Living in Seoul, I miss the convenience of jumping in the car and driving to my local Michael’s, AC Moore or Joann’s. And I definitely miss having access to 40% off coupons! Shopping for crafting supplies in Korea is much more of an adventure than a convenience, but once you get the hang of it, Seoul offers a veritable treasure trove of supplies for craft-lovers.
Dongdaemun Fabric Market is a 5-level (6 including the basement level), 4 building maze of everything a knitter/crocheter/sewer/crafter could possibly need. And if you’ve never been before, prepare to be amazed and overwhelmed. The easiest way to get there is by subway–come out Exit 9 at the Dongdaemun subway station (NOT Dongdaemun Stadium!). As you come up the stairs, this is what you’ll see:
Walk straight to find the doors that lead into this building. And this is where the chaos begins! Generally speaking, the floors are laid out like this:
B1: sewing notions (zippers, velcro, needles, etc.), thread (for hand sewing, machine sewing as well as sergers), yarn, knitting needles, crochet hooks, embroidery, bedding, home decor fabric
1: lace, ribbon, home decor fabric, decorative patches, buttons
2: fabric, curtains, silk goods, hanbok fabric
3: fabric (B-dong is specifically known for cotton fabric, both woven and knit)
5: accessories, sewing notions, quilting fabric, quilting notions, ribbon, jewelry supplies, felt (sold as sheets as well as on rolls by the yard)
6: cafeteria and offices
Shopping for Yarn
The basement level of Dongdaemun Fabric Market is a mash-up of quilting and home decor fabric, sewing notions, knit/crochet notions and yarn. Lots and lots of yarn. Shopping for yarn in Korea can be both exhilarating as well as frustrating. At times, you’ll marvel at just how much variety is available, but sometimes, you’ll wonder how anyone can afford to knit anything!
The prices at Dongdaemun are hit or miss. Generally speaking, I’ve found that notions such as knitting needles and crochet hooks are on par with prices at Michael’s and AC Moore, but there is significantly more selection, and there are definitely brands you’ve probably never heard off. If you’re like me and like what you like–bamboo needles and Clover brand crochet hooks–then you’re probably better off ordering online from American retailers, but if you’re just getting started or don’t mind trying out new things, then you’ll find lots of great deals on things like knitting needles. Despite my reluctance to stray from my Clover Soft-Touch crochet hooks, I’ve found a great brand of crochet hooks called Tulip that make a size 6.5mm/O (not easy to find in non-plastic needles). Same goes for yarn winders and swifts. The pricing at Dongdaemun is very similar to what you’ll find in the U.S.
As for yarn, it all depends on what you like to work with. If you typically purchase yarn from places like AC Moore and Michael’s, and you especially love when certain brands are on sale, then the pricing at Dongdaemun may be more than what you’re used to. I love to work with Vanna’s Choice yarn. It’s soft, comes in a variety of bright, beautiful colors, and it’s machine-washable. All great for making kids’ hats. When it comes to acrylic yarn, I’ve found that the brands that are sold at Dongdaemun are not as soft as Vanna’s Choice or Knit Picks Brava yarn, so I tend to stock up on these when there are sales online. However, if I have to have a very specific color and can’t rely on sample colors on the computer (such as when I worked on my son’s crazy Optimus Prime hat!), I go to Dongdaemun so I can see the colors firsthand. Also, at Dongdaemun, it’s difficult to tell the yarn’s weight and yardage since these things are not clearly labeled.
However, if you love luxury yarns and typically shop at your LYS, then you’ll find an amazing selection of fabulous fibers at great prices. I’ve purchased some wonderful wool blends that are amazingly soft and are wonderful to work with. Alpaca and alpaca blends are also quite popular at Dongdaemun and pricing is much better than what I used to pay at my LYS.
Keep in mind that for all yarns, you will pay significantly less if you purchase in bulk–an entire package of yarn (sometimes, 4, 6, or 10 skeins at a time). Single skeins of yarn are available at most vendors, but you’ll pay around 25-30% more per skein.
Also, if you have a yarn winder and swift at home, consider purchasing hanks of yarn. They are far more economical! The hanks are GIGANTIC, and when I wind them, I usually have to split the hank into 4-5 skeins.
Shopping for Fabric
Fabric shopping at Dongdaemun is an absolutely amazing experience. The prices are–hands down–much better than what you’d get at places like Joann’s (even with a 40% off coupon!) or even fabric.com. You’ll find every kind of fabric imaginable at Dongdaemun, and they’ll even carry American name-brand/designer fabrics for a fraction of what it costs State-side.
Fabric is sold by the yard (or ma, although if you say yards, everyone will know what you mean), and most vendors are very liberal with their cuts. There have been times when I’ve purchased 3 yards, come home and found that they’d actually given me close to 4 yards of fabric (win!). With so much competition (literally hundreds of fabric vendors under one roof), prices are set and you will not be able to haggle for better pricing. But really, at these prices, you don’t need to!
For me, when I go fabric shopping, I’ve found that it’s best to go with a list of things I need. With so much selection, it’s overwhelming to go without a plan of attack. You’ll either end up leaving with nothing or come home with a bunch of fabric that you had no idea you wanted. Either way, you end up feeling like Dongdaemun got the best of you!
Also, many vendors will have a stack of pre-cut fabric stacked in a box at the front of their stall. Often, these fabrics are available for VERY CHEAP. I’ve purchased wool suit fabric for 1,000KRW/yard and great stretch knit fabric (perfect for kids leggings) for 2,000KRW/yard.
There are a handful of vendors who do not want to sell small quantities of fabric. If you ever encounter this, simply move on. There are many, many others who will be happy to sell the same stuff to you.
Shopping for Crafting Supplies (ribbon, accessories, jewelry-making supplies)
5th floor. That is all.
Just kidding. But seriously, the 5th floor has seemingly endless rows of stalls for everything you could possibly need for making hair bows, headbands, jewelry, purses, embroidery, cell phone charms, dolls, and more.
Most of the vendors also make and sell their own products, so even if you’re not the crafty type, go to the 5th floor to shop for accessories. From super cute stuff for babies to elegant necklaces for mom, you’ll end up wanting to buy ALL. THE. THINGS.