Retro Taiwanese cushion
Basket o' yarn

About a year ago, I wrote about a crocheted cushion cover that made me wonder what daily life was like for Taiwanese people who grew up in the 1970s and early 1980s. That particular cushion was made in a starburst pattern with a palette of acrylic yarn in autumnal colors. Well, as it turns out, there is another Taiwanese cushion! And not only do I own one, but I also have the yarn… to make another one! [Commence girlish squealing]

I’d seen granny square antimacassars and cushions in the exact same set of colors decorating several establishments, including a cafe in Ximending’s Red House (紅樓劇場) and Good Cho’s (好, 丘). I thought they were the coolest thing ever, especially when store managers told me that “every Taiwanese person had one of these in their homes growing up,” along with a Tatung Baby (大同寶寶). How my fingers would itch, not just because the acrylic yarn is extremely scratchy, but also because I wanted to just steal an antimacassar. I refrained from doing so because I am not a sociopath, but I still coveted a giant Taiwanese granny square of my very own.

My long cherished dream came true when Ron and I walked by a hole-in-the-wall bed linen store one day. “Hey Ron, those blankets look like they are a thousand years old OHMIGOD IT’S THAT TAIWANESE PILLOW!!!” I screamed. There it was, nestled in a dusty glass cabinet: the cushion of my dreams. The store owner told me that the pillow had been sitting around in her store for a while.

Retro Taiwanese cushion
Maybe it’s cursed

Since then, I’ve spent ever so many evenings lovingly stroking my cushion. “I wonder where you came from, little buddy,” I would coo softly. “Did they sell your yarn in a set, or did every Taiwanese mom and grandma just happen to be very good at collecting wool remnants in sets of perfectly graduating colors?”

That question haunted me until I went yarn shopping last week with my friend Kristen in the cluster of DIY and craft stores on Yanping North (延平北) and Changan West (長安西) roads near Taipei Train Station*. There was a yarn shop called 麗莉 (lìlì) on the corner of those two streets that is literally just a couple of counters on the sidewalk (its address is 84 Yanping N Rd Sec 1, tel: (02) 3559-0976). If you have a bicycle or moped, you can just roll up, grab your supplies and then zip off (seriously, I’ve always dreamed of a drive-thru wool shop). There were bags of yarn stacked up in a glass case and I saw several colors similar to the ones in my cushion.

Yarn store on Dihua St

I shifted through the photos on my iPhone until I dug up this picture I had snapped at a booth during the Taipei International Cultural and Creative Industry Expo (文化創意博覽會) last fall (I wasn’t kidding when I said this style of antimacassar is ubiquitous).

 Ubiquitous Taiwanese granny square

When I showed my photo to the woman working at the yarn counter, she immediately recognized the style and started pulling out balls of yarn.

愛絲龍

Turns out, this is the exact same kind of yarn that was used to make the cushions I had coveted for such a long time! It was also very cheap. I can’t remember the exact price, but it was either NT$25 or NT$35 per ball (though I am sure a Taiwanese grandma would probably shake her head and mutter in disgust at my profligacy).

Yarn!!!

The yarn is called 愛絲龍 (àisīlóng) and it is spun from a rather itchy acrylic. There was a much nicer yarn available in similar colors, but I relish the authenticity. I think having all the skin sanded off my fingers while I am crocheting will just add to the experience. I will truly understand what Taiwanese women once went through in order to make their households comfortable. My Dad grew up in a family of five kids and he told me that my grandma washed their clothes by hand and had to prepare all their meals without the benefit of a fridge. This is really hard for me to fathom, considering that if I did not live two blocks away from a 7-Eleven, I would probably starve to death. I do like to think, however, that I have inherited my grandparents’ ability to be resourceful and thrifty. The other day, I boiled up a pot of pasta before I realized that I did not have any spaghetti sauce in the house. Undaunted, I squeezed a packet of ketchup onto my noodles. Mmm, it was delicious.

The biggest obstacle that stands between me and my crafting plans is our damn cat, George. He has claimed my yarn for his own.

Nooooo!
Bad cat!
George and his yarn

He’s crazy and does not understand my passion for historic needlework.

*I wrote the linked article in 2009 and a few addresses might have changed. Most stores are still there, but Crystal Supermarket has moved from its prior location to a new storefront across the street from Bear Mama. A great yarn store that Kristen introduced me to is 桂芳135 (guìfāng) at 247 Chang’an W Rd, tel: (02) 2550-9595. It was a wide selection of good quality yarn, including several made from premium fibers like merino and alpaca. Best of all, they let you feel the yarn! If you read my previous post on Taipei yarn stores, you’ll know that a lot of places keep their skeins wrapped up in plastic bags and if you want to feel a yarn, you have to bring the entire bag up to the counter. Apparently this is because some shop owners don’t want “finger oils” getting on their wares. Oils, eh? Well, excuuuuuuuse me for not having hands made out of bark!