During Colombia Moda, I met several American business people looking for more information about fabric and textiles than the small booths could provide. Many of them wanted to go out and see the fabrics, some of the shops and the factories but no one thought to take them to see any of these things. All of the people I met were first-time visitors to Medellin (and some may never be back). I can’t help with factory tours (I’d like to see those myself) but I do live nearby, so I thought maybe I could help provide some information for future visitors to this fair city. Since I thought wandering around El Centro as a first-time visitor without a guide might be a little daunting, this post might help people feel more comfortable. So I spent all day Saturday wandering around the district – to take pictures and be able to provide more information to people interested in finding fabrics and materials while in Medellin.
A note about Fabric shopping in Medellin: If you are looking for super cheap – crazy bargains, you probably won’t find them here. But you will find a huge array of all kinds of fabric – most of it made right here in the city. For someone like myself who is sometimes (okay, frequently) frustrated by the lack of floor space given to apparel fabrics in the United States – (where it seems like 90% of fabric is for quilting and such), it’s still a bonanza.
Also, while it isn’t made in the USA (which is increasingly rare, I know) – I still feel a bit of loyalty towards buying locally sourced items – even if Medellin is that source. Still interested? Good.
How to get here – the real Medellin
The best fabric and general shopping in Medellin isn’t in the fancy malls of El Poblado and Enviagado. It’s in the busy, teeming streets of El Centro. El Centro is also where many of the most famous tourist attractions are, so if you are interested in seeing some of the famous architecture, the Botero collection (at the Museo de Antioquia) – you can do that too. El Poblado and Enviagado are the rich, sanitized versions of Medellin – so if you have friends that aren’t interested in shopping but would like to see more of Medellin – this is a trip to take them on…
1. Taxi – if you want to take a taxi, ask him to take you to the Plaza Botero. It’s a few streets away from your destination, but it’s a nice central space – especially good if you are meeting friends or other visitors.
2. Metro Train – the metro train is cheap, clean and quite reliable. It’s also a good way to see a bit of the city. Take the (blue line) train to either Parque Berrio station or the San Antonio station. San Antonio is closer to shopping, but Parque Berrio puts you right at the Plaza. (For more information about the Metro, see this helpful article at Medellin Living).
Get a map – Now, I know this is a digital age, but sometimes a paper map is just easier.. Safer too because it makes you less of a target for thieves who prey on upscale tourists for all of our fancy electronic devices.
There are several of these kiosks located in/ around Plaza Botero and around the Parque Berrio station. Just ask for a map “Mapa, por favor” and they will be happy to provide you with a free map of Medellin. I used this same map for reference for the shopping areas, to make it easy for visitors to recognize where to go.
Navigating the city Places like Medellin and Bogotá are particularly easy to navigate because streets use numbers, not names for the most part. (Once you get used to the system – our system of street naming in the USA seems needlessly confusing.) Everything is basically on a grid – Calles run in one direction and are abbreviated as Cll. Carreras run in a perpendicular direction and are often abbreviated as Cr. It makes locating a business very easy. For example, my favorite fabric store in Medellin is Textiles El Faison – and their address is Calle 49 #53 – 101. This means that they are located on Calle 49, about 101 meters from the cross-street, Carerra 53.
Now that you are here – with your map Walk south towards Calle 49. (To orient yourself – remember that Medellin is set in the foothills. If you start walking uphill, you are heading East (the wrong direction) – towards the financial center of Medellin (near where I usually stay). On Calle 49 – turn West (or downwards on a very slight grade) The next several streets will be crammed with shops filled with all kinds of sewing related items – thread stores, fabric stores, sewing machine repair etc.
Many of the shops look tiny compared to JoAnn’s or the big craft stores you may be used to. Sometimes they are tiny – but sometimes, it’s just the entrance to a larger indoor mall.
Now, the fabric stores line Calle 49 and many of the cross-streets.. But sometimes notions can be a bit trickier to track down. A lot of tiny shops sell just one product – like elastic or ribbon trims, buttons and the like.
As I mentioned before, my favorite fabric store from my wandering on Saturday – is Textiles El Faison. It’s a big store, and not quite as claustrophobic feeling as some of the smaller shops. (When the shops are crowded, and the fabric piled to the ceilings, I get a bit closed in feeling in some of the smaller shops..) Not that this would prevent me – if I saw ‘the fabric’ there.
Lots of great stuff- but limited luggage space, so I move on to the next ones.
But for general browsing, or to see fabric in a shop more like what most of us are used to – Textiles El Faison is a well-lit two story shop. Jaime Sosa is the manager there – and he is very nice and helpful. My photos are a bit blurry because I was relying on my small phone (an older model) because I don’t like lugging my fancy Nikon down to El Centro).
Here’s the address for people who want to skip the adventures and go straight to his shop:
Textiles El Faison Calle 49 No 53 – 101 Medellin
But that’s not the only great place.. I really liked Portofino Textil too.. It’s located on the ground floor of a little textile mall. (It’s a very interesting mall – about half the shops sell custom printed fabrics).
I was trying to cover a lot of ground, so I didn’t stop in and get all the details on custom printing – even though I saw little storefronts printing the fabric during my wandering. (Maybe I will get a chance to go back and ask some questions.) Custom may be the wrong word since most of it seems to be more like “Small lot pop prints” but at one shop, I did see a customer hand over a jump drive filled with images for printing). But some of the other shops / kiosks didn’t look to have computers just their own style of pop prints (justin beiber, popular artists, other cool designs).
Portofino Portofino has more of a warehouse feel – and a two meter minimum. Fabric is priced by the kilogram. I couldn’t resist one of the fabrics there – and my two meters of this lightweight lycra was 0.7kg in total. For an example on prices – the tag on the bolt said 45,000 per kilogram but advertised a discount.. After the discount, my fabric total 27,156. tax added a bit – for a total of 28,350 for my two meters of a 60 inch (or there about width). According to today’s exchange rate – that’s about $15.35 (or around 7.50 a yard since a meter is a couple of inches more.) So, like I said – not a crazy, amazing deal – except that I love the fabric, it was made right here, and it’s certainly not something I’d find at Hancocks or Joanns (if we even had one in my town). It’s actually located under another fabric store but I found it to have better selection, and salespeople that were very helpful and friendly. (Fabien was particularly nice – and patient with my limited Spanish).
Portfino Textil #162 Carrera 53 No. 49 – 68 Medellin There were quite a few other shops – so you will just have to make you way down Calle 49 and find your own favorites. Patterns Pattern magazines can be especially hard to find – but when you do find them – they are a great deal.. Most pattern books contain anywhere from 20 to 200 patterns. It depends on the magazine. My favorites are Bianca, Quili and the more simply named Patrones. Bianca has a lot of the patterns that are hard to find in the United States – like an extended variety of swimwear, lingerie and exercise apparel. They also have a great assortment of patterns made for the new stretchy fabrics; lycra blends and modal.
Patrones is a grand brand because it has copies of a lot of the designs by major labels. Want to wear your own Dolce & Gabbana? Then patrones is the magazine for you. Sometimes you can find the magazines at larger newsstands or bookstores like Panoamericano. Some of the patterns in Patrones are pretty intricate and instructions are limited (and in Spanish) but at 4,000 to 10,000 pesos (2.25 to about 6 dollars) a book – if you are an experienced sewer it is still quite the find.) Now – for patterns on Calle 49 – the best place to go is – this little shop..
The place is tiny, so you have to ask to see the pattern books (or point, if necessary.) They don’t have long aisles to browse like some of the bigger bookstores. But the owner is very sweet – and they have a large array of titles available.
Now, Medellin has that ‘perpetual spring’ climate we have been talking about, so I didn’t find as many places offering the bulky and superbulky yarns that I love. Quite a few thread stores offered the smaller crochet threads and yarns similar to Lily’s Sugar N’ Cream but since I am on a superbulky yarn kick – I will keep looking.. I did see a couple, but shame on me because I didn’t write down exact addresses or take pictures (but since one of them is on a street close to home, I may venture out later this week – when I’ve exhausted my current supply and get some pics.)
Now before you head out for your shopping adventure – review a few things to make your shopping more enjoyable and safe.
In Medellin – alone or not quite ready to venture into El Centro by yourself?
I am always up and willing to lend a hand – if I am in the city. (It’s a good guess if I am blogging about Medellin, then you can find me here.) You can always call me/ text me at 301-706-3929 (If I am not in Colombia, I won’t answer) or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org I’d be happy to arrange to get together for a day tour of the shopping areas. We can check out museums, eat some tasty street food, buy local produce, window shop – or hunt down that one special piece of fabric you’ve been waiting for..
If you don’t catch me on this trip – I’ll be back.. I’ll definitely be back for Colombia Moda 2015, so if you come a few days early (in July) we can have some fun.