Wool in Italy: buying local

Three beautiful skeins of single-ply wool from Lanivendole
Pure and Simple Wool from Lanivendole in Onice, Ambra, and Terracotta 1-ply sport/DK weight

Excited about Pure & Simple Wool

This is a quick post to say that I just wound these beautiful skeins into cakes yesterday and I’m about to get started knitting my first project with Lanivendole’s Pure & Simple Wool. It’s a 100% made in Italy yarn, from sheep to skein and is also super cushy with a luminous sheen. I’m thinking I’ll make a short-sleeved tunic but I’m still considering….with 900 meters I could also make a more ‘drapey’ fabric and something with long sleeves? At 6s and 7s about where to start, which is to say: should I use 4 mm or 4.5 mm needles for my gauge swatch?

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More fun with Cashmere: In the lap of luxury (fiber)

In my last post I wrote about the pleasures of experimenting with spinning cashmere fiber. Then I noticed, in my pile-o-projects I have two other WIPs that are using commercial cashmere blends. I guess I’m just destined to have more fun with Cashmere in 2021 than I ever have before. So, this post takes a quick look at how many different looks this luxury fiber has to offer.

Where it’s at: spinning ahead and swatching

After looking at the yardage I had in the Champagne Cashmere I finished spinning just before christmas (133 metres), I thought that I would also spin up the black fiber from my bag of carding remnants purchased from DHG Italy. I have 140 grams of that so I’m hoping to get around 170-190 metres (if I can manage to maintain the same grist as I did for the soft beige. I’m calling the black yarn Caviar Cashmere, because…well why not! Meanwhile, I knit up a swatch with the completed skein of the first colour to see what the texture would be like. I did the first part on U.S. 7 and then switched to U.S. 6. The first gave me a much more textured look and a softer hand while the second was smoother with a more linear look:

Above is my gauge swatch with the original “Champagne Cashmere” and below even more fun with Cashmere: Black Caviar Cashmere on the wheel.

“So, what are you going to make with that?”

If you’re a spinner, you’ve heard this phrase often, “So, what are you going to make with that?” My husband usually looks admiringly at my 200 metre skein of freshly spun yarn and asks, “so, what kind of sweater are you going to make with it?” …*sigh*. Don’t get me wrong, I’m lucky to have someone who is genuinely curious about what I’m doing and who loves to wear the things I make for him; but as anyone who works with yarn knows, 200 metres will not a sweater make (unless it’s for a doll or a very small baby). I’m usually spinning for the pleasure of spinning, putting colours together, feeling the fiber slipping through my fingers, twisting, and almost magically turning into usable yarn, enjoying how the textures change depending on the fiber I’m using and how it’s prepped. I worry about what I’ll make with it later. Recently, I’ve been trying to focus a bit more on what the end result will be; so, I’m thinking that I might try making something along the lines of Hanna Leväniemi’s “Stripes to Keep Me Warm“.

Two very different mill-spun cashmere blends: Anzula and Lanivendole

As I mentioned in the beginning, I’ve noticed that there is more cashmere passing through my fingers lately, but it isn’t yarn that I’ve made. I have two different mill-spun cashmere blends in my workbasket, the first from a very well-known brand — Anzula:

A pair of “construction workers’ safety socks” that I’m making for my husband with Anzula Squishy – a fingering weight yarn that is 80% Merino, 10% Nylon, 10% Cashmere. Here I’ve doubled the strands to create a rugged look and a thicker fabric.

and the second from an exciting new Italian dyehouse that I’ve recently discovered — Lanivendole:

Above are two colourways of Lanivendole’s “Heavenly Blend” that I recently purchased. The russet colour is “Braci” and the soft green “Cassiopeia”. Lusciously soft, this fingering weight yarn is a blend of 50% Acquilana wool, 25% Alpaca, and 25% cashmere – all sourced, spun and hand-dyed in Italy. I’ll be knitting this up into a cowl or some mitts or a small shawl…

I’ll be posting more about Lanivendole soon because their project is truly fantastic: sustainable, locally-sourced, hand-dyed yarns that genuinely are 100% Made in Italy. All this cashmere really does make me feel as if I’m in the lap of luxury every time I sit down to knit!

Falling for Cashmere: a luminous cloud of luxury

Spinning the light fantastic

Luminous, amazingly soft, the sin qua non of luxury fibre: CASHMERE. Although I’ve been spinning for years now, I’ve always hesitated when it came to shelling out for a luxury fibre like cashmere. Even when buying from a reasonably priced supplier like DHG, 3.5 oz (100 g) costs about 27 euro…that’s a pretty penny when you just want to experiment and see what a new fibre is like. So, when they offered a one pound bag (500g) of ‘Mongolian cashmere waste’ for that same price, I snapped it up! My turn to try spinning the light fantastic with my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t stumble and make a knotted mess of it.

Luscious and luminescent cashmere fibre from the online outlet at DHG

Separating the wheat from the chaff

I was a bit concerned about how much good, spin-able fibre would be in this bag of ‘cashmere waste‘ — which is in fact the bits at the end of rolls from the carding machine when they are changing out colours, or some parts that were snarled in the works — so, I was pleasantly surprised when I found that, with a gentle touch, most of it was easy to separate into roving or at least usable material. And it was so soft! There was a lot of this luscious champagne colour (shown above) and black (slightly more than 3.5 ounces/100grams of each) but also a selection of blues and a very small amount of purple, pink, red, yellow, and brown. So, no problem separating the wheat from the chaff in this bag, at least 75 per cent of it was sure to be usable, if not more.

Some of the brighter colours in this mixed bag of Mongolian Cashmere ‘waste’ from DHG

Trying a bit of champagne!

Since the most plentiful colours were black, royal blue, powder blue and champagne, I thought I would start with the latter. What I had read about cashmere was that it was a short staple fibre and difficult to spin…like cotton. Clearly I hadn’t read enough. With minimal prep — smoothed, separated into manageable strips of pencil roving and lightly pre-drafted — It spun like a dream. I spun it worsted, short-draw, on my Louet S10 in an intentional thick-and-thin 2-ply. Once washed, snapped, and laid flat to dry, it has a pleasant bounce and surprising weight. It feels a bit like handling strings of beads.

Thick and thin handspun mongolian cashmere

Now that I’ve tried a bit of this ‘champagne’ I’ve certainly fallen for cashmere! I am eager to experiment further with this luminous cloud of luxury fibre and start playing with the brighter colours. But, before I go on to the next bright cashmere cloud, I think I’ll do a little swatching to see how my newest yarn knits up…

Winter White (Part 3): Brogna from Verona and an English Wool in Italy

Three Winter Whites! Let’s begin with Brogna.

It’s long past Spring but, I still have white on my mind. As  I mentioned in the last posts, Winter White is rarely a true white. The whites that I’m looking forward to getting my needles into come from 4 different sheep breeds from 3 different countries but they all have one thing in common: they are made into yarn here in Italy. Although I’m calling these three ‘winter whites’ – they really belong to spring, the Italian shearing season which normally starts in April can continue through July. My first white is a beautiful creamy Brogna from the hills surrounding the city of romance, Verona.

A pair of socks from

A pair of socks from “Dave’s Toe-Up Sock Cookbook” made with Brogna…che belle!

Soft and delicate, this Brogna yarn is a buttery straw color and plied in a special way to create a texture like that of a fine gold chain.

Soft and delicate, this Brogna yarn is a buttery straw color and plied in a special way to create a texture like that of a fine gold chain.

Brogna is one of the forty-two autochthonous Italian breeds and in the 1980’s it was near extinction with only 50 head registered but now there are more than 1700 purebred Brogna Sheep currently registered in Italy. This wool was renowned in the Middle Ages for its use in fine Verona Woolens and I love the buttery/straw color and the way it takes dye!

