San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Rainbow Selection Adds Spice to Fabric Shopping

We’re coming into the high season. Not for tourism. October is about the lowest of the low season for Costa Rica in that regard. But think fabric buying.

“A very busy time of year for us,” says Verónica Arrieta of KA International (Multiplaza del Este, Curridabat, 280-6716; CountryPlaza, Escazú, 288-2535) of the period running through the end of the year. “People are getting their homes ready for the holidays.”

The Spanish word for fabric, an integral component to home decorating, is tela. Don’t walk into a store or peruse the Yellow Pages looking for fábrica. That’s a factory. But never fear: If your Spanish for Shoppers is a tad rusty, the upscale purveyors of fabrics here can rustle up someone to help you in English.

The age-old distinction in fabric tastes between the cooler Central Valley (heavier materials, subdued colors and designs) and warmer lowland areas (lighter fabrics, bolder prints and colors) is gradually disappearing. Lowland-area tastes here are still a bit more “out there,” but still never usually the riot of colors and designs normally associated with the tropics.

“People here have always favored neutral colors and simple designs,” says Laura Torres of the aptly named Fabrics store (La Paco commercial center, Escazú, 228-7856, with sister store Lázaro, Av. 10, San José, 257-0220).

Yet the rainbow is your limit when selecting fabric colors, a job made easier by the mix-and-match scheme used in the up-market stores. Shops employ a same-color system, grouping fabric samples by greens, reds, blues and so on.

Parenthetically, Costa Ricans have traditionally shied away from blues in their homes, Arrieta says. That doesn’t mean you have to.

Such a system allows you to mix and match within a color group, an easy way to organize your colors for a single room. It also permits you to tackle one task this year, say, reupholstering a chair, confident in the knowledge you can find complementing colors for next year’s project.

Type of fabric used remains a far greater differentiating factor between Costa Rica’s varying climates, with households in San José and environs opting for heavier weaves, and cooler, fresher cottons and cotton-like materials more popular in lowland areas, Arrieta says. But air conditioning in Costa Rica’s warmer climates is bringing some degree of parity to that difference.

Materials used can be adapted to the climate, Torres says. That brings us to the dreaded “P” word, which does occupy an esteemed place in the fabric world these days.

If the mere mention of “polyester” sends you screaming into the night, trying to block out memories of that 1970s-era leisure suit in the back of your closet that even the charity clothing drive won’t take, think again.

Today’s synthetics feel much like cotton, and can be added to wool, cotton or linen in a 25% blend to add sturdiness and longer wear. Water-resistant polyesters such as Durapela retard mold growth – a real factor to consider for a climate with Costa Rica’s long rainy season – and stains will wipe away easily.

Old-timers remember the days of having to wait months for shipments of fabrics (or many goods for that matter) to arrive in Costa Rica. The upscale places here generally keep enough fabric in supply in their warehouses these days, according to Torres.

Nevertheless, buy what you think you will need for the job. Supply does come from outside Costa Rica – stores receive several shipments a year – and there could be a wait if you’ve selected an unusual product.

Fabrics are sold here by the meter, of course (that’s slightly more than a yard, for the metrically impaired). Expect to pay $20-60 per meter for fabric at high-end places. A standard-size couch should take about 15 meters of fabric to upholster.

In-store recommendations come included in the price. House calls and labor are always extra.

These prices rate substantially higher than those at the mass-market stores where the typical Costa Rican family shops. Quality of product rates substantially higher, too; you’ll get fabrics with no irregularities, and businesses that stand by what they sell.


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