April 15 2013 03:57 PM

Bankers Hill shopkeep Claudia Rodriguez specializes in unique handcrafted items

Zippered pouches and handcrafted earrings
Photo by Katrina Dodson

Always on the hunt for something new and original, I'd just heard about Sew Loka from a Downtown local and popped in on a Saturday. Sew Loka (1821 Fifth Ave., search for it on Facebook) gives southern Bankers Hill a rare retail treat. Owner Claudia Rodriguez was on hand to guide me through all the details of her hand-picked artist's selections. 

Rodriguez currently displays work by 15 artists—13 of whom are in San Diego or Southern California, the other two from Guatemala. Originally from Los Angeles, with family roots in Guatemala, Rodriguez learned to sew at the feet of her father, who designed and sold clothing out of several garment shops in L.A.'s design district. Her love of sewing and all things handmade are evident throughout the store, as she and her artists pick from a wide variety of colors, fabrics and designs. Rodriguez herself specializes in totes, purses and pouches in recycled, colorful fabrics with coordinating fabric inside and outside of each bag.

As I took it all in, I noticed that no two items are alike—every item, even those that look similar, has a unique texture, interior, button, zipper or snap. The artisans who sell at Sew Loka offer shoppers customization by selling original designs in everyday items like baby onesies, earrings, purses, aprons, T-shirts, pillows, bibs, soaps and more. Each area of the small boutique is filled with an artist's creative take on a chosen craft, be it jewelry design, custom journals with inspirational quotes or coin purses with whimsical appliqué, and the selection changes weekly.

I picked up a zippered pouch in teal with a pink typewriter on it and a purple zipper, a pair of handcrafted brass earrings rendered from buttons and glimmering with clear beads and another zippered pouch made from two symmetrical jean pockets with a lace piece added (I got the last one!). 

The really interesting thing about the store is that Rodriguez will make anything else you want from whatever fabric, garment or idea you have. For instance, if you want to turn your wedding dress into a white summer cocktail dress, she can help you redesign it and repurpose it. I thought about bringing in something a friend gave me in a bright pattern that I'd never wear but would love to see as a tote bag or an apron. The shop's Facebook page and Twitter and Instagram accounts will give you hundreds of other ideas from items that people have brought to Rodriguez to repurpose. With two sewing machines in the shop, you can sit with her and watch her work—or just enjoy the hum of the machine as you consider what you want her to make. Everything in the place has been repurposed to some degree: the coin purses from an old skirt, the tote from a men's blazer, the button earrings from an '80s blazer.

Besides the many "upcycled" articles for sale, there are works of art on the wall that started with recycled items. Old vinyl records inspired one artist to paint on them in brightly colored oceanic designs; another artist took old frames and filled the empty spaces with Dia de los Muertos designs in Technicolor. Artist Josue Meerigo, featured at the grand opening last Saturday, was in the store during my visit painting several mariachi musicians high up on the walls. He also has several other works in acrylic and oils available for purchase and has a following in San Diego for his portraiture. 

Rodriguez is also offering classes on different types of art—a recent post on the Facebook page had a class in making shea-butter lotion, so maybe she's trying to get all of us to be her new "artists" so that we have more to choose from and she has more to sell. After much browsing, talking and shopping, I know I'm ready for a sewing class.

Write to katrinad@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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