If you thought knitting and crochet were just for Grandma, think again. Whether you’re thrifty, creative or eco-conscious, retro crafts are the latest hip craze. Expats.cz gives you the low-down on the best places to find silky yarns and funky fabrics along with info on how to hook up with other enthusiasts.
Stitch by dropped stitch, retro hobbies like knitting are making a 21st century comeback. In the Czech Republic, however, craft never really went away. There are haberdashery shops on almost every street corner: unsurprising when you consider that during Communism, a lack of choice meant that if you wanted something unique to wear, you made it yourself. Perhaps it is this association with past austerity which means that retro crafts are yet to gain the same cool cachet here as in the States or the UK. The result is a sad lack of cosy knitstore cafes where you can grab a cupcake after fondling luxury yarns in every color of the rainbow but there are still plenty of places for the expat crafter to stock up on decent materials.
The squishiness test: where to get your hands on yarn
Czechs are frugal and pragmatic: they don’t want to spend a fortune on natural fibres that might be attacked by moths, however beautiful they are. This means much of the knitting wool on offer at your local haberdashery store is acrylic: guaranteed not to shrink in the wash but lacking the tactile pleasure of merino, mohair, or silk.
Besides the local obsession with manmade fibers, the expat knitter faces another problem: getting their hands on the yarn. In a Czech haberdashery store or galanterie, stock is usually kept behind the counter which makes conducting that all-important pre-purchase squishiness test tricky. Galanterie Karolína on Spálená has samples on the wall so you can check for softness without hassling the staff. Don’t be put off by its shabby exterior: this store’s decent range of affordable yarns make it a favorite with Prague-based crafters.
Department store Kotva has a large haberdashery section that includes fabric, sewing equipment, and knitting notions. Browsing is easy as here everything is out on the shelves for shoppers to handle without asking permission. The yarn brands here are mostly German (Schoeller and Stahl) and Austrian (Austermann), nations hardly famed for their fashion flair, so expect quality and durability rather than the wow factor. Across Náměstí republiky in the basement of Palladium, galanterie Filium offers a similar range which is also accessibly displayed.
It’s also worth paying a visit to Prague Thrift Store in your search for yarn. I recently picked up a bag of wool containing a UFO – not an alien craft but an unfinished object, in this case an abandoned scarf still on the needles.
For those in need of a more upmarket fiber fix, there’s Fashion Martina’s ráj klubíček, or yarn heaven. The store isn’t exactly spacious but what it lacks in square footage is more than made up for by the quality of what’s on offer. Here you can stock up on designer brands such as Debbie Bliss, Noro, Louisa Harding and Rowan. Owner Martina speaks fluent English which she is keen to practice as I discovered on a recent trip when struggling to remember the Czech for circular needle!
Polka dots or taffeta? Where to get your sewing stuff
Tucked away down a cobbled side street a short walk from the National Theatre, MarLen is a must for seamstresses in search of a little luxury. The store is stacked high from floor to ceiling with silk brocades, taffeta, velvet, chiffon and lace along with designer fabrics by Vivienne Westwood and Alberta Ferritti. Quality doesn’t come cheap, but if you want to create something special and unique, then it’s a great resource. MarLen also has its own range of quirky wool yarns in an impressive range of colours.
Bargain hunters should head for Flex Tex, located behind Holešovická tržnice. On my last visit I spotted some Jackson Pollock inspired print fabric for only 29 CZK a metre: perfect for a beginner in need of something low-cost to hone their pattern cutting skills on. A couple of tram stops away is galanterie Látky Mráz. As well as the usual proliferation of polka dots and gingham, they offer funkier fabrics by famous names like Amy Butler or Robert Kaufman. Be sure not to miss the discount shop next door where I picked up some sunshine yellow cotton fabric for only 59 CZK a metre.
Make friends and influence people: craft gets social
Crafting needn’t be a solitary pursuit. Hooking up with fellow enthusiasts is an excellent way to get inspiration, learn new techniques and meet others from different walks of life you might not otherwise encounter. Prague’s Stitch and Bitch group meets every Saturday afternoon in Friends Coffee House and welcomes knitters, crocheters, quilters and felters. “I met some of my best friends in Prague through SnB and I think it is made easier as we all have something in common: we like to make things with our hands,” says joint organiser Marie Doucet. Don’t be afraid to pop by if you’re a beginner: just show up with needles and some wool as members love helping a novice cast on.
If you’d like to hone your Czech as well as your craft skills, check out Pletení v kavárně. The knitting group, which meets on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, is sponsored by French yarn brand Pingouin but is free to attend.
Should this all sound too tame, renegade crafters may wish to join the Guerilla Knitters on one of their underground missions. The group meet regularly not to produce boyfriend sweaters or baby booties but to decorate Prague’s urban spaces with a special handcrafted multicoloured graffiti in a process known as yarnbombing. Their handiwork has embellished the doorway to the National Theatre’s Nová scéna, as blogger Girl In Czechland documented here. Details of future events can be found on the group’s Facebook page (search for ‘Guerilla Knitters’).
Spotted any rogue yarnbombing activity in your neighborhood? Know of a fab haberdashery or yarn store that we’ve missed? Have a knit and natter group of your own that you’d like other crafters to come along to? Please share the details in the comments section.