Almost! One down and one toe to go…

Quince&Co Castle pullover in the Wool Box's Laga is finished!

Quince&Co Castle pullover in the Wool Box’s Laga is finished!

One toe shy of meeting my weekend challenge!

You can’t win them all…but I am very happy with the finished ‘Castle Pullover’. I did finish it on Saturday and have it blocked and dry in time to wear to my daughter’s kindergarten graduation party on Sunday afternoon (patted with a wet wash-cloth on both sides and then rolled up carefully in a dry towel and placed on top of the radiator overnight works great for me). It fits great, the yarn does not itch at all, even next to bare skin. I sat in the sun for 3 hours and didn’t get hot! In my book this was a Spring Knitting Project home run. I washed it in tepid water with a little Winnie’s Wool-wash this morning and it’s still looking great; Laga holds it’s shape magnificently. I was so pleased with this project that I’m thinking of making a ‘mini-castle’ for my daughter…she want’s pink so I may have to figure out how to dye ‘laga’ with something like madder root from Renaissance Dying.

Catch 22 (rows)…

Meanwhile…the socks. So close and yet no toe! I thought that the kindergarten celebration would be over about 5:30…we got home about 7! It was wonderful and the kids had a great time, the sun was finally out… but, the last little bit of my sock was longer than my little girl’s patience so I put it down to read her bedtime story and we both promptly fell asleep. I have only 22 more rows to the end of the toe and I swear that it will be done tonight before I go to bed!

Thanks for reading and happy wool-working!

Where there’s a weekend there’s a way (to finish at least 2 WIP’s)!

Hybrid Highland Hose in Morron Bouton

Hybrid Highland Hose in Morron Bouton

Hybrid Highland Hose…Scotland and Finland meet in a pair of socks:

I wanted to make a pair of heavy duty socks for my husband who gives his socks pretty rough wear. The yarn I wanted to use, “Morron Bouton” from The Wool Box, comes in two weights (a light and a chunky) and I chose the thinner. It knits up soft on U.S. 6-8 (4mm-5mm) needles but I purposely chose a U.S. #3 to get a stiff fabric. I could have gone up a size but I didn’t have DPN’s in the right size and consequently I broke one of my #3 Hiya-Hiya bamboo needles halfway through the first sock (my bad)! At least they come with 5 in the package so it didn’t stop me from getting along with the project. I have already made my husband a pair of fingerless work gloves with this yarn and it wears wonderfully even under hard use and still becomes softer and more lustrous with every washing.

The color reminded me of the Kilt Hose pattern I’d seen in Nancy Bush’s “Folk Socks” but there was no way I was going to get that gauge with this yarn; besides, I wanted the fully-reinforced, dutch heel of her Finnish Socks. So, I used the Finnish sock pattern (p.97) for the construction of the heel and foot while I modified the leg pattern from the Kilt Hose (p. 109) and did a simple 1×1 rib at the top. I am 3/4 of the way through the second sock, heel turned and ready to complete the foot and toe. I will finish today even if I have to take it to bed with me!

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Knitting Castles out of ‘Gran Sasso’ wool:

I had ordered some new yarn for spring projects and it was love at first sight when I saw this pattern on Ravelry. I downloaded the pattern only to find that my yarn knit up at a larger gauge; but in the end I was happy with that as the sizes offered by the pattern were not exact for me (34” bust is too small and a 38” too big). As it is my gauge worked up at 19 st and 25 rows = 4” on US 7 (4.5 mm). This gauge change made the collar a bit wider (and looser) than I want, I tried (unsuccessfully) to make a knitted facing with a narrow-gauge yarn but I’m going to have to resolve that with a bit of grosgrain ribbon facing on the inside once it’s done. At least two other ravelers who’s notes I read later (sigh) had the same problem so at least I’m not alone.
I’m not an experienced lace knitter and this pattern is EASY; however, as I went along with the lace I discovered it’s also VERY easy to lose or gain a stitch and VERY frustrating to pick out a whole row because the mistake was made at the beginning, so I started counting out the repeat (9 st). Since I started counting the lace is moving along much faster without any errors (cross fingers and knock on wood)! Should be finished soon, I’m aiming for this Sunday. Deep breath, it is doable, I only have another 5 inches of lace before the bottom and it does knit up fast.

