Monday, September 1, 2014

Knitters Gone Wild: Ravelry China Knitters Shanghai Meetup

For weeks, some of us on the Ravelry China Knitters Group had been planning a little meetup in Shanghai. It started when I mentioned I was keen to visit Shanghai again since I hadn't been there since 2004 or 2005 -- I wanted to see the changes the city had no doubt undergone in the past ten years. I knew some of the members of the group lived in Shanghai, and then another in Beijing chimed in that she could take the high-speed train down, and our little plan was hatched.

From one of the Chinese knitters in the group, we got word that there was a knitting festival (photos of the event in this link) on August 16 and 17 organized by China's main knitting social-networking site,, and initially planned to meet on that weekend and stop by the festival, but due to a scheduling conflict we postponed our meeting by a week.

By the time the weekend arrived we had a full two days of activities planned out. On Saturday, we met early to go on an adventure to the warehouses of some of my favorite Taobao shops. The first was MIC MIC, which is located in the outskirts of Shanghai, in the Zhujiajiao Old Town. Luckily, one of the Ravelers had access to a private van and driver, and so instead of an hours-long journey on the subway system and taxi ride in the hinterlands we had a comfortable ride with a driver who was determined to get us to our off-the-beaten-path destination. Until we were nearly there, he had presumed we were going out to look at the old town. When he learned of our true intentions, he was quite startled. "You're going all this way to buy yarn!?" he exclaimed incredulously. Yes, we replied. In fact, some of us have come from as far away as Chengdu and Beijing just for this. Most of us knit or crocheted the entire drive while chatting and getting acquainted.

When we arrived, only an employee was there, but she assured us the boss would come soon to open the warehouse. In the meantime we looked at the small leftover quantities of yarns in the office ...

There were some novelty yarns and a lot of glitter yarn on cones, the latter of which which excited the Ravelers. 

More pretty yarn ....

Then the employee brought over a basket full of swatches for us to look at. I recognized them immediately as the swatches used on the Taobao shop to show what the yarns will look like knit up. These swatches are one of the reasons MIC MIC is my favorite online retailer -- many of the others do not present swatches. These are all finished beautifully, blocked and ends woven in. When the boss arrived later, I asked who knits all the swatches. "I do," she said. In the foreground is a fine purple yarn being spun by Jaya.

Our little Ravelry group was five on Saturday, three Shanghai-based expats, one Beijing-based, and me from Chengdu.

Finally, the boss and her husband arrived and opened up the warehouse, looking bemused at this gang of rowdy, yarn-obsessed foreigners who made such a long trek. The warehouse looked underwhelming at first -- just a bunch of cardboard boxes with tons of cones of yarn in them. Considering that MIC MIC has never once made a mistake in my numerous orders with them (and nearly every other shop I order from regularly has), I guess I was expecting a system that looked a little more organized. But obviously this is working for them. The boss told me they get about 20 orders a day right now, during the low season, and during peak knitting season (the cold months) that number increases to about 60. I notice some of their yarns sell out very quickly.

Once we started pawing through the yarn, however, we realized what an overwhelming task making decisions would be. I started questioning whether I should buy any yarn at all there given that through Taobao they offer free shipping on orders over RMB100 and anything I bought in Shanghai I'd have to lug back on a plane to Chengdu by hand. Also, when I browse online I can see all the information about the yarn -- price, fiber content, suggested needle size -- in one place. In person it was more of a guessing game, or we could ask the boss for that information. Given that this was a warehouse rather than actual shop, none of that information was actually on the yarns in most cases.

However, of course I could not actually resist and came home with several 100g cones of top-notch stuff (cashmere!), a few sweater quantities of silk blends, and a massive 1kg cone of chunky weight black merino. See end of my previous post for photos of some of my purchases.

We each put our selections into a separate cardboard box and told the boss's husband how many grams we wanted of each and how many strands to wind together. Then the two employees got to work winding and weighing. Those machine winders are much faster than the hand-cranked swifts I'm used to seeing in yarn shops. In the meantime, we went to a nearby restaurant to have lunch -- much-needed after the yarn frenzy.

When we came back the boss's husband rang up our purchases. Somehow in the shuffle a small cone of pretty gray tweed I had wanted went missing from my box. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to order it online. Now that I've had the opportunity to touch every yarn in their warehouse I know what I still would like and what I don't need to bother with.

The boss and her husband humored us by posing for a photo before we left. Notice her lovely crocheted sweater! It's nice to put a face to the entity I've been purchasing from for so long, and it's also interesting to note that it's such a small operation. I thought there would be more people, at least on customer service. She seems to take care of all of marketing operations while her husband deals with the logistics, packaging, and shipping, and the employees do the winding.

I didn't take photos the second day because I didn't have the camera with me, but we met up again to go to the wholesale notions market where we bought lots of beads, buttons, and findings (see previous post) as well as the yarn shops on Ruijin Er Lu, where I bought some mink/cashmere fingering weight and some cashmere laceweight yarn (again, see previous post for haul). We also visited the studio/workspace of Infinite Twist dyer Cate, in her Belgian-built colonial-era apartment, and the spinners purchased lots of fiber from her. A few days later I met with Jaya again for another quick visit to the notions market for Chinese knotting cord, more chain and leather cording for necklaces, and a few other tools and notions.

