Street of Dreams – Calle 49


el centro map with shopping districts outlined

el centro map with shopping districts outlined -high resolution

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.

tourist kiosk with maps

tourist kiosk with maps

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.

Sewing machine repair and sales

Sewing machine repair and sales

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.

Entrance to one of the small fabric markets

Entrance to one of the small fabric markets

Fabric

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.

small shop in an indoor fabric mini-mall selling thread

small shop in an indoor fabric mini-mall (Shanghai) off calle 49 selling thread

elastics and trims

elastics and trims

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.

many shops are small but piled high with fabric

many shops are small but piled high with fabric

Lots of great stuff- but limited luggage space, so I move on to the next ones.

as you can see - the width of the store is pretty narrow, maybe 12 feet in total. Now add ten customers and I get a bit 'crowded' feeling

as you can see – the width of the store is pretty narrow, maybe 12 feet in total. Now add ten customers and I get a bit ‘crowded’ feeling

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).

Jaiime Sosa

Jaiime Sosa

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

displays piled high with fabric

displays piled high with fabric

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).

One of the malls for custom printed fabric

One of the malls for custom printed fabric

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).

small storefront.. the lady in the blue tank is printing custom fabric

small storefront.. the lady in the blue tank is printing custom fabric

Portofino IMG_1881 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).

I just couldn't resist..

I just couldn’t resist..

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.

Magazines containing 10 - 40 different patterns

Magazines containing 10 – 40 different patterns

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.) patterns2 Now – for patterns on Calle 49 – the best place to go is – this little shop..

the place to buy patterns

the place to buy patterns Calle 49 #53 – 14

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.

some of the patterns available at this small shop

some of the patterns available at this small shop

Yarns

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.)

yarns

yarns

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 k.eckland@gmail.com 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.

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Made in Colombia


The operating room may have stayed dark for the last several days, but that doesn’t mean it’s been a quiet holiday week here in Cartagena.

Cartagena 010

the quiet streets of last week are just a memory

The relaxed, fun atmosphere of the city – due to the tourists, the beaches, the clubs (and the Chivas!) is contagious.  It’s impossible not to be affected by all the smiling, happy people out and around…

Boy

 Adventures with Iris

Iris and I have had a fantastic week – wandering around the city and enjoying all that it has to offer.  (I swear, my next book is going to be called, “Adventures with Iris” and I am going to chronicle all of our various escapades).  But since she’s camera shy, it would be kind of a crazy book – with photos of me standing alone in all sorts of cool places..

photo (44)

Hanging out with Iris usually looks like this (as she hides from the camera).  You can also see my new haircut from a recent ‘day of beauty’ with Iris.

We’ve been all over town, sampling various cuisine, drinking a micholada here and there, and enjoying the refreshing evenings that serve as a relief to the sultry heat of the day.  We get along great so there is always something to talk about when we hang out.

Coconut water from the source

Coconut water from the source

I have a bit of a routine here – in the early mornings (if I wake up early enough), I head out to walk along the beach for some exercise.  By 7:30 or so – the sun, heat and humidity are already out in full force, and it’s time to head back indoors.

bikes in el centro

The rest of the morning is spent sewing, writing, reading, or crocheting.

After lunch it’s time for a siesta to pass the afternoon before the ocean breezes come to shore and cool off the city.  (Without the daily afternoon cool down, I think the city would just be unbearable, particularly for someone like myself, who is unaccustomed to the heat.  People from South Florida probably don’t even notice it.)

Visiting with Iris' Colombian craft class

Visiting with Iris’ Colombian craft class

In the late afternoons – we head out for various activities..

at a recent Colombian cuisine and craft event in El Centro

at a recent Colombian cuisine and craft event in El Centro

Colombian crafts – continued

I am making a lot of progress on my first crochet project – the universal, ever popular  ‘Colombian bag.’

Made in Colombia

Made in Colombia – the typical/ classic Colombian handbag, “Mochilla”

Of course, mine won’t be as fancy as these here (since it’s my first) but I did add a jazzy yellow stripe.

Colombian bag progress update

Colombian bag progress update

Avenida Brasil – More drama than the hair-pulling, cat-fighting “Dynasty” style dramas of the 1980’s.  (That’s probably not their advertising slogan).

I also work on the bag some evenings while we watch “Avenida Brasil” which is one of the typical melodramatic (always crying or screaming) telenovelas on television.  As the name implies, it’s actually a Brazilian show.  It’s a bad stereotype of Latin American soap operas with tired story lines (everyone cheats – no one uses contraception, so everyone gets pregnant (but somehow never gets HIV).  It has none of the substance of “El Patron” but it’s popular here, so I watch it.   But maybe all soap operas are like this – I was never a big fan of the Young & the Restless or whatever…

For the last week of episodes: the wicked Carmina  has been crying/ carrying on (and manipulating everyone) in every episode.  She recently caught her husband, Tifon cheating on her with one of his old friends, Mona Lisa.  But that’s no surprise to chronic watchers despite the fact that Mona Lisa just married another guy..  ( and Of course, Carmina has not only been cheating on Tifon for several years – but actually lives in a shared home with her amante, Max, his unsuspecting family, as well as her in-laws and her daughter (whose father is actually Max.)

Probably the only interesting story line for me is the serial polygamist. I don’t know the name of the character – but he’s suave and handsome in kind of a bland Argentine kind of way.. It’s like he just can’t help himself – as he marries woman after woman and maintains several separate lives.  He was recently found out by his three wives (who were completely unaware of each other) – while dating and wooing a fourth woman.  It’s only interesting to me in that he seems completely oblivious yet totally manipulating and calculating at the same time.  It’s a common theme that reflects much of the ‘machismo‘ here.

