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!

No comments: