Yarn Adventures in Bogota

Last August I had a fantastic opportunity to visit Bogota for a few weeks while my husband was there for work.  I’d never been to South America proper, and it promised to be an entertaining contrast to our current life in the capital of the Middle Kingdom.  So, we happily packed our bags and went.  My husband had to, y’know, work all day, which left me plenty of time to explore the city.

For the record, Bogota is beautiful.  The city is at the very top of the South American continent, and at a very high altitude, which gives it this magical weather of 65-75 degrees (Farenheit) year round.  The only drawback was that you have to bring an umbrella, coat and sunglasses every time you go out, because chances are it’ll rain and be cold or be sunny and roasting in the next hour.  Be prepared, is all I’m saying.  It was such a great contrast from August in Beijing, which was approximately 98 degrees, humid, and on top of that, smoggy and gross.  (I know, I’m really selling you on ‘come visit China it’s awesome!’ right???)

I spent most of my days being a typical tourist – Lonely Planet in one hand, camera in the other.  I visited museums, local parks, landmarks, ate a lot of food, and mostly just enjoyed being able to take really long walks in clean, clean air.

As a yarn-ist, Bogota is simultaneously awesome and depressing, because they have vast and gorgeous quantities of yarn, but at the same time a raging sidewalk hat/scarf business that pretty much negates any niche you might have selling anything handmade.  Still fun to look at though.

538441_10100589029257619_2055234343_n

Lunch time went like this: I’d point to a random item on the menu for about $5, and get something delicious like a huge bowl of pinto beans, chicharron (I think, which I think means crackling fried pork bits), rice, plantains, a tortilla, and a quarter of an avocado the size of my head.  Suffice to say I gained about eight pounds those three weeks.

393907_10100579824339349_440284665_n

Plaza de Bolivar, the most iconic plaza in Bogota.

557302_10100589028424289_1063987929_n

But who are we kidding?  This is a yarn blog.  Where’s the yarn?  Well, after two weeks of traveling, exploring, and picture taking, I was whining about getting bored and tired of eating and walking all day long.  My husband mildly pointed out “y’know, we’re in South America.”  “right…?” “And y’know, South America has, like, a lot of llamas.  And sheep.  And other woolly animals…”  “OMG DO THEY SELL YARN HERE???”

Anyway, long story short, I found a few local hobby shops that sold yarn, and they were crappy, but finally I found a shop called “Casa Rosada”.  With map in hand, I ventured three miles south of our hotel.  After extensive walking through very blah, 70’s institutional type brick buildings, imagine my amused surprise when I discovered the “pink house” really meant, THE PINK HOUSE:

DSC_0852

DSC_0854

Inside was a yarn lover’s dream.  Not even so much the quantity of yarn, just the vast variety, textures, and obvious “local and homemade” quality of it.

DSC_0853

DSC_0855

 After much debate, and really really bad Spanish, I came away with this:

DSC_1153

Four skeins undyed wool, two kelly green, one huge scratchy turquoise, and two alpaca.  Total cost?  Somewhere around $75 USD.  This stuff ain’t cheap, that’s for sure. I haven’t used any of it yet because I can’t find a pattern that’s worthy of the alpaca, and the turquoise wool is too scratchy for a scarf.  Oh well, it was a fun experience.  The shop alone was worth the trip, and I’ve already looked up yarn stores in our next post of Santiago, Chile.  Bring it on!!!

Fancy Schmancy Stashbusters…

We all have them.  Treasured in boxes, stored on shelves, lovingly collected, often taken out and admired, never used.  I’m talking about our yarn stash – and not just those random leftover balls of yarn from prior projects, but those precious one-time purchases from random boutique yarn shops, or travels across the country/world, or colorways that you bought thinking “this is AWESOME, I’m sure I can find the perfect project for purple/green/mauve/mulberry yarn!”  And of course, since you only bought one (because it was probably $25 and it’s not like you need two balls of purplegreenmauve yarn), and said ball of $25 yarn is, I’m sure, in a special dye lot, there you have it, that now lone ball that can never be multiplied, never turned into anything larger than a small scarflet or hat or MAYBE a pair of gloves.  It just sits on the shelf, enticing you with its possibilities, begging to be used but somehow begging more to be left alone and simply admired for the things that might be, but never are.  That’s how it is with my Malabrigo merino yarn, purchased in my home town in upstate New York on a quick three day leave from Beijing.  It’s so soft, so beautiful, so variegated, that I’m pretty sure I’ll always just keep it, a lone hank of wonderful yarn that I occasionally pick up and rub.  I know, I’m weird, but I have a feeling you yarners out there will understand.

