Last week I posted a review of the Debbie Bliss Yarns website. The Blissfolk were kind enough to offer up feedback. You can read it in the comments appended to that day’s entry.
Although I accessed the old site and reviewed it on November 30, 2004, apparently the site I visited had been replaced by a newer one, although redirects from the old to the new URL weren’t working a month after the stated fix was published. That error has been corrected. So in the interests of fairness, I review the site again.
Debbie Bliss Knitwear
The beneficiary of a general look/feel aesthetic overhaul, the new Debbie Bliss website is still divided into three main sections, patterns, yarns, and information. It offers up much the same material as before, with a couple of clarifications and enhancements. As noted before, the site offers limited retail capability, but a clarification has been added in several spots, noting that it sells pattern books direct, but not the yarns. The books are offered to customers world-wide, and there’s an exchange rate tool to see how costs work out in international currencies.
DB now offers a for-fee membership club, similar in concept to Rowan’s. It’s implied that there will be a members-only chat area to support the club, but any password-protected or limited access section of the website isn’t active yet. Personally, I’m not fond of this trend. Even though members get a scarf kit, newsletters, and supplemental patterns for their annual 28? (international cost, about $54.50 US at the current exchange rate) , I don’t like the idea of creating two-tier systems of paid customer support. While it works for appliances, I find the thought of restricting help to an "inner circle" who pay above and beyond the cost of the base books to be antithetical to the concept of publishing in general. Perhaps I’m missing something, and there’s a subculture of designer-devotee knitters out there that work both exclusively and enough from one maker’s line to justify this sort of fee, but I’ve never met one.
The yarns section is the most changed. It’s vastly improved from the previous sketchy offering. Yarns are illustrated by small color chips. Fiber specs, yardage/weight, recommended needle size and gauge are all documented. There are no photographs of yarns in their retail put-ups, nor are there photos of swatches. Yarn appearance has to be deduced from the roughly 2.5cm square color chips alone. There is an on-page link to local UK stockists and international sources on each yarn page, although the international source page lists Knitting Fever, Diamond Yarns, and Woolshack (the US, Canadian and Australian distributors), relying on their resources to provide links to actual retailers. The roster of UK stockists doesn’t appear to be yarn-specific, so even if you call one up from a particular yarn’s page, call before you visit the shops listed because they may or may not carry the entire Debbie Bliss line. There are no links on the yarn pages to patterns made with specific yarns.
The patterns section as before shows the various books available, with thumbnails linking to more detailed pages for the contents of each book. Most but not all contents are shown – especially for the yarn-specific later books – and the layout of the detail pages has been made easier to use. Most patterns now bear a difficulty rating, needle requirements, sizing, yarn requirements per size, and the name of the color(s) used in the accompanying photo. There are links back to the yarn detail pages, and it’s easy to browse all of the designs shown for each book. Navigation among books is also easier, with a nested link history line provided at the top of the patterns page.
There is no explanation of the criteria used to classify the patterns into the various difficulty ratings. Almost everything is "Easy" or "Intermediate." The only "Advanced" patterns were both large Intarsia pieces I’m assuming were worked from big charts. A hover-over pop-up that listing a brief bunch of basic skills that define each level would be a nice touch. (Carefully worded, that list could be the same for every "Easy," "Intermediate," or "Advanced" symbol site-wide.)
There’s an errata section listing corrections for existing books up to and including Simple Living. About the only ease of use link I’d add here would be a link back to the pattern revisions page from the main book page for any item that has associated errata.
There is no historical info provided beyond pattern errata. I am not familiar enough with the DB lines to say whether or not any of the offerings have aged out of current distribution, nor am I familiar enough with the individual books to note which designs are not shown. If there are lines no longer being sold having historical info on them would be of great use, especially if there were contemporary substitutes among the still-active products. Also some of the DB books sold on the site are now of "classic" status – I doubt that the yarns they use are still current. A list of some of the more prevalent with suggestions for substitutions in the current lines would also be a very consumer-friendly touch.
On the information section, aside from a general neatening, little has changed. The news column still discusses the summer/early fall trade shows, and speaks of one offered back in early October as being in the future. There’s not even a mention of the new improvements to the website itself. The workshops heading lists a past offering and no upcoming ones. The contact page lists major distributors of the yarns, but there is still no contact for DB itself – not even on the errata page for those who have found problems and wish to report corrections. T
So to sum up – the clarification that yarn is not offered for sale here, plus remedying the major info lack on the yarns themselves make this set of site improvements very welcome. I still wish for more historical info, a more shelf-recognizable illustration of the yarns themselves, timely oversight of the information pages, and for some sort of direct contact mechanism. Recent fixes pull the Debbie Bliss website mark up to an A-, in spite of the incipient members-only club.
Today we go up and downscale. First Rowan, then Spinrite/Bernat. Both do?a membership thing, but each does it differently.
Rowan, like Karabella sells fashion. However Rowan unlike Karabella?retails its products via the website, and as a retailer provides more end-user consumer information. Full yarn?data is available, including stitch and row gauge, recommended needle size, color cards,?and complete wash instructions. There is also search capability, and visitors can look up yarns by name or specify gauges, weight names, or fiber types (searching combos of attributes isn’t possible though).
