The essence of travel - a small knitting project on an airplane seat!
'Decided last minute to join My Beloved on a business trip to Buenos Aires. We've been back a few days but no jet lag as the 13 1/2 hour flight is a straight shot due south making the time difference only an hour!

Buenos Aires held many unexpected surprises for me - I may have to post more on that later but first, as a knitter, the trip was worth the disruption to the days preceding and following it - even for a reluctant traveller/nervous flyer like me.

On a brief layover in Santiago Chile, amid a stunning mountain backdrop, we stretched our legs after our first overnight flight and browsed shops featuring gorgeous Chilean crafts.

Among the treasures were inspiring hand knits in undyed local wool...

Then it was on to Buenos Aires where there is a full on yarn district! All the city's yarn shops, almost a dozen of them, are clustered along three city blocks or so in the neighbourhood of Palermo.

Many of the shops are filled with bright/lurid colours of largely acrylic yarn as well as super shiney "Vegetable Silk" which I assume is also some kind of synthetic.

These stores look like candy or toy stores do here at home and probably are designed to appeal to children as knitting and crochet is part of the elementary school curriculum in Argentina.

In other words 'safe to assume everyone you pass on the street in BA knows how to knit and crochet. How amazing is that?

Sadly, from a male tour guide who took offence at the very suggestion, I was informed that grown men in Argentina don't knit or crochet. He assured me many women do so throughout their lives but it's strictly a domestic activity, never undertaken in polite public society. I got the impression its something they regard as the equivalent of ironing.

The thing is, this kind of matched my impression of the local population. BA has a surprisingly serious vibe - none of the raucous Latin joie de vivre I was expecting - unless of course one of their teams wins a game somewhere, as they did with the Rugby World Championships while we were there. Then its late night fireworks above crowded city squares. These filled with cheering masses who happily stream along side streets, often with sleepy children in tow to collect in the huge crowds. All the while lines of shield carrying riot police surround buildings and monuments to protect them and their contents.

In the morning though, its right back to a more quiet civic demeanour they self describe as "noble".

In keeping with this is a refreshingly meagre sense of consumerism across the urban landscape with yarn stores being no exception. They are places where one buys yarn and only yarn - except maybe the odd bikini???!?

Anyway yarn stores don't seem to offer classes, patterns, books or even notions. There are no chairs or couches and its obvious the expectation among the largely male "yarn consultants" that stand behind deli-like counters with the yarn organized on shelves behind them is that the shopper knows what she is doing, what she is looking for and how she will use what she buys.

I had yet to understand these nuances of Buenos Aires yarn commerce when I started my giddy tour armed with a simplistic notion of trying to get a deal on South American brands like Malabrigo or Manos del Uruguay and accompanied by the saint of a man who secretly packed an empty leather valise in his suitcase to accommodate potential yarn purchases en route home.

Here we are, reflected in the first shop we came upon having just arrived in the "District". I'm madly snapping pictures while he passes the time doing email.
I quickly learned Manos and Malabrigo were only stocked in one shop and when I found that store, the brands were no bargain and only a couple of skeins of each to be had so I put that notion aside, opened my mind to the possibilities and discovered in Buenos Aries...

...They love T-shirt yarn.

Me, not so much, I passed on this stuff. (See the bright colours on the shelves in the background?)

...Knitting/Crochet seems to be about fashion not for the sake of the crafts themselves. It isn't uncommon to see mannequins styled with complete outfits of which the hand made item is but one of the garments on display.

My mum favoured crochet so I grew up with it. Nonetheless its never "spoken to me before. In BA, surrounded by great uses of it like this it really started to call to me.
...They do love their synthetics - not surprising I guess - its not like they need the warmth of wool very often!

The acrylic and "Vegetable Silk " are the only branded yarns I saw.  I bet the school kids love these yarns (and probably also bikinis?) 

...The yarn stores that look styled for grown ups, where the natural fibre yarns are to be had, are subdued places with soft, muted colours, thoughtful displays and without a bikini in sight.

...Mohair is big but often combined with acrylic. I was eager to jump on the mohair bandwagon and was enchanted with the colours of the 30/30/30 Mohair/Wool/Acrylic yarn below...

However lovely it looked in the skein, a knitted sample demonstrated you could feel the 30% Acrylic to a degree I knew would bother me so I very sadly left this stuff behind.

You see you don't get to handle the skeins, which are all priced by the kilo, and remember, devoid of labels! If you are curious about it, why there, in the middle of the shop is a table heaped with big knitted/crocheted swatches. Only the consultants touch the yarn in the skeins, its out of shoppers' potentially grimy hands on those tidy shelves behind the counters around the perimeter of the store.

I must say though, considering yarn via swatches in varying shades of white and grey is pretty effective in helping you select something based primarily on what a yarn can do, how it drapes, its heft or delicacy etc.

Once you have a swatch in your hands you like, your male yarn consultant piles skeins onto the big shiny scales just like when you order deli meats at the butcher shop. They don't want shoppers pawing yarn for sale with potentially grimy hands I guess.

You have no idea about yardage, no two skeins are the same length. There are no dye lots, colour names or numbers, recommendations for gauge, needle size or washing instructions because, remember, no labels! You need to recognize what you are looking at, know what to do with it and how much to buy. They didn't really seem prepared to help you with that kind of information.

(Just like you wouldn't walk up the counter where they sell the cold cuts, point at a salami and ask how you might serve that or for lessons on how to slice it or make a sandwich with it.)

So there I was, 20 minutes left to make some decisions, surrounded by yarn, My Beloved patiently doing emails and my yarn buying experience rendered null and void for tackling the task before me of filling that empty valise.

It took a few minutes for this prospect to stop being terrifying, but then, I have to say, I felt kind of empowered. I took a deep breath, adjusted my mental point of view and looked about for some yarn to grab my attention and tell me what it wanted to become back here at home.

Can you guess what screamed out to me as I approached this shop window?

Yup, the creamy basket of undyed, locally grown, hand spun crazy fabulousness in the bottom left corner...

I marched into the shop, located the swatch, found the consultant with the best English and bought 1.5 glorious kilos, (about 3.3 pounds) of that stuff for $67.00 Canadian.

Then from the same shop - 75 grams of undyed wool roving, silky with lanolin for under $3.00 - my plan, to tuck this BA souvenir secretly into the lining of mittens - ironic for a sub-equatorial souvenir don't you think?

This was followed shortly thereafter in another store by a purchase of 2 kilos of bulky Patagonian cotton for just over $40.00.

Both of these larger treasures told me, in no uncertain terms they desired to become glorious throws - the wool one for home, the cotton for the cottage.

Next we joined some friends for coffee in an outdoor cafe on the grounds of a former Mansion turned Decorative Arts Museum.

Al fresco Espresso and Candied Orange Peel
BA is a most civilized place - everyone knows how to knit and no one drinks coffee from paper cups! 'Hard to say if I'll ever go back but most certainly I am glad I chose to make the trip this time!


Anonymous said...

Wow Buenos Aires looks amazing indeed. I have wanted to visit for some time.
Glad you had a chance to get there.
Thanks for the photos. I look forward to seeing the photos of the finished blankets.

Brendaknits said...

WOW! Such a life you lead. Your impression of the people made me think they are much like Canadians. Holding things close to the chest - until the home team wins the division.

Steven said...

A yarn district! Just think of it! Your experience in these shops reminds me of the musical She Loves Me!, and its earlier film iteration, The Shop Around the Corner. Everything handled by knowledgeable, slightly superior clerks. It must have been intimidating and fun at the same time -- your post made it seem so! What a wonderful trip. Hope to make it there myself some day.

Needles said...

Oh how lovely. The pictures look grand and it looks like you came home with the cream of the crop. I love the cotton you chose. Stunning.