Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Taobao Yarn Store Review: Lian Gongfang

I initially came across Lian Gongfang when I was interested in finding Shetland wool on Taobao. This shop had some, in the form of mill ends, in stock, so I bought quite a bit. Unfortunately they had only one color, a very warm green with flecks of gold and orange in it, which doesn't suit me at all, but darn it, I will make a sweater out of it anyway. I kept an eye on the shop and found they sell lots of Italian (and other) mill ends of various qualities, as well as commercial handknitting yarns from the UK (Rowan, Kingcole, Jaeger), U.S. (Knitpicks, and for a while they had a few skeins of Madelinetosh in stock), Europe (Lang, Lanas Stop, BBB), and Japan (Olympus, Puppy). Finally, they carry a small selection of domestic commercial yarns, namely, Li Shi, Jiuse Lu, and Pecore.

I did manage to make a hat with the Shetland. Striped with Noro and some other scraps.

I mostly stick with the mill ends and have purchased lovely wool/alpaca blends, pure alpaca, wool/cashmere blends, tweedy wools, pure silk (ironically, this is apparently a rare find in China), cotton ribbon yarns, cotton/linen blends, raimie, alpaca/linen blends, and so on. Some of the mill ends they sell are Cariaggi, Filpucci, Filati Cardati, Novetex, Nardi Filati, and so on. Occasionally the yarn label with the mill name will be pictured; other times it's just a mystery. If I can see a label I'll usually do some sleuthing on Google to see what additional information I can find out about the yarn.

One of my favorite pullovers was knit with this fingering weight 70/30 baby alpaca/wool blend from an Italian mill that sadly is no longer in stock. It is so soft and gets softer with wear.

I generally run a bleach test on all animal-protein yarns I purchase and only once have I found a description from this shop to be off, with the yarn below, actually -- it was listed as 100% wool, but further digging revealed it contains some nylon.

A bit steeper than comparable Taobao shops, but usually I don't mind paying the extra because I know that I'm getting something good. I was a bit irked when I bought the tweed yarn above for RMB9 per 50g and then spotted it at another one of my favorite shops for RMB5 per 50g. On the other hand, I also scored a deal during a holiday sale on the discontinued (and apparently much sought-after) Jaeger Chamonix for RMB26 per 50g (I bought sweater quantities in two colors, based on the words of wisdom of yarn whisperer Clara Parkes. And my sweater quantities cost about 1/3rd of her estimated $135).

Free shipping deals are rare. There is supposed to be some kind of token discount scheme, but it rarely seems to apply to my orders.

They did send me this synthetic blend once when I hit a certain RMB amount.
Navigation and Descriptions
One of the first things I noticed about this shop when I first discovered it, indeed, one of the things that very much attracted me to the shop, is that alongside the usual categories of fiber type, it also lists yarn weights in English -- lace, fingering, DK, aran, and bulky. I've not seen this on any other Taobao shop.

The yarn descriptions are usually very detailed, with fiber content, yarn weight, suggested needle size, suggested quantity for various types of projects, etc. all spelled out. The photographs are also generally excellent, with several clear shots of each yarn and quite often swatches with the number of plies and needle size indicated as well. Here's an example. I haven't had any drastic surprises with colors from this shop, either (and yes, I have had some pretty big surprises from other shops).

Summer pullover knit from the cotton linen yarn pictured above.

Just sufficient, no extras. For instance, unlike many sellers this shop never throws in trinkets like stitch markers for hitting a certain RMB amount, and they do not wind together plies -- all they will do is wind into separate cakes so that you can knit with multiple strands (knitting from four cakes isn't that much fun, though). I placed an order during the 11.11 shopping day madness to take advantage of the Chamonix promotion, and they forgot to send all of the imported yarns in my package. It took a bit of chatting back and forth between the seller and me to finally sort it out, and they sent the missing yarns out the next day (I was hoping they'd throw in some extra for the mishap but no such luck). Additionally, I was once charged shipping when they were advertising a free shipping promotion.

Alpaca/linen blend.
Shipping time is reasonable; I haven't noticed it being particularly faster or slower than average. The packing is fine, but unexceptional.

I've also noticed that in the year or so I've been shopping with Lian Gongfang, its Taobao rating status has increased from diamond to crown. I guess I'm not the only fan!

Filpucci Lhasa, a laceweight single ply blend of wool and cashmere.

  • Consistently high-quality products
  • Clear photos and detailed descriptions of products, frequently with swatches of the yarn
  • Very easy-to-navigate shop (products arranged by fiber, by weight, by country, and by type)
100% baby alpaca.

  • Pricier than most Taobao shops
  • Very infrequent discounts or free shipping offers
  • Very limited selection of notions (80cm bamboo and metal circulars, and some crochet hooks)
  • No extras thrown in
  • Unwilling to wind plies together

Dreaming by Novetex, a Macau mill. The colorway is called Chutney, which appeals to me. It's a wool/cashmere/nylon blend, worsted weight single ply.


Cathy said...

Thanks for the review. Those are some bargains you've got there! I'm currently exploring the possibility of taobao from overseas, it may turn out to be not worth while giving the shipping cost. Still...

Jane Voodikon said...

There are some great bargains on fantastic yarns, to be sure. Honestly, Taobao yarn shopping is probably going to be one of the biggest things I miss when I leave, which is kind of sad! On the other hand, it can be a real pain in the ass to locate very specific items, so I end up buying lots of yarn that just looks good without a specific pattern in mind, and then having to spend a lot of time to match the pattern to the yarn. Sometimes I wish I could just go online and buy the yarn for the pattern (or even the right weight and fiber type).

Anyway, have you inquired as to shipping costs? I am not sure if all sellers are willing to ship overseas, and if they do, would you also get hit with customs fees?