Bright Lights shining from Southern England to Northern Italy

Next up: Lowland wool from Southern England, spun with care in Northern Italy, “Bright” is a smooth yarn that’s only slightly thicker than Jamison’s Heritage Shetland and a bit smoother and stronger. The white has a lovely sheen and is in fact ‘bright’ without looking bleached. This quality comes in quite a few colors (and I have quite few of them in my stash) so, having swatched for solid stockinette gauge, I’m now looking forward to knitting

“Bright” from the “Lights” series of Lowland wool from the Wool Box

some colorwork swatches with Bright, using the white as a base color. I’m wavering between Kate Davies elegant “Epistrophy” and Tin Can Knits’ geometric fair isle “Clayoquot Cardigan“…humm, both so beautiful!

Organic Poll Dorset: From France to Italy and back again

This soft, wooly, organic Poll Dorset from Renaissance Dyeing is bred and sheared in France and then Spun in Northern Italy's renowned woolen mills.

This soft, wooly, organic Poll Dorset from Renaissance Dyeing is from sheep bred and sheared in France. The wool is then spun in Northern Italy’s renowned woolen mills.

No mater if it’s ‘bare white’ or dyed with lush natural dyes – this organic wool is worth every penny of the extra cost. Not only that, for anyone concerned about how sheep are handled during the shearing process, this is probably the happiest wool you’ll ever handle! At only 9 euro per for an undyed, 3.53 oz, 380 yard skein, you can afford to try your own dye experiments – then you’ll understand that the natural, stable color line offered by the company is a bargain at 17.50/skein! I’m hoping to use my 3 skeins of white as the base for a transitional sweater with a bit of color…maybe Paper Dolls? Tired of white? My upcoming post will be all about color….meanwhile, Happy Woolworking!

Winter White (Part 2): Abruzzo Wool washed and blocked

Winter White Too!

As I mentioned in the last post, Winter White is rarely a true white. The white I’m talking about today is really more like a buttercream (are you hungry yet?) or pale straw. Still, I’m willing to call it winter white too – it’s winter yet and just looking at this cosy color makes me feel warmer. This is “Laga” a beautiful wool from from the sheep that pasture in Abruzzo’s Gran Sasso national park in the Laga mountains. Soft and still smelling like the Apennine pastures it is an excellent example of a fine wool produced entirely in Italy. If I had to make a comparison, I’d call it Italian Aran.

Here is my unblocked "Avery" Cowl in Laga - looking a little loose...just wait!

Here is my unblocked “Avery” Cowl in Laga – looking a little loose…just wait!

Abruzzo Wool Washed and Blocked: the big change

As I’ve written before, this is one of my favorite wools. It smells good, it feels nice and the stitch definition is phenomenal. So, when a friend asked if I could make Quince’s “Avery” cowl for her, I suggested Laga as a good 100% Italian choice. I ordered the pattern and printed it out. Then I swatched – and (sigh) I washed and blocked the swatch before I started! You know, I’ve never been much for swatching, I’m always too excited to get started, but when using wools that are not ‘superwash’ treated and that still smell a little lanolin-ish, you might be surprised to find out how much they ‘plump’ when you wash them. Take a look at the difference from the unblocked cowl in progress above and the washed and blocked finished work below!

Here is the same cowl, finished, blocked and washed. What a difference a little soap and water make!

Voila! Here’s the same cowl, finished, blocked and washed. What a difference a little soap and water make!

Had I swatched without washing and blocking, I would have made the gauge much too tight and and knitted my friend a cumbersome collar rather than an elegant cowl with structured drape. I also have to say that “Avery” was a great pattern as were “Madigan” and the “Castle Pullover”, the other two Quince patterns that I’ve used. Easy to follow and easy to adapt for other yarns. I’m a big fan!

Here you can see the elegant, structured drape of this Abruzzo Wool: 'Laga'

Here you can see the elegant, structured drape of this Abruzzo Wool: ‘Laga’

No mater if it’s ‘winter white’ or dyed with indigo or madder – this Abruzzo wool is worth queuing up on your needles – swatching, washing and blocking make sure that the final garment is exactly the beautiful piece you wanted to make for yourself or for a friend.

Coming soon, one last post on ‘winter whites’ before we move on to a burst of Spring color….meanwhile, Happy Woolworking!

Winter White (Part 1): Merino d’Arles

Winter White

I always thought that was a silly name for a color that was most often anything but the ‘white’ as the snow that the name brought to mind. More accurately they should have been named cream, eggshell, meringue or butter. Here in Italy the color would be ‘panna’ (cream) or ‘greggio’ (natural/untreated). I have come to love all the different variations of this lovely un-snowy color in both my knitting and my spinning.

'Ascot' length scarf in 1 x 1 rib knitted in Merino d'Arles from The Wool Box

‘Ascot’ length scarf in 1 x 1 rib knitted in Merino d’Arles from The Wool Box

Fabulous Merino d’Arles

I have a fabulous friend who has helped me so many times with my translation projects (while insisting to doing it for free) that I wanted a good way to say: “Thank you so very, very, very much!”. A friend with a sensitivity to wool…maybe. I made up 3 swatches of various yarns: Gryla (icelandic), Oropa (Italian), Bright (English), Merino d’Arles (French) and one handspun alpaca. I suggested wearing them next to the skin for at least a 5-10 minutes to see if any of them caused irritation – surprisingly none of them did! I think sometimes sensitivity to chemical dyes may be mistaken for a wool allergy; if you’re not sure, it’s always worth testing with a swatch of natural wool that hasn’t been dyed, treated with ‘superwash’ treatments, you might be pleasantly surprised to find that your skin likes wool after all.

Purl Soho's fabulous 'boyfriend hat' pattern made up in creamy, soft Merino d'Arles

Purl Soho’s fabulous ‘boyfriend hat’ pattern made up in creamy, soft Merino d’Arles

The yarn my friend chose was the Merino d’Arles, this wool comes from the Alpes Maritimes on the border between France and Italy. This fine, luxurious wool is known for both its softness and its warmth and of the samples I sent, this one was the best adapted for garments to be worn next the skin like scarves and hats.

So, whether we call this color blanched wheat, pale honey, sunlit straw or yes, even ‘winter white’ – the color of natural wool is beautiful, comfortable and most importantly warm :)!

Coming soon, more ‘winter whites’….meanwhile, Happy Woolworking!

Mixing it up! Italian wools and handspun together at last

Mixing it up again…

IMG_0476I was looking for a way to include some of my handspun yarn in a sweater without having to spin a whole sweaters-worth of yarn (is sweaters-worth a word? if not I’m up for adding it to my knitting lexicon). I also love red but especially in combination with neutrals that really make it pop! Grazing the pattern section of Ravelry – a way for me to loose hours at a time – I came across ‘ravello’ by Isabell Kraemer. Now that I had found the perfect pattern for my red stripes, what was I going to sandwich them in between?

Italian wools: natural neutrals!

The Wool Box "Marisa" and my Amaranth.

The Wool Box “Marisa” and my Amaranth.

One of the neutrals I already had in mind, the lovely Morron Bouton that I’ve used for several other projects. A rich blend of Suffolk wool together with Italian wools from Biella and Abruzzo, I knew that it would knit up stiff but wash out shiny and much softer. I’m also in love with the color-flecked silvery-tan that manages to be both sophisticated and masculine. (The Wool Box is out of stock on the DK weight at the moment so I’m hoarding my last few skeins for the next sweater and hoping that they will make more!). I knew that I wanted something darker for the bottom of the sweater but not black. What to do? Dig through my sample bag! There she was – a very wooly, bouncy and luminous natural brown blend of Biella and Abruzzo wools – Marisa.

So happy together…

Two Italian naturals and an English Red mixing it up with happy results.

Two Italian naturals and an English Red mixing it up with happy results.

As these were three different yarns, all with different qualities, it was time not only to swatch but to wash and block the swatch to see how these newly introduced wools would work together. Success! The stitches all came out even and pretty in the wash; Italian wools and handspun together at last. It wasn’t even necessary to change needles to maintain the gauge. The sweater was a fairly quick knit for a slow knitter like me and the only down side is that in the end, it looks way better on my husband than on me! That’s alright, he’s happy and I’ll still wear it on chilly days under my denim jacket and stay warm as toast! I like this pairing well enough that I’m contemplating a round-yoked, fitted sweater for me :). Meanwhile, “cin-cin” and Happy Knitting!