All in all, the trip was great fun, and I'm glad I was able to meet some of the east coast Ravelers before I leave China. I used to have quite a few here in Chengdu, but one by one they all moved away. Knitting camaraderie seems unbeatable, as evidenced by the many stories on Ravelry!

Ravelry China Knitters Group Shanghai Meetup: The Haul and First FOs

As soon as I got home from Shanghai I started playing around with some of the materials I'd found at the notions market. The impetus for all this chain-buying was this DIY tutorial for a "multchain necklace." I more or less followed that idea for my first project, making some refinements along the way, such as using one single large jump ring to connect the chains and a much more subtle snap rather than the bulky carabiner.

Here's that one, closer up and in action.

I had also noticed that my favorite pair of earrings seemed to be remarkably DIYable. So I detached short lengths of a silver chain and used tiny split rings to attach them to the fish hook earring posts I had. Then I added beaded headpins to some of the loops of the chain. Finally I threaded a longer eyepin through the bottom part of the chain and bent it into a curve so that it would maintain the teardrop shape. Next time I think I would just use a teardrop frame, or a stiffer chain. This one was too droopy, and the eyepin was a quick-fix.


I combined the rest of the finer chains I had with some of the pink leather cord I'd picked up and added jump rings and beaded eyepins. This one might be a bit over the top, but I'm hoping it comes off more punk rock Hello Kitty/Betsey Johnson and less what were you thinking. 

At the notions market, in addition to the chains and findings shops, there was one wholesale beads and sequins shop. We pulled out all of the bags of large-sized seed beads they had (these look to be about 6/0 or 4mm) and rejected the colors we didn't like. Each bag was one pound (454g) of beads, so we asked if they would divide each bag into five smaller bags, so that each of use could take one of the smaller bags of each color. I imagine each of these is enough to bead a small shawl. We divvied up the loot over lunch at a small noodle shop, much to the interest of some of the waitresses. It did look a bit suspicious, I reckon.

Several people had bins of buttons lined up on the ground in front of the market. We all spent a good amount of time digging through these bins. Each pack sold for RMB1 -- there was a lot more variety here than I usually see in Chengdu.

And the Yarn ...

We spent all of Day 1 at the warehouse of MIC MIC, my favorite online yarn vendor. Here's one of MIC MIC's many silk blend offerings. This one is 75% silk, 20% cotton, and 5% cashmere. The blue is slightly heathered, and I'm planning to use it for Toujours, which I'm supposed to be working on for the Joji Locatelli Fall 2014 KAL.

My most pricey purchase of the trip was this brown tweed cashmere that MIC MIC was selling for RMB46/50g. I purchased 100g, enough for a hat or other small accessory. Super soft, super pretty. I'm not hugely into brown, but with the tweed I'm pretty keen on making myself a luxurious hat, probably in some kind of textural pattern, broken rib or some such. For instance, I like the Graham pattern on Ravelry very much.

On Day 2 we visited the often-mentioned-on-Ravelry Ruijin Er Lu shops. These sell more of the standard commercial handknitting yarns, mostly domestic brands but several varieties of imported yarns as well. I was charmed by the muted color palette of this Jiuselu cashmere laceweight and selected three colors that all the knitters agreed went well together. I was particularly pleased to see that this yarn is going for RMB40 on Taobao. We paid RMB30 per skein. Jiuselu is one of the major upscale-ish Chinese brands, and it's one I have never tried before. So far I'm quite pleased with the colors and feel of the yarn.

At another shop, a few of us got quite excited by this (apparently machine washable) chartreuse-colored mink/cashmere blend from E'erduosi/Erdos, another major Chinese yarn and knitwear manufacturer. Jaya had knit with it before and said it was good, so I picked out a nice charcoal that goes well with the chartreuse. Like I don't have these exact same colors already, e.g. in the in-progress shawl that these yarns are laying on top of (that's Madelinetosh Pashmina in Grasshopper). 

And a Bonus Day of Notions

A few days after our Ravelry weekend extravaganza, Jaya contacted me and said she wanted to go to the notions market again to pick up a few more things and did I want to meet her there. Well, yes, because the first time around I had failed to pick up knotting cord, which I was regretting.

For some time I'd been thinking about learning more about knotting, partly inspired by some of the Purl Bee's posts on friendship bracelets and using knotting cord in various knitting projects, so a couple months ago I bought a book on how to tie Chinese knots and how to make various ornamental projects with them. I tried out some of the knots using linen yarn, but it's really preferable to use a material that can be melted in order to fuse the ends together. So I was happy to pick up these colorful balls of heavy knotting cord. I think their heavier weight will make learning some of the more complicated knots more manageable.

At our final stop of the day I spotted these lovely looking scissors and thread clippers. I think they add a nice touch to my tool collection, even though it meant checking my bags to ensure they weren't confiscated at security (they're sharp -- I am fairly sure they wouldn't have made it through).