Saturday, July 30, 2011

My Review of Knit Nation (London, UK)

This post is long overdue.

I have to preface this post with a few caveats. If you want to skip the caveats and go straight to the review then know that you do so at your own risk (of being uninformed...)

Caveat 1) I was in the UK for work and happened to be there (in London) at the same time as Knit Nation

Caveat 2) I was only able to make the last day (Sunday) although I did pick up my badge and booklet on Friday evening

Caveat 3) My main disappointment with Knit Nation may not matter to you depending on who you are (your background) and what your expectations/hopes are for knitting/craft workshops. That's totally cool. In order to understand my perspective, you should know that I am a working mother of 2 great kids; this means I get very little time, peace or privacy.

The Review
Overall Rating: meh.

The Good:
A) The marketplace had A LOT of really excellent and local yarn as well as fun and functional knitting/crochet accoutrements; additionally, it didn't appear as though the vendors increased their prices for the marketplace. Although the wares were expensive, the cost would have been the same via mail order or visiting a local shop (if you could find that yarn in a local shop). I was able to pick up some lovely yarns by fiber artists/vendors of which I've never heard. Additionally, it was great to be able to talk to the actual yarn dyer/spinner/sheep herder and learn about them/their process. I think this was my favorite part of Knit Nation. I also learned that Wollmeise (pictured below) is the White Whale of yarn.

B) The knitting techniques taught in the class were really interesting. I've been knitting for about 1.5 years. It was apparent that our teacher was an expert on the subject of Estonian Lace Knitting; additionally, she peppered our lesson with fascinating (historical) facts about Estonia and traditional Estonian knitting. She circulated around the room and answered questions as they arose, she was patient with each person, she demonstrated each technique more than once and provided clear instruction. I learned a lot in the class and felt confident after the class that I would be able to replicate the techniques learned (later on my own).

C) My classmates: I loved my classmates. Every student attending Knit Nation (that I actually spoke to) was just awesome sauce with a side of fun chips.

The Bad (or, things you should be aware of prior to going to Knit Nation):
A) My main disappointment was that Knit Nation was definitely not a destination knitting experience. I felt like there was no "experience" to the event, no sense of community or any attention to branding beyond the minimum required (a sign at the registration table and name badges... you could also buy a project bag with the logo).

The environment (classrooms at the Imperial College) was/were functional yet sterile. This made me sad as- with a few inexpensive but well planned touches- the vibe could have been completely different (yarnbombing the staircase around the registration table, a cool painted canvas mural backdrop of the London cityscape, a place for knitters to write comments on colorful post-it notes and thumbtack to a board, a place for knitters to leave their WIPs for admiration- as examples).

Also, the classrooms were all over the place. It would have been better (although, I have no idea of the feasibilility) if all sessions were close to each other or around a central area. I felt very disconnected from the idea of an event. There could have been an AA meeting or a driver's education course down the hall and I wouldn't have been surprised.

I loved the idea of afternoon tea but, again, the experience was sterile. There were no detailed touches, no branding, nothing special about a white paper plate with 4 sandwiches and 4 mini cookies, a white paper napkin, and a white paper cup with a tea bag.

I was glad that I didn't spend the thousands of dollars that would have been necessary to travel to Knit Nation as a destination as I would have left feeling upset rather than just "meh."

B) Cost relative to benefit: The classes were very expensive. I took just one class (at 100 pounds = 165 USD). I understand that the event is held in London which means that it must be very expensive to arrange. That stated, I would have preferred to pay an extra 10 pounds if it meant the event was an experience rather than a sterile collection of classes.

C) In addition to the comments made above about the class and the teacher, I have to note that- at times- the teacher was a bit negative; on this point I'm not going to go into any greater detail, I'm just going to leave it there. Also, for the expense and length of the class, I felt like there should have been more content. The first 1.5 hours were spent listening to the teacher but I honestly cannot recall what she talked about. I don't think it was knitting related or related to Estonia/Estonian lace... The last 5 hours of the class were spent knitting. I've no doubt we could have learned the concepts in the first 1.5 hours then knit (asking questions when needed) as she recounted interesting facts about Estonia. We definitely could have covered the concepts and techniques that were taught over the full day in a half day.

Summary: I'm really glad I went as- relatively- it cost me very little, I met some great/fun people, got to see lovely yarn/meet wonderful yarnies, and I learned some new techniques. That stated, there was nothing that made Knit Nation special, better, or set it apart from any other knitting workshop.

For those of you who share my yarn lust, more pictures of yarn acquired at the marketplace: