Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mercería Marquina - Katia Yarns in Northeast Madrid (Diego de León)

One of my students lives near Diego de León, and I had stopped by a yarn shop located on the way to her house a few times, but yesterday's purchase was so great that I had to recommend it to everyone looking for yarn and crochet or knitting supplies in Madrid.

1. Marquina Labores y Complementos

Address: c/ Eraso, 10, 28028 Madrid

This shop has a great selection of Lanas Stop, Nilo and Katia yarns, the Caron or Lion Brand Yarns of Spain. I previously had purchased two skeins of Lanas Stop Top Merino for my baby boy crochet sleeping owl hat and was really impressed with the quality of the yarn. It cost around 4.50€ per skein, but since it is a bulky yarn, it was worth the cost.

This shop breaks tradition and puts the yarn out WHERE YOU CAN TOUCH IT!!! Yes, the yarn is NOT behind the counter. Observe:

Yesterday, I stopped in to ask if they carried Nilo yarns, since the skein that I had purchased at Pontejos on Saturday - and subsequently used to crochet my first! baby dress using this pattern - was 100g, and even though the pattern says that you need 3oz (85g) of yarn, apparently you need about 150g of cotton yarn. To my surprise, they had one skein left in the color that I needed! Great! Now if only the dye lot matches nicely!!

I asked the shopkeeper if she had any other cotton yarns for baby dresses, and she surprised me with four different options. Mind you, that's only cotton. She also had plenty of wool and acrylic blends, and she told me that beginning in September, they would start getting in better selections of wools, even fur-like wools that reminded me that the fur coat obsession is still going strong in Madrid (an obsession that I never really understood, particularly when my boyfriend told me that his mother's engagement gift was a fur coat for which his father paid the equivalent to 6,000€... and that was over 30 years ago! Did I mention that I've only seen her wear a parka?). I will grant the optimistic shopkeeper that the sample that she showed me of the "furry wools" was really nice and very soft. I might just see a white faux-fur cardigan in some little baby's future, but only because it's faux!

The clerk was very nice, in a Spanish way (those of you who have lived here know exactly what I'm talking about), and helpful. She informed me that they have classes for knitting and crocheting in the shop, and they will be offering classes in a local café that they have rented beginning in the fall. I asked her for more information, and she said that if I stop back in after a few weeks (by the way, this is the answer you will always get from a procrastinating Spaniard), she will have an informational sheet for me.

They also have a lot of finished pieces in the shop that they make and sell. They sell kits for many of the items, so if you see a dress you love, chances are they will either sell you a kit to make it at a great price (I have seen them from 10-14€) or that they will sell you similar supplies and explain how to make it. She told me that they made this adorable cardigan using the same Katia Capri yarn that I purchased, but using a double strand.

 I ended up purchasing the Nilo red skein and two Katia Capri skeins in violet and white. The bill was 10.60€, but she only asked me to pay 10€. You can't beat a discount! (And no, for all of you skeptical types, I didn't tell her that I would be writing a blog entry about her shop until after I had shopped and paid.)

This shop doesn't have too much in the way of buttons and laces, but the price is right and the selection of yarns can't be beat! If you're near the neighborhood Salamanca or want to take a quick trip to metro stop Diego de León, check out this lanería. You'll be glad you did!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

How to Buy Yarn in Spanish, aka The English-Spanish Crochet Dictionary

If you're visiting Spain, or if you haven't polished your hooking linguistic skills quite yet, you're going to need some specialized vocabulary. I learned this the hard way, when I asked for thread instead of yarn, holes instead of hooks, and didn't even know where to begin with acrylic, cotton, wool, and viscose.

After a few months, and lots of patient shopkeepers, my "Spanish Hooker Parlance" has improved. Since you might not be able to spend months traipsing around Spanish-speaking cities to different yarn shops, I thought I'd create this handy awesome English-Spanish Crochet Dictionary! Even if you print it and take it with you on your quest for Spanish yarns and do the me-point-you-understand gorilla game with the clerk, it will help you much more than the hope that shopkeepers will speak English. Trust me, they don't. I have yet to encounter a shopkeeper with a working knowledge of English, despite having shopped for yarns for almost a year.

Here are a few quick phrases that will be useful:
  • May I see... - Puedo ver...
  • How much does it cost? - Cuánto cuesta?
  • Do you have any... - Tiene...
  • May I pay with a credit card... - Puedo pagar con una tarjeta?
  • crochet - ganchillo
  • hooks - aguja (also the word for needles, specify by saying "aguja de ganchillo")
  • yarn - lana

Check out the full dictionary (lots of supplies, types of yarns and colors!) with pronunciation guide in Google Docs:

 English - Spanish Crochet Dictionary in Google Docs

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Shopping for Yarn (and Crochet Supplies) in Madrid - City Center

In my last post, I vowed to get my big butt out of bed early on Saturday morning to go explore what I have since named the "Haberdashery District" of Madrid, which I had discovered the weekend prior. However - in the grand tradition of mutable schedules characteristic of Spain - everything was closed at 5pm on a Saturday, and so I had to either "early to rise" or miss out on yarn and supplies.