The site also sells the various Rowan publications, including books, magazines, and in some cases – individual patterns abstracted from them. You can page through the contents of the larger publications, and links are provided to the yarns from which the individual designs are knit (in some cases just the yarn name is given without making it an active link). One?annoying info lack is that thumbnails of the patterns don’t display yarn quantities. If one was to buy off the website, choosing patterns and yarn one wouldn’t know how much yarn to order to make something in the desired size. Another annoying info gap – like most sites that are selling image, there is nothing on the Rowan site that describes garment?sizes or mentions the range of sizes in which the patterns are offered.
Other products/services at the site include a line of designer fabrics, notifications of and registration for upcoming workshops in the UK, and a limited number of kits.The site does offer up pattern and book errata (called addendums and placed under the "Info Centre" tab).Issue #33, Spring/Summer ’03 is the?most recent magazine for which corrections are on the website (#36 is the current issue). There’s also an international index of stockists (shops that carry the Rowan line). There’s also a list of suggested substitutions, listing discontinued Rowan products and recommended current products that may be suitable. It’s not immediately evident because it’s not listed separately, instead it’s in the FAQ.If you want to get in touch with Rowan, there’s?contact form, ground address and telephone numbers provided, along with a note that enquires can take 7-10 business days before response.
All site services are available to both registered and unregistered site users, with the exception of the direct sales section, and the members discussion forums. On site registration shouldn’t be confused with membership in Rowan International, which is a for-fee subscription that includes two magazines and other benefits. Only RI members can access the discussion boards and monthly free pattern. I can’t comment on either as I don’t feel like spending $44.00 US per year to find out more.
As a whole on the site, organization is good and navigation is pretty straightforward. Responsiveness varies, and there appear to be some programming errors in the books section (conflicting tab menus replace each other and loading is slow). Cross links are provided from the patterns back to the yarns, but no links go from the yarns back to the designs. If you’re in love with a particular yarn and visit its page first, you’ll have to poke through to find patterns that use it. Also only six color samples present themselves per page. The link to get to the next set is at the lower right, and is placed (confusingly) after the "make new search" button. You can tell that there was concern about this on behalf of the web designers because they place a prominent "we’ve got X shades of this yarn" statement at the top of every yarn’s basic data page to remind visitors that they are seeing only a few of the available colors. Similar unclear paging haunts the pattern library, and the total number of available selections is listed at the top of pattern search results pages, too.
I do however wonder about the relationships between Rowan, R2 and Jaeger. Rowan has taken pains to establish and/or maintain those lines as separate image entities, yet they include books and designs (but not yarns) from them in the retail section and pattern search sections. It seems a strangely??schizophrenic treatment – either make them totally separate, or bring all three together under one umbrella.
On the basis of easy navigation, clear site organization, complete yarn info, good pattern browsing ability, the availability of errata and substitutions, minus points for yarn quantities and available sizes?missing from the pattern blurbs (with the paid members only thing being a business model thing that’s not to my taste, but has no impact on my scoring)?Rowan gets an?A-.
From the heights of Rowan we come back down the mountain to the more mass-market Bernat, now a quivering vassal of the Spinrite family of yarns. Bernat sells craft, not fashion. Yes, they have patterns to make fashion garments, but the entire tenor of the site is "what?things you?can make" not "what looks you can create."? There is a difference…
Bernat’s website also has a registration feature, but Bernat doesn’t have the second tier paid membership, nor does it sell things directly off the site. People who sign up at the Bernat site get access to quite a few free patterns both for knit and crochet. There are also periodic newsletters sent to those who have signed up.
Bernat provides complete info on its yarns, too. Knitting stitch and row gauges and recommended needle size is there, as is suggested crochet hook size.Complete wash info is also provided, as is yardage and the useless yarn weight tag promulgated by the Craft Yarn Council (I’ve ranted about this before). Color samples are provided, as are links to patterns that use the yarn. There’s also a link to a retailer search page that implies you can search in your local area for a particular product, however no matter what products I selected, I never got an in-state result, and only found three results for a non-product-specific list of stockists at the national level.
In addition to the free pattern library (in *.pdf Acrobat format), Bernat offers up thumbnails from current booklets offered for sale at local retailers. There are no links back to yarns from the current book profiles, although that info is provided as a link on the free pattern pages and most of the current books do state what yarn was used and what sizes are available?(no quantities though). One useful feature is?a yarn?suitability calculator that assists searches for Bernat products by by yarn descriptor, gauge, or yarn weight/yardage ratios. There is no list of older/discontinued Bernat products and their equivalents in the current line, nor is pattern errata available. There is no contact info on the site aside from a single ground mailing address.
Overall presentation is rather cluttered,?more utilitarian than groomed, but?it’s not hard to make one’s way around the site. I give high marks for complete yarn info and links to patterns from yarns and yarns from patterns; also for the yarn suitability tool and listing available sizes on the patterns. I take some away for the poorly working?retailers listing, the lack of info on older yarns, lack of pattern errata, lack of a convenient contact/feedback mechanism, and overall clutter.Like before, the presence or absence of a free pattern library is nice, but has no effect on these ratings. Bernat just barely squeaks into?an A-, mostly on the effort to link yarns and patterns.The addition of?historical info would?boost it to an A in spite of the clutter.