Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Souvenir Yarn shopping in London & Madrid

In addition to the key chains and coffee mugs emblazoned with the names of various cities, I most always come home from vacation with at least a few skeins of yarn. During my trip to Europe, my intention was to find a local yarn shop in each city and collect a scarf-to-be as we went along.

When traveling, I find yarn shops using Its basically Googlemaps for yarn fanatics. Enter in the city that you would like to search, as well as some optional criteria such as “Open Right Now”, “Snacks/Refreshments” and it returns a list of yarn shops plotted on a map. Each store has a basic listing of location and hours, and some have comments and website link.

Although I did find listings for shops in each city, I did miss a few stops. Here’s my first tip for yarn shopping while on vacation: check the shop hours and plan your shopping into your sightseeing. The times that I did this were the only times I made it to a shop; when I thought I would just get there eventually, I didn’t. Also, because we were traveling in Europe, there were a couple of other snags – some of the shops were closed at lunch, which was the time I had thought I could get there, and some were closed for holiday (in August).

Note here that I am one of those yarn shoppers who buys what I like when I see it, not necessarily for a specific pattern or purpose, so in some ways wandering through yarn shops is easier since I have no particular thing in mind. If you are looking for a particular yarn, you would need to have a good idea of the weight and yardage needed to be able to make substitutions, if necessary.

In London, I visited iKnitLondon, a short walk from the WaterLoo Station, across the bridge from Big Ben. I went in the evening, and the street was pretty empty, all the other stores closed, with the exception of a convenience store or small restaurant or two. I did think “this does not look like a yarn shop street,” but was pleasantly surprised (and happy that I hadn’t gotten myself lost) when I came across the bright yellow shop sign. Inside was packed, not only with yarn, but knitters, too. It was one of the nights that they are open late and customers could gather for knitting, chatting, and refreshments. Along with yarn and supplies, they also sold wine – the young lady working said that they are the only yarn shop in England with a liquor license; I’m sure that would be a unique combination here in the States, too. The shelves were jam-packed with yarn, from cotton to wool to silk. I was pleased with the selection, and to the chagrin of my 4 kids, took some time to feel the yarn, consider all the colors and imagine all the possibilities. I finally settled on a skein of Scrumptious lace (with a name like that, how could you pass it up) - an oyster colored lace-weight silk and merino blend, from fyberspates - destined for a late-summer/early fall shawl.

In Madrid, tucked into the outside wall of Plaza Mayor, I found El Gato Negro (again – what a name, right?) It was a spacious shop, stacked from floor to ceiling with skeins and skeins of unlabeled yarn. My favorite feature was the library-style ladders that wheeled along the shelves. There were two older women working, neither of whom spoke English, but were very pleasant and helpful. All the yarn was sold by weight, in skeins of about 100 grams. Of course, I had no idea of yards per gram for various types of yarn, so I took an experienced guess on how much I would need to be able to complete a project. In my rudimentary Spanish, cobbled together from what I remembered from high school and what I acquired over my few days in Spain, I figured out yarn content, weight, and price, and took home a couple skeins of gray mohair and pink and gray wool. The prices were very reasonable and if my husband would’ve allowed me to buy another suitcase, I probably would’ve grabbed up a few more sweaters worth of yarn.

If I lived in Madrid, I think you would find me sitting in the Plaza on a regular basis – a pitcher of sangria, a skein of yarn, and people watching to last all day.

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