Fabric store

Can’t explore a coral reef? Try a discount fabric store

One of the great things about never going anywhere is that when you to do go somewhere, that’s really cool. I probably would have been happy to walk into an interior space and be surrounded by walls other than my own. And there I was, wandering this amazing soft, shiny world of fabric in Pilsen. And not just fabric: spools of ribbon and thread, buttons and glittery fringes. But mostly cloth, in large log-shaped bolts, in pieces on the ground, torn off in dizzying leaves for inspection.

I wish I could say I went there because of my relentless journalistic curiosity, exploring every corner of the city, looking for the new and the fantastic. But you don’t have to go anywhere for that: a fire hose from the incredible – most of the time unbelievably bad news from Washington – hits you in the face every day. Hard.

The reason is ordinary. Many are renovating homes they’ve been stuck in for six months and will stay that way, God knows how long. My wife and I, despite my claims to the contrary, are ordinary commuters. We’re renovating the TV room, which has the same spooky white linoleum floor and dismal blue walls it had when we bought the place 20 years ago.

Over the past six months, we’ve finally got a good look at the two sofas the boys have spent 15 years jumping on and squirting cans of juice on. We had to go there immediately. When I dragged him down the street and saw his tears and stains in the light of day, I was sincerely ashamed, embarrassed to have sat him on the sidewalk, proof of our invisible inner lives. I was afraid the neighbors would think less of us. “Look what the Steinbergs had in their house!” “ We North Shore guys can make such a judgment, and no judgment is more welcome than one that confirms our superiority over someone else.

It’s not just rolls of fabric at Textile Discount Outlet in Pilsen. There are spools of ribbon and thread, buttons and sparkly fringes.
Neil Steinberg / Sun-Times

The other sofa had a little hope. Bought in present day of Flush, Pre-Kids, Marshall Field’s Henredon. The shredded fabric, yes. But good bones. A battleship from a sofa. Maybe we could pad it. On my way to Calico Corners, me trotting after my wife like an obedient dog. It turns out that the fabric is expensive – $ 50, $ 100, $ 150 per square meter. Probably more; we weren’t looking for high end fabric, just something that wouldn’t abrade our skin.

A helpful upholsterer told us we needed to go to Textile Discount Outlet, 2121 W. 21st St.

So we went. As I walked in, my senses almost stopped. A case of mannequins modeling what looked like sequined outfits for circus acrobats, a long table where women were measuring bolts of canary yellow satin. And the prices: $ 5.95 per meter. $ 10. $ 15.

But that wasn’t why I was so upset. Maybe I’m used to suburban ordering, at Target and Costco, wide aisles polished by squads of workers. It was cluttered and dirty, the aisles cluttered. Stairs blocked by caissons.

Textile Discount Outlet is not a sterile and tidy suburban store.  Fabrics, rugs and other items are stacked.

Textile Discount Outlet is not a sterile and tidy suburban store. Fabrics, rugs and other items are stacked.

There was something about the shapes: the round rolls of fabric, seen from the end. They were like living organisms, like sea creatures, seabed anemones with orange and yellow tendrils stirring nutrients in their round, glowing mouths. Walking the aisles was like snorkeling on a coral reef.

The whole place sang of the diversity of Chicago life. Most of the fabric could not fit on our sofa as it was for a sari or sarong, prom or wedding dress. Bright pinks and greens and oranges, gold thread and sparkling silver.

The bright explosion of life and happiness that freaks out Republicans so much as they pursed their lips and tried to choose between white and off-white – do they dare? The place has three floors spread over half a block and I think I looked at every bolt. I was there for hours, so long that I took a lunch break – Taqueria El Mezquite at the 18th and Wood, in a cute little courtyard – and returned for more.

Yes, it occurred to me that I was risking my life for fabric. But everyone was masked and kept their distance, as best they could in the cramped aisles. I was also probably in danger of losing myself irreparably and wandering around until my strength was exhausted. My skeleton would be in a dark, remote corner of Textile Discount Outlet. But it is worth the detour. And no, I didn’t find the right fabric. Maybe next time.

Huge rolls of fabric on display at the Textile Discount Outlet in Pilsen, 2121 W. 21st St.

Huge rolls of fabric on display at the Textile Discount Outlet in Pilsen, 2121 W. 21st St.
Neil Steinberg / Sun-Times

Shiny and shiny fabric bolts.

Some fabrics at Textile Discount Outlet, 2121 W. 21st Street look more like gift wrap than fabric.
Neil Steinberg / Sun-Times