As soon as I found myself waking up in the night and typing "Vintage Damask remnants" into the search bar of eBay, I knew I was on my way to a serious fabric obsession.
It started innocently. My husband and I have just bought our first flat on a busy north London high street. On the plus side, it has many windows, so it is full of light.
On the minus side, all the windows have tatty PVC frames and the cost of replacing them is — I discovered — insane. So we agreed that we needed attractive curtains to add a splash of colour and block out the lights of the 24-hour kebab shops at night.
Several reconnaissance missions and fabric samples later, I was full of ideas for curtains, screens and cushions. I was overwhelmed by the infinity of choice and astonished by the price. And the more you look, the more extravagant your tastes become. Turns out I'm not alone, either. Some top fabric designers confess that they can't afford their own fabrics.
MAKE A BUDGET STATEMENT
Happily, they were prepared to share some of their tips. Linda Florence, a senior lecturer in textiles at Central St Martins — an in-demand interiors designer for Selfridges and Swarovski — has relied on frugal fixes for her own home.
"Fabric can be used to make a statement without spending lots," she says. "Rather than using fabrics for curtains, I recently reupholstered a felt-topped folding card table with red-and-white geometric woodblock-printed fabric. I have also used bright prints to re-cover vintage dining room chairs and, after some practice, a vintage Ercol sofa in a Scandinavian print."
Even if you set your heart on sumptuous silk that usually costs £250 per metre, you don't need to go hungry for a year saving up for enough to reupholster your home. There are plenty of economical solutions.
Frugal fix: Ercol sofa reupholstered by Central St Martins textiles lecturer Linda Florence, with quilt she designed
VARY THE TEXTURES
Mixing colours and textures not only adds dimension to a room, it is also a cheap way of furnishing your home because you are using fabric remnants (even granny's bedspread) with small cuts of dearer shop-bought cloth. Emily Burningham designs a range of playful modern florals and is a big advocate of layering prints.
"Patterns can be combined to make use of smaller pieces — not everything needs to match," she says. "Using rich, strong colours for maximum impact in a small area is a great way of making a difference to a room, without having to buy lots of fabric. Cushions are an obvious way of doing this, but also consider using smaller pieces of fabric for lampshades, and as a backing for glass doors."
DIG OUT A BARGAIN
The Curtain Factory Outlet in Finchley specialises in cut-price designer prints for about £6.99-£9.99 a metre, plus VAT. There's a daily trickle of retro linens and 100 per cent wool prints that usually retail from £35 to hundreds of pounds. Their vibrant crewels wouldn't look out of place in Anthropologie, the brand so beloved of every globe-trotting thirtysomething who has compromised travel for home ownership.
Another outlet store, Just Fabrics does a great line in floral cottons for £5-£25 a metre. If you're decorating a child's room, start there: they do pulsating prints for the nursery. But for the subtle freshness of Swedish interiors, try the linens at The Cloth Shop in Notting Hill for £19 a metre.
Wise buys: cushions at Just Fabrics, with floral cotton materials at £11.95 per metre (justfabrics.co.uk)
A treasure trove for anyone who wants a soft, romantic look is The Antiques Centre in York, which has an online store selling delicate lace panels. When everything else within my price range was polyester and had the whiff of old people's home, it offered plenty of beautiful options. Then there's eBay — a godsend, provided you know what you're looking for and understand the difference between a chintz and linen effect.
LUXURY FOR LESS
Though Emily Burningham's cloth retails between £37-£50 a metre, she regularly updates the sale and remnants corner of her website meaning you can get cuts from £10.
The same is true of the ultra high-end designer, Christopher Farr. His unworldly prints usually sell for over £100 a metre but his end-of-line remnants are priced from £20 to £27. Or call designers to see if they are getting rid of stock.
I discovered that Julia Brendel, a new designer whose exquisite Hungarian and Indian-inspired silks were out of my price range, is selling her collection of stunning India Chenille cushions for £35-£55 — they usually go for around £130.
UPCYCLE OLD FABRICS
Can't stretch to the new? Re-fashion the old. Some broderie anglaise left over from my bridesmaids' dresses was enough to dress a dingy window in my hallway.
Alternatively, make a budget linen look more expensive with intricate folds. I mistook cheap curtain fabric in my friend's house for a more sumptuous cloth because she had opted for pinch pleats.
Scandi-chic: Swedish linen, from £19 a metre, at The Cloth Shop in Notting Hill
MAKE A LITTLE GO A LONG WAY
If you fall in love with a fashionable fabric, use a small cut to make a large impact. Romo's vintage Moroccan design, Xilia, which has won industry prizes for best weave this year, had me spellbound. At £59 a metre, it's great value for such a complex pattern, though still out of my budget.
I took comfort that even half a metre on a cushion, between the glass of a fire screen or covering a chair seat leaps out at you. Similarly, an alcove of printed silk on the wall looks magical under an LED light.
It might set you back a couple of hundred pounds, but it will be far cheaper than a good piece of art of the same size — and so much more original than a flat-screen TV.
BARGAIN FABRICS DIRECTORY
* The Curtain Factory Outlet (curtainfactoryoutlet.co.uk) sells online, but it's better to visit the shop in Finchley, N12 (020 8492 0093). Current bargains include a vibrant, hand-woven Indian Crewel at £6.99 (plus VAT) a metre.
* Visit Just Fabrics (justfabrics.co. uk) for floral cottons for £5-£25 a metre and lively animal-themed scenes for children's rooms.
* Swedish linens at The Cloth Shop (theclothshop.net) in Notting Hill, W10 (020 8968 6001) start at £19 a metre.
* Bryella.co.uk specialises in luxe brands for less. You can pick up popular fabrics from Sanderson, Osborne & Little and Harlequin at sale prices.
* The Antiques Centre in York has an easy-to-use online site (theantiquescentreyork.co.uk) with a large, good-quality cotton lace range, and delivers quickly.
* Romo fabric is priced around the mid-market point. Xilia is £59 a metre and there are stockists across London including Heal's and Liberty. Visit romo.com.
* Julia Brendel's stunning range of silks and linens can be seen at juliabrendel.com/shop/ but contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org for details of India Chenille cushions.
* Emily Burningham displays all her remnants and sale items online at emilyburningham.com or you can call 020 7431 0361
* Christopher Farr in SW3 (020 7349 0888) has at least 10 stunning prints in the end-of-line section of his site (christopherfarrcloth.com) between £20 and £27 per remnant.