This pattern is "ravello" by Isabell Kraemer made in two authentic Italian wools: The Wool Box Marisa 4 ply (the luminous natural brown) and Morron Bouton (the tweedy tan) along with my own handspun in bright red English wool.

This pattern is “ravello” by Isabell Kraemer made in two authentic Italian wools: The Wool Box Marisa 4 ply (the luminous natural brown) and Morron Bouton (the tweedy tan) along with my own handspun in bright red English wool.

Matchmaking: combining my favorite Italian Wools

Two of my favorite Italian Wools side by side: Naturalmente's Gentile di Puglia and The Wool Box's newest wool/mohair blend, Kimberley

Two of my favorite Italian Wools side by side: Naturalmente’s Gentile di Puglia and The Wool Box’s newest wool/mohair blend, Kimberley

Matchmaking

I’ve been really busy since my last post. Sometimes when I’m making it’s hard to decide to stop and write or post pics. The good news is that I’ve finished a ton of WIPs so I’ve been able to start in on a slew of new projects (YAY)! Now that quite a few of my long term projects are out of the way, I find that I have so many single skeins of beautiful yarn – so I’ve been matchmaking by combining my favorite Italian wools.

My newest favorite

The Wool Box has just released 3 new qualities of wool and I’m in love! The one I’ve really worked with is Kimberley, a mix of 75% pure wool and 25% South African mohair. It comes in 6 colors and I’m crazy about the green! When I saw it on the web, I decided to order some and try it out to see about gauge, texture and drape. Love, love, love all of the above! The day after it arrived I saw Kyle William’s latest cowl pattern, Wadsworth and there it was the perfect match! I made a few modifications for the slightly heavier weight yarns, pulled out a skein of warm, dark green Bose ( a beautiful 100% Italian wool from Valle Susa and Briançonnais areas) that I had been saving for a hat and went to work…

My version of Kyle William's Wadsworth Cowl in Kimberley and Bose.

My version of Kyle William’s Wadsworth Cowl in Kimberley and Bose.

I love how simple the pattern is, Mr. Williams has found just the right proportions for a short cowl (6″ x 26″) and the linen stitch is a lovely way to combine two pretty single skeins into a classic winter accessory with excellent drape. Did I mention that it’s super warm? This is not the end of the story – I’ve been doing quite a bit more matchmaking. Come back to see what other combinations I’ve been playing with.

Meanwhile, Happy Woolworking!

Beautiful Abruzzo Wool…Naturalemente!

Naturally beautiful!
Not only is my daughter naturally beautiful (I am biased) but so are her hat and scarf, made from one of my favorite Italian wools from the Gentile di Puglia breed who graze in the Grandphoto 2 Sasso National Park in Abruzzo. Beautiful Abruzzo Wool is something I knew nothing about until I came to the North of Italy. This wool, a sumptuous aran weight worsted, is not only 100% Italian in it’s production, it’s also dyed with natural, oxidized logwood to this luscious shade of plum! The stitch definition is amazing and Tin Can Knits’ Simple Collection (all free patterns) was a perfect way to try out this lovely wool.

Naturalmente Gran Sasso!

Abruzzo is one of the most lovely and under-visited areas in Italy, excellent cuisine and striking natural beauty make it yet another piece of Italy’s natural and cultural patrimony. Naturalmente is a company that processes the wool coming from sheep that graze in the breathtaking park of Gran Sasso. The sheep breed is Gentile di Puglia, one of the original breeds of Italian merino. They dying is all done by a dyemaster with certified natural dyes. You can read more about this marvelous yarn here: NaturalementeThe website is in English so you’ll be able to read the info in addition to drooling over the beautiful pictures ;).

