Thursday, June 3, 2010

Why Hardware Shopping Might Possibly Be Better Than Fabric Shopping

.... or How To Shop For Hardware After Years Of Only Shopping For Fabric
.... or Why I Am In Danger Of Liking Home Depot More Than JoAnn
.... or Why Hardware is a Viable Shopping Alternative to Textiles

Pop quiz - true or false?

1 Men shop for hardware and women shop for fabric.
2 Fathers shop for hardware and mothers shop for fabric.
3 Children behave better in fabric stores than in hardware stores.
4 Shopping carts are better in fabric stores than hardware stores.
5 The staff in fabric stores are more helpful than the staff in hardware stores.

In the old days before children, I was actually quite good
at shopping. I actually browsed. I left the house without a
shopping list. I meandered across the aisles in malls and
markets and got a real upper body workout carrying vast
numbers of shopping bags in and out of different stores,
buses and trains. Then I got a car and discovered the boon
a trunk (or boot, as we call it back in Singapore) is to
shoppers - suddenly I was enabled to buy ten times as
much. Those were good days.

I am now a mother of three small children, though.
I still prefer the physical shopping experience to its
online alternative, but I no longer indulge. My idea of
an upmarket buying experience is good old Target,
and if I get time off to myself, I might even drive to the
nearest Supertarget, so I can get groceries, toiletries,
toys and clothes from one place.
My standards have hit rock bottom.

But I still, on a regular basis, pack the children in the
car and patronize fabric and craft stores. The staff at
JoAnn probably know me by sight, and once, one of
the cutting ladies actually told me, "I think that's
enough fabric. Why not come back next week?" and
that was on a day my children were behaving well.
Shocking service, yes, but they probably think that
they were helping me save money.
More on that stellar fabric store service later.

Fabric and notions can only take a person so far, so I
thought I'd try other options. My husband, who hates
shopping, really seems to enjoy his (children-less) visits
to Home Depot and other hardware spots, so I figured
they must really be fun stores. And so I went to check
them out. Again and again. Oh, I am such a hardware
shopping rookie. I know nothing. I ask dumb questions.
But I like hardware stores. I might even like them a
leeetle bit more than fabric stores. Here's why:

1 Because They Have Cooler Shopping Carts
Stop rolling your eyes, people. Yes, you folks who click on your mouse button to buy fabric. Those of us tactile types who've been to the small-chain fabric stores will know that they either only have baskets big enough for fat quarters, or they have mismatched carts that have look suspiciously like they used to belong in oriental grocery stores. The big chain fabric stores have carts with nowhere to put both an infant seat and bolts of fabric without entombing the poor child. And let's not even talk about the bits of fabric remnants trapped in the wheels that make those happy vehicles skew sideways right into the glass panes in the framing department. True, there are probably no carts at the smaller hardware stores, but Home Depot and Lowe's boast carts that are shaped like racing cars. And have room for multiple children. If I were a child, I'd know which kind of carts I'd like to ride in.

2 Because hardware stores have lots of men in them.
It is a fact - men like solving problems. Sometimes that drives us crazy. But in a store, that is a good thing. It means you can saunter in, hold up a mangled piece of who-knows-what from under your kitchen sink and ask for help. They will probably know what to do, and we will be completely happy to let them be smug as they do it and not feel like our feelings weren't validated. Hello - gender stereotyping here, I hear you say. Plenty of gals work in Home Depot, too. Yes, and I love them all - they're the ones who hand out suckers to my kids.

3 Because Their Motto Gives Us Hope.
The Home Depot promised* "You Can Build It; We Can Help"; Lowe's invites you with, "Let's Build Something Together."
One time in a fabric store I asked a staff member which size needles I needed for sewing cotton and she whispered to me, "I don't know; I don't sew". Ah.
*Which they stood behind for years before they recently changed it to "More Saving. More Doing".

4 Because They Respect Your Privacy
Hardware staff never ask you what you are building and never roll their eyes if you volunteer to tell them. They probably know you have a project in mind that you don't want to talk about in case that jinxes it to hopeless failure. Or maybe no project is too weird in the hardware world. In fabric stores, however, I've had to invent excuses not to discuss my unusual sewing endeavors with the cutting staff because they just cannot wrap their minds around "oviparous chicken" or "suckling pig" or "tube for PVC piping".

5 Because Hardware Store Staff Never Share Their Personal Parenting Experiences With You
I must say upfront that I love the longsufferingness of the staff at Joann when it comes to putting up with my children. They don't raise their eyebrows when I pull out candy from my purse. They don't turn a hair when my children pick out all the pink spools of serger thread and replace them in the blue row. But when I am in the cutting line, I'd much prefer if the cutting ladies just cut my fabric and sped me on my way to the checkout instead of holding me captive (literally) with their grandchildren's school adventures and the state of Young People's Technological Dependence Nowadays. All very friendly phatic communion, but as one finally pushes one's cart thankfully towards the checkout, one very naturally wonders, "Did she say that because my child was playing with my cellphone? I am a bad mother!" It is a classic symptom of BloggySewer-itis. And to have it flare up in a fabric store just adds insult to injury.

6 Because They Will Help You Load Your Vehicle With Heavy Purchases
whereas no one in a fabric store has ever offered to help me carry my 100 kg of fabric out to my car.

7 Because Their Aisles Are Numbered And Labeled And Stationary
There is someone clearly right-brained behind the organization of fabric stores because the displays change location regularly. I'm not talking about the seasonal Easter egg or scarecrow displays. I mean the bolts of outdoor canvas that keep moving around so that I have to hunt for them. One time they were with the storage containers. Then they got moved next to the snuggle flannel prints. Now they play hide and seek with me from behind the upholstery department.

8 Because Their Dangerous Displays Are Clearly Indicated
They are called Power Tools. Or Noxious Adhesives. Or Heavy Lumber. Or something like that. Frighteningly, the most dangerous displays in a fabric store lurk among the most innocuous of their stock. You know the kind I mean - the printed bolt that from a distance looked perfectly at home among the calicos but, as you unsuspectingly approached it, came mobidly into focus as the coral-lobster-motif-against-forest-green-ferns-on-brown-gingham-checks-background-with-bananas-accent polyester apparel fabric that someone (and who can blame them) chucked there before they ran away screaming. Scarred retinas aside, we don't even want our children exposed to such combinations - so keep them close to you in fabric stores.

So yes, a lot of potential in hardware stores. But to show you that I'm not all starry-eyed, I will share one point against them: they do not have 40%-off coupons. Or 20%-off Senior Citizen Day discounts. Or Bring A Friend And Get 10% Off Your Total Order sales. I imagine it is because the majority of hardware store patrons don't go shopping with their friends to, say, build a lumber stash, of which they might take pictures to post on blogs. Hm.

So for the coupons, and the irresistible lure of fabric, I will continue to slink sheepishly through the doors of all my favorite textile shops. But I have also found a new haunt in hardware stores, whose aisles promise a heightened level of weirdness to my projects, and that makes me happy. Hello, my name is LiEr. I am a hardware shopping rookie. I know nothing. I ask dumb questions. In which aisle may I find the thingamajig tubes to make a teepee frame?

P.S. Answers to pop quiz = all false, in case it wasn't glaringly obvious.


  1. LOVE your insights today! I was already partly converted to craft shopping in hardware stores, but you may have convinced me to switch permanently. Added bonus: Our local Bunnings hardware store has a kids playground that kids can't get out of once in :)

  2. One of the other drawbacks for hardware stores for me, is the cement flooring. I cannot stay long in a home improvement store without my knees making me regret it.

    Of course I cannot spend much time in a fabric store without my kids making me regret it.

    My husband has worked for Home Depot and Lowes. He's currently working for HD, which I kind of like better... except Lowes used to have employee discounts of 20%. Spouses even got their own card to get the same discount. HD gives no employee discount. Ever. They used to give out one-time-use cards each Christmas season, but stopped that a few years ago. :(

    We have a lot of improvements to our home thanks to my hubby's job (he can score awesome clearance stuff). But sometimes I would trade all that for some really sweet fabric. *sigh*

  3. So funny! And so so true! I love the bigger carts, bigger isles. I have "entombed" my poor children so often in those teeny carts that always have a bum wheel! You are hilarious to compare them side by side. I must say, my boys are much better in a home improvement store than a fabric store. And they are satisfied with a few nuts and bolts to take home that cost pennies!

  4. Best. Post. EVER!!

    I am cracking up over here, trying to explain to my husband why I'm laughing... "Fabric stores versus hardware stores! ...oviparoius chickens! ...100 kg of fabric!!"

    After reading all your observations, I could SWEAR we shop at the same JoAnn. Sadly, I'm pretty sure "The JoAnn Experience" is the same no matter the location.

    Thanks again for today's post; I needed a good laugh!

  5. I have been a hardware store junkie since I was a kid and Dad would take me, the oldest of four girls, with him while he shopped for his latest project.
    While I have had stellar service in fabric stores (I live in Japan;) I have also had poor service from clueless teenagers in hardware stores (when I lived in WA and CA).

