Shopping For Yarn In South Korea (Or Trying To)

Eleven years ago, I met a young Korean at my university. Three years later, I married him.

IMGP6170Since then, we’ve been going to South Korea every summer, to visit his family and discover the country (well, for me anyways). In all that time (that’s nine trips to South Korea, including one where I went on my own for work), I can’t believe I had never shopped for yarn in Seoul, even though I had just learned how to knit on my very first stay on the peninsula.

So when our plane landed in Seoul earlier this month, yarn shopping was one of the first items on my to-do list. As it turned out, it was both a success and a failure, and all in all an interesting experience.

So one day, after a fun morning spent exploring the streets of the medicinal herbs market (that’s its entrance gate you see above) and a nice meal of bindaetteok — a kind of rice and green onion pancake…

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That’s bindaetteoks you can see piling here in the background

… The Husband and I headed for Dongdaemun, one of Seoul’s districts known for its textile industry, and specifically for its underground shopping centre, because I vaguely recalled having read on Ravelry that there were yarn shops here. That’s when my well thought-out plan — take my time, explore, take lots of picture, pick up fun things I could not find in Europe — started to go out of control.

We descended the stairs leading to the shopping centre, and I drew in a deep breath and began to feel dizzy and a little unsteady on my legs, because all I could see was yarn. Yarn everywhere, from floor to ceiling. So I staggered into the first shop, The Husband (probably worrying vaguely) in my tow. (Actually I’m not even sure how many yarn shops there were. Maybe it was just that one. I was so mesmerized that my memories are very unclear.) There was so much yarn I felt completely overwhelmed.

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A tiny corner in the yarn shop. That’s my husband in the middle. You can’t tell from that picture, but he’s a very handsome man.

When I bursted through the door on my wobbly legs, my entrance was greeted by a surprised “oh !” from the two shop ladies, very likely because I don’t look quite Korean. One of them said : “Hello, what are you looking for ?” and I managed to gather my wits enough to mumble : “Er… yarn.” (I can speak Korean. Not fluently, but I can manage most situations of daily life.) Note that this was the only answer which came to my mind, in a place literally filled with yarn and very little else.

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A tube of a very green, very ordinary-time-of-the-Church-calendar green yarn.

The rest is a blur in my mind. There were so many things to see, and the two ladies were so excited to have a foreigner-who-speaks-Korean-and-who-knits as their customer that they took me from one corner of the shop to the other, and at some point they asked me what colour I’d like and I bursted out “green” (I did have dreams about a green cardigan) and they got out all kinds of green yarn in about every possible green hue between yellow and dark blue and in all sorts of weights and had me pet them and wanted to know what exact shade I had in mind and… When I gathered my senses, I stood in the middle of the shop with two tubes of very green yarn (that’s 10 balls. Ten.).

Then the lovely shop ladies explained that since I was a foreigner, and not only that, but a foreigner who could knit and speak Korean, they were going to give my some knitting needles. Just a few. Like five circulars (five !) in 3 and 4mm. Admittedly they were rather cheap-looking needles, two bamboo points linked by a plastic tube, but still. Then they decided this was not enough and threw a scouring pad they had crocheted out of metallic yarn into the mix. I could barely believe it.IMGP6359

At least the yarn I had picked was something rather unusual for me : a cotton/wool mix with apparently some cashmere in it. The feel is quite surprising, a bit like a soft, bouncy cotton. Or like a very crisp wool. The stitch definition is quite nice. As soon as we were home in the evening, I picked a pattern (that’s Akebia.  I couldn’t decide between lace and cables, but why decide when you can have both at the same time ?), I took out one of my bamboo-plastic needles and happily broke knitting’s number one rule. I didn’t swatch. Or rather, I made a vague thing resembling a swatch, pretended to measure it with the ruler app on my smartphone screen, frogged it and cast on. The needles do work. I like the feel of bamboo, but that’s a personal thing ; the plastic tube is a bit of a pain on cast-on rows (because my cast-on stitches are rather tight and making them slide on the tube is difficult), but once that first row is over they’re quite alright.

IMGP6361My green cardigan is growing nicely. The back is complete and I’ve begun the right front. The size seems to be just right, which is a good thing since I didn’t really swatch. I wish I had though, because my needles are now dyed in green and it could have been a good thing to know in advance what will happen when I wet-block it.

On the whole, I’m happy with that yarn. Had I not been so overwhelmed, I’d probably have chosen something a bit different, not in terms of fibre content but in terms of colour (I’d have preferred a tonal or semi-variegated yarn, I think). But then I’ve no idea how to say that in Korean, and I don’t think The Husband knows either.

