Fabric shopping in Kigali

As promised, here’s my first little nugget of Kigali love for sewists, kicking off with an essential: fabric shopping.

1. Kimironko market.

Big, noisy, crowded – Kigali’s main market is definitely “an experience”. We arrived, parked, got swarmed by a group of yellow-tabarded helpers, agreed with one to guard the car, agreed with another to act as “guide/bag-carrier” and then headed into the market. I assume the car-guarding and bag-carrying is optional, but we opted for the path of least resistance.

Entering from the carpark side, you come first to the fresh produce section: towering pyramids of avocadoes, massive stems of plantains, strings of dried fish, dusty piles of sorghum and cassava flour, it’s beautiful and chaotic. We wove through the dark, narrow aisles of the market, passing pots and pans, electrical goods, tourist nicknackery, until finally we hit the fabric stalls.

Sifting peas on Kimironko market in Kigali

Pumpkins for sale

(photos by Kigali Wire)

The fabric stalls at Kimironko are small and tall – you point at what you’d like to see and it’s reached down for you. The sellers aren’t too hassling, but with the cramped environment and the omnipresent bag-carrier trying to steer you to his favourite stalls, it’s not the most relaxed shopping environment. I left with just one piece in the end – a mystery fabric which is definitely not “100% cotton” (I showed it a hot iron and it got decidedly melty) but I love the pattern and the way it holds its shape.

For my first Kigali make, I went with another Emery dress with capped sleeves (see previous version here). This time I omitted the collar and scooped out the neckline. The selvages on the fabric were pretty great so I used them on the hem of skirt and sleeves – yes that was a conscious design decision and not another lazy hemming cop-out. Ahem.

2. Fabric stalls “in Town”

Kigali doesn’t have a city centre as such. It’s a series of hills and each one has a different personality. One hill has the main shopping centres and is known simply as “Town”. On one of the streets in Town (KN 2 St), a small unmarked doorway (No. 35) conceals a warren of fabric shops.

Housed in an actual built space, there is a little more breathing room here than at Kimironko market. There’s also better lighting and, if anything, more choice. In fact I had it on good authority (from a Kigali tailor) that many of the Kimironko stall holders buy their merchandise here and then re-sell it at the market.

It took me two goes to actually buy anything here, due to the sheer overwhelming choice. Some pieces are displayed hung around the shop walls, but there are also huge piles of neatly folded fabric, which the shopowners will help you handle if you want to browse through. In the end I came away with four pieces. All cotton… I’m almost certain.


At the moment I’m thinking the burgundy/cream for trousers and the others for dresses. One thing to be aware of is that a lot of sellers will only sell you the full 5m length. I swapped half of one piece with a fabric-buying buddy, but I have a lot of the others. Waxprint cushion covers anyone?

Anyway, that’s my experience of fabric shopping in Kigali, so far. Beautiful cottons to be found, for sure. You just need to know where to look, and go with plenty of energy.

Siobhan xx


7 thoughts on “Fabric shopping in Kigali

  1. idaaidasewing says:

    What an interesting experience, I’m sure as much as I can imagine it I can’t get the act vibe of all this. Your Emery turned out really well and thne print is beautiful.

  2. It’s official. Everybody in trouble world is using the Indie patterns except me LOL!

    5 yards of fabric is nothing girl!

    You could make a lovely cap sleeved fitted maxi dress or a fantastic 50’s style full skirt with oodles of volume!

    Wax print is fab

    I saw an African wax print coat recently – wonderful.

    Glad to see you’re getting into the groove of the place. Although the bag carrying offers sound like a pain!

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