I step through the double doors and my attention is quickly placed on the vast array of coloured fabric in front of me. It covers table after table with patterns and textures, the walls hidden behind drapes in every imaginable tone. I take a step to the side to avoid a lady who is reaching for a roll of red polka dot, move past the rows of bridal, carnaval and children’s designs and down the hallway.
Just like many buildings in Seville, the shop is much bigger than it would appear from outside. As I turn slightly to the right, a whole new room full of fabric opens up in front of me. Busy clerks rush around with a measuring stick and scissors, unrolling the fabric on the table, measuring the required amount, cutting at just the right place, folding the resulting piece, checking prices and sending happy customers to the checkout to pay what’s owed.
There are many ways you could find what you are looking for in here. Fabric is sorted by colours, quality, material or prices. I head over to the pile of colourful rolls labelled 1€/m. Occasionally you can find a good bargain. There are several designs, from flowers, to stripes, to paisley or cartoon characters. There are a few I like, but none enough to persuade me to buy them.
I take a look around, the average age of customers searching for the perfect piece of cloth is probably around 50 today. I can’t help but wonder if the wonderful craft of making your own clothes, of creating something unique by hand, may have its days numbered. Because unless the next generation also embraces the sewing machine, places like these may lose their usefulness.
Then again, I wonder if that will ever happen in Seville. There is a rich tradition of sewing, thanks to its local festivities which require a particular dress code, namely the April Fair taking place this week.
I head back the way I came and notice the old photos on the wall. They are black and white and show different sites in Seville. Some are easily recognizable, but other places have changed so much since the photo was taken that I find them hard to identify, yet the essence of the city is visible in every one.
In a way, it is similar to the evolution of the flamenco dress.
They say it is the only traditional dress that changes according to current fashion, yet it still maintains its folkloric essence in every design. You’d be surprised at how obvious it is to spot a dress from years gone by. From the amount of ruffles, to the size of its polka dots or the colour of the fabric, you’ll soon know what is in fashion this year and what got pulled from the back of a wardrobe, borrowed from a friend or bought cheaply at a street market.
There are many styles of trajes de gitana (gypsy dresses), as they are also known. Unlike I’d always imagined, it’s not all polka dots, either. There are flower patterns and plain blocks of colour, too.
Back in the street, I head homeward. It still amazes me how many flamenco dresses stare back at me from the window displays here in the centre of Seville.
Growing up I have spent a lot of time trying to persuade everyone that Spain is so much more than the stereotypes. It’s more than bull fighting and flamenco. It’s more than sun and sea and beach holidays.
But Seville is a world of its own and things like feria and flamenco dresses are very much a part of life here, even if only for a few weeks a year.
As the date approached, coleagues at work chatted about the fabric they’d bought or the design for this year’s dress and how their mum or grandma was working againts the clock to get it finished in time. Others pay for a dressmaker to design the perfect traje de flamenca. Still others will head to the shops to find the perfect fit.
Now, as feria is in full flow, I find myself dodging flouncy dresses on my way home from work. Something so stereotypical as horse-drawn carriages, women with big bright flowers in their hair and the sound of flamenco drifting from afar, now make up the everyday scenes I experience on my way home.
Yet again, this city has reminded me of the beauty of some traditions and walking these streets this feria week plunges me back into a culture I have grown to love.