A rare wool well done

naturalmente

Bad pun that you’ve heard 1000 times already, sorry! It is a rare wool and quality-wise, quite well done. I know of only two suppliers, both of them here in Italy. For dyed wool in fabulously dense colors, you can order it on-line from Di Lana ed altre Storie, the site is in Italian but if you’re interested, just write an e-mail to the store at info@dilanaedaltrestorie.it and I think Alice Tesser, the store owner will be able to help you.

If you prefer a slightly thinner true worsted weight, and you want natural cream color to knit plain or dye on your own, you can order one of my all time favorites from The Wool Box, LAGA.

As we move into serious wool season, I wish you a very happy Autumn and good luck with all of your projects.

A presto!

Color Inspiration

Color Inspiration from the Garden

The end of Summer is full of color inspiration and beautiful produce from the garden. On a short holiday trip to piedmont I rediscovered one of nature’s most inspiring color combinations, red and green…or in this case fuchsia and pale yellow-green in the wonderful hull of the Cranberry Bean.

A beautiful Cranberry Bean growing in our friend's garden near the town of Crodo in Piedmont.

A beautiful Borlotti (aka Cranberry) Bean growing in our friend’s garden near the town of Crodo in Piedmont.

Borlotti or Cranberry?

In Italian it’s the Borlotti Bean and in English the Cranberry Bean, but this bean by any name is still stunningly beautiful! Now open up the Borlotti bean hull and what do you find:

Here are the empty Borlotti Bean hulls and you can see why they're also called 'Cranberry' what an amazing dark fuchsia against the startlingly pale interior!

Here are the empty Borlotti Bean hulls and you can see why they’re also called ‘Cranberry’ what an amazing dark fuchsia against the startlingly pale interior!

Inside is the deliciously creamy-nutty flavored bean itself. Not quite as vivid as it's outer shell it's still lovely.

Inside is the deliciously creamy-nutty flavored bean itself. Not quite as vivid as it’s outer shell it’s still lovely.

Now, what to do with this wonderful color inspiration from the garden? It just so happened that, when we went on vacation to Piedmont, my right wrist and shoulder had begun to bother me with the tale-tale signs of a RSI…bummer! I decided to take a project-free vacation and packed no knitting and no spinning, determined to rest my right arm. After coming home and spending another week in stretching, yoga and using a heated massager borrowed from my kind neighbor (and not knitting and not spinning). I was feeling a bit better but not much.

 

Long-draw to the rescue!

Then it came to me, I would experiment with ‘long-draw’ fiber drafting where I could use my very sound and un-irritated left arm and hand with minimal effort from my right. Long-draw and You Tube to the rescue! After watching two very helpful videos – one by Spindlicity, with multiple fiber types and approaches, and another by Long Draw John, with a focus on using merino roving – I was ready to try the challenge. I decided to card up a few rolags: blending some roving from my wool box stash: fuchsia, red and pink for one set and pale yellow, blue and white for the other. Voilà! My color inspiration from the garden turned into my first long-draw skein 🙂

Here's my Long Draw Bean Skein inspired by the beautiful colors of the Borlotti Bean hull.

Here’s my Long Draw Bean Skein inspired by the beautiful colors of the Borlotti Bean hull.

A Bean Bag!

What to make with this scant 40 meters of yarn? It had to be something quick and easy on larger diameter needles. Something that wouldn’t aggravate my irritated appendage but still satisfy my stymied creative energy. I found the perfect solution in what I decided to call my ‘bean bag’! A wonderful bag pattern by VERONIKA just called for a stockinette or garter stitch rectangle with a width length ratio of 1:3. I washed and dried my skein and cast on 25 stitches on U.S. #8’s and got going. The very fast (and wrist friendly) result was this little bag that’s just the right size to hold two little balls of sock yarn!

My Borlotti Bean Bag with an antique shell button and an I-cord strap will be a great way to take summer's color inspiration from the garden on into the cold Lombard winter!

My Borlotti Bean Bag with an antique shell button and an I-cord strap will be a great way to take summer’s color inspiration from the garden on into the cold Lombard winter!

 
Last but not least, a little more color inspiration from the beautiful landscape of Piedmont’s Val Formazza: