Can’t talk…Spinning

South African fiber and Italian know-how create this lustrous river of combed and carded fiber ready for spinning.

South African fiber and Italian know-how create this lustrous river of combed and carded fiber ready for spinning.

Using the light-weight top whorl that I made for my daughter to keep the singles as fine as possible...

Using the light-weight top whorl that I made for my daughter to keep the singles as fine as possible…

This beautiful, luminous fiber seems to just spin itself!

This beautiful, luminous fiber seems to just spin itself!

My first skein of spun mohair...20 grams / 33 meters

My first skein of spun mohair…30 grams / 70 meters

I’ve decided to start the serious spinning with this luminous, silky South African mohair that, after being processed with Italian expertise in Biella, seems to practically spin itself! Wow, only 70 more grams to go before I can make something with it! Can’t talk…spinning!

Advertisements

They’re Here! New Roving from The Wool Box

Roving stops at my house!

New Roving from The Wool Box: from left – South African mohair, Extra Fine Merino, Lincoln Lustre wool,  UK Grey/Brown Jacob Wool

New Roving from The Wool Box: from left – South African mohair, Extra Fine Merino, Lincoln Lustre wool, UK Grey/Brown Jacob Wool

They’re here! The new roving I ordered from the Wool Box arrived on my doorstep a few weeks ago! As soon as I opened the box I started spinning up small samples to knit. They’re so different! Each fiber with it’s own unique characteristics (with a click, all the pictures can be enlarged to ‘huge’ so that you can get a real close up look at how each fiber is different):

South African Mohair:

South African Mohair shines while each stitch keeps its shape!

South African Mohair shines while each stitch keeps its shape!

Silky smooth with almost no kink, I was glad that I chose to spin it from the fold. When I knit the sample each stitch held it’s shape with springy force although there was not an inch of stretch along the length of the fiber.

Extra Fine Merino:

This Extra Fine Merino is like spinning a cloud!

This Extra Fine Merino is like spinning a cloud!

It’s like spinning a cloud! My daughter couldn’t keep her hands out of it and had to try and spin some herself…so my sample is a little uneven, that’s alright! This fiber is so easily compressed from fluff to thread that when I knitted up the sample yarn the uneven quality of the yarn was barely evident! The little one has already requested a shawl made of this wool. Who wouldn’t want to wear a soft, white cloud around their bare shoulders in spring?

The ease with which this fiber compresses hides the uneveness of a single spun, in part, by a 6 year old :)

The ease with which this fiber compresses hides the uneveness of a single spun, in part, by a 6 year old 🙂

Lincoln Lustre Wool:

The Lincoln Lustre Wool has an incredibly long and luminous staple, beautiful and with the same forceful stitch definition I noticed in the mohair.

The Lincoln Lustre Wool has an incredibly long and luminous staple, beautiful and with the same forceful stitch definition I noticed in the mohair.

Like a more robust version of the mohair, the fiber was smooth and as lustrous as the name promised, easy to spin despite the relative lack of kink in the fibers and producing what Italian’s refer to as a ‘dry’ yarn. Like dry champagne, I can see that the yarn will be for special occasions; those when I want high stitch definition together with the long-wearing qualities that will make this fiber perfect for heritage knitting projects.

UK Grey/Brown Jacob Wool:

UK Grey/Brown Jacob Wool is a sweet, springy mix of soft and sturdy that wants to be made into a jaunty hat. a sweet little 'copre spalle' or an elegant but robust winter sweater.

UK Grey/Brown Jacob Wool is a sweet, springy mix of soft and sturdy that wants to be made into a jaunty hat. a sweet little ‘copre spalle’ or an elegant but robust winter sweater. Click on this photo to see how many different colors there are in this one wool!

Sweet and easy to spin, this fiber is as bouncy as the little sheep in the charming picture appeared. Lots of kink makes this one easy to spin but challenging (at least for me) to spin thin. So, why not make a chunky? Right on the balance point between soft and strong, this complex, naturally colored fiber will spin up into something cuddly but with character!

Now my mind and my fingers are spinning with ideas for projects that can be made with these fibers…do you want to try some too?

Now that the roving has stopped at my house, I’m hoping to have some hanks to show you all soon :). Meanwhile: here’s the tiny knitting sample that I was able to work up on a pair of 3mm needles:

I'm still a beginner at drop spindle spinning but I was amazed at how these fibers seemed to fly into yarn with so few breaks or snarls. With the exception of the Extra Fine Merino, I spun them all from the fold and plied two singles.

I’m still a beginner at drop spindle spinning but I was amazed at how these fibers seemed to fly into yarn with so few breaks or snarls. With the exception of the Extra Fine Merino, I spun them all from the fold and plied two singles. From left: South African Mohair, Lincoln Lustre Wool, UK Grey/Brown Jacob Wool and to the far right, Extra Fine Merino.

California