Fabric Hunting in Tallinn, Estonia: In Search of Inspiration

fabric huntingI continue my journey in search of sewing inspiration in the wonderful city of Tallin, the capital of the Baltic nation of Estonia.  It's only a two-hour ferry ride (80 km/50 miles) from Helsinki where I was able to visit Marimekko and I find myself in what is without a doubt one of the most intriguing parts of Europe.  Although small, Estonia is an advanced economy with a high-income society.  The country is one of the fastest growing in Europe and has the largest number of start-ups per capita in the world according to Wikipedia.

Tallinn is considered the Silicon Valley of Europe, but in my eyes, I think I have landed in Disneyworld.  At first impression, it is a small modern city with an intriguing collage of architecture –both ultra modern and historic. fabric huntingBut on closer inspection, it's not difficult to see why most visitors gravitate to the “Old Town” where it sometimes appears that nothing has changed since the 1500s.

fabric hunting

A bit of History:

The earliest trace human habitation in Tallinn dates back to the 5000 BC approximately, but it is well known this region was sporadically inhabited by bands of nomads after the last glacier era some 15,000 years ago.  Written history first mentions a medieval town on the location of modern Tallinn somewhere around 1150 called the Hill Fort or Toompea as it is still known.  Today, as it was the case then, housed the government and it is part of the castle in the “Old Town”.

Tallinn is an important port between Russia and Scandinavia has fallen under the rule of the Danes, Finns, Germans, Russian (twice) and finally became independent from the former Soviet Union in 1991 helped by one of the most amazing peaceful revolutions acts I've ever heard of involving two million people who formed a human chain stretching some 675.5 kilometres (419.7 mi) across Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  They still refer to this unique event as the Baltic Way or the Baltic Chain.

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I feel ashamed I had to come all this way to learn about this important piece of history.  But, then again this is why I  love to travel.

A bit of Architecture:

There is no way to visit a city without taking in the architecture.  As Julia Morgan said “Architecture is a visual art and the buildings speak for themselves” and the condition of the society is written on its buildings and walls, in my humble opinion.

Tallinn has had many cultural influences over the years and the houses display an incredible array of styles.  Here are a few below.

There are four or five others styles, I am not sure (I am just an enthusiast) but I guess I will have to come back.  If I got this wrong please do not hesitate to correct me.

Fabric Hunting-Tallinn

I have only 48 hours in this lovely city.  A quick search on the internet and it is abundantly clear the I must venture out of The Old Town to find what I want.  Just my luck I find two stores just 20 minutes walk from my hotel.  In my excitement and need of getting away from the cold, I forgot to take a picture of the name of the store.  Sorry.  fabric hunting Tallinn I gather a few sewing items that pique my curiosity. fabric hunting TallinnAcross from the sewing machine store is my destination Abakhan Fabrics.fabric hunting Tallinnfabric hunting Tallinn

My fabric picks

Linen is sewn in Estonia but the fiber is grown and woven in Lithuania, so I decided to leave the main hunt for linen until I'm in Lithuanian which will be in only a few days.

Instead, I find wool jacquard jersey ready-made clothes everywhere but unfortunately, the fabrics are not sold by the meter.  I settle for what I can not find in Singapore easily.

Jersey 80%linen/20%cotton is a luxury to me.  I have already shown you the boat neck top I made with it.  I find 100% linen jersey knit a bit rough on one side and smooth in the other with great drape and stretch.  I wish I could buy I whole roll because it would be so easy to dye and to print on.

I found leather and I purchased more than I should have.  I know my suitcases just got a lot heavier.  Not super exciting colors, but from what I can tell this is recycled leather is left over from the factories.  It's not good enough to make a sofa with it but perfect for wallets and tote bags.  When sewing leather, you can usually select the best parts and cut around the flaws.

It is time to exit the store because I can not buy more than I can carry.  It's a 20-minute walk back to the hotel.  I look at my watch and I spent four hours inside the store.  By the time I ran out energy, the wind has blown the clouds away and the sun is out.  It's glorious weather so I head back to get rid of my purchases and head back to the Old Town.

The outdoor markets on the way are a bounty of handmade articles.  Mostly knitting.  If you are into it, the Baltics are definitely the place to come and to my surprise, knit articles are even cheaper than fabric.  Too bad I live in the tropics….

More pictures about Tallinn

I am happy the sun is out because I am not a great photographer.  The suns always make for better pictures.

Two days in this city is not enough to meet all the people I wish I had had the chance to.  I sense there are great hand sewing skills here.  I see it in the market in the embroidery and knitted garments.  I want to meet the makers of such beautiful articles.

Suddenly, far in the distance in a window, I spot a linen fabric that makes me very happy.  It turns out is a very common design and seen all over the Baltics.I have to admit the eye-watering prices and the 20 percent VAT (sales tax) in Estonia has left me wondering how do the locals sew at all.  Even so, this is a busy town, full of creativity and a vibrant workforce and it's not hard to see why this is the fastest growing country in all of Europe.

Unfortunately, my lack Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Finish or Russian language skills limits my experience in the outdoor markets and local stores.  I make a mental note: Before hunting fabric in Tallinn, Estonia find a tracker/translator so I can hunt for the elusive Linen Jersey Jackard seen only on the haute couture runways these days.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into fabric hunting in Tallinn, Estonia.  Until next time, keep your scissors sharp.  I'll be sharing new projects with you using these fabrics.

Have you been to any of the Baltic countries?  Please share your thoughts and even some pics in the comments below.