When we left Korea, I thought I’d make a little test with those needles. I borrowed some thread and a needle from my mother-in-law, ran a lifeline through my knitting just in case, and on the next morning I showed up at the airport security check with my knitting in my bag (I’m putting that in italics because I’m French and French airports state explicitly that knitting needles are prohibited from cabin luggage, so I had always believed I would never be able to knit on a plane). I was prepared to have to open my bag and answer a few questions. I was even prepared to have my needles taken out of my knitting and thrown away (hence the lifeline). Nobody said anything. We went through security again before catching our second plane. Nobody said anything. I knit on both flights. Nobody said anything. These bamboo and plastic tube needles are officially my new plane needles.

Socks

My back is getting much better, so I should soon be able to put together a blog post about the knitting side of my holidays.

Meanwhile, the weather here at home seems to have forgotten it is supposed to be summer. It is raining cats and dogs, there is wind and chilly temperatures, and so I have new socks. (Actually I had finished them just before we left for the airport one month ago, to spend a two weeks and half summer vacation at my parents-in-laws’, and I wove in the ends today.)

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The pattern is Pine Tree Toe Up Socks (Ravelry link), but I’m calling them my mexican socks, because the colours remind me of mexican food — corn ears, chili, red beans. I’ve forgotten what the yarn is. They’re bright and cheery, they’re only my second pair of toe-ups, with a short-row heel that could have been managed better (the first was made for The Husband, who doesn’t feel the irrepressible call to become a sock model), they don’t match and I don’t care, and they bring to me a little bit of the summer I’m yearning for.

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And they’re especially welcome since I forgot my favorite pair of hand knit socks at my parents-in-laws’, who live some 9’000 kilometers away (so it’s not really as if I could just drop by and pick them up next week). It was just a plain pair of socks, but in a lovely Kaffe Fasset colourway. I had bought the yarn in Jersey, during my first “on our own” holiday trip with The Husband, because it had lovely blue, green and purple hues which reminded me of the island — sea, grass and heather. They fitted me perfectly, were hard-wearing and associated with wonderful memories of a great time in a stunningly beautiful place. I miss them and I hope Mother (that’s what I call my mother-in-law) will safely put them away until next year.

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In case you wonder why on earth anyone would bring woolen socks on a summer vacation, I have only one word in answer : planes. Planes are cold places. Feet get cold on planes, therefore it is most unwise to board one without a pair of good woolen socks. I nearly panicked on the journey home when I sat in the plane, opened my bag to fish out my socks and realized they were not here. Thankfully The Husband, who, by some mystery of nature, does not get cold feet as easily as I do, even on planes, handed me his own pair, and I was safe.

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I’m really glad to have this fun new pair as a compensation. The pattern was great, straightforward and easy to follow. I made only a few changes : I didn’t want to have open eyelets on each side of the “spine” featured in the chevron pattern on the leg (because these were meant to be “warm” socks, and holes in your socks kind of defeat that purpose), and I purled every yarn over through the back loop on the following wrong side row so as to twist the stitch and thus close the hole. This meant that the pattern would be loosing some of its stretch in terms of width, and that I would have to add an increase row after turning the heel, so that the sock would be neither too loose on the foot nor too tight on the leg. It took me two unsuccessful tries to settle on the right numbers, but I got there eventually.

Socks are good. I have another pair on my needles, in the most psychedelic rainbow colourway. Very satisfying to knit and the ultimate antidote to bad weather.

Bad Blogger

I’ve been a very bad blogger these last weeks (or months, actually). To try and make myself forgiven, I can only say that I’ve been sick with a cold, then tired because I had been sick, then sick again, then away on vacation (more on that in a few days) where I caught my third cold in a row. Returning home has been rather epic, with The Husband sick as well, and The Cat who had also caught a cold while in cat pension. We have all been rather unwell last week, but The Cat, poor thing, was the most unwell of us. She seems to be getting better, between antibiotic shots and daily medication, and since yesterday has recovered enough to manifest interest in Things instead of dragging herself to the couch, where I sat blowing my nose through boxes of kleenexes (is that a word ?), and collapsing heavily on my lap, breathing laboriously through the mouth.

Just when I was beginning to cough a little less yesterday, I began to feel an acute pain in my back which is not getting better. I’m grateful to be still able to knit, provided my back is straight and propped up on a complex combination of pillows. So, instead of speaking of my holidays, the yarn I bought while away, and how I got to actually knit on an international flight, I’ll just knit on, because the mere thought of taking photographs to show you makes my back hurt. Hopefully I’ll be up to it in two or three days !