobbyists to buy fabric and sewing supplies.
The market is currently located on the second floor of a somewhat rundown concrete structure tacked onto a colonial-era facade. It looks unimpressive, until you climb up to the second floor and discover the wonderland of fabric and notions within. The area was occupied by a garden until 1908, when it was converted into a marketplace under Japanese rule. Since the 1950s, the neighborhood has been known as the center of the fabric trade in Taiwan, but its economic importance has declined as textile production is outsourced to China and other countries.
Several big names in the Taiwanese fashion industry, including Isabelle Wen (溫慶珠), however, got their start in the area around Yongle Market, which is still home to many tailors and dressmakers. The Taipei City government plans to refurbish the current building by next year.
Fabric seller Howard Lu (呂國華), who wrote his masters thesis on the history of Yongle Market, hopes government agencies will also do more to promote the fabric market, as they do Dihua Street during the Lunar New Year. “If they make an effort to publicize it, it might become a real tourist attraction and not just a restroom stop for people shopping on Dihua. Fabric is such a core part of our lives. It’s with us every second,” says Lu.
SHOPPING IN YONGLE MARKET
Fabric stalls are crowded next to each other on the second floor and despite some rudimentary attempts at organization, it is easy for shoppers to experience feelings of deja vu as they meander around endless bolts of fabric. The stalls are divided into six “streets,” or aisles, so if you get lost, look for the green signs hanging overhead at the ends and in the middle of each aisle.
Most fabric is sold by the chi (尺) or ma (碼), measurement units that are equivalent to one-third or about nine-tenths of a meter, respectively. Yongle Market is located at 21, Dihua St Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市迪化街一段21號) and is open Mondays to Saturdays from 10am to 6pm and closed on Sundays.
Novelty prints from Japan are available in abundance at Yongle. Popular motifs include matrushka dolls, silhouetted figures of girls in fluffy skirts, shiny red apples, fairy-tale figures prancing around with woodland creatures and chubby mushrooms in colors not found in nature.
For one of Yongle’s largest selections of prints that mix kawaii sweetness with a retro twist, go to Lu’s store, Huahsing (華興, No. 2018, tel: (02) 2559-3960), where most of the cotton fabric is about NT$100 per ma. Linen with equally precious prints are about NT$390 per ma. Similar fabrics can also be found at Niaochufang (鳥居紡, No. 2076, tel: (02) 2552-1180). For neatly bundled 55cm by 60cm calico remnants for smaller projects, check out Hsinhe (欣和, No. 2053, tel: (02) 2559-3000).
A prodigious selection of gingham, plaid and striped fabric can be found at Wutangching (吳當慶, No. 2014, tel: (02) 2558-4964). Polyester gingham fabric is NT$90 per ma, while the 100-percent cotton version is just NT$15 more. Other stores that specialize in checked or striped fabrics include Yuanchun (元均, No. 2033, tel: (02) 2559-2574) and Hsinhsing (信興, No. 2031, tel: (02) 2555-5005). Chentehehao (陳德和號, No. 2057, tel: (02) 2556-3880) offers summer-friendly seersucker fabrics for NT$150 per ma and flannel for NT$180 per ma.
While there is an abundance of calico in Yongle Market, sewing actual quilts is less popular among Taiwanese hobbyists than smaller projects like purses. For a large selection of bag-making accessories, visit Lanshing (聯興, No. 2070, tel: (02) 2556-9665). Genuine leather handles are NT$460 to NT$890 per pair, while Japanese flannel in cozy heather shades is NT$700 and up per ma. Cute wooden buttons start at NT$30 each, while thick bundles of square fabric swatches, ideal for applique or small patchwork projects, are NT$200 each.
If you are sewing a fancy dress costume, head over to Chyang-Jih (強記, No. 2024, tel: (02) 2556-9051) for tulle at NT$20 per ma, shimmery organza for NT$125 per ma and other evening fabrics in synthetic fibers at very reasonable prices. Chungchaona (鐘昭娜, No. 2035, tel: (02) 2552-2000) specializes in fabrics for dance costumes. For a little bling, head up to Taitzu (太紫, No. 3033, tel: (02) 2550-8484) on the third floor, which specializes in belly dancing costumes, jeweled ribbons, appliques and other sparkly things. Hungchi (宏企, No. 2077, tel: (02) 2556-9406) sells ornately beaded lace fabric for NT$600 to NT$800 per ma, as well as flowery chiffon for NT$360 per ma. For something a bit more special, visit Chuanchanhsing (全展興, No. 2086, (02) 2559-9957) where beautiful silk panne velvet in soft, muted colors goes for NT$600 per ma.
Cosplay enthusiasts and furries can find supplies at Iyuan (乙元, No. 1201, tel: (02) 2558-4047) on the first floor, which has a good selection of novelty-print plush fabric. Fake fur in more realistic prints is also available at Yi Da Piece Goods (藝達, No. 2025, tel: (02) 2559-1554) and Chingchang (璟昌, No. 2091, tel: (02) 2558-8341).
Many stores proudly advertise imported fabrics from Japan and England, but traditional Chinese and Taiwanese designs are also in abundance at Yongle. Flaming pink or bright blue peony flower fabric, a Taiwanese classic that is commonly referred to as a-ma (阿媽), or grandma fabric, says Lu, is available at his stall at No. 2042 (tel: (02) 2550-4709), but is also plentiful throughout the market. Chiuhsing (久興, No. 2083, tel: (02) 2555-0610) specializes in silk, including Chinese brocade for NT$180 per ma and luscious charmeuse for NT$300 per ma.
Buttons and other closures are available at Liuchinmei (劉金美, No. 3030, tel: (02) 2550-6502) on the third floor, or head across the street to Chiehlangli at 11 Mingle St (介良裡布行, 民樂街11號, tel: (02) 2558-8527), directly to the south of Yongle Market. The store is one of the best-known purveyors of sewing notions, ribbons, lace and other supplies in Taipei and is open Mondays to Saturdays between 10am and 6:30pm.
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