1-DSC_1169

There’s a word in Chinese:  she bu de (捨不得), that best translates to “hate to do/hate to part with” that perfectly sums up my attitude towards my precious stash.  I am she bu de to use it up and commit it to something solid.  Sometimes I prefer to just look at the un-knit/un-crocheted yarn and simply consider the possibilities of ‘what if’?

However, today I’m here to not just wax poetic on really expensive fancy yarn, but also to submit my personal collection (across Pinterest, Ravelry, and Etsy) of potential she bu de yarn busters.  These all fast, almost all free, and yarn-budget-friendly, with simple stitches that showcase said yarn, and hopefully are pretty enough to deserve that skein you’ve been holding onto since 1998.  I’ve done some of them, others I’m still holding on to for future she bu de yarn purchases.  One can never have too many cowls… right?

(Click on picture to go to pattern link)

If you’ve REALLY got a lot of time, colorways, and desire to make sooper rainbow mitts, here you go.

I love pretty much anything from the Purl Bee, and their yarn is always gorgeous.  Plus, free patterns!

If you’ve got just a bit of extra luxurious soft yarn, whip up this hat for a baby.

First cowl of the day!  I love the wooden buttons.

So maybe this doesn’t necessarily need luxury yarn, but omg c’mon, this pattern is awesome.

This is one of the most popular patterns on Ravelry, and for good reason – it’s hard to find a very manly yet cool standard hat that any guy will be willing to wear.  Ask my husband.

I’ve had this one saved for ages, and even bought eight skeins of Bernat roving to make it.  I just got distracted by the forty other projects in the time it took the yarn to come in the mail.  #toomuchyarn

For your super bulky yarn, this one whips up in a jiffy and is gorgeous with the repeating leaf pattern.

So. Pretty!!

If you’ve got a bit of extra yarn, this baby jacket is wonderful.  It’s classic and works well for both boys and girls, and can be embellished to the nines with buttons or flowers or trim.

I could go on all day, but for the sake of your tired eyes I’ll stop.  What are some of your favorite patterns for fancy yarn??

Shake your pom pom, shake your pom pom…

A few months ago I discovered this fantastic pattern for a quick and sporty toddler/child hat.  I totally luuuurved it – it was fast, it was easy, it was my first time knitting stripes, the boy factor was most definitely there, and the color combinations (read: sports team related) are endless.  It was a great way to use smallish amounts of my ever-increasing Lion Brand Thick n Quick collection, PLUS two Christmasses ago I had gotten a whole collection of pom pom makers that I’d never actually used.  Win!

Pom Pom Knit Hat Pattern | Classy Crochet

When my husband saw these, he immediately wanted one in the University of Michigan colors.  Apparently, Lion Brand’s dark navy blue and citron yellow don’t cut it.  For a guy who can’t tell the difference between purple and orange on any given day, he suddenly becomes an expert on the nuances between “maize” and “mustard” when it comes to his beloved football team.  In an effort to find the right color yarn, in the right weight and texture, I had to expand my yarn choices to Lion Brand Homespun, a similar weight yarn in a shinier acrylic that I wasn’t a huge fan of (it’s not terribly elastic), but darn it if the colors weren’t more accurate for his precious Wolverines.

Anyway, this is by no means a “look what I created!” pattern, because I very obviously fashioned it off of Fiberflux, but here is what I did for a (very) large men’s head.  My own head is also ginormous (23″) and my husband’s is 24″.  The hat fit my head fine, I just had to add a few rows for his head.

