Knitting in China

Before a trip last year to Shanghai and Suzhou I did my usual research to find out where one would find Chinese cashmere at a good price – that sort of thing – only to come up with nothing. There is a Knitters’ Guild in Shanghai listed on the web but it made no response to my emails so perhaps it is defunct. So I gave up on the idea of doing any shopping on my trip.

In fact, however, in Suzhou, I happened to stumble upon two yarns shops only separated by a few minutes’ walk. As far as I could tell they were very similar in character, stocking good quality European yarns at prices I consider normal in Australia. Needles included my favourite Addis. At both shops there was a group of ladies knitting and both shops had made up garments for sale. These were at fair prices: eg a nice Filatura di Crosa cotton shrug at approx. $90 US. Unfortunately everything was too small for me.

336 Shi Quan St Suzhou Yarn Shop

I suspect that it was inappropriate to bargain in these shops, but I’m not sure. Throughout my trip I felt like I was a lousy bargainer. Either I got something and assumed that I’d paid too much or I didn’t get something and then felt irritated that I hadn’t simply paid enough to purchase the abandoned item.

Beauty Wool 476 Shi Quan St Suzhou ph. 65108820

I left the yarn shops empty-handed as I couldn’t see any justification in purchasing yarn at prices no lower than at home.

Still, these yarn shops are worth dropping in on if you are in the neighbourhood. It is an excellent shopping street in general and near one of the famous classical gardens: Master of the Nets. It is close to the centre of the city, easy to get to by taxi.

While I failed to get interesting yarn, it is true that the fabric markets are well worth visiting. In Shanghai at one of the well-known fabric markets I could have purchased a full-length pure cashmere coat made to order for abouth $60US. For that price I could probably have got it delivered to my hotel as well. Wow. I know Chinese cashmere is rather looked down upon, but at that price you couldn’t really go wrong.

Suzhou is the Chinese idea of a small rustic town: only 7 million people and a relatively easy place to navigate. Still, I highly recommend something we did via the hotel: we hired a car and driver for the day. It cost only $60US or so and was such a treat. We didn’t have a word in common but that didn’t matter, the driver was always where we wanted him at the arranged times and he had good advice too (yes, it’s amazing what you can do without sharing language!). I wish we’d done the same thing in Shanghai. It would have cost more, maybe double, but that still would have taken some of the trauma out of the business of getting around.

The only other advice that comes to mind is that unless you are in expensive Western places the toilets are truly disgusting. After seeing the first toilet I was expected to use in a typical Chinese area I planned never to drink before going out, even if it was a full day. I assure you this was well worth it!

Oh, and credit cards don’t work in China – well my Visa card didn’t in small shops like these. You have to use cash.

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9 thoughts on “Knitting in China

  1. Yes, the addresses are useful…I wouldn’t bother using the phone number unless you speak Chinese, but hotel staff would be able to assist you.

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  2. I did get lovely tea, in fact at a shop on the same street as the yarn shops. I understand you have to be careful to buy tea from reliable outlets to make sure you get what you are paying for.

    I didn’t see any yarn in markets, but I only went to cheap retail markets apart from my one trip to the cloth market. There must be the sort of thing somewhere there.

    Suzhou is a great holiday place, by the way. Relatively cheap accommodation, lots to see in the city and interesting countryside.

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  3. Bargaining in China:
    I saw a TV documentary on SBS last week. In China, especially at markets, it is part of the service for you to be first offered a totally ridiculous price on a calculator, something akin to western prices. You’re meant to laugh, say “very funny”, get into the spirit of the process, and say an equally ridiculous price, perhaps 5% or less of the orginal price (i.e. if they say $60, you say $3). Then you offer perhaps $6, and walk away, out of the shop, fairly slowly. If you are anywhere near the right price, the seller will come out of the shop and bring you back in. The docuaentary shood this procedure in action and explained that it is normal, the expected practice in modern China.

    Peter Gill

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  4. Peter is quite right, but you really have to have the right mentality for the whole thing. When some poor chap making a few dollars a week comes up to you and wants $5 for a watch, I don’t feel comfortable bargaining him to $1. That $4 means nothing to me, but a lot to the person I’m negotiating with. Difficult!

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  5. I live in Nanjing (American – there for two years) which is about an hour west of Suzhou. From our experience, yarn shops are one of the places you don’t bargain. The prices are posted and you pay what’s posted, whether you are western or Chinese. Peter’s comments are certainly true in the local markets, but not in my experience in yarn shops. Suzhou (again, in my experience) being so close to Shanghai is more “western,” which I assume is why your yarn prices were so high?? In Nanjing, we get terrific bargains on yarn – I’ve knitted up one very lovely angora sweater for around $6 US – it would cost me $100 US in the states. Most of the yarn I buy is under a $1US for a 50gram ball – for 100% wool.

    Glad you had a great trip, but sorry you didn’t find any lovely yarn cheap!

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  6. I just happened upon your page. I too went on a side trip to Suzhou when we went to Shanghai to adopt our daughter. I am a designer in Chicago and I want to design a line of knitted kids clothing and have it made in China, with cotton or hi quality soft yarns. If anyone has any experience with this I would appreciate any direction/ tips/resources/advise you can offer. I am just starting my sourcing.

    I loved my trip to Suzhou, especially the embroidery institute-amazing.

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