Tag Archives: Sewing

Finding a Sewing Machine in Oaxaca, Mexico

First, sewing is alive and well in Oaxaca. Indeed, throughout Mexico women are sewing everything imaginable, from clothing to draperies to furniture coverings.  People here are resourceful and talented.  Sewing is an art and skill we are losing in the U.S.A. as we lack time and seek convenience.  It is difficult to find quality fabric stores in most cities and mid-size towns.  Only in rural America and among immigrant populations is sewing considered a valued skill.  In Oaxaca on the street called Aldama,  just a few blocks from the Zocalo, there is an abundance of stores selling all sorts of sewing supplies and fabrics.  I didn’t even need to bring the dense upholstery foam with me for needle felting.  It is available here!SewingMachine-2

The premier shop is Parisina, the supermarket of sewing.  But, tucked away into small spaces are little notions shops that are family owned and operated, where you can buy thread, needles, lace trims, seam binding, hooks and elastic, zippers, and anything you can imagine that would capture the heart of a seamstress.

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My quest today was to decide upon which sewing machine to buy for our Felted Fashion Workshop that starts on February 2.  And, in the process I learned a new phrase: Buscando por una maquina de coser. We will be using the sewing machine to stitch seams and make optional embellishments.  What to buy?  That was my dilemma.  At home, I’ve been sewing with an Elna portable that I bought in San Francisco in 1970.  It is all metal, heavy, durable, needing repair only once over all those years.  Today’s machines are plastic and most are made in China.

Should it be Singer or Brother?  Janome or Bernina?  After doing my internet research using Consumer Reports, not knowing what was available to buy here in Oaxaca, or the assurances of warranty and repair service, and after demonstrations at Parisina and Sears (yes, there is a Sears in Oaxaca) I decided the best strategy was to go into small women-operated shops to ask their opinion.  My favorite is a tienda on Calle Mina just off the corner of J.P. Garcia.


The shopkeeper sent me several more blocks away from the center of town, deep into the working class, industrial part of the city closer to Abastos Market to find Moscer, the distributor for Singer and Brother, the two most popular brands of sewing machines in Oaxaca.

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Here I met Jorge (left) and Alejandro (right), who both sell and repair sewing machines — heavy duty Brother commercial and lighter weight models for home use.  When I asked Jorge which machine had a better repair history, he said both Singer and Brother were equal but he hinted at preferring the Brother.  Both of these machines are made in and imported from Brasil, and the price is about twice as much as in the U.S.   I’m going back to Sears where they are now running a big sale on sewing machines.  They are also available at Parisina and Fabricas de Francia (Liverpool department store).  There is no shopping deprivation here!

Moscer and Casa Diaz, sales and service for sewing machines, J.P. Garcia #702a, Centro Historico, Oaxaca, Mexico (past Mina, then past Zaragosa toward the Periferico).



Quechequemitl Pattern: Sew Your Own Pull-over Shoulder Cover

Say KECH-KEH-MEE. Here’s a textile museum definition of quechquemitl?


Some people call it a shawl.  It isn’t.  Others say it’s a poncho.  It isn’t.  It’s not a scarf … exactly.  It’s two pieces of rectangular cloth sewn together at a counterintuitive place for the likes of me, finished with a bound hem or some fancy crotched edging or fringes to become an elegant summer drape over a sleeveless dress.  A wool one does just fine in winter to keep necks and shoulders snuggy warm.


Women from Mexico handy with needle and thread embellished their quechquemitls with incredible embroidery and fringes.  Some patterns were woven into the cloth as it was formed on the loom.

Today, I finally got to the piece of Tenancingo ikat handwoven cloth I bought a few weeks ago in the Tlacolula market.  I don’t crochet, but I do sew (when there’s time).  I find it very relaxing and creative!

First, I started with two pre-washed and dried pieces of cloth, 14-1/2″ wide x 27″ long.  Here’s the pattern I took a photo of at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca where their show featuring quechquemitls is a knock-out.  Images above are from the show.

Two pieces of equal size.

Sew together at the dotted line.  I used a sewing machine.

Here’s the tricky part — where to connect the remaining seam.  Do you see it? The short edge connects to the long side.  The dotted line in Diagram 4 below shows you where the stitching line is located.


Wearing the finished product and trying to take a photo of it!  I don’t have a suitable model or mannequin. On the right, I pieced it together with pins before sewing.  Here’s the prototype sample (below left) at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca.




Then, I discovered, there’s an entirely different way to sew the pieces together, so there’s a flap at the neck opening.  See if you can figure this one out (below).


There wasn’t a diagram.

This handy little cover-up is great for the beach, pool, or to keep your shoulders protected from the sun.  When I wear it in a V, it doubles for a nicely draping scarf.  Some indigenous women even wear theirs on their heads.

Let me know if you make one and send me photos of how yours turned out.

Zapotec Fashionistas Know — It’s All in the Apron

Katie wrapped in apron and head scarf with market apron vendor

What does the stylish Zapotec woman wear?  Why, an apron, of course!  Aprons with ruffles, embroidery, scalloped detailing, lace, deep pockets and a secure button closure with waist tie are the ubiquitous fashion statement in the Tlacolula valley of Oaxaca.  The center of apron fashionistas is the Sunday Tlacolula Market.  There, an entire aisle is devoted to the apron and accompanying colorful headscarves.  Aprons come in all variations on the theme of checkered, gingham-like, cotton or cotton/poly blend fabric.  They can be simple straight edge or more complicated, heavily scalloped at the hemline and bodice.  Price depends upon complexity of style and amount of embroidery.  Aprons can be magical, embroidered with figures of birds, flowers, animals, and fruit.  The fancier the apron, the more it costs.

Polly chooses hers, and ...

Gringas like aprons, too.  After we buy ours and wear them, we get big smiles from the locals.  The fun is in the fashion show for each other, shopkeepers and passers-by. Almost like dress-up when we were girls :)  What’s amazing is that you can be wear any plain ‘ole thing underneath, and a great apron from Tlacolula just adds color, fun and spark to life.  When you come to a village in Oaxaca you will see that the apron is just part of everyday dressing.  For us, it’s a way to enjoy another dimension of Oaxaca.  Now, we are ready for cooking class!

Robin finds one that suits her at the local market in Teotitlan del Valle.

Helen loves this one with brown tones.