Shopping for knitting needles in Kyoto

Masuzakiya_kyotoJust got back from a 10 day trip to Japan – six days in Kyoto, three days in Takayama and two in Osaka.

While our schedule was full of various tourist related site seeing spots I was able to pop into a couple of knitting related shops in hopes of getting a full set of Japanese knitting needles.

The first stop was Masuzakiya in the Porta shopping mall under Kyoto station. It wasn’t too hard to find once I asked for directions from the information booth and was given a map. It’s closest to the central entrance to Kyoto Station.

I did a double take when I first saw the shop because from the outside. The racks of sweaters in front make it look like any other clothing store in the mall. Once inside I could clearly see yarn along the walls and in bins on the floor.

I showed up in the late afternoon and was the only customer. Several clerks were ready to help but a bit perplexed when I walked in. I quickly scanned the shop and noticed all of the knitting supplies were behind the register. My first thought was that it wasn’t going to be easy to ask for needles but I did come prepared with a picture of a set of  Clover needles I had found on the internet. I pointed to the picture and  at first the clerk didn’t quite understand but eventually caught on and said “setto?” I nodded and said “Hi, setto”.   A set of  clover needles appeared – exactly as shown in the photo. Success! I then tried asking for smaller sized needles that weren’t in the set. She didn’t seem to have any. I also popped around the register to check out the Clover gadgets they carry. It all look pretty familiar to what was available back home – needles, stitch counters and etc.

KyototowerNext stop was a craft store in the basement of Kyoto Tower called Yoshikawa. I thought I might have a hard time finding it but no, it’s quite easy to find. Just enter Kyoto Tower at the corner near Starbucks, go down the escalator and there it is. It takes up nearly the whole basement with no real store front to speak of.

Really this was the place I should have visited first. The set of needles I had bought at Masuzakiya were about $10 cheeper there! Also they had a much better selection of needles and gadgets. Not only did I find smaller sized needles but also picked up a few rulers including another Nihon Vogue gauge ruler. Not only did they have knitting supplies but also things for many other crafts. Everything was out in easy to reach displays. No need to ask for help.

Since I had gone to both shops for needles I can’t really comment on the yarn at both shops  but did have the impression that the yarn selection/quality was better at Masuzakiya.

Japanese_knitting_needles Later that night when pulled out the set of knitting needles I noticed that the set only included even numbered needles (4 – 14).  How crazy is that! I really wanted a whole set including the odd sized needles. Darn it! The next evening I returned to pick up all the odd sized needles.

Japanese_needle_gauge In case you’re wondering, the reason I wanted a full set of needles from Japan is that they come in a different size range than what is available in North America or Europe. Check out this gauge that came with the set. The needle number is on the left side of the hole and corresponding millimeters on the right side. These needles increase every .3 mm in size.

I’m not sure how much I’ll use these needles because the quality isn’t as good as my Addi Turbo needles. While the cords aren’t quite as bad as the ones on the Clover Bamboo needles they’re not as flexible as Addi Turbo or Knit Picks. Also they’re aluminum with no nickel plated finish.

North Mainland

Day 4

Plan: Considering it’s the last full day in Shetland, visit any sites near Lerwick that were previously missed before driving North. Stay at Westayre B & B in Muckle Roe and visit Eshaness area. If there’s enough time visit Tangwick Haa Museum in the afternoon.


It was our last day in Lerwick so we packed up the car and headed over to Jamieson & Smith (Wool Brokers) Ltd. (know as “the wool brokers” to locals). It was one more place I was itching to see but hadn’t managed to visit earlier since it’s not within the easily reach of the main part of town.

As you can see it’s a very unassuming place from the outside but once inside  I knew was in the right place. The shop isn’t huge but they’ve somehow managed fit three floor-to-ceiling shelves packed with yarn, wool and knitting accoutrements along the walls. All are easily accessible by customers as well as staff. I had no problem dashing from one bin to the next pulling out skeins to compare one with the other. My purchases quickly piled up on one of the counters in the middle of the shop. The two women working that day were very pleasant and eager to help. It was a delight to chat with both women. Both were avid knitters and/or spinners.

Like a kid in a candy store, it was difficult to limit my purchases to the space left in my luggage. After about an hour of fondling yarn and chatting I settled on some lace weight wool, a few skeins of jumper weight wool, a knitting belt with needles, four 100gm bags of combed Shetland wool and a poster illustrating Shetland sheep markings. Needless to say, I could have spent hours there talking with those women but needed to get going. Before heading north I wanted to stop by Wilma Malcolmson’s studio which about 10 miles south of Lerwick.

