The places I've collected here carry outstanding fabrics of high quality, have excellent customer service, and are extremely knowledgeable. I ask them technical sewing or fabric questions and I can always count on the products they sell.
Watching how many businesses evaporated following the 2008 recession (people stopped spending, stores lost income, stores closed eventually), it is very important that I choose to spend my money in stores that I not only love, but want to still be in business 6-12-18-24 months down the road when I am in the market to purchase anything.
I choose to use only the best fabrics I can afford. There's no sense in spending time on a sewing project with crappy fabric. Why make something only to have it fall apart, pill or otherwise ruin when first washed or worn? I won't.
I dream of creating highly technical, complex athletic garments of all kinds and of touring a fabric testing lab to understand the hows and whys of each fabric. Think REI, Nike, Mountain Hardware crossed with a materials analysis test lab (like one any auto company uses or has of their own). Two of the shops, Rose City Textiles and Seattle Fabrics, carry very techical fabrics for outdoor wear like Advance Technology Fleece (Polartec Power Shield and Soft Shell Fleece) as well as fabrics you can make everything from a duffel bag to a rock climbing chalk bag to a tent (400x300 Denier Diamond Ripstop). Get your outdoor gear making nerd on in these places, baby!
I love all my local fabric shops and so many (those listed are just a small selection) have GREAT swimwear selections! If you feel called, I encourage you to patronize any one or all of them. If you find their website lacking, call them. They will help you. If you go in, look at everything, even the rolls and things in odd places. There are many wonderful, wonderful products in every store!
Please note: I am not paid for this whatsoever, I'm writing this purely out of adoration for my local shops.
Without further ado and in no particular order, here are my top 5 shops for buying activewear or swimwear in the Pacific Northwest (Washington & Oregon).
Rose City Textiles (Portland, OR)
ACTIVE / SWIMWEAR
They have an outstanding selection of solids in Nylon Lycra. However, veering away from the standard swimwear, I chose some of their wickaway lycra to make myself a sports bra. Looks and feels similar to milliskin, but is flatter and more matte. After all, they are a technical fabric store, so go for the stuff you can't find elsewhere! (about 90% of the store) I'm blown away by their quality. So amazing. If you're looking for a huge selection of novelty prints, this isn't the place for you. If you are looking for highly technical, high quality fabrics with great color selection and the occasional print, then this is DEFINITELY the place for you. This is 80% my dream store. If they had a few more novelty prints, I'd be in heaven.
When you search for Rose City Textiles, the above site will come up with their name. I was a little unsure I was in the right place, but Fabricline and Rose City Textiles are one and the same! They have lots of products listed. When in doubt, use the search field or call. I personally prefer to be in the store and will make the trek south. But if I needed something I wouldn't hesitate to buy online. After having been there, I am really comfortable ordering without needing to be in the store.
Pacific Fabrics & Crafts (Northgate Seattle, WA)
I'll add here that they closed several stores a few years ago and I still deeply miss the Puyallup store. It was lovely having a high end fabric store with their kind of selection in the south end. Gotta finish a project? Go after work, no prob! Now, I plan each visit to their store (I prefer Northgate over every other store) because I avoid Seattle traffic whenever possible. Our public transport is improving, but their Northgate store is not as easy for me to get to from Pierce County.
Be aware that sometimes Pacific Fabrics will add to their amazing selection by buying en-mass. They usually don't have lots of rainwear or softshell fabrics, but a year ago, they bought a group of them. These may show up in a cart or a display spot, or at sew expo, rather than in a typical place in the store. If you see a fabric you like from one of these buys that just "shows up", buy it because it won't be there long.
ACTIVE / SWIMWEAR
They have a HUGE selection of swimwear & knits right now. Oh. My. God! Annette, who taught the swimwear class at Sew Expo, has done an excellent job of keeping them well stocked on good swimwear options. She also made sure they carry swimwear lining. Critical for those of us who prefer not to reveal all and line front and back of our swimsuits.
They also had, drum roll, some New Balance wicking material that you might find used by New Balance in a semi-fitted T-shirt or Tank. It's lovely stuff. Plus, when I see a manufacturer's name, I know that I have a higher chance of getting a really nice quality fabric.
They also carry some great knits which would work for draped yoga tops or even some dresses which call for matte jersey. I got some in a delicious mallard/teal color. It's fluid, silky, and drapes beautifully.
My one item of concern (very minor) is over a black knit I found hand labeled "Yoga Pants" or something to the like. I did buy this fabric, but definitely not for yoga pants. When held up to the light, it was positively see through. No one wants an unexpected Lululemon experience now do they? This fabric, while I don't see how it would work for any yoga pants, would make a great slip or underlining or even the top layer of a draped dress that has a slip or other underlining.
Something to note... milliskin, which they carry in the Bridal section, is thicker (by almost twice) and firmer than most of the nylon lycras you can buy at Joann's (which are usually see through). Milliskin is a great fabric for leggings, support wear, sports bras and the like. Now, mind I'm not talking super wicking kind of stuff. It's a basic shiny nylon lycra. A solid basic. I picked up some off the flat folds (lower price) table in a lovely sky blue and some in a peachy color. I plan to try making some slips and bike shorts/girdle pattern for wearing under dresses and skirts. Nude-peach colored is one of my favorite choices for under dresses & skirts because it rarely shows through and if glimpsed due to the wind or a quick move, it's not so shocking or revealing. I like a bit of modesty.
