The Great Traveling Fabric Fairs

Get your craft on at one of Europe’s traveling fabric fairs.

I’m a born-again sewist. I began sewing and crafting when I was 8 years old and never stopped until I moved to Germany 14 years ago. Why did I stop sewing? Mainly because I couldn’t find affordable fabrics and notions. And the second reason? I couldn’t find parts for my beloved Kenmore sewing machine. Fast forward a few years and I have a new Bernina sewing machine. But I need fabric and buttons and zips too. Well, I finally discovered there are traveling fabric fairs from Holland that stop in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and France several times a year.

Stoffenmarkt Holland Fabric Fair

I don’t know the history of these traveling fabric fairs, but they are reminiscent of America’s traveling salesmen. The men would ride through your homestead on horseback, wagon, or buggy selling the small things needed in the household. You know, needles and thread, buttons, collar stays, and wicks for kerosene lamps. But where did the ladies get their fabric? Gonna have to watch an episode of Little House on the Prairie to figure that one out.

What I do know is that instead of having to fly back to the US to purchase fabric, I can visit one of Europe’s traveling fabric fairs and see about 50 vendors and in one location. Sorry JoAnn Fabrics, but a sewist hast to do what a sewist has to do–find great fabrics and save money too.

Stoffmarkt Holland vs. Stoffenspektal

So far, I’ve attended several of the Stoffmarkt Holland traveling fabric fairs held in large and small German cities throughout the year. Stoffmarkt Holland holds nearly 40 spring events (~Feb – June) and an multiple autumn events leading up to Christmas. Most of their traveling fabric fairs are held outside in an empty parking lot and have awnings to cover the fabrics and slightly shield you from the elements, but I wear a hat or carry an umbrella just in case the weather takes a turn for the worse.

At the Stoffmarkt Holland traveling fair you can find a large assortment of cottons, silks, wool, knits, and leather fabrics for sewing, crafting and quilting. There are also lots of designer fabrics too. There’s quite an assortment to choose from, so you just need to look around and find which fabric suits your needs. No pun intended! 🙂

If it’s notions you are looking for, I find the assortment quite overwhelming and so do the other sewists. It gets really, really crowded at the notions tent where you need to nudge you way in to get a chance to view the pretty buttons, clasps, and ribbons.

I recently discovered a second traveling fabric fair called Stoffenspektal. I learned about this one while buying fabric in Holland where the fabric shop owner said the prices are good as well as the selection. The Stoffenspektal event in France I attended had around 40 vendors and the selection of fabrics were different than the ones from Stoffmakt Holland, so I now I have an alternative fabric fair to visit. Stoffenspektal caters to sewists located in Belgium, France, and Luxembourg, but from, my home in Germany can reach those borders in a little over an hour–which makes for a perfect day trip.

Both the Stoffmarkt Holland and the Stoffenspektal offer a good selection of fabrics for the average and advanced sewists. If I ever get into making ball gowns again, I’d probably travel to Holland or Belgium to visit one of the designer fabric shops. For now any of the traveling fabric fairs will do since I’m just making skirts, dresses, bags, and some pretty table cloths.

Bernina sewing machine

They speak your language

Don’t worry too much about the language barrier, because the Stoffmarkt Holland vendors are mainly from Holland and Belgium and speak good German, English, and French. Other vendors include Bernina, who is a sponsor of many fabric fairs, so a local rep is on hand to demo and/or sell you a machine.

Not everyone in the family may like sorting through bolts of fabrics and button bins like you do, so they can take a snack break while you fabric shop. If you brought along the kids or your significant other, there’s always a food stand selling beer, brats, and ice cream to keep the non-sewists busy for a bit.

Things to know before going to a traveling fabric fair

  • Go really early to avoid the crowds.
  • Wear sturdy comfortable shoes as you’ll be doing a lot of walking on hard surfaces.
  • The vendors accept EURO, and a few accept credit cards (mainly MasterCard or Visa).
  • Bring a shopping stroller; you’d be surprised how heavy fabric can be.
  • Metric Measurement Conversions
    • 1 inch  =  2.54 centimeters (cm)
    • 45 inches = 1.15 meters (115 cm)
    • 60 inches = 1.52 meters (150 cm)
    • 1 yard = 0.91 meters
    • 9 inch zipper = 22 cm (22.86 cm)

Happy sewing, crafting, and quilting.