Shetland Designer jumper A fellow Feral Knitter who had been to Shetland a few years ago mentioned that Wilma’s studio wasn’t to be missed. I was planning on stopping by there the previous Sunday but somehow missed it. When someone else from the island mentioned that I must drop by there to see her work I knew we had to go down there again, even if it was out of the way.

The studio was not far off the main road and not hard to find.  We just had to follow the sign that pointed to  Shetland Designer. I suppose we had missed it the last time because I hadn’t connected Shetland Designer with Wilma Malcolmson. As promised her studio was a feast for a Fair Isle knitter. Not only did she have a large range of knitwear for sale but her studio was right next to the shop within easy view of customers. In the studio she had several color stories prominently displayed with each displaying several carefully arranged  knitwear pieces next to an inspiring photo or illustration. All were quite different from the others. As a knitter I knew her work was exceptional but my husband, who wasn’t impressed with Fair Isle sweaters, surprised me by holding up several and asking my opinion on which to buy. As we drove off he commented on how distinctive the colorways of her knitwear is in comparison to what we had previously seen. Unfortunately Mrs. Malcolmson was not there when we stopped by.

With my two “must sees” out of the way we headed north to check in at Westayre B & B before heading farther up to Eshaness. I’ll leave that part of the day for my next post (hopefully tomorrow).

I’m sorry to keep drawing this whole trip out over many posts but you’d be surprised at how long it takes me to sort through photos, load them and then write about my experiences. I write about as fast as I knit – average to slow – but, I hope that this info will be of use to other knitters considering a trip to Shetland. It’s a wonderful place to visit, especially if you’re a knitter interested in learning about traditional knitting.

da toon o’ Lerrick

Day 3 (continued)

Jamieson's LerwickWe left the Jamieson’s Mill around noon so by the time we arrived back in town it was time to eat lunch but before we did that, I headed over to Jamieson’s to pick up that pack of yarn.

It’s really hard to describe this shop. I popped in there briefly on Saturday afternoon but didn’t stay long because I knew I would be going out to the mill on Monday. Besides, I could always come back to the shop later if I didn’t find all I needed at the mill.

This shop wasn’t at all how I had imagined it to be. Unlike the mill shop, all of the spindrift yarn is behind the counter. To see the yarn you’ve got to  point to the colors on the color card and the clerk pulls the yarn from the bins. I always find this type of setup awkward, especially since that’s not how most yarn stores in North America operate. I like taking my time pulling out yarns and putting them together, just as I had done earlier that morning at the mill.

Not only does this shop have yarn but towards the back half of the shop there are racks and bins full of machine knit sweaters and woven blankets. None of which seemed as attractive as what I’d seen else where. To be honest, visiting this store was underwhelming.  I guess I had some how envisioned a quaint shop but instead found an old stodgy place that’s much different from my impression formed through thumbing over the pattern books put out by the US distributor. Apparently merchandising isn’t their forte but creating a quality line of Shetland yarns is.

After my task was finished it was time to find a place to eat before heading off to the museum. I happened to remember the guide book (The Rough Guide to Scottish Highlands & Islands) mentioning the Peerie Cafe “…with imaginative cakes, soup, and sandwiches, and what is probably  Britain’s northernmost latte”. That sounded like the right place to go since our last espresso drink was the one we had in the Edinburgh airport just before boarding the plane for Sumburgh. Sure enough they had cakes, soup, sandwiches and decent espresso. Over the next few days we stopped by there frequently to get our caffeine fix.

Shetland MuseumAfter lunch it was off to the new Shetland Museum. It had only opened a few weeks earlier after being closed for several years for an extensive renovation. Like most museums in Britain entry is free, although donations are gladly accepted.

Paul and I have different museum wondering paces and interests so we set a time to meet up later. Of course I headed straight up the stairs to the textiles. There was a small section (a few floor cases) of that floor devoted solely to knitting, weaving, dyeing and spinning. It was so exciting to see Shetland textile history laid out before me. There was an example of just about every kind of knitted and woven garment. The exhibit also featured an interactive computer program that let children design their own Fair Isle jumper. I gave it a go but didn’t come up with anything as interesting as what was on display.

museum war jumperThe one thing that struck me as I walked through the other exhibits was how often knitted goods were shown along with other artifacts. Here’s a  jumper that was owned by a prisoner of war. He had managed to hang on to this throughout his imprisonment and was his connection to home.