Cast on 44 stitches with size 13 needles (16″ circular) in main color (MC)

Rows 1-5: k2, p2 rib

Row 6: switch to size 15 needles.

Knit two rows in MC, two rows in second color (CC), alternate two rows MC/two rows CC for three rows of CC total

Continue knitting in MC until hat measures 6″/6.5″ (for 23″ or 24″ head) – this ended up being about 16 stockinette rows total for my husband, probably about 14 rows for myself.  Begin decrease sequence.  If your own head is a much more normal 21″-22″, cast on 40 stitches instead of 44.  I’d still knit 14 rows though.

Decrease sequence:

Row 1: *k2tog, k3, repeat from * to end of round.

Row 2: knit

Row 3: *k2tog, k2, repeat from * to end of round.

Row 4: switch to dpns, knit

Row 5: *k2tog, k1, repeat from * to end of round.

Row 6: knit

Row 7: k2tog around.

Row 8: k2tog around, fasten off.

Make extremely large pompom.  You’ll have two tails from tying it together; use these to thread into hat, sew a few stitches to secure, and then tie a square knot.  Secure some more, and fasten off.

So.  Pom poms.  Although as previously stated, I had four pompom makers, sadly the largest one still came woefully short regarding adequate fluffy balls (yes, snicker).  Therefore, I had to go online and order an additional one, the largest pom pom maker I could find.  It look something like five weeks to get here, by which time said husband’s head was getting pretty durn chilly.  Glad it finally came though, he loves his hat and wears it everywhere!

Pom Pom Knit Hat Pattern | Classy Crochet

Please ignore the fact that the first stripe is obviously three rows up from the other two, not two rows as previously stated in the pattern.  I was watching Wrath of the Titans for like the eightieth time (hey, U.S. television is limited in China), was distracted by the Medusa scene, lost count, and by the time I realized I was off I was waaaaay too lazy to rip it back down and fix it.  Husband didn’t worry at all though, apparently men don’t care about miscounted rows.

GO BLUE!

Yarn Adventures in Beijing

Ever since I moved to Beijing in April 2012, I’ve been looking to buy yarn.  I mean, we are in China.  Everything is MADE in China.  It would therefore seem obvious that everything is available for purchase here, and at a fraction of the cost you’d get it in the U.S., right?

As you may imagine from my not-so-subtle foreshadowing, the answer to this supposedly rhetorical question is, sadly, nope.  Ironically, most of the things you ubiquitously see “Made in China” in every other country in the world, cannot be found in China itself.  The products are mysteriously produced in mysterious factories and are mysteriously shipped to their international locations.  Of course, then you get the knockoffs, but that’s another story for another day.  One of the first things I learned upon moving here was, “lower your expectations substantially.  Then lower them some more.  This way you’ll only be pleasantly surprised when something actually goes as you had imagined.”

Finding yarn was one such expectation.  I first asked the Community Liason Officer in our Beijing Embassy weeks upon my arrival.  She’s supposed to know where to get everything local, since she is a Beijing local.  So, I asked.  She scratched her head and said “weeellll… I suppose you COULD go to Wool City.  They have yarn there.  But mostly they’ll want to sell you something custom made from the yarn, not the yarn itself.”  I looked it up on a map.  It was clear on the other side of town, and a substantial enough distance from the subway that I knew I’d get lost.  (I have the worst sense of direction a human being could possibly have.  This, coupled with less-than stellar language skills, makes for awesome exploration in an unknown city.)  Wool City never happened.  Then I asked some local friends.  They excitedly told me about a few different places, but always concluded with “it’s kind of hard to find, I’ll have to take you sometime”, which also never happened.

Finally, finally, after having ordered enough yarn online to stock up an entire bedroom, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and go local.  Okay… actually, my husband decided it was time to bite the bullet and freakin find some freakin yarn in freakin China already.  We picked a random Monday and decided to head out to Dong Jiao Market, a local place that ‘sells everything, including yarn’, and figured we could make it both an exploration AND a mission.  It is supposed to be where locals go (instead of us foreign tourists) and therefore more, shall we way, authentic.  Which in China always means more dirty.  Because of that, and I knew how overwhelming such markets could be, I wanted to stay focused and didn’t bring my camera, so here are photos I’ve stolen off the Internet.