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32 Responses to Fabric Hunting in Tallinn, Estonia: In Search of Inspiration

  1. Rebecka Lindberg says:

    I’m in Tallinn now (for the third time) and hunting for fabrics! I definitely have to try to find that linen jersey! Luckily I do speak some Russian 😁

  2. Dana Dewey says:

    What a fabulous post. I enjoyed reading the text and looking at the pictures. I actually spent this morning doing that! I hardly ever read or look at everything because of time constraints, but this was too lovely to pass up.
    Thank you for sharing your travels.
    Cheers!

  3. Karin says:

    Hi Mayra!

    I am from Estonia, but have been living in Australia know for 10 years.

    I found it very interesting to read about your visit to Tallinn (double n in the end), and absolutely love that you did research on the history as well. I am not from Talllinn, but from a city further south and didn’t visit Tallinn that much when I lived in Estonia. But the Old Town really is great. Most towns have really old buildings and some form of Old Town. (not like in Australia, where the oldest buildings are only a couple of hundred years old:))
    When I lived in Estonia, I was not into sewing, it has been a development in the last 2-3 years. So I’m very keen to visit my home country and in addition to seeing friends and family, I will definitely use my time to search for awesome fabrics. Might even have to visit Helsinki after reading your article about Marimekko.
    Abakhan is the biggest fabric store chain in Estonia, and is best known, but lucky me – I have the language skills and local knowledge to seek out the smaller, well hidden shops.

    The picture is of Tartu City Square.
    Thank you again for this interesting article, and enjoy your travels:)

    Here's my pic:

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Thank you for the picture Karin, hope when you go back home find some hidden treasure and share with me. I will be back next summer and will definitely check it out! 🙂

  4. Maerlene says:

    Thanks for taking me with you. I’m now so curious about that part of the world.

  5. Kerry Davidson says:

    A few years ago my sister & I had a holiday over in that area which included just one day in Tallin. I just loved the old city and have some of the same photos as you, including the dragon. I also took lots of photos of doors, they were just beautiful. And, saw that same seagull who must just hang out there all the time, knowing that tourists will feed him. The photo I’ve uploaded gives a pretty good idea of what Tallin is like. The other thing worth mentioning is how cheap the alcohol is on the ferry – I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – people with trolleys holding 6 or 8 cartons of beer. I was a bit cranky with myself for not buying some of the local liqueur while I was there.

    Here's my pic:

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      I was wondering about that seagull it would not move, it is as famous as the dragon. Thank you for your picture:)

  6. Karen says:

    Thank you for sharing your pictures. I will never have money to travel very far from home.

  7. Gail says:

    I enjoyed your article so much. Thanks you for sharing! In the article “The Lost Art of Hand Sewing”, what do you mean when you say “garments were pieced together to economize”?

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hi, Gail, we called this refashioned garments, take an old garment and make something new out of it by transforming it or adding more material.

  8. Iryna Boehland says:

    Estonia, and Tallin itself, are so beautiful and full of history. They were always known in former USSR as a more upscale crafts and proud people. As Latvia and Lithuania. It’s a paradise for gourmands and knitters too! So glad you enjoyed it and share the pictures.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      I could see the difference in the craftsmanship, not only in textiles but also in jewelry and glorious leather work. I am looking forward to next time.

  9. May Ambrose says:

    Was in T`alin a few years ago and bought some beautiful printed linen . All used now wish I had taken mire information of where I bought it As I remember it was not that expensive

  10. Bonnie George says:

    A few years ago, Estonia was a stop on our Baltic cruise! What a delightful city and we were there on their “Independence Day”. We enjoyed a walking tour and spent the remainder of the day in Old Town. Oh my – the people, the shops and the food, along with the architecture – all were delightful! Thank you for sharing your trip!

    Here's my pic:

  11. Janis Patten says:

    Looks like you are really enjoying yourself. What a picturesque city. When my late husband and I traveled, he was always so patient and generous. I could pick out all the fabric or yarn stores I wanted to visit.

  12. Johanna says:

    You should’ve gone to Karnaluks. It’s heaven for people who sew and knit.

  13. Jooles says:

    I have not been to Tallin-yet, but I often visit Helsinki. I love the beautiful textile designs and colours of the Nordic countries. I shall definitely try to make time for a ferry trip across to Tallin next time I’m in Finland. Thanks for this post.

  14. pam coles says:

    I have never been outside Australia but this is the one article that has made me want to travel…Thank you for introducing me to me ..

  15. Ricky says:

    As a blig reader from Estonia, it was a wonderful surprise to see a post about my country’s capital 🙂 . I’m glad you liked it here!

  16. Amanda Botha says:

    Very informative and interesting. Beautiful pictures. Thank you for the “tour”!

  17. Kimberly says:

    Thank you, Mayra, for this wonderful post! You always write such interesting articles, and I LOVE that you give us a bit of history and other facts with these posts! Your pictures are beautiful, you have great skill as a photographer, and really have captured how beautiful Estonia is. Cannot wait to see what you sew with your new fabrics and leather!

  18. Carrol Ganoe says:

    Fabulous article! Loved all the history, and photos.
    I’ve been mostly housebound for 20 years, your article,
    and photos, made me feel like I was right there with you.
    Thank you!

  19. Karen McCarty says:

    One memorable thing i remember of our trip to Latvia, was a tree and light pole that were wearing very colorful knitted sweaters.

  20. Barbara Tonkins says:

    What a great article! We actually went to Estonia last summer too. It’s such an interesting place. We went to this restaurant in the old town that was supposed to be just like life in the 15th century. Everything lit by candle, instrumental music only. Just delightful. Everyone should try to visit there.

    Here's my pic:

  21. Diane Walker says:

    I read your article with great interest. As I will never get to travel like this it is much fun to travel with you. Thank you.

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