Wandering through the backpacker’s district of Thamel, in the heart of Kathmandu, handknit items can be found everywhere. Almost every second store I passed seemed to be selling some variation of Nepalese handknit hats, sweaters, mittens, slippers, etc! The wool used for these items proved to be harder to find. Luckily, a window showcasing a hundred or so brilliant skeins of wool caught my eye, and I soon came across a handful of other yarn shops selling multiple skeins of yak, recycled silk, and sheep wool.
What to watch out for when buying wool
I’ll admit it, I went a bit “wool crazy” while shopping for wool in Kathmandu. I mean, so many colors and at such cheap prices? My common sense flew out the window as I reached in my pockets to dig out some Nepalese rupiahs as the skeins of yak and silk were handed over. “I’m a knitter”, I sheepishly explained to the shopkeeper, as if that would make her understand my sheer delight upon entering her shop and my need to take pictures and touch every single skein.
Nepal is one of those places where haggling is often expected. Although I usually love to haggle (although I can’t say I’m very good at it), I got so excited at the prospect of finding some beautiful recycled silk skeins that I didn’t even think twice of trying to look around first before making my first purchase. The price seemed reasonable enough to me, and it was only afterwards I realized that I may have paid a bit much for what I got. Because the yarn shops are all within close walking distance, it’s worth it to ask around at each one to decide on a fair price before making a purchase. The average prices I was quoted for the skeins at each of the yarn shops are listed below.
- Recycled silk, 150-200g : 250 Nepali rupiahs / USD
- Silk skein, 200g : 500 Nepali Rupiahs / USD
- Yak wool, 150-200g : 400 Nepali Rupiahs / USD
Note: The yak wool was extremely light and as a result you get a lot of yardage at a very good price! The skeins of silk and recycled silk were much, much heavier.
Rule no. 1: Don’t believe everything the shopkeeper tells you.
They might tell you that the silk is of the purest quality, when in reality it’s only 10% silk with a higher percentage of manmade fibres such as polyester and acrylic. Use your judgement, and trust more the feel and look of the wool than the response of the shopkeeper. It was only after I had dumped out my skeins of yarn at home and took a closer look at them that I realized that they were definitely not “100% silk”. Lesson learned.
Where to find wool in Kathmandu
Three of the four wool shops I came across while in Kathmandu were located on the street of Thamel Marg, in the heart of the backpacker district of Thamel. The fourth wool shop, Nepal Wool House, is a 10-15 minute walk away (see map below).
Nepal Wool House
The flashy signs of the Nepal Wool House make it a hard wool shop to miss, and as a result I had high expectations for the Nepal Wool House as I entered the store. Instead of rows and rows of yarn, however, I found piles and piles of handknit sweaters, as well as crowds of Nepalese women looking through the racks of items.
I did manage to find a variety of colors and weights of yarn at one end of the shop, but only in acrylic. The shopkeeper informed me that they didn’t stock any natural fibres, and I left the store feeling just a tad disappointed.
The prices quoted for the wool found in Dalal Handicraft were much less than the prices initially quoted for me in Hemp House (A). As a result, although I knew I already had sufficient wool and that my backpack was nearing full capacity, I caved in and purchased a skein of recycled silk for just 250 rupiah.
Hemp House (A)
Hemp House (A) was the first yarn shop I entered, and the one I subsequently ‘splurged’ in, buying two skeins of yak wool and two skeins of silk. I ended up paying 1,900 Nepali rupiahs, with a small pair of scissors thrown in (as mine had been taken away at the airport!). I thought I had got a pretty good deal, but 5 minutes later, after walking into Dalal Handicraft across the street, I realized that I might have been overcharged, and that my “pure silk” wasn’t exactly “pure silk”.
Hemp House (B)
Hemp House (B) was my final yarn shop find in Thamel. Again, my heart swooned when I gazed upon row after row of the beautiful colors lining the shop windows. Also, I noticed that the silk skeins in this shop were much, much softer than the skeins in the previous two shops. The shopkeeper told me that this silk was blended with cotton fibre, whereas the other two were likely blended with polyester. I nearly caved in to purchase yet another skein, but luckily the shopkeeper sensed my internal dilemma and advised me not to get any more yarn if I didn’t actually need it. How honest is that? I would definitely come back to this store first
if when I return to Kathmandu, if only for the honesty of the shopkeeper!
Bonus: Wool Shopping in Pokhara
In Pokhara, I also managed to stumble upon a few smaller (50 g) skeins of banana silk wool (fibre made from the banana leaves) and recycled silk wool. This was at a shop selling mainly hemp backpacks, also referred to as the Hemp House. Which lead me to the conclusion that, if you wander into a store selling hemp products (and there are many of them in the tourist districts of Kathmandu and Pokhara) you may also find wool!
Kathmandu can be a culturally interesting place to make some interesting additions to your yarn stash for a reasonable price. This said, don’t expect the high quality yarn that you may be used to at home!