Quince&Co. Castle Pullover knit in The Wool Box's Laga

Quince&Co. Castle Pullover knit in The Wool Box’s Laga

As for the yarn…I LOVE LOVE LOVE ‘Laga’, it works up like a dream. It’s a 100% Italian wool from 2012 shearing 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. This wool is blended from several merino breeds to produce a yarn that is both soft and structured. It’s a warm straw-cream colour that I want to make it into cardigans, socks, some beautiful ‘aran’ cabled gloves, a dress, underwear! Really anything that needs the stitch-work to take center stage. The castle pullover sweater has taken only 1-1/3 skeins so far and I’m already planning what to do with the skein and a half that I’ll have left over. Meanwhile, I have gifted a few skeins to friends to see if they love it as much as I do.

I’ll let you now if I manage to finish these two this weekend. Wish me luck and happy wool-working!

Wool-gathering: Merino grades, Mohair and BFL (how do they compare)?

Amazing Australian Merino Champion Ram

Amazing Australian Merino Champion Ram

What does ‘Merino’ really mean?

I’ll bet lots of you already know; but if you’re like me, you might have known that there is Italian and Australian and Spanish ‘merino’ wool – and that it’s a ‘high-quality’ wool – but still be clueless about what makes this breed of sheep special. I was reading a blog post over at The Wool Box this week and found some great information about Merino which inspired me to do a little extra research on my own and to place Mohair and BFL in context with Merino’s different grades.

First of all, I learned that ‘merino’ is a breed category that encompasses several different types of sheep, some bred for meat and carpet-grade wool, some for ‘strong’ or ‘broad’ wool (23–24.5 microns) and yet others for fine, high-quality clothing wool.

Here’s a translation of what The Wool Box had to say about different diameters of Merino wool:

“Often, all ‘Merino Wool’ is grouped together as if it were one quality; this keeps us from understanding how one type is different from another and how each quality is suited to a specific purpose. Anyone who is interested in how these fibers are classified can just glance at the table below:

Merino = any wool from any breed of Merino sheep.

Fine Merino = fiber diameter from about 19.5 to 21.0 microns.

Super Fine Merino = fiber diameter from about 17.5 to 19.5 microns.

Extra Fine Merino = fiber diameter of less than 17.5 microns.

With this information, spinners, knitters, and other fiber artists can find their way through the ‘merino’ labyrinth without running the risk of settling for less than exactly the right material for the project at hand.”

It helps me to remember that some of the finest grades come from the younger animals so, super fine ‘baby’ wool for making ‘baby’ knits that go closest to your skin! Meanwhile, the thicker, more twisted, and longer the fiber, the longer it will wear. These not-quite-so-soft fibers are best for cardigans, pullovers, scarves and hats that get a real work-out – with the added benefit of (often) having higher stitch definition and less pilling*.

I saw that in addition to these 3 grades of merino tops they had added ‘mohair’ and ‘BFL’ tops.

So, how does Mohair and BFL compare to Fine Grade Merino Wool?

For the Mohair, I checked out the United Nations Trade and Markets Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s website and found the following information:

“Mohair‘s diameter ranges from 23 microns at first shearing to 38 microns in older animals. Fine hair from younger animals is used in clothing, while thicker hair from older animals goes into rugs and carpets and heavy fabrics for jackets and coats. Light and insulating, its tensile strength is significantly higher than that of merino wool. Like wool, mohair has surface scales, but they are thinner, making it smooth to the touch. Light reflected from the surface gives mohair a characteristic lustre.”

So that makes Mohair right there at the bottom of the Merino scale but with other qualities that make it behave really differently.

For BFL I checked with the Bluefaced Leicester Union of North America and found the following information:

“The Bluefaced Leicester is classified as a longwool breed with a staple length of 3-6 inches, a fleece weight of 2½-4½ lbs., and a fiber diameter of 56s–60s count, or 24-28 microns. It creates high-quality semi-lustre yarns with soft hand, beautiful drape, and excellent dyeing properties.”

* From good old Wikipedia: “Any wool finer than 25 microns can be used for garments, while coarser grades are used for outerwear or rugs. The finer the wool, the softer it is, while coarser grades are more durable and less prone to pilling.”