Then there is Jorgita (Jorge), the son of Carmina and all of his trials and tribulations.  Of course, he is in love with one woman, while dating and impregnating another.   He’s supposed to be so wonderful and charming – but I find him quite revolting with all of his flashy jewelry and declarations of ardent amor.

Of course there are a myriad of other characters and story lines but this is probably enough to give an accurate depiction.

Hecho en Colombia

 

Handmade dress - about half way done

Handmade dress – about half way done

I’ve also been sewing a dress using some fabric and patterns I bought here.  I altered the pattern (quite a bit) to make it more of my 1920’s style and on a whim – have been sewing it by hand.

One of my preliminary handsewn seams.  (They are prettier when I finish).

One of my preliminary handsewn seams. (They are prettier when I finish).

Maybe when I get done – I can label it ‘Hecho en Colombia’ since I made it here in Cartagena using a Colombian sewing pattern, and Colombian fabric.  (Both the pattern company and the fabric manufacturer are in Medellin.)

Iris has a perfectly fine Brother sewing machine – (I used it to create a new helmet guard for Dr. B’s helmet light) but I just felt like doing it by hand.

photo (52)

 

Dr. B’s new helmet liner

It’s a cushion made of fabric covered foam that keeps the metal frame that holds the surgical light from shifting or weighing too heavily on his head during surgery.  It’s navy blue so it’s hard to see in the photos.  It has velcro strips to affix it to the metal frame, and adjust for individual sizing.

photo showing Dr. B and his helmet light.

photo showing Dr. B and his helmet light (and the old liner).

Haha.. Kind of funny how even sewing always circles back to surgery, isn’t it?

 

Downtime in Cartagena


Ribbons, fabric and sewing supplies in just one of several stores in El Centro

Ribbons, fabric and sewing supplies in just one of several stores in El Centro

As I mentioned in my last post – with no surgeries scheduled due to Easter week (Semana Santa), we returned to Cartagena Thursday evening.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the custom, Semana Santa is a big deal here in Colombia.  People from Bogotá and other cities escape to Cartagena and the coast areas to celebrate and join in the parades and processions.

The city is already packed with tourists – enjoying the historic quarter, and the beaches.  The tour buses are full and blaring loud music for laughing visitors.  Clubs and restaurants are full to bursting and swimsuit clad vacationers wander the streets along side Cartageneros.

For my roommate, Iris and I – it’s a great chance to enjoy a leisurely Saturday.  We headed down to the old quarter to do some shopping. But instead of chotskies, tacky knickknacks or random souvenirs, we have a special mission in mind: Fabric shopping!

Outside a fabric store (with a very well-endowed friend) in Cartagena (photo Aug 2011)

Outside a fabric store (with a very well-endowed friend) in Cartagena (photo Aug 2011)

One of the things I love about El Centro is the abundance of stores devoted to fashion, sewing and clothing design.  There are stores filled with ribbons, lace and buttons; stores just for knitting and crochet with thousands of yards, threads and other accessories in a rainbow of colors.. Stores filled with sequins, beads and pattern magazines.

Then there are the fabric stores – all clustered within several blocks.  The richness of the fabrics displayed in the windows draws you in: elaborate laces, rich, silky satins, shimmering sequins and super-stretchy spandex.  There stores are different from the United States – where crafting and quilting have dominated and shunted fashion sewing to the side.  Instead of a huge assortment of quilting cotton, a large array of home decorator fabrics and a miniscule array of fabrics for clothing – here – fashion is king!  There are meters and meters of silky jerseys, swimsuit fabrics, lighter than air sheers, wrinkle-resistant polyester blends and traditional hot weather favorites like linen.   I am in heaven – and I’ve only just entered the first shop.

Magazines containing 10 - 40 different patterns

Magazines containing 10 – 40 different patterns

The next great surprise is the pattern department.  It’s not in the fabric stores – it’s at the bookstore or magazine stand.  Bianca, Quili and other brands offer the latest in fashionable attire in handy magazines.  Each magazine contains paper patterns for 10 to 40 different pieces of clothing  – and each costs 9,050 (COP) or less than five dollars.

Better yet – they have all the specialty patterns a girl like me could ever want.  (I enjoy making swimsuits/ exercise apparel in my spare time – and Kwik Sew is the only company in the USA that makes these sorts of patterns in any kind of variety.)

I am like a kid in a candy store – and I can’t resist buying a small handful of glossy magazines.

But before we go home, we head to the Getsemani neighborhood just outside El Centro – to a small local restaurant specializing in seafood called “A Casa del Buen Marisco“.  It’s down the street from a much more expensive place, Antilles de Mar, but has its own reputation for excellence among the locals.

photo (40)

I had the house favorite, the seafood soup and it was delicious.  I snuck glances at fellow diners plates – and everything that came out of the kitchen looked pretty savory.

After a terrific lunch – it was time to return home for an afternoon siesta.  Once the afternoon cooled off, we slipped out to get Dr. Barbosa a surprise gift before returning to work on my evening project: Learning to crochet.  (Don’t worry readers – Dr. B doesn’t read the blog so it’s still a surprise).

making progress on my Colombian bag

making progress on my Colombian bag

As I mentioned before, Iris is teaching me to crochet a traditional Colombian style handbag.  She’s been taking classes for months and recently received her certification from a specialized government agency.

It’s a pretty cool project, actually:

The Colombian government has a division that certifies artists who make authentic style Colombian goods.  The government offers classes to teach people how to make these crafts (or cuisine) in the time-honored way.  These free classes offer (predominately) women with a way to supplement their income, while preserving Colombian heritage.  These classes and the resulting certification process are also used to ensure the quality of the goods / services provided.