Thursday, June 28, 2012

Three Yarn Shops in Vallecas and Vicálvaro

In order to hook on the metro (ahem, crochet, that is) for six hours a week, one does need materials.  And no, I'm not talking stripper shoes and corsets.

I have yet to go to the famed Gato Negro in Madrid's city center, although I have stopped by three mercerías (yarn and notions shop, also defined as haberdashery, but I have not a clue what that means) in Vallecas and Vicálvaro.  I was surprised that, as both of these neighborhoods are classified as "blue collar", their sewing shops were disappointing, to say the least.  It seems that yarn work in Spain has become something for the rich and famous - see the many adorable cutesy yarn shops in Salamanca, with yarn at prices I can't afford on my student budget - or for the elderly, who are accustomed to making projects in season, and thus expect the yarn shop to be out of wool yarns since it's 45 degrees celcius outside.  I, however, was floored when I asked to see their collection of wool blends (lanas) and was told that all they had was what I was seeing.  So sad.

In case you are shopping for yarn here in Madrid, you should know this: when you walk into a yarn shop, most of their yarns will be behind the counter, and you have to ask them to pull down what you would like to see since you can't, as I nostalgically call it, "browse by touch".  This is annoying and time-consuming, and you have to have a pretty good mastery of "Spanish for Hookers" parlance - which, incidentally, I acquired through this website -, although the great thing about having to physically interact and converse with the shopkeeper (oh, how I miss you Michaels and Jo Ann Fabrics!) is that they know their product, and they often know what product you need, even if you don't.  And they will tell you; Spaniards are open like that.  As in, "No, I think I'd like a grey that's a bit lighter"... "No, you need this grey for that hat.  It will be better.  The End."

So, here are the three shops that I have visited recently, with a few comments on each:

1. Mercería in Mercado Villa de Vallecas

Address: c/ Sierra Vieja, 61, 28031 Madrid (Vallecas, Casco histórico)

This is an alterations shop that happens to have things by way of yarn.  They cater heavily to crochet threads and knitting.  Their button selection is slim pickin's.  I purchased two balls of Katia Costa Rica for 3.80€ each and a 3.00mm crochet hook for 2.10€.  They didn't have any crochet hooks between 3.00mm and 7.00mm, "because it's not the season for those hooks" (this logic is flawed, at best, but here I'd like to draw your attention to the "shopkeeper is always right" mentality that I referenced above).  I also purchased two wooden buttons for another project, and I believe these were about .20€ each.  They had a small selection of ribbons.  I wish they had more, as this shop is super convenient to my house, but alas.  I will update with any amazing finds.

2. Mercería in Vicálvaro

Address: Mercería / Lencería Benita; cross of c/ Jardín de la Duquesa and c/ Mercurio, 28032, Madrid (Vicálvaro)

I happened upon this shop because I am currently nannying a girl who lives right across the street.  I didn't have great expectations, as this is primarily a lencería (lingerie shop, but not in the dirty way).  They only had one set of shelves with yarn, and they are very poor quality (Dulce).  However, this is the place to go to stock up on buttons.  The browsing experience is a delight, as they have arranged the buttons in folders based on color, and you can actually touch and play with the buttons before requesting them.  Most buttons range from 0.07€-0.50€, with the mean being around 0.17€ per button.  And the buttons are adorable!  I picked up everything from wooden buttons to silver-plated buttons to wooden buttons shaped like rabbit faces to flat white buttons for 0.07€ a pop.  They were adorable, and it was one of the best buying experiences I've had.  Incidentally, the yarn skeins cost 1.25€ or 1.50€, depending on the weight (the finer weights are more expensive).  They are all acrylic, but I will be returning for ribbons - of which there are hundreds!! - and buttons.  I spent about 8€ here and came home with 2 skeins of yarn and 22 adorable buttons.  The shopkeeper even gave me a button that I wanted because they didn't have any more in stock - trust me, that doesn't happen in your average haberdashery... I still don't know what that word means.

3. Mercería y Labores Geva

Address: c/ Real de Arganda, 40, 28031 Madrid (Vallecas, Casco histórico)

If Michaels had a baby with a Spanish mercería, it would probably look something like this shop.  There is even a clearance section, where I purchased two skeins of wool / acrylic Turkish yarns (whose name escapes my feeble brain) for 1.95€ each.  They crocheted really nice, as I made a hat out of them yesterday.  I also ended the search for THE IMPOSSIBLY DIFFICULT TO FIND 4.00mm crochet hook.  And she acted like it was odd that I couldn't find the hook at other mercerías, which leads me to believe that they will have more hard-to-find supplies (insert evil laugh here).  I purchased two skeins of Lanas Stop Top Merino yarn in rose and cream at 4.80€ a pop.  I also picked up four buttons; two were silver with filigree and used in my baby Mary Janes (check them out on Etsy) and two pink buttons for 0.10€ each.  I spent almost 16€ at this store, so until I start selling more Etsy items, this will be another one of those luxuries that I can't afford... like new underwear and Coca Cola.  Oh, well, at least I'll lose weight and my boyfriend will have easy access through my holy drawers.  Check out this shop if you want a good buying experience, but don't go on a Tuesday, when all the old ladies in a hurry are trying to get to the outdoor flea market and your browsing time will be limited.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

It all started...

Much like in Harry Potter, it all started with boredom and an owl. 

I started teaching English classes as a way to "pay it forward" while taking advantage of a generous Fulbright grant to research for my doctoral thesis.  I began with one class in September.  Now it's June, I'm teaching six classes per week and, since the Fulbright grant is now but a memory, I went from graduate student philanthropist to "poor American seeking income without a work permit while between grants".

I teach English classes from children ranging 6 months to 7 years.  It's an amazing gig - you get to play with lots of toys, you get to laugh when you tickle another human being, and you feel incredibly proud when a student learns how to say "Please" and "Thank you".  I might also be using this time as a sick psychological experiment to determine whether or not I will be fit for motherhood in the next decade, but let's just keep this between you, me, and the platform.

The drawback to teaching private English classes in Madrid - and probably any major city in the civilized world - is the commute.  I spend 385 minutes on the metro each week just commuting to private classes.  That's a little over six and a half hours.  And I could only listen to "Just Somebody That I Used to Know" so many times before my mobile phone battery gave out and I was forced to stare at other passengers... or nothing.

That's when I found this adorable pattern for a hat.  Mind you, this was a long discovery process, which began with thinking about starting a photography business here in Madrid, and at no point in the process was I looking for baby crochet patterns because I have a bun in the oven (So stop wondering, Mom!)... In the end, I started crocheting on the metro to pass the time and to create adorably, cuddly little creations for newborns suffering from "alien head syndrome".

I may have mentioned this before, but since I am no longer an active grantee, perfecting my ability to live on 40 euros per week, and nobody really pays you in Spain during the summer unless you have a work permit or a highly marketable skill (which, unfortunately, a graduate degree in Iberian literature has yet to grant me), I decided to start making baby hats, which I will eventually sell on Etsy.  I love Etsy.  I love to buy from Etsy.  I love to browse Etsy.  It's like Pinterest exploded into a wonderful orgy of pastel colors and homemade goodness.  Did I mention that I love Etsy?

So that's how it started.  Thanks for joining me on my journey to inner peace and tranquility in what would otherwise be a hair-raising commute, the ability to drown out stupid teenagers who find a metro car the ideal place to practice break dancing with a group of friends, and the perfection of yet another non-marketable, useless skill.

Endnotes (aka, For the Lawyers):

1.  My mom is probably not wondering if I am pregnant, just to clarify.  In fact, I am pretty sure that she is in no way ready for me to make her a grandma again, since she told me very clearly that if I even thought about marrying and creating life with my boyfriend before I finished my PhD, I would be out of the inheritance and she would think that I am the stupidest person in higher education.
1a.  Although my mom did say that I should defend my dissertation before procreating, she never called me stupid.  She also didn't say anything about an inheritance, which leads me to believe there is no inheritance, which is great, since I don't have to be worried about being excluded from it since I picked up and moved to another country. 
1b.  To all of those who love my mom (like me), please recognize that the last sentence was intended to be sarcastic.
2.  Please note that I did not coin the term "alien head syndrome", and I use it to lovingly refer to the peculiar shape of a baby's head after its long journey down the birthing canal.  Really, who ever thought to call it a birthing canal?
3.  For the record, I fully reserve the right to change my glowing opinion should my Etsy business go belly up.