Saturday, January 25, 2014

Taobao yarn store review: MIC MIC

I've been intending to write up a blog post highlighting my favorite Taobao yarn sellers for a while now, but then I decided why not just write up a short review for each of my favorite shops? So I'm going to start with my current absolute favorite, MIC MIC.

First, some photos of recent purchases I've made from this shop:

Pure merino from a mill based in Uruguay called Solana Yarns. Chunky weight, 120m per 100g. Very soft, nice heathery gray color. Planning to use this for a re-gauged Warm Wishes cardigan

Pure lambswool, very fine (NM 3/36). I asked the seller to wind four plies together to make a sport weight. 
This shop sells "外货" (for overseas markets) mill end yarns. I interpret that as meaning leftovers from industrial garment production. The garment manufacturing occurs in China, but a good many of the yarns do seem to come from overseas, most commonly from Italy but more recently I've purchased yarns made in Uruguay. The origin of most yarns is not specified. The shop carries a range of qualities, from cashmere at the high end and on through merino wool, wool and silk blends, pure silks, cottons, cotton and wool blends, and plenty of synthetics at the low end. Many of the high-end yarns are very, very fine (cobweb weight), but there are some heavier (fingering up to chunky) pure wool yarns usually available.

Stock rotates fairly quickly at this shop, which means there's something new to see (and lust after) every few weeks or so, but it also means that yarns sell out quickly, and once they're gone, there's no getting more (so make sure to order enough for your project).

The price is among the lowest I've seen for this quality of yarn on Taobao, which is why it's my favorite store at the moment. The synthetic yarns usually start at around RMB3 per 50g, and the cashmere is around RMB40 per 50g. Pure wool or wool blends usually range from around RMB4 to RMB10 per 50g, depending on the quality and the blend.

Navigation and Descriptions
Navigation is quite simple: categories on the left-hand navigation bar are broken down by fiber content (silk, wool, cotton, linen) or by yarn texture (boucle, thick and thin, fluffy, ribbon yarn, etc.) Generally the product description contains the yarn weight (either expressed as a description, such as "heavy" or "fine" or as an NM or 支 number, so you can calculate the meterage per gram), the shop's recommended needle size(s), the suggested quantity required for an "average" woman's pullover, a sweater coat, or a scarf. It will also include the price per 50g and usually some brief words about the feel of the yarn (whether or not it can be worn next to the skin). Finally there will be a photo of each colorway available, usually of the yarn on the cone or in the hank. Occasionally there is a photo of a knitted swatch. I've found the colors in the photos to be generally pretty accurate.

This shop is one of the handful I've found willing to wind multiple plies onto the cone (lots of other shops are willing to wind separate cakes, but that's about it). As you can see, most yarns come on cones, but some of the bulky and superbulky yarns come as hanks or balls. The receipt included in the package indicates the exact amount that is on the cone, and usually they wind a few grams extra onto the cone, which is nice. They also provide free gifts with most purchases, like stitch markers, bamboo needles, steel crochet hooks, darning needles, or plastic or wooden buttons.
70/30 silk/cashmere blend. Super silky and drapey. Again I asked the seller to wind several plies together to make a heavier weight.

  • Low prices
  • New products posted regularly
  • Reasonably clear descriptions and photos
  • Photos generally seem to be color accurate
  • Fast shipping, frequently free shipping deals if you spend a certain amount
  • Yarn almost always wound onto cones
  • Amount precisely stated on receipt, and usually they "top up" your cone
  • Will wind together multiple plies at your request
  • Free gifts with most orders


  • Information on origin or brand of yarn is usually unavailable -- the only times I've been able to track this down is when I've ordered a sufficient quantity (more than 500g) of one yarn for it to come on the original cone from the mill, and then there will be a sticker with identifying information. But for smaller quantities, the Taobao shop will wind it onto a new cone.
  • That also means that occasionally the fiber content as listed is not completely accurate (for instance, a yarn that was listed as 90% wool turned out to be 20% nylon, according to information I was able to find online and also my home bleach test).
  • When it's gone, it's gone
  • Color selection is very limited -- many yarns have only one or two colors available, and most frequently there are a lot of neutral shades like grays, beiges, black, brown
  • Yarn occasionally has musty odor, probably due to long-term storage in humid conditions
  • Any other cons I can think of would really apply to yarn shopping on Taobao in general, which is a post for another day!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Color combinations: _____ + neutral

Here are some combinations I've been playing around with recently for projects I'm planning:

neon + neutral

mint + grays

neutral + neutral

WIP pic!