Sooo... Saturday. Noon. I was shopping for yarns... with the rest of the world, apparently, as you had to take a number in a few shops I visited or at least wait a while to be helped.

(Fun Fact: Noon is "early to rise" in Madrid. Particularly in summer. Trust me on this one.)

I took the train from good ol' Vallecas to Atocha and then to Puerta del Sol, where I walked up Calle del Correo to the first plaza on the right. Behold, I was confronted with a LARGE store front of a HUGE yarn and notions shop with an ENORMOUS crowd of everyone wanting to buy things IMMEDIATELY... or, as they say, para hace cinco minutos.

Here's what I found out about the shops (Almacenes Pontejos, Almacenes Paz, Almacenes Cobián and El Gato Negro) I visited. I could have spent hundreds, perhaps billions, of euros in these heavenly stores, but I limited myself to what I could crochet for the rest of the month. (That was an arbitrary and unrealistic goal, much like those I set for writing my dissertation or practicing better eating habits.)

1. Amacenes Pontejos - Plaza de Pontejos, 2

If the candy shop in Willy Wonka sold yarn instead of candy, it would remind me of this shop. Especially the screaming customers who "want it" and they "want it now."

To the right of entrance is the yarn section. Take a number, or ask who is the last person (¿Quién es la última?), and start looking at the beautiful wall of yarn... behind the counter. The impatient shopkeeper will be with you in less than 20 minutes, if you're lucky. I had all of my yarns picked out by the time he got to me, which made both of us happy. The prices here are great on Lanas Stop yarns and Katia yarns. 100% cotton yarns are also inexpensive and they have good color selection. Check the dye lots, as I saw a lot of people getting multiple ovillos with slightly different shades.

To the left of entrance, you have spinning displays of amazing button-ness. I didn't look because, frankly, there were too many screaming people, and I am amassing a huge collection of adorable buttons without booties to which I can attach them.

There are also lots of patterns, supplies, silk and ribbons, lace and everything you would need to make wedding or communion or baptism favors --- and I was informed that most of the people were there to buy these very things.

Be sure to check the counter tops to the right of the yarn wall, as I found some great yarns from Mallorca that were on "clearance" (or as close to anything in Spain ever really gets to clearance, which still amounted to 1.95€ per 50g for cotton / acrylic mix). The colors were definitely off-season, but hey, the heat wave can't last forever. Right?

Once you pick out your yarn, the gentleman hands you half of a card and you go to the cashier. He takes the other half of the card to the cashier - which seems like a lot of traveling for him, and I now understand why he's slightly grumpy - and you pay and collect your yarn there. I paid around 12€ for five balls of yarn (4 of the clearance yarns I previously mentioned and one skein of 100% cotton Nilo yarn in red).

Here is an image of the button selection from around the web, since they weren't too keen on me taking photos.
Photo Credit to

2. Almacenes Paz - Calle Marqués del Viudo de Pontejos, 7

This shop is great for buttons, because they're cheap and you can touch every single button, if you so desire, without having to ask permission from the clerk. They also have some things in the way of clothing fabrication, and many finished baby pieces for sale, but they don't have a yarn selection. I paid 1.80€ for six buttons.

They have the buttons organized by color, although there are more on the right side of the shop behind the counter.
3. Almacenes Cobián - Calle Marqués del Viudo de Pontejos, 2

This shop has three floors, each with something a bit different, but they are more into thread crafts and garment making. They have a button wall on the button level, which is nice, but the buttons are expensive. They also have a great "venta al mayor," or warehouse pricing, section. If you're looking for a lot of notions for jewelry, garment making, or lace crafts, this is the place to be. For yarn crafts, not so much. The following is a photo of their mercería, completely devoid of yarns. Le sigh.

Photo credit to 

4. El Gato Negro - Plaza Mayor, 30 (with entrance on Calle de la Sal)

I really cannot say enough good things about the Gato Negro, a yarn shop that has been in business for over 200 years. There is no better place to buy quality yarn in Madrid. I repeat, no better place (that I am aware of... I hope to change this opinion in the future... but for now, no way.)

This research is really touch work, as you can tell from the HUGE smile on my face!
 I went to the Gato Negro a few weeks ago, but they were closing for siesta, so they only let me in to buy two skeins of yarn very quickly. However, those two skeins are my favorites to work with, and I made this hat with the bone colored yarn and a few pairs of slippers - that I have yet to put on Etsy - with the blue color.

Even though they, in the Spanish tradition, have all the yarns behind the counter, they have sample yarns hung up at the front of the store, grouped by materials and colors. They have everything from acrylics to viscose to my current obsession, 100% cotton. The wall is a great way to get a feel for the yarn, and it includes the prices on the tag.