Behold, the insanity of Dong Jiao:

You first enter with a what looks to be promising gate of typical Chinese fashion.  Ooh, you think.  A real market!  Yes, according to China standards, this was certainly a ‘real’ market.  You then proceeded to walk down aisles and aisles of outdoor stalls selling STUFF: food, plastic bins, bikes, motorcycles, socks, spices, teas, etc.  No yarn, we noted.  Moving on, there were several warehouse-sized buildings to our left that promised untold treasures inside.  The first one we entered…

…sold meat.  And fruit.  And vegetables, in dizzying quantities.  The day we went was cold and slushy, which meant cold and really, really nasty wet muddy dirty, and the smells were overwhelming.  The husband wanted to walk through all the aisles, but we weren’t planning on buying any meat, and I commented “I don’t think a meat aisle sells yarn.  At least, I don’t want to think that the yarn is sold with the meat.”  So, we exited and entered the first of what would be many doors of the warehouse two bunkers down. (The second warehouse was clearly labeled “Kitchen Schtuff”, two of the forty Chinese characters I know! so we knew not to go in there).

As we were leaving, we passed a woman – one of  many – sitting behind one of these spice stalls.  She was knitting a huMONgous looking creation on twenty or so metal needles, so we knew that yarn was somewhere close!  When we asked her where to buy it, she pointed vaguely in a northerly direction, so a northerly direction we went.

The (third) bunker ended up being filled.with.stuff.  All kinds of stuff imaginable.  Each stall about six feet wide, each aisle about twenty stalls long, each building about ten stalls wide, and each door leading to about eight buildings total.  We walked down almost every single one.

I could go on all day, but suffice to say it took us about an hour of solid walking before we even felt like we’d infiltrated the building.

THEN there was the issue of actually finding the yarn.  Asking directions in China is always an adventure. “Excuse me, where do you find yarn?”  “Oh, go through this building, all the way down to the end, and turn left.  You can’t miss it.”  We dead ended in children’s clothing.  While it was impressive we found textiles, there was no yarn.  So we asked again.  “Oh, go to the OTHER side of the building, fourth row down, all the way on the right.”  Keep in mind, these buildings are like the size of airplane hangars.  Upon arrival, we found mops and brooms.  This was starting to get just a tad irritating.

Finally, FINALLY, someone pointed us in the right direction, and I found myself standing in front of two (2) tiny, 6 foot stalls selling yarn.  I mean… really??  Of the four thousand stalls selling plastic puke bins, you can’t have more than a two stall demand for yarn?  Okay, fine whatever.  After much debate, hemming and hawing with the very nice young man, and elbowing my way past women who kept grabbing the yarn I’d set aside for purchase and rubbing it all over their face to test the softness (yes I replaced it), I settled for some brightly colored, half acrylic/wool skeins at 50 cents for 75 yards.  It was unwound, which meant I’d have a great opportunity to use the electric yarn winder my mother in law got me for Christmas.  I never thought I’d use it as much as I have, but it’s a life saver.  🙂  I told the husband that the colors would be perfect for the sports-related hats I’m always getting commissioned to make, and after a short debate of “do I want orange? yellow? which shade of pink?” I ended up walking away with *all of them* and a camping backpack stuffed to the gills with unwound yarn.  I mean, it ended up being like $50, how could I say no?

DSC_1121

I don’t know if this photo adequately captures just how much yarn this is.  Not only was it piled to my head, but each color came in five small hanks that had to be individually wound into 75 yard skeins… five times twenty different colors = 100 little balls of yarn to wind.  I better be able to do something with it all.  🙂

This is what 100 little wound balls look like.  Keep in mind this shelf was three-four balls deep.  I have so much fun in my spare time.

1-DSC_1158

DSC_1119

Oh, and I also picked up a random skein of music hand knotted flocking yarn.  Because y’know, the fashion vanguard, bring us sunshine mood!