Australian Merino, BFL, and South African Mohair from The Wool Box

Australian Merino, BFL, and South African Mohair fiber from The Wool Box

If you’re looking for Fine Merino, BFL, and Mohair, they’re having a ‘festival of white’ over at the Wool Box…they’ve done their usual magic by taking raw wool from around the world and using centuries of Italian expertise in the wool trade to process it into lovely fiber for spinning and felting…check it out:

“Taking a look at three diameters of the same fiber can help us fully appreciate the unique qualities of each one. Today we got some Australian Merino wool fresh from the combers. We’ve been looking to get ahold of this wool for some time and our efforts have finally paid off; this is the very best.

We’re talking about Medium, Fine and Super Fine; only when we place them side-by-side and work with them, can we talk about their differences and for what uses each quality is best suited.

We had thought of offering this kind of choice because our clients have told us that one of their major concerns is being uncertain about finding fibers with reliably consistent characteristics on the market. Basically, often one has no certainty regarding the fineness of the fiber and, in some cases; it’s quite difficult to find the quality that you want. 

We complete our ‘festival of white’ offerings with carded sliver tops of South African Mohair and the increasingly popular BFL.  These wools, along with the three qualities of Merino, are being offered at excellent prices, even more so if you order more than 5 kg (11 lbs) or take advantage of our More Friends, More Savings program.” – The Wool Box

Meanwhile, remember: although the word merino is often used when referring woolen garments and fibers, that doesn’t mean that fiber, yarn or fabric is actually 100% merino wool from a Merino variety bred particularly for its wool. The wool of any Merino sheep is considered “merino wool” even though not all merino sheep produce wool suitable for clothing or knitwear that’s to be worn close to your skin! Happy wool-working…

Somewhere Over the Rainbow Sweater

One of my hand-spun skeins and three beautiful colours from Renaissance Dyeing

One of my hand-spun skeins and three stunning colours from Renaissance Dyeing

French wool, Italian Know-how, Natural dyestuffs:

Having read about the Wool Box’s fabulous dyeing workshop the first weekend in June, I couldn’t resist ordering some wool from Renaissance Dyeing dyed by Andie Luijk herself. You know how it is, we see something on the web but that’s a world away from the experience of holding the skein in our hands! What would ‘poll dorset organic wool’ feel like and ‘natural dyes’ really look like; most importantly, how will it ‘knit up’? When my daughter Robin came home from school she was excited to find it on the living room table and immediately held a skein to her nose, “thank you so much mamma, but it doesn’t smell like wool” she remarked. My girl is used to the undyed wool and naturally coloured fluff that I have been ordering and so dyed wool with no lingering ‘sheep scent’ was a surprise. It does have a smell, fresh and sweet like Savon de Marseille…

Recovering from the ‘discount super wash wool’ disaster

If you read my post about the ‘not-so-super’ discount superwash wool that I used to make my daughter’s Rainbow Sweater, then you know that I’ve become a bit gun-shy about cheap, easy-care wool. So, determined to re-make the Rainbow Sweater in wool worth wearing, and heartened by the fact that Renaissance Dying has their Organic Poll Dorset wool combed and spun by the same non-profit Italian wool consortium that supplies my favourite Italian wool shop the Wool Box, I ordered three rainbow colors to follow my hand-spun amaranth.

Troubadour/Narbonne/Miraval

Troubadour      /      Narbonne      /      Miraval

I haven’t decided which ‘blue’ to add after the green and before the ‘indigo* and violet’ I’m considering Mont Canigou…mmm, I do also have to wait for my budget to allow another three skeins at 17.50 each. Still, that gives me plenty of time to finish spinning some of that lovely red fluff to the right weight and to discover how this luscious-coloured wool knits. A side benefit to knitting for a 6-year-old is that there will be plenty of yarn left over (each skein is just under 400 yards) to work into other projects, I have my eye on this lovely little Kate Davies’ cardigan or a fabulous set of colourwork socks…who knows what wonderful new world of WIP’s will follow the completion of the New Improved Rainbow Sweater!

Meanwhile, I’m working like crazy doing everything but knitting or spinning. I’ve been teaching teenagers how to speak english in a town that’s a 50 min. commute away (both ways but fortunately a paying job), teaching two workshops for kids about the colours in nature at my little girl’s kindergarten (for free but little smiles are another kind of payment), and last but not least working on 4 translation and two editing projects (whew!). I’m ready to get back to knitting and spinning…soon.

Happy wool-working to all of you and thanks for reading and following Wool in Italy!

 

*P.S. I just found out that Andie will be teaching an ‘indigo’ workshop in September :); more about that later!

A Dream Dye Workshop in Italy…Let’s go!

Natural dye workshop in Italy not to be missed!

I just read about this workshop and I’m drooling already! The dye-master from Renaissance Dyeing in one of the most beautiful corners of Italy hosting a weekend workshop so that you can learn this fascinating art, meanwhile there are activities to occupy your spouse and kids and Organic, 0 KM meals prepared on site so that you come on Saturday morning, that evening you can enjoy a wonderful meal and then fall into a clean bed, then walk away on Sunday evening with a skein of hand-dyed yarn and the know-how to do it again at home. All I can say is WOW! And it’s affordable, double WOW!

I’ve translated the information below for anyone who’s interested, I for one, am dyeing to go!

Andie, The Wool Box and Renaissance Dyeing

We’ve known her for awhile; at first she was hesitant, as a proper inhabitant of Albion’s shores, timid in approaching the continent’s southern lands of sun and mirages; but then, over time and with the establishment of a mutually respectful professional relationship, the rapport became ever more open and confidential.

We won her trust working with the wool that she sent us from France, Toulouse to be precise, where she lives, works, and above all dyes.

The courtship was a long and arduous one but finally, in the inviting atmosphere of Paris’ Aguille en Fete, we were able to convince her to bring to us, as her only stop in Italy, a workshop centered on her art.

She accepted, fascinated, both by the ambiance that we are preparing, in an absolutely stunning location, and by the possibility to share her passion so that it will grow and develop.

She’ll be with us the weekend of 01-02 June 2013 and lead us by the hand to discover the discipline that rules the transfer of colors locked within the secret heart of plants to the waiting wool. She’ll guide us in the search for plants, in the preparation of the fiber, in the understanding of the recipes, in the organization of the baths, in the color changes achieved with various metals; with her we’ll discover the miracle of vegetal dyes.

Pragmatic and disciplined, she’ll begin talking to us* about health and safety, or how to conduct this activity without running any health risks, initiating the encounter with the high-degree of professionalism that is her trademark. Then we’ll move on to the preparation of samples, to the winding, the binding and the washing of skeins before commencing with the theory of dyeing. We’ll learn about calculating the correct percentages of dyestuffs relative to the weight of the wool, extraction, reserves, color changes, the writing of recipes…and then it will be Saturday evening.

Marina, the owner of the house, who is passionate about dyeing, will welcome us with a dinner prepared with produce from her garden and other local products procured at km zero that we can enjoy together, two steps away from the rooms that will be already prepared, with simplicity and precision, marked by sober perfection. Sunday, at last, we’ll start dyeing and, between the investigation of dye-plants to be found in the woods and the vats, we’ll end our day with our colored treasures that will become the foundation for new adventures of discovery in the world of dyeing.

In essence, even considering the difficult situation around us, we’ve decided to propse an educational seminar that dedicated to acquiring the ‘know-how’, that you’ll be able to use again in future and even immediately in terms of its repeatability also in your own home, at a very reasonable cost, both in terms of participation and logistics (lunches, dinner, breakfast and an overnight stay)**, in a splendid location, far from the noise and confusion of daily life, where you’ll leave your car when you arrive and only remember it when it’s time to go home.

We’ve also thought about spouses and children they will be able to find a guide to discovering the park, the woods, the paths and be close by without having concerns about how to entertain themselves while you’re occupied, and you won’t be worried about having left them at home.

In short, we’re committed to ensuring a level of competence, professionalism and a welcoming environment that will encourage first meetings to blossom into friendships.

Although participation is limited, don’t hesitate to make a reservation now; we’re sure that it will worth it in every way. For additional, necessary details, consult the workshop programme.

So, what will you do … still undecided? 
We’ll be waiting for you the 01-02 of June. 
See you soon and happy wool-working.

* Andie speaks English and French. To aid with communication we’ve engaged an on-site translator for Italian speakers.

** These are the rates we’ve established with the facility that will be hosting the workshop and providing food and accommodations:
breakfast = 5,00€; lunch = 12,00€; dinner = 18,00 €;
price per night B&B = 30,00€;
price per night in a shared room = 10,00€

For additional information and reservations, don’t hesitate to write to us at: info@thewoolbox.it or SKYPE us at: TheWoolBoxCompany or contact us by telephone at: (39) 015 9526223