Truth of the matter is that should you find yourself living in Rome for any extended period of time, and should you be interesting in knitting during said time, you’re not really too much in luck. Knitting, although popular in the States with twenty/thirty-somethings and up, here in Italy is still seen as a sport only for le nonne, the grannies. Which is fine, unless you are one of those non-granny people of any age who has the urge to knit.
A couple things to know about Rome and knitting:
1) Yarn shops aren't that easy to find.
2) The few shops that I’ve managed to find generally don’t display their yarns like you find in other countries (my personal examples are the US and a shop I visited in Sweden where the yarns and projects are on display for customers to browse). No, here in Rome you probably have to stand in front of a counter to look at yarns displayed on the wall behind, and ask for each individual ball of yarn. Perhaps if you're lucky you can see a sample strand or ball of yarn, but nearly always under very close supervision. Pretty tedious.
I learned how to knit through a class I took when I lived in Phoenix about six years ago. Once I started my life here though, things were so hectic I had no time, and certainly no money, for hobbies. I put away the knitting stash and there it stayed for years, half-finished projects becoming no more than a cozy bed for Betsy (the only one of my two cats still "small" enough to squeeze into the knitting basket). Yes, it's clear from the photo that she was heartbroken by this sudden destruction of one of her many sleeping spots.
Just in case you're wondering what I unearthed in my little operation:
A forlorn sock, the first I ever attempted, whose mate was never completed. And now I can't find the pattern I used for it.
A miniature “sweater for your head” project with lots of cables: I finished the first “sleeve” of the hat and it had four cables which ended up being so incredibly time-consuming for something so tiny that I never started the second sleeve. So now we have the rare prototype of a one-sleeved sweater hat.
While I haven’t gotten around to completing either of these projects, I did make a regular "dumb roll-brim hat" for someone as a Christmas present with some angora yarn I bought in Stockholm. I ran out of it about 3/4 of the way through, and was faced with the dilemma of buying yarn here in Rome to finish the project.
I went to “Lana Gatto,” a beautiful yarn boutique, but I ended up feeling like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she goes shopping for her fancy-shmancy clothes. There were three severe-looking shop assistants dressed all in black, staring me down as I looked at the yarns. Way too nerve-wracking. I asked for the yarn I needed, tried to browse for a while but eventually just bought my yarn and left. They made me feel so uncomfortable! It’s a shame, because they have a pretty nice selection.
Check out the two women dressed in black with their arms crossed. And this is before I even entered the shop. I've never seen any other customers in here. Hmmm, wonder why.
The second shop I can advise you of is called “Lana della Vecchia” near Campo de' Fiori. The photo below is from Unraveling.
Thanks to another traveling knitter named Yuvee, I can add to our list a shop called Filati Filpucci, in her words, “… run by men and looked more like a hardware store than a yarn shop.” Interesting, no? Stop by her post to discover other shops in Italy, as her travels took her to Florence as well. I've been lurking on her blog for a while now..she's a very proficient knitter. I’m molto impressed by her skill in seeking out gorgeous yarns, braving the shop owners, and without any Italian to boot. Brava! She encountered the same thing I describe though, the whole “look but don’t touch” phenomenon and the insistence on one-on-one service. Not what we knitters are generally used to.
I personally visited Filpucci after reading about it on Yuvee's blog. Yikes. She wasn't kidding, folks. It was so bizarre. You enter and there's a looooong counter with two young (late 20ish) guys who look like they would be just as at home in a mechanic's garage, but yet are dealing with all these grannies buying yarn. They've got a ton of stuff, but I was really put off by the signs all over the place, literally in front of every single type of yarn, saying that you absolutely, positively couldn't touch anything. Lame. Won't be going back. Although I salute Yuvee doubly now, because I even speak Italian and didn't want to brave that madness.
Knitters visiting Italy, I have a secret to tell you about, and most unfortunately it is not in Rome. When visiting my friend Eugenio a couple weekends ago, I mentioned that I like to knit and was informed that Biella, where he lives, is pretty much the yarn and textile capital of Italy. What? I didn't believe it until he called up his mom for advice on where to get yarn, and then took me to a store that seemed from outside like an anonymous little hole-in-the-wall. Turns out it was none other than the factory store of Lana Gatto--remember the place with the scary sales ladies?
Lana Gatto is based in Tollegno, about a 6-7 hour drive from Rome. To go there you'd have to make a pilgrimage specifically. The factory store was piled high with every kind of yarn they make, and *surprise, surprise!* very sweet and helpful ladies. Try to guess how much I spent for this bag of eight 50-gram balls of wool:
Need a hint? Well, consider that at Lana Gatto in Rome, I paid €6 for two. In Tollegno I paid €11 for the whole bag. It's not factory seconds, either. It's just that buying at the source is cheaper. They sell by weight, and the price is displayed like prosciutto: € X per 1000 gr. They had boxes upon boxes of precious cashmere stacked high to the ceiling, and it was €330 or so per 1000 gr. When you think back to Unraveled's purchase, well, you can see that it's really something. Her 100 grams here would have cost just about roughly €33, about $43 USD.
Last but not least, any keen observers spot the new badge on my sidebar? Yes, I have joined in Stranded: The Colorwork Challenge, in an effort to free myself from irrational hesitancy regarding fair isle knitting. Well, I started this Bea Ellis Knitwear Nordic Hat project in the car on the way up to Biella, and before we even made it back down to Rome, it was finished! I am here to tell you that fair isle is definitely not as complicated as it may look:
Knitters in Rome and knitters visiting Rome and Italy, unite! If you have any shops to add to the list, or shops in other cities, please add them in the comments.
Lana Gatto (Rome)
Piazza Di S. Lorenzo In Lucina, 38
Lana della Vecchia
Via Baullari, 3
Via Principe Amedeo, 87-89
Lana Gatto (factory store)
Via Roma 9
13818 Tollegno (Biella)