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A Yarn Well Traveled

A knitting style travel adventure.

Flashback to 1999. I’ve just graduated from college. I’m spending the summer living in Oaxaca, Mexico with my friend Ginny. We’re both young, on fire, and generally out to save the world. Literally. Like we really think we can do it.

And we knit. Yet somehow we have ended up in Mexico without yarn with which to knit. Poor planning, being young and impulsive and all that.

We’ve traipsed the cobbled streets of Oaxaca searching for a LYS that offers WOOL yarn, but all we can find are shops that sell bags and bags and bags of acrylic yarn.  We’d wander in, wipe our brow (it’s hot!), politely and hopefully inquire for hilo de lana in our very best Spanish, and then try to hide our surprise and disappointment when the shopkeeper would kindly explain she didn’t sell any wool yarn…would we like acrylic yarn?

I guess natural fibers hadn’t yet caught on in Mexico. Perhaps by now, it’s all the rage. I would be curious to know.

At some point we give up trying to find a shop that sells wool yarn, and we hatch a new plan altogether.

We know of a village just outside of Oaxaca called Teotitlan that is famous for weaving rugs. I don’t remember how we knew (oh, how I don’t remember so many things from way back then), but we knew. So we hop on a bus, transfer to another bus, and then, miraculously hop off on the side of the highway near a sign pointing to our destination, several kilometers away.

We are in the middle of nowhere. We start walking. For miles. Did I already mention it was hot? At some point, we may have caught another bus or hitchhiked or something…I’m not quite sure. I just remember a long walk without shade. Two white ladies walking down the desolate road toward the indigenous village.

Of course.

Eventually, we made it. So proud of ourselves. We ventured from rug shop to shop and eventually found a few that would sell just the yarn. Everyone else wanted us to buy the whole rug. But we didn’t want any rugs…Just the yarn. Lovely, wool yarn. Great colors. A little itchy, but at the time, I paid no notice to texture. I was just so pleased with myself for having trekked to a village in the middle of nowhere to finally, at long last, procure actual wool yarn in Oaxaca, Mexico.

I must have bought half a dozen large skeins that day. Mostly a vibrant red and some hues of blue. I don’t recall the cost. I doubt it was much.

We reversed our journey home. In the heat. And started knitting.

All these years later, I still have much of this yarn I my stash. At one point, some of the red became a sweater I made up on the fly without having a pattern. I started it that very summer. It was the first sweater I’d knit. As you might imagine, it didn’t turn out very well. My grandma was kind enough to seam it for me anyway.

In the time that has passed, I have become more selective about my wool. I don’t like it itchy. And golly, that Oaxaca yarn itches. There’s even bits of sticks and hay in the mix. It’s rough stuff. But I can’t part with it. I remember that day, and that summer…being young, full of promise, nothing could stand in my way.

I’ve taken to knitting with the Oaxaca yarn of late. Mostly bags and pouches. A sack for my circular needles. Nothing to wear. All the same, it seems better to finally knit up what remains of that adventure than allow it to continue to lie in wait in the hall closet, wound in balls for sixteen years.

I look forward to some future day when I can embark on a new travel adventure in search of yarn in some remote village in a far off land. Until then, I knit happily at home.

11 thoughts on “A Yarn Well Traveled

  1. Thank you so much for this post, Andrea! Me and my husband moved to Mexico 3 years ago from Russia. And I was so disappointed to find out how hard it is to get good yarn here. In Russia you could get 100% wool anywhere, but here I feel so limited. Though I must admit Mexico turned me into cotton – they have absolutely beautiful cotton! And now it’s my favorite fiber. And it’s actually getting much better overall. I found several stores in Mexico city where wool, silk, alpaca, cotton can be found. It’s funny, I had almost the same story when trying to find wool yarn in Mexico. I also heard about a rug factory 3 hour drive from us. When we came in, everybody tried to sell us rugs and didn’t want to show us the yarn, but finally after discussing it among each other, they told me they would sell me some yarn – 50 m for $7! 🙂 You are right, the yarn is really harsh and itchy and not really suitable for garments. I didn’t get any and came back to knitting with my soft natural Mexican cotton.

    1. Thanks for the story Alina!

  2. And it just goes to show, good yarn never goes away or out of fashion. Even after 16 years, it still knits up beautifully, and into the most useful items. I loved your post. That bag is stunning, and I am sure each time you use it, it will bring back the most awesome memories. 🙂

    1. Thanks. Although I am not quite sure what to use the bag for…other than hauling flowers, which I guess is nice enough.

      1. 🙂 One can never have too many bags.

  3. I absolutely enjoyed reading about your well traveled yarn. I love yarn that comes with a history and allows you to remember special times! So fun!

  4. My parents were packing up their house after 45 years, downsizing, and Mom came across a black box full of a very scratchy wool in ’60’s shades of orange, brown, yellow, avocado. Where on earth did THAT come from? She couldn’t remember.

    Till she mentioned it to me. Absolutely I remembered, I’d used some of it! Oranges yellow and white in crocheted granny squares for a hat and a scarf one would never ever want to put on unless it was that cold. And then the holes in the fabric said, nah…

    There was a mill on Prince Edward Island and we were on a camping trip with a side trip to tour that mill. A lot less rustic than your side trip, that’s for sure! But as soon as I said it the memory lightbulb went off for her.

    And then she donated the yarn, because truly, who wanted to knit with that stuff. It was not moving with her.

  5. […] old (heirloom) yarn, even if it is scratchy. There’s probably a good story behind it, and you can always find something to knit with itchy […]

  6. […] It was later on that same trip to Oaxaca that I REALLY was taught knitting again by my Oaxacan buddy. She taught me in Spanish, and for years afterward I thought of knitting in punto or derecho before again learning the art in English. It was just the first of my many knitting adventures in Mexico. […]

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