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.

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Time freely spent

Perfection — minus 21 stitches.

Perfection — minus 21 stitches.

A few weeks ago, Mr Knitting Theologian requested a vest to wear over his shirts at work. He was rather specific about what he wanted : something relatively close-fitting, grey, in a non-scratchy wool. I spent some time on Ravelry and found a pattern we both liked (Aspen). On a work trip to a Real City (we live on the country), I took some time to stop at a yarn store where I found some gorgeous, squishy and very soft grey merino yarn — and Mr Knitting Theologian liked it very much. Then, on a quiet evening, I settled on the sofa, did some maths to knit the vest in the round as he didn’t want a front opening, and cast on. It was wonderful. The wool knit to a magnificent fabric. There was enough plain stockinette to be a quiet and meditative knit, and two nice cables on the front to keep it interesting. Very quickly, it became quite addictive. I spent every free minute I could find knitting on it. The more it grew, the more I loved it. A soft, cushiony wool ; a deep, not quite solid grey ; a dense, very even texture ; everything about it was pure pleasure.

On Sunday, I had knit enough of it to bind off stitches for the armholes and knit the front and the back separately. And that is when I realized there should have been 21 more stitches between the two cables on the front.

palm_sunday_cvetnica_orthodox_iconAt first, I was, of course, angry and frustrated. I think I even said something along the lines of “This knitting thing will make me crazy”. After a few moments, though, I remembered it was Palm Sunday, the day hundreds of people gave up their coat — their only coat — to pave the road into Jerusalem for Christ, out of sheer joy and love. Ripping thirty-two centimeters’ worth of perfect knitting wasn’t half as impressive a thing to do. What I remembered too, instants later, was that this was not just knitting. This was — this is — Pleasure. Doing it all over again would be more bliss than frustration, time spent not only creating a beautiful thing but also feeling that soft yarn between my fingers, pressing my cheek against that beautiful, smooth fabric, making stitch after stitch not only with a wonderful yarn, but with joy and with love, with joy at making something beautiful for someone I love. Because sometimes, knitting is that good.

Old Friends Already : Ilmarinen and Bavarian Sweater

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Ilmarinen

Old friends, that’s what these two garments already feel like, although I finished them relatively recently. Surprisingly, they also are little-knit patterns on Ravelry – the one, Tuulia Salmela’s Ilmarinen cardigan, registers only 11 projects when it’s beautiful colourwork (and a well-written, clear and free pattern) ; the other, Sarah Monroe’s Bavarian Sweater, has none yet (despite also being a well-written and clear, though not free, pattern). I’ll probably add the first one when I finish writing this post.

In the few past months, both cardigan and sweater have made their way into my standard wardrobe ; I find myself wearing them again and again because they’re pretty, fit well and are comfortable.

IMGP5729Ilmarinen, I must say, was heavily modified as I went along. For three reasons : the first is that despite knitting a gauge, complete with steels, and blocking it, the cardigan turned out to be way to big (I really don’t know why). I had to take in quite a bit by making big seams under the arms, which kind of ruined the whole purpose of knitting in the round, but I wasn’t brave enough to rip it all and start all over.

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Short sleeves !

The second reason is that I had succeeded in convincing myself that dropped shoulders would flatter my own already drooping shoulders, but when I tried it on, still sleeveless, in front of a mirror, I knew that it wouldn’t do. So I decided my Ilmarinen would be short-sleeved. All it took was to gather the stitches around the armhole and add a few rows of corrugated ribbing.

Collar

The third reason is another case of self-delusion : I had planned on closing the front with a zipper, forgetting that I actually don’t like zippers. Of course, I only remembered that after I had secured the cut steeks of the front in two layers of stockinette stitch and finished them off with I-cord, too late to add buttonholes. I thought it would look nice if, rather than sewing in a zipper I wouldn’t like, I simply joined both fronts at the top by knitting them into a collar. (I ended up wearing it with an added safety pin to prevent the edgings from curling).

And there it is : highly enjoyable colourwork I loved knitting and love wearing.

Bavarian Sweater

Bavarian Sweater

Now, the Bavarian Sweater was much more straightforward. I think I didn’t make any modification, which is quite rare for me.

On the whole, I’m quite happy with it ; look at all these lovely, intricate cables ! I forgot to take a picture of the back, but it also features them. That means you get to knit them twice in a row (as it’s knit in the round). What else could you wish for ?

Cables !

Cables !

The only thing I’m not completely satisfied with is that the finished sweater puckers under the arms. I should probably have done some shaping in order to get an even better fit. Oh, well. These cables are worth it.

 

I should also mention the yarn I used for this, The Natural Dye Studio‘s 4 ply in the colourway “Nude” (this, obviously, means it’s undyed). It’s wool from Bluefaced Leicester sheep, it’s very soft, warm, light, and knits up to a wonderful fabric.

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This is where I wish there actually were readers on this blog, because I think these two patterns would deserve a big shout-out. They’re just too lovely and too enjoyable to remain hidden in the depths of Ravelry’s database.