Here’s a link to some of the items on display. Keep in mind all the items are behind Plexiglas so that’s why the photos are not very clear.

All the exhibits in the museum were interesting and well done. I’m so glad that we timed our visit  after the opening. It was well worth it. I was just looking at their “What’s On” guide for the summer. It’s too bad I missed the talk on Shetland knitting heritage by Margaret Stuart.

The museum shop also has lots of interesting books, cards and crafts by local artisans. Here are some Fair Isle socks knitted by a woman that works at Jamieson & Smith Shetland Wool Brokers. I wanted to buy the purple ones but couldn’t quite justify the price – 45 GBP. I purchased a few note cards with knitting related photos on the front.

The Spider's Web
After the trip to the museum we walked back to town as I was keen on getting back to The Spider’s Web. It was another shop that we had briefly visited on Sunday. Luckily it wasn’t quite so busy this time so we were able to chat with the shop’s proprietor about knitwear and designers. It’s a lovely shop packed with all sorts of garments of every imaginable design. Some are very traditional while others come in updated color schemes  and designs. She even had a small display of garments made with hand spun wool. Paul purchase a jumper similar to the one displayed on the board outside the shop and I got these gloves. I can’t quite explain why I like these gloves because I’d never put these colors together myself nor chose to wear such a design. I guess I like them because the craftsmanship is good – especially the cuff – and I like how the colors morph from one shade to the next. Perhaps some day I’ll duplicate the affect in a different color scheme.

After shopping we went back to our room to relax before heading off to the Isleburgh Exhibition. Paul flipped on the TV and we were both surprised to find out that Shaun from Wallace and Gromit has his own show. The few episodes that we were able to catch were hilarious. My favorite was when the sheep tried to sabotage the electric shears after seeing how bad the farmer did with the first sheep. While the farmer was bumbling around trying all sorts of things to get the shears working the sheep managed to sneak out and find a beauty parlor. When the farmer did find them they all had very stylish cuts.

Although it had been a full day of sight seeing we felt refreshed enough to walk up to the Islesburgh Community center to see their summer exhibition. Every Monday and Wednesday a group of  locals put together an evening of  demonstrations and sell local crafts. The exhibition is spread over 3 – 4 rooms.

Isleburgh exhibit
The first room we entered had a few elderly ladies showing how they knit with belts and an elderly man who made fiddles. Unfortunately I didn’t stay and chat with these folks and never got a chance to go back.

The next room was set up as a replica of the inside of a croft house. Inside we found two women spinning. One was spinning on a Saxony wheel teaching a little girl and the other woman (in the picture) was spinning on a much smaller castle wheel. I commented on how small it was and she said that it’s a typical wheel found on Shetland. She said the wheels were small because the houses were small, although I’m not quite sure about that. The museum mentioned that flax wheels were imported to Shetland in hopes of stimulating a linen industry. Perhaps these wheels are based on those flax wheels. Whatever the story, they work well with Shetland wool and fit into a small house.

The third room was a mixture of displays and handcrafted items for sale. There was so much to look at in this room. I wanted to buy so many things. In the end I got a few post cards and a knitting belt. I was only in the room for about a half hour when I was prompted to go to the next room to hear a recital by local school children who were learning to play the fiddle. After the recital a projector was set up and we watched silent films of Shetland from the 30’s.

The exhibition was an excellent chance to learn more about Shetland culture and crafts directly from locals. Every one there was so friendly and more than happy to share their culture. Today I checked the Islesburgh website for the link to the exhibition but it apparently has disappeared. I hate to think it’s no longer being held because it was truly one of the highlights of my trip.

To Westside and back

Day 3

Plan: Since it’s the first business day of the week, head straight over to Jamieson’s Spinning Mill in Sandness on the Westside of Mainland. In the afternoon return to Lerwick and check out the new museum. Time permitting do some shopping on Commercial street. In the evening head over to Isleburgh Exhibition.

Jamieson's sign
Jamieson’s is the only mill on the island that spins and sells Shetland wool so of course I had to go check it out first thing Monday morning.

Although I knew from various sources that it was about 30 miles from Lerwick I wasn’t too sure how long it would take to get there. It’s on the Westside of Mainland, well off the beaten tourist track but probably on every Fair Isle hand knitter’s radar. To get there one first goes north on the main highway until the turn off to Weisdale Mill. Until last fall this mill housed the Shetland Textile Working Museum. Sadly, the textile collection is currently without a home. I hope the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Weavers & Dyers can find a new home soon. I’d love to see their collection some day. After Weisdale the road veers west and eventually gets narrower the closer one gets to the mill. The landscape is quite different from the south. It’s a remote rock strewn landscape with very few houses but sheep everywhere. An odd place to find a spinning mill.

We arrived around 9:30 and poked our heads in the door. The place looked and sounded deserted. NobodyBreakroom was in the office and we didn’t see any one near the door to the mill. I was too shy to wander around the place looking for someone so we waited for several minutes before someone eventually appeared. A woman guided us to the “start” of the mill near the weaving looms and then promptly left. We stayed at the looms for about 10 minutes but the woman didn’t reappear. Besides one guy attending the weaving looms the place seemed to be void of workers. When it didn’t seem like the woman would return we moved along stopping at each machine and guessing its purpose. Having read a bit about spinning mills and previously visiting a Mission Mill Museum, I had a good idea of what each machine did. So I guide us through the process. If you are interested in seeing most of the machines here’s a link to my photo album. I can’t promise that the descriptions are totally accurate.

After being there an hour or so we happened to come across the break room and could hear people on the other side. When a man, whom I think was Peter Jamieson, came out the door I commented on how it looked like things were kind of slow this morning. He said that they wrap up production on Friday and start over again every Monday. So from that comment, I  guess he’s saying that it takes a while to ramp up on Monday. Perhaps we caught them between dye lots. He also commented that some machines in another part of the mill were running.

Jumper parts After passing by all the wool processing machines we came across a room where several knitting machines were spitting out jumper (sweater) pieces. Most of the colorways really didn’t appeal to my sense of color. But as the saying goes, to each his own. I suspect these jumpers end up in Japan.

Yarn for ArabesqueEventually we wound up at shop door and found someone to let us in. I easily by passed the stacks of blankets and jumpers for the huge wall of yarn – floor to ceiling of cubby holes filled with yarn. I started pulling out yarns looking for enough to make Arabesque from A Collector’s Item. Again we were left alone, which I didn’t really mind. I was stunned by this cathedral of yarn.

After sorting through yarn for a half hour and having a hard time finding several that I needed, Paul went off to find someone to help out. The woman who we saw at the beginning of our visit appeared. She said she wasn’t surprised that several colors were not out because  a bunch of knitters had been in on Friday (maybe from the Skeins and Skerries tour?) and the shelfs hadn’t been restocked. She gladly took down the colors I needed and went off to fetch them from the mill. She couldn’t find one color so I asked if she could check with the shop in Lerwick to see if they had it. I was in luck. They had one bag that I could pick up when I got back to town.


Around noon I finally settled my yarn purchases and was ready to head back to town. I wanted to pick up that last remaining pack of yarn before the clerk at the shop forgot about the call. She didn’t seem all that helpful the last time I was there.

So that’s only the first half of the day. More to come later.

Vists to mohair farms in the Pyrenees

Goat_farmRecently we flew to Barcelona and then drove over the border  to France and spent several days wondering around the small region  in the French Pyrenees called Ariège.

Our first day in Ariège we arrived at Auberge Les Myrtilles late in the afternoon and decided to settle in since it’s quite a drive to get to anywhere from there. It’s at the end of a road that stops at the foothills of snow sprinkled mountains.

After exploring the small village (about 20 full time residents) we  warmed ourselves in front of the fireplace and examined their stock of tourist brochures. Until then I really hadn’t given much thought to what we  were going to do in the countryside. I was just glad to finally be on vacation.

One particularly interesting brochure published by the local chamber of agriculture lists all types of farms that one could visit for a tour and/or purchase products directly from the farmer. Two mohair goat farms caught my interest. I suggested that if we happened to be in that area we should stop by for a visit.

The first farm, Les Bergers Cathares, that we visited is between Le Mas-d’ Azil and Pamiers. When we got near Rouzaud we spotted signs with arrows and the word “Mohair”. The brochure mentioned that this farm raised mohair goats and operated a boutique that is open to the public. When we stepped out of the car we noticed the flock of goats out in the pasture. With so much fiber on their backs, at a distance they could be easily mistaken for sheep.

The farm’s boutique offered two types of mohair yarn, one that was 100% kid mohair called Caresse and another with 77% kid mohair and 23% silk called Diva.  Besides knitting yarn they carried various articles of clothing and blankets. At first it was quite overwhelming. I’ve never knitted with mohair so I had a hard time deciding how much to purchase; especially since I had no projects in mind. Inspired by the blue version of this sweater, I ended up purchasing four balls of  Diva in various shades of blue. I just hope that’s enough to make a lace scarf.


Unfortunately the other mohair farm that we wanted to visit wasn’t open that day. We should have planned our timing better because both farms are in the same general area. A couple of days later we decided that we would really like to visit a another farm and this time get a tour.

Mohair Pyrénées was well worth the visit. I think the owner was a bit surprised when we drove up for the 5:00 pm tour. I bet they don’t normally see American tourist in October. Even though we were the only tourist there, Nicole was very happy to show us around. We started the tour by watching a video about how mohair yarn from the farm processed and spun into yarn. After the video we went straight off to a barn full of yearlings. Her dog Scottie rounded them all up and guided us to a near by pasture. While in the pasture we petted the goats and visited with Nicole in Spanish and French. After spending time with the little ones Nicole took us to another pasture full of older goats. Scottie guided them to a stand of trees and Nicole pulled down branches for them to feed. She said it was like dessert for them. With 150 goats, we were wondering what happens to the older ones and asked if they ever eat the goats. Nicole emphatically respond, no. We could tell she loved raising these goats and that they seemed more like pets than livestock.

After the tour she opened her boutique for us. I was surprised to find how much bigger it was than the one at the other farm. It seem to have many more articles of clothing and a bigger selection of yarn colors. She also had several pattern books. I tried to resist buying more yarn but as usual, I managed to buy four more balls
of Diva; this time in red. Nicole also gave me a small cotton bag as a special gift.

La Barcelana, Barcelona

La Barcelana
After visiting Museu Tèxtil i d´Indumentària we wondered the narrow streets of this old neighborhood enjoying the shops and old architecture.

I knew there was another small yarn shop in the area but thought I had done enough yarn shopping that day. Lately I’ve been trying to not to make any more impulsive yarn purchases until I use up what I have. It’s amazing how fast yarn can accumulate over the years, especially if there was no intended project when it is purchased. Only one stray ball of yarn has actually turned into a finished object, that was the yarn I used to make the swallowtail shawl. That yarn was purchased almost three years ago while on vacation in Paris. OK, so earlier in the day I did buy some  J&S Shetland yarn from Persones Llanes. I justified that purchase because I can’t readily get that brand where I live.

Well, somehow we eventually ended up at La Barcelana.

peak inside Labarcelana

We popped our head into the door and I briefly looked at the yarns. Our timing wasn’t great because I think they were just about to close for the afternoon break. Various unlabeled yarns were stashed in bins along one wall and in the back room a woman was weaving on a large loom. This time I stuck to my pledge and didn’t buy anything. While the shop did display a few knitted items I got the idea that this shop catered mostly to weavers.

Persones Llanas, Barcelona


My first yarn store visit in Barcelona was to Persones Llanas. That’s me standing in front of the store happily clutching my purchases.

So, this is crazy – while in Barcelona I end up purchasing wool from Shetland.

J_s_shetlandOfficial Tally:

– 1 ball of J & S Jumper weight

– 6 balls of J & S Lace weight

– 3 balls of J & S cobweb

We asked about local Spanish wool. Isn’t merino from Spain?

Apparently it’s not being produced although the owners mentioned they are working with a local artisan and were hoping to get a shipment soon.

I don’t speak Spanish so I’m not sure a what the whole story is. That’s what my husband relayed to me after a long discussion with one of the owners who is from Barcelona. The other is originally from Tucson but she was giving a lesson in the loft.

My husband wryly mentioned that we were on a world wide tour of yarn stores. The response was, I know what you mean.

This is a really small yarn shop. Notice the display on the left? That’s just about the whole stock and I think much of it is from the US. In case you’re interested, they do offer a PDF catalog via their website. Since my current knitting phase is learning about Shetland knitting, I was thrilled to buy some Jamieson & Smith wool. Now I have some for comparison with VY and Jamieson.

The owners are very enthusiastic advocates of knitting and are encouraging Barcelonians to expand their knitting horizons. The next day I purchased a copy of Verena Moda De Punto, the local knitting magazine and noticed an article about “Nuevas Costumbres” which included a photo of group of  young knitters gathered in the loft knitting.

The store is conveniently located in the old part of town not to far from the Picasso museum. Across the street from the Picasso museum is an interesting textile museum.