Christmas Markets Close to Frankfurt

Living in Germany has its perks. We have social insurance. We have the Autobahn. But mainly, during this time of the year, we have festive Christmas Markets close to Frankfurt, Germany and lots of them.

What? Huh? Frankfurt? Yes, Frankfurt because if you’re visiting Germany  you’ll most likely be flying into the Frankfurt airport. If not, re-book because we’ve got a lot of awesome German Christmas markets in the area so let’s get started. Yippee! Yahoo!

Frankfurt (City center near Roemerberg and Paulsplatz)

First stop, Frankfurt of course. Located on the Main River, Frankfurt is called Mainhattan for its impressive skyline. Soak up the festive atmosphere in the city center near Roemerberg and Paulsplatz. You’re in apple country so when you’re not enjoying a Gluhwein (mulled wine) sample Frankfurter sausages, cinnamon stars, and hot apple wine served at traditional bars around Sachsenhausen.

Local gifts include Frankfurt-style Christmas tree ornaments, apple wine soap, Frankfurt slippers and the ever popular Gluhwein mug for 2014.

Michelstadt (1 hour drive from Frankfurt)

Located a little more than one hour by car from Frankfut, Michelstadt is an adorable small town with big charm located in the heart of the Odenwald. Built in 1484, it’s also known for its lovely cobblestone streets and array of half-timbered houses. At the annual Michelstadt Christmas Market you’ll find over 100 wooden market stalls set in a fairy book setting. This is a superb Weihnachtsmarkt to find handcrafted items as many of the tradespeople still apply traditional techniques used in past generations.

Check out the cute toy museum, castle’s wine tasting hall, sculptors, wood turners, ivory carvers and carpenters as they demonstrate their techniques.

Heidelberg (50 minutes by train from Frankfurt)

Imagine, in just one hour driving the Autobahn from Frankfurt, you’re transported to the cobble stoned streets of Heidelberg. The old town of the magical city lights up during the Heidelberg Weihnachtsmarkt and so does the imposing Heidelberg Castle. There are over 140 stalls to choose from when searching for really nice handmade items and this is one of many gorgeous Christmas markets close to Frankfurt.

Take the funicular up to the Heidelberg Castle and stroll around the Castle Garden where the illuminated residence and lit pagodas ooze “I love Christmas” holiday feeling.

Heidelberg Christmas MarketMannheim (15 minute train ride from Heidelberg)

By now you may be tipsy from all of that Gluhwein you’ve been enjoying, so from Heidelberg, hop on the street car and before you can recite The 12 Days of Christmas, you’ll be at Mannheim’s Christmas markets. By the way, all markets serve a non-alcoholic version called Kinderpunsch.

Centered around the impressive colorfully lit water tower, there are many stands to find the perfect gift or enjoy another beverage. My favorite is the Moroccan tea stand where they serve the most amazing mint tea and Moroccan sweet treats.

As Mannheim undergoes a city center transformation on their well-known shopping area Planken, so has their Christmas market. There are actually several markets spread throughout the city aside from the one around the Mannheim Water Tower. There’s a quiet one where burning wood warms up shoppers, one for children near Paradaplatz, and yet another group of stands behind Engelhorn (Mannheim’s version of Neiman Marcus).

Bad Wimpfen (50 minute drive from Frankfurt)

The Bad Wimpfen Altdeutsche Weihnachtsmarkt (Old German Christmas Market) dates back to 1487 when Emperor Friedrich III granted Bad Wimpfen the privilege of being allowed to hold a market before Christmas.

Just a 50 minute drive from Frankfurt, you’ll notice something special as you approach the city. The skyline of Bad Wimpfen is lit producing a magical atmosphere. The Blaue and Rote Tuerme (Blue and Red Towers) form the striking backdrop of the medieval town. Once you reach the city center you are surrounded by an array of half-timbered houses brilliantly illuminated with hundreds of lights.

Because the Bad Wimpfen German Christmas market is so authentic, it’s equally popular too. This market is only open on three weekends and can get really busy. You’ll need to park outside of the city center and take the bus or walk to the festivities. If you’re still in the mood for the sound of trumpets blowing and the town’s band playing carols, this is the market for you.

After visiting one or all of the Christmas Markets close to Frankfurt you’ll know why I love Christmas in Germany. So, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.