The yarn in El Gato Negro is priced by the kilo, with most yarns ranging from 26.00€ per kilo up to 64.00€ per kilo. The minimum that you have to buy is 100g (so 100g of high quality 100% cotton yarn cost 4.20€ per 100g, which isn't much more than in other shops... ok, it's a few cents more, but the quality! oh, the quality!!)

You tell the ladies which yarn you want, they get it for you from behind the counter (notice the recurring theme) and weigh it for you. On a produce scale. Awesome! You pay at the cash register and go on your merry way. I can't say enough good things about the staff. They are happy to answer any questions you have (not sure which yarns to pair? not sure which size hook to use with a yarn? not sure where to find something that they don't sell?) and are very generous with their time - practically a myth in Spanish retail.

Another great feature of this store is that they have finished pieces hanging on the walls and tell you which yarns they use and how much the project costs (for example, a granny square afghan with lots of cute flowers for less than 20€ for supplies). It's a great way to get inspired! You can see a bit of it in the pictures above.

I spent 8.55€ and got one skein of 100% cotton yarn in butter yellow and one skein of 100% cotton multicolored yarn, in the pink / coral / orange family with white accents. Love it!

One thing that I don't love about El Gato Negro is that they sell their yarns in madeja, not ovillo, form. This means that you get a big bunch of yarn that has been tied up in several places and have to take it home and get someone to hold the yarn while you spent 20 minutes making a ball out of the yarn. It is important that you know this, so that you don't get home and start playing with the yarn for an hour before you realize that you have created A GIANT KNOT and your beautiful investment is now laying in A GIANT KNOT at your feet. Nobody likes A GIANT KNOT.... Not that I've experienced the GIANT KNOT personally or anything.

(Buyer beware: I did notice that the same Nilo yarn that I bought at Pontejos was about .80€ more for 100g at the Gato Negro, but you can't buy the Gato Negro cotton yarns anywhere else)

So there you have it! A quick run-down on the best places to buy yarn in Madrid city center. After an exhausting morning of yarn shopping, you should treat yourself to a frozen yogurt at Llao Llao, the most awesome froyo I've tried in Madrid.

Lastly, thanks to my very patient boyfriend, who spent the morning shopping for yarn and buttons. I'd like to emphasize the patient part. ¡Gracias cariño!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Saturday afternoons in Madrid aren't open for business

I finally found the proverbial jackpot, the Holy Grail, the "I can't believe I'm seeing this," the hooker's dream, the... I think I've made my point. I have found a wonderful place for all of your hooking supplies in Madrid. To avoid confusion, this "place" is actually several "places," but I've chosen the singular "place" because they are all located within 50 meters of each other. Behold, the map that never lies:

If you can't see the map, google "Calle Marqués Viudo de Pontejos"

On Calle del Marqués Viudo de Pontejos, between numbers 1 and 5, there are four - that I counted, and I had just had a cocktail, so that count could be a bit fuzzy - mercerías. From what I've heard, these mercerías are so big that they're practically on steroids, and they contain such unique products as gold thread (think material, not color), buttons made from the tusks of wooly mammoths, and 4-ply unicorn hair worsted-weight yarn in a variety of pastel colors. "Unicorn hair would be perfect for some new projects for my Etsy shop," I thought as I happily skipped from Puerta del Sol up Calle Mayor, turned left at the McDonalds and climbed the hill up to Calle Pontejos. Ok, I didn't skip, but that doesn't mean that I can't say I skipped in an effort to shamelessly self-promote.

The mercerías is are located at:

  1. Mercería Almacén de Pontejos. Plaza de Pontejos, 2. 28012 Madrid
  2. Mercería Almacenes Cobián. Calle Marqués Viudo de Pontejos, 2. 28012 Madrid
  3. Comercial Amparo. Calle Marqués Viudo de Pontejos, 5. 28012 Madrid
  4. (there is another one on this same street, but it's not showing up on Google maps and I can't remember the name of it, but it is on the corner of Pontejos and Calle Esparteros)
  5. ... and if you don't mind a very short walk towards the Plaza Mayor ... El Gato Negro. Plaza Mayor 30. 28012 Madrid (Entrance on Calle de la Sal, just outside of the Plaza Mayor on the northeast side)

However, because it was Saturday afternoon - during which, most businesses are open from about 4pm-8pm - and particularly because it was a Saturday afternoon in July, all but one of the mercerías were closed. I suspected this to be the case, but reasoning that August is the month when Madrid practically closes down as everyone ... poor American graduate students with pets excluded ... escapes from the heat of the city and spends thousands of euros to flock to the seaside beaches typical of the Spanish south or the minor outlying islands (did I mention that the economic crisis is still going strong in Spain, particularly in the South?). However, July is the new August, and hoards of businesses are closing down on Saturday afternoons, which means I'm going to haul my lazy butt out of bed on Saturday morning (that is to say, before 1:00pm) so that I can investigate this myth of unicorn hair yarn. More to come!