    There are great "cross-overs" that I always found interesting. I always had my own tools and noted that crafty versions of things (say, for jewelry making) were really just smaller wimpy girly versions of what I already had (needle nosed pliers have a million uses). And zip ties rock.

    It's nice to see that many a crafter has learned the same things. When I am stateside at a hardware store I never feel the least bit out of my element. Handiness is a form craftiness.

  6. This gave me a laugh- thank you!

    There are no fabric stores around. The nearest is an hour away and carries only quiltfabrics...;-)

    Oh, and the fabric shops that used to be around- they never had a cart! They were tiny and stuffed and you had to really look closely if you wanted something. There should have been a sign outside: "no pets, no ice-cream, no kids"...

  7. So much truth in this post! I can't tell you how many times I've asked for help at the JoAnn Fabrics only to discover that I know more than the staff - and I don't know that much about sewing or fabric types! And when I ask where something is, they hardly ever know themselves...

    Also, have you discovered the free workshops for children at Home Depot and Lowes? We built catapults there recently!

  8. Oh, I so love your writing!!! If one day you have so much time that you can not fill it with kids, sewing and blogging anymore - you should write a book! I would definitely buy it! I love funny books! :-)

  9. Just remember the "rule of three" and Hardware Stores are fine. It never fails that to do a project, I have to make three trips to Home Depot!.......

    Fabric stores are less expensive for me since I can usually get a project done with only one trip there.

  10. You are the best, Lier!!!

  11. You speak truth. One potential problem with this divided love, hardware stores and fabric stores speak different languages. The 1 1/2 inch diameter pvc pipe that a teepee pattern calls for, doesn't mean the pvc pipe labeled 1 1/2 inches, it means something different. And the different languages create problems for the mother who makes a teepee for her children for Christmas (and then proceeds to have a c-section) and finds out Christmas morning that the casings are way too small and that her machine's feet died and that the only person who can save the present is her mother, who just happens to be there to help with the new baby.

  12. I had to $10.00 off coupons for Home Depot. My kids won them during the football playoff's. They also do games during 4 of July weekend. Also, Home Depot is getting crafty, they sell the Provo Craft Cricut. They know us crafters are shopping there.

  13. you crack me up!

    I have to totally agree with your assessment of JoAnn's fabric!

    I'm sending my husband over to read your post because for now, we stick to our respective stores in a very gender-stereotyped way.

    I've taught my children that a trip to the fabric store is a treat :)

  14. Definitely a fan of Home Depot. I may be inexperienced at Home Depot and at JoAnn's, but Home Depot is nicer about it,

  15. Yeah my Joann's sounds the same too. I hate when they keep pushing to know your project and then when you tell them, you get this sarcastic comment like "oh really, with...THAT fabric". Pffft
    I love home depot here, every time i go in one of the guys working there is more then happy to help me and never looks at me sarcastically for not knowing a term or for having a weird or unusual project. Most seem to think it's a cool personal challenge to help me find something neat for it. I LOVE HOME DEPOT!

  16. Love this post! Sometimes I fear JoAnns isn't going to allow me to buy fabric if I don't tell them what I'm making (as if I had any idea!), especially when they ask at both the cutting AND checkout counters! If pressed (pun intended), I usually say "aprons" or "some tops." Usually a lie...mostly I just drag the pretty fabric home and add it to the stash where I gaze upon it lovingly, but can't bear to part with it when a project comes, another trip to the fabric store must be made.....thanks again for the hilarious post!

  17. American fabric shops have trolleys? I am green with envy. AND our biggest hardware chain has the motto "You can do it when you B&Q it" making it clear that you're on your own with your hacksaw, buddy! On the plus side, the staff in the John Lewis haberdashery department all sew and are really helpful. As are most assistants in the UK fabric shops, so it's not all bad news from over the pond.

  18. Everything you said is so true! It is even worse taking kids to a thrift store for "supplies". Toys, books, and clothes all end up on the floor as you try to find treasures. I have decided I just have to go alone. Otherwise it feels like stress and not eye candy pleasure. Have you seen the blog Tools Are For Women Too. I plan on using that often for advice. I find your bog to be great inspiration for my toy projects and I applaud any mom for making homemade toys.

    easy toys moms can make

  19. Very funny. and my children don't behave in either!

  20. Oh, LiEr, I could spend all day in Lowes. Look:

  21. Love this post. I have had the same thoughts about the shopping carts.


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