P.S. I finished the ombre cowl from my last post and have been wearing it the past two days. I should probably block it but I don't want to take it off!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

In defense of numerous WIPs

My Traveling Companion Shawl. I actually love the way this is coming out, but the lace takes a bit of concentration, so I generally don't carry it around with me or work on it when distracted by other things (which is most of my knitting time). Going has been slow. But I plan to finish by spring, so I can wear it. 
Every now and then I like to do some Ravelry project-page housekeeping. This involves changing the status of projects that are actually finished but have been lingering in WIP mode, deleting projects I'm never actually going to get around to, etc. Today I counted up the number of WIPs listed on my Ravelry page and noticed it's at 131. One hundred and thirty-one! OK, to be fair, that includes two "projects" that were created for photos of my yarn stash (for the Flash Your Stash thread, back in 2010 or so, when I could fit it all on my couch. I wouldn't dare drag my considerably larger stash out for a photo op now) and one to keep links to photos of commercially made sweaters that I like. And then there are probably about 10 to 20 projects that I've created a project page for but haven't actually cast on, so technically those aren't WIPs. Yet. 

Organix Tee. Started as a test knit two or three years ago. I knit most of it on the transpacific flight after a visit home. Somehow my gauge changed during the process and I ended up with a top that is about 4" too big around. I like the oversized look but the shoulders are clearly too big here. I just haven't had the heart to tear it out, although that's probably what's going to happen. 
So that leaves about 110 projects that I've started and left unfinished. Some are being worked on regularly. Many are stuffed into the box of shame in my storage room, likely destined to be frogged or given away in their half-completed state to my knitting/crocheting friends to salvage the yarn from. About four or five are stuffed into the "do these next" box that's at the top of the stack of boxes in the storage room. 

Ombre Cowl. This is just a dumb WIP. It's a small project with relatively mindless knitting, and I really love the yarns, the color, and how it's turning out. I have no excuse for this one, and right now would be the perfect time to wear it. So I'd better chop chop.
People often write about WIPs and casting on new projects before they've finished old ones as a bad thing. Personally, I'm pretty OK with keeping lots of WIPs. For me, the three major problems with many WIPs are:
  • I need a set of needles for every WIP, or I have to spend a lot of time transferring stitches onto waste yarn or stitch holders
  • I might lose track of what part of the pattern I was one or what needle size I was using
  • The clutter WIPs create (it's much harder to stuff them neatly into a box than it is to store untouched skeins and cakes of yarn in a box)
For issue 1, I just own lots of needles, and because there are at least five yarn shops within a mile radius of my apartment (plus one at my bus-transfer point on days I go to work) that sell needles for about 4 yuan apiece (and on Taobao they're half that price), I am in the (bad?) habit of just buying needles whenever the size I need is occupied by a WIP.

Beatnik Pullover. Another sweater I'd love to be wearing this season, but guess what? It's only got 2/3rds of a body done. Still gotta do sleeves and finishing after that. The cables on this one are fairly complex and require attention. I hope the yarn isn't too itchy when it's all said and done. I love the color and the little weird tweed-like flecks. I started this in 2010 and it grows a few inches every winter before it goes into hibernation for the rest of the year.
Issue 2 is taken care of by Ravelry's excellent project-notes functionality. I am usually quite diligent about recording what yarn I have and in what quantity, what needle size(s) I'm using for a particular project, and so forth. I generally print my patterns and take notes as to where I am if necessary -- on many projects it's easy enough to figure out where I am.

I haven't solved issue 3, apart from buying and crocheting several large containers to store WIPs in. Each one gets placed into a sealable plastic bag (to keep out the moths) with the remaining yarn needed to complete the project as well as the printout of the pattern. The bags are then stored in one of my baskets. Or, you know, littered all over the couch and the floor next to the couch.

Caramel. I like the design of this sweater, called "blanket-style," a lot. But I am not sure about the yarn -- it was a relatively early purchase, and that dark blue/black marl has a fairly high acrylic content. But the whole fabric drapes fairly nicely and feels soft enough. This was sitting with only half the body done for a few years until I pulled it out a couple months ago and finished the body off. Now I'm slowly trudging through the sleeves, my least favorite part. I decided I'd finish it in time for our upcoming trip, which means I have about two weeks left. Good thing there's no finishing work on this one. Just gotta slog through those sleeves.
I guess one final issue with lots of WIPs is that my taste, style, or size might change. But I try not to knit garments that are too trendy, and my clothing size has not fluctuated more than one size since I was in high school (half my life ago!), so I feel relatively safe there too. 

Velvet Morning. Another long journey. I acquired the main color in 2010 or 2011 but couldn't find suitable contrast yarns until this past summer when I was at home. So the ribbing was sitting there patiently until this fall when I started the colorwork. I finished the body a month or so ago, finally, and now I'm trying to work up the courage to do those stranded sleeves, which will need to be set in. There's also a loooong ribbed collar I've got to do and then seam. But mostly I'm afraid of those sleeves. The worst part is I'm not in love with my color selection. 
The main reason I've always felt justified in keeping so many WIPs is that most of life is about maintaining structure and sticking to deadlines (especially for those, like me, who do freelance work) that I allow myself this guilt-free pleasure of casting on whatever I want regardless of whatever other knitting projects await my attention.

I think this is my oldest WIP. It's the first garment I ever cast on for, and ... it's still not done! Honestly I don't even know where it is. I apparently created the Ravelry project page in July 2010, so I probably cast it on well before that.
P.S. It's been a really long time, I know. One of my small new year's resolutions is to take better care of this blog.