Folkwear Travels to Madrid, Spain

I got back from a fairly quick, but jam packed, trip to Madrid earlier this week.  I traveled with my oldest daughter (14) for four days to learn a bit about flamenco dancing/clothes/culture, as well as to check out the great fabric and clothes shops in Madrid, and to experience a bit of Spanish culture and food.  We packed in a lot and had a wonderful time!

First, I want to shout out Liesl from Oliver+S who has a great blog post about the best fabric stores in Madrid.  She is a pattern designer who lives in Madrid. This was very helpful, and I definitely checked out most of the stores she mentions. 

Also, I want to note a few things that I noticed that might be of interest, or be helpful, to anyone who is headed to Madrid.  First, most people did not speak a lot of English.  I found this surprising since I think of this as a fairly large tourist destination.  But, that idea is very Anglo-centric and not accurate.  So, it really helps to have some knowledge of Spanish, though you'll be fine without it.  I actually loved being able to try out my Spanish and was pleased that people actually understood me!  And, I could understand much of what was said to me (if it was fairly simple transactions:-)).  Second, the vegan movement does not seem to have had much influence here yet.  Food is based mostly on meat and cheese (and potatoes), and it was delicious.  Amazing cured ham, salty and nutty cheeses, egg and potato tortillas (so good!), paella, fried potatoes with cheese, tender and flavorful stewed meat on bread, sausages, etc.  It was all very good, especially washed down with a beer or glass of wine (which was about as cheap as water and all very good).  But, I often eat a large salad daily and love vegetables, so this was a bit of an adjustment.  Even the Caesar salad I ordered was mostly chicken and bacon with a little lettuce mixed in :-).  It was delicious!  And, third and textile-related, nearly everyone dresses very well, especially on weekends and evenings.  Going out on Saturday night, we ran into women in high heels and sequined dresses who were just going out to dinner and drinks.  On Sunday walking through Retiro Park (above), we saw teenage girls in tweed capelets, oxford shoes and tights; little girls in pleated wool coats and cute dresses.  Dressing well, and fairly conservatively, is standard here, and I (and my daughter, who loves torn jeans and t-shirts) loved it.

Fabric and Trim Shops

Ribes Y Casal is a great place to shop, and probably my favorite.  The staff was very friendly and the selection was very large.  Prices were also terrific for most things, though there were some high priced items mixed in (Liberty lawns and silks and some amazing wools). I bought a rayon challis, "Made in Spain", and I think I will use it to make a Folkwear pattern you will see featured next month!

Liberty silks

The other fabric store that stood out was Julian Lopez.  This was a bit higher end and a little more organized, and the selection was even greater.  Though I did not find it as fun to visit, I enjoyed browsing all the fabrics and was impressed with the selection.  Definitely give it a visit!

I also enjoyed visiting Almacen de Pontejos, an old-fashioned trim shop where you ask for things over the counter and they are picked out and wrapped up for you to purchase when you leave.  It was a lot of fun to look through the buttons (I bought a few buttons and kind of wish I'd gotten more). 

All of these stores are located quite near the Plaza Mayor and city center and were easy to walk to.  There were several other fabric stores nearby as well and I stopped in a few, but these three shops really stood out.

Plaza Mayor

Sunday Morning Flea Market

The flea market, El Rastro, a bit south of Plaza Mayor, was HUGE (to me).  It took up several streets and side streets in the area and seemed to keep going on and on.  The market takes place every Sunday from 9 am to 3 pm.  We got there fairly early and I'm glad we did because it was very crowded by noon and we headed out.  There was a bit of everything there - lots of clothes (second hand, new and cheap, handmade clothes, clothes from India/Nepal, etc.), antiques, toys (again, second hand and new and cheap), souvenirs, and art.  It was fun to stroll around and look at things, especially the clothes and antiques.  We were impressed the with number of fur coats for sale (mostly second hand), and the antiques were fascinating!

Royal Tapestry Factory

Visiting the Royal Tapestry Factory was one of our favorite things we did in Madrid.  It was so interesting and the English tour (only at 12:30 - and you need to email them and sign up beforehand) was really great.  No photos are allowed in the factory which has been around since 1720.  It was built because Spain had lost their Belgian territories and therefore their tapestry workshops.  The factory has been producing tapestries and rugs for palaces, museums, and wealthy people since then.  The factory now also repairs, cleans, and restores tapestries and rugs. 

Since no photos are allowed, I don't have much to show from the visit except that we got to go into the attic of the weaving rooms and see all the wool that they use for weaving rugs (and photos were allowed).  All the wool for rugs and tapestries comes from Toledo (area outside of Madrid) and they dye the wool in house, creating what seems like hundreds of colors.  This wool is used to make rugs as well as repair rugs, so they need lots of colors to create the designs, but also to match to colors on rugs that need repair. 

They use a finer wool, often blended with silk, for weaving the tapestries.  The tapestries take longer to weave and can be very intricate.  Again, they blend their own colors using the Toledo wool and French silk, filling bobbins to create the colors they need for the tapestries. 

I found it wonderful that the workers in the factory were a mix of older (50-60+ year olds) and younger (20 year olds) people.  Some of the older workers had been working there since they were 14 or 15 years old, and the younger workers had been trained in a school that was open for a short time a few years ago.  The work seems tedious, but fascinating at the same time.  While we were there, they were working on a set of tapestries for a palace in Dresden.  They were being re-created from photos of the originals which were destroyed in the war. 

Flamenco and Madrid

One of the main reasons I took this quick trip to Madrid was to get a little more insight into Flamenco dress.  I love our Flamenco Dress and Skirt pattern and since it is uncommon to find Flamenco dresses here, I was excited to learn more about the styles, fabric, and design of these dresses. 

There are several nice shops in Madrid for Flamenco dresses, skirts, shoes, fans, and accessories.  Maty has a large selection of dresses, and huge wall of flowers, shawls, fans, and hair combs, and is fun to visit.  They also have dance clothes and costumes.  El Flamenco Vive (Moratin, 6) has a great selection of music and guitars, and has a sister-store around the corner (Duque de Fernan Nunez, 5) that has flamenco dresses, skirts, shirts, shoes, and accessories.  Also, I really loved Senovilla (just beside El Flamenco Vive) which produces and sells gorgeous professional flamenco shoes.  I nearly bought a pair, even thought I am not a flamenco dancer because they are really beautiful shoes and are super cute!!  They do ship world-wide and you can get the style you want made in your size.  It was a really fun store to visit (and I want a pair of their shoes!).

Shoes in Senovilla


Flowers in Maty


Flamenco earrings in Maty

I liked seeing the different style dresses, or different dress features.  Dresses and skirts were made from stiffer cotton or poly fabrics, from drapey knits with body, and lighter-weight cottons that had flounces underlined or doubled up with laces or other fabric.  Edges were often finished with a rolled or very small serged hem, though sometimes it was turned under, and occasionally it had a hair or plastic wire serged or sewn into the hem to make it a bit stiffer and stand out from the dress/skirt.  I could tell these dresses and skirts would move beautifully and would be lots of fun to wear.


Flounce edges embellished/finished with trim


Rolled hems/serged hems with different fabrics for flounces

We also attended a flamenco show one night - at the Corral de la Moreria.  We both enjoyed the show - the music (guitar, drum, flute), singing (not typical "western" harmonies but hauntingly beautiful), and the dancing, which at times became trance-like, and was fascinating and beautiful to watch.

The culture of flamenco runs deep and long in Spain, with roots in the gypsy history of the country. 

Other things to do in Madrid

One of our favorite things that we did was to visit Toledo for the day.  It was a fairly quick bus ride (45 minutes) from Madrid and was a beautiful and fun old town to explore.  We enjoyed walking the winding streets, stopping into the cathedrals, synagogue, El Greco museum, shops, and other sites in the town.  It felt small and easy compared to Madrid, and we (who hail from small towns) enjoyed that brief respite. 

We visited the Reina Sofia to see Picasso's work - which was fascinating and disturbing, yet helped us understand the trauma and history of the Spanish Civil War. 

We visited a couple of roof top bars which was a fun way to spend the hour or so around sunset - relaxing, enjoying the view, having a drink and snack.  The Hat and Circulo de Bellas Artes were really great.  The Hat was small and simple with a nice view of tiled roofs and evening birds, and Circulo del Bellas Artes was a much fancier (and more expensive) venue with fabulous, nearly 360 degree views of the city. 

Sitting at cafes and people watching was also very enjoyable and we spent quite a few hours eating, drinking, and sitting and watching.

Another very favorite thing to do was stopping for churros and chocolate (both very different and much more delicious than anything in the USA).  My daughter loved them, and our favorite place as 1902 Chocolateria.  The staff was very sweet and the churros and chocolate were great.

I hope this little review of our trip will help you if you are traveling Madrid, but will also inspire you in your sewing, especially for the Flamenco Dress and Skirt