Another awesome thing about my most recent PacFab Northgate swimwear experience is that the woman helping me at the cutting counter in the bridal section was extremely knowledgable. I mentioned that I was going to try making a 1940's slip using one of Mrs. Depew's patterns and asked if she had ever used her patterns. She had! Were they hard to use? She advised that they were challenging, but when I mentioned that I had pattern drafting experience, likely it wouldn't be as difficult for me to learn, though the rulers are a bit challenging. Then we chatted about several other indie pattern folks and she had worked with so many. It was such a great conversation! She even helped me by advising that a certain dayglow fabric I was in love with was a bit too much for me if next to my face, but great for something like a skirt. I bought some to make a skirt!
Pacific Fabrics has invested more and more time into creating a user friendly website. 5 years ago, their site was pretty basic. Today, you can see several fabric options, including much of their swimwear fabrics. However, it's not yet as easy to browse their site, but it's tremendously easy to search. I found this sweet violet nylon milliskin swimwear option by searching for "nylon lycra".
Some of the names the manufacturers give the colors don't match up to my perception of the color. Using the violet milliskin linked above, for example, seems more of a fuschia to me. When in doubt, contact them and ask for a sample. I ordered from them online during a recent sale and had a great experience. I had a real human emailing back and forth with me (not just automated responses - though those are very much appreciated and typically expected today). When I got the fabric I ordered, it was nicely wrapped and there was a little envelope with samples of the pinks I was unsure of. Neon Pink and Jersey Pink. The colors were pretty close to what they show on their website. When I saw it in person on the bolt (I went in to the store about a week or so after I ordered online), it was also quite similar to their site.
They did run out of one fabric I ordered, so they held the order, we communicated, I altered the order, they shipped it out, and I got the fabric shipped Priority nearly the next day. SO FAST and beautifully wrapped with my color samples! I really love the physical and online PacFab team. You guys ROCK!
Billie's Designer Fabrics (Chehalis, WA)
ACTIVE / SWIMWEAR
Their swimwear selection is divine! Color, prints, and when you touch the fabric, you know it's a high quality. Like the milliskin I bought at Pacific Fabrics, the swimwear they carry at Billie's is a little thicker. The fabric used on my swirl capris, rainbow swirl bike shorts, aqua capris and my happy pants all came from here. They also have great wovens, rayons, coatings, fold over elastics. Many of the prints I purchased from here I've never seen again or I've seen them on people like Kerri (@beachyogagirl) when advertising an indie designer.
Seattle Fabrics (Seattle, WA)
Seattle Fabrics is one of those places I walked into and my jaw dropped (I shopped here long before I even knew RCT existed). "Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit! You mean I can BUY technical fabrics like gortex? You mean there are more people like me who want to make their outdoor clothing and gear? I'm not the ONLY one?????????? WHEE!" I made the mistake, because I got caught on the fact that they sold marine/boat fabrics, that they didn't really have the polartec power stretch like fabrics I wanted. But, when I went in, I think I fell into a black hole. They got neoprene in a million colors, they got clips and doo dads for your backpack or technical outdoor jacket or tent, they got webbing, they have equestrian stuff, they have DK sports (daisy kingdom) patterns for making ski gear, they have Jalie sewing patterns, they have stretch fleece, they have polortec power stretch, and on and on and on.
The day I went back to take photos (I was not in the frame of mind to photo on my black hole day), they weren't open. So I didn't get a photo of the cute rock climbing chalk like bag that is on a bit of webbing which they use to transport little things from the main floor to upstairs. It was all I could do not to salivate at all the possibilities of clothing here.
ACTIVE / SWIMWEAR
The swimwear like fabric they carry is their Italian Nylon Lycra. It's fantastically supportive. I loved it as the shelf bra in my XYT top (it's the periwinkle/sky blue colored one). I made a sports bra in it and it's so firmly supportive that I couldn't get it on after surfing when I was wet. It's good shit. Shiny, but great!
They also have a great selection of wicking and other lycras like Equestrian (abrasion resistant, and supplex). Not a lot of prints, but it's easy to color block.
Mostly a written website, less on the photo side. So you're not going to find yourself drawn in and enticed by pretty fabric photos. But, if you are looking for technical fabrics and you want to understand what they are for, fiber content, etc. This is the store for you. I figure, if they spend less on their website, it means they have more money to invest in fabric stock! Win-win!
Mill End Store (Portland, OR)
ACTIVE / SWIMWEAR
Several rows of bolts plus a flat folds table full of swimwear, knits and some wicking like athletic fabrics put this in the same category as Pacific Fabrics. I spent most of my time focused on finding prints in nylon lycra that I could use for pants. This is where the fabric for my pink with white polka dots came from for my Eva Dress Playsuit turned Swimsuit came from. It was quite a while before I found that exact same print and it was only available from a jobber, not at any of the aforementioned stores. That gave me confidence in the money I spent on swimwear there. I will return again knowing I'm likely to find something fun and unique.
Their website is surprisingly easy to navigate. I was curious and followed their link "Fabric is our Passion" which lead me to discover they have a page describing the types of fabrics, like activewear, that they carry. However, they don't appear to have an online store. It's basically an information site inviting you to talk with a real person about products they carry. The folks I talked with in the store were kind, interested in the projects I was making, and very helpful. If you're looking for swimwear or activewear, but are not in the Portland (PDX) area, call them and ask for help. Likely they will be most helpful. They did after all supply to shows like Leverage, just like RCT.