Muxiyuan is a patchwork of fabric markets located along Dahongmen Lu between Muxiyuan Qiao in the middle of South Third Ring Road and subway Line 10. Exploring Muxiyuan without forward planning will either be a zany, eclectic, real-China shopping adventure, or a malodorous, bewildering, and unfruitful ghetto trek, depending on your state of mind.

This is a wholesale trading zone; most vendors will only sell material by the bolt or bale, with minimum orders of 100m being the norm it’s easy to get disheartened and overwhelmed by the labyrinthine layout and grimy conditions and it pays to have a game plan.

Our advice is to keep it simple on your first trip. We outline a beginner’s tour of Muxiyuan; follow us and you’re guaranteed a short, productive excursion. You can always venture further afield on your next jaunt.

On the plus side, buying your materials from the merchants here can drastically reduce your price per meter. And the breadth of product on offer is staggering, You can customize and control every part of the finished product: cotton, silk, fur, lining, ribbon, collars, beads, lace, thread, zippers, zipper-pulls – you name it, they’ve got it. Get a good tailor and you could design every aspect of your own fashion collection.

Where to Go:
Jingdu Shiji Qingfangcheng (京都世纪轻纺城) is the best market for non-commercial projects. Most peddlers here are happy to trade in small amounts suited to home sewers. Although it represents but a fraction of the area, this market is by no means small: it covers over 10,000sqm and has hundreds of stands. Around the rest of Muxiyuan, you may find fabric remnants and the odd trader willing to sell you smaller amounts, though it will be a time-consuming task to find them.

How to Get There:
The easiest way to get there is by subway Line 10. Get off at Dahongmen Station, exit C2. You can take a rickshaw from here (max. RMB 10); you’ll recognize Jingdu Shiji Qingfangcheng by its paifang or roofed gate on the Dahongmen Lu side.

Alternatively, for a short, squalid walk, stick with us, kid. Heading 400m north along the Nanyuan Lu side road, you’ll pass under a foot bridge and go by a park on your right. Take the first hutong on the right after the park. This laneway is fetid, dirty, and not for the faint-of-heart; it meanders and loops through a wasteland of rubble. But persevere along it for 250m and it pops you out at the back of the market. Be advised this area is a giant demolition and reconstruction project, so the entrance and exit to this laneway will fluctuate!

Even if you only stick to Jingdu Shiji Qingfangcheng, and you have a good idea of what you require, you can still expect to spend two to three hours here. If you plan on exploring the greater Muxiyuan area, budget for a half a day or even a whole day.

Who to Go With:
This excursion is recommended for grown-ups only; interested teens at a push. Fabric shopping is not a kid-friendly activity at the best of times, but Muxiyuan’s dust, squalor, and careening motorized tricycles are best experienced at a fast clip. No one speaks English, so either write down everything you need to say in advance or bring a friend to translate.

What to Buy:
Tailoring in Beijing may be cheaper than at home, but we’re guessing you wouldn’t go to all this trouble to buy synthetics. The best shops for natural fabrics run down the center row of the market, directly between the front gate and back entrance from the hutong.

At the left of the paifang as you enter from Dahongmen Lu you’ll find Silk King (真丝大王) at stalls 7-8, with a vast array of plain and printed silks ranging from RMB 98 to RMB 138 per meter. The choice of patterns and colors on offer is impressive; from simple polka dots in neutrals, through to amazing brightly-hued digital prints redolent of Erdem and McQueen.

Mid-way down the center row at stalls 115-116 is RX (荣鑫亚麻)which carries a wide range of linens and cottons (some of which you may recognize from Kipanddan collections). Colors are more muted and natural, and many of the fabrics here have a traditional Chinese or ethnic vibe. Prices span from RMB 25 to RMB 45 per meter.

Next door at 119-120 is Da Shanghai Fangzhi (大上海纺织), who without doubt give the friendliest service in the market. Almost every merchant has a box of castoff fabric out front, but the remnants table at Da Shanghai Fangzhi is a treasure trove; a plethora of retro-kitsch cottons in candy-colored pastels at RMB 10 for swatches measuring 1m by 1.5m. Inside, the assortment increases: plaids, stripes, and florals of every shade are packed in rows five bolts deep across both stalls. RMB 18-35 per meter.

At the back of the market and fanning off to the sides, you’ll find accoutrements and haberdashery: ribbons, zippers, appliqué, collars, sequins, beads, and more. We found lace collars from RMB 7 for two and from RMB 15 for beaded pieces. Metal badges from RMB 5, and fabric patches from RMB 2. Zips and zipper pulls ran from RMB 1 and up. 

How Much to Buy:
Ideally, bring your pattern with you or speak to your tailor prior to your trip about the quantities needed. Remember that pattern matching requires extra fabric; stripes and plaids are particularly tricky, so best to add half a meter. You can also bring photographs of what you’d like made and show them to the sellers; they’ll help you estimate how much fabric is necessary.

The following are guideline amounts for various garments, but these will vary according to your size and the width of the fabric.

Short sleeved top: 1-1.5m
Long-sleeved top: 2m
Fitted skirt: 1.5m
Full skirt: 2-3m
Simple dress: 2m
Full-skirted dress: 3m
Long qipao: 2-3m

Shirt: 2m
Trousers: 2.5m
Jacket: 3m

This article originally appeared in beijingkids.

Photos: Aisling O'Brien

Visit the original source and full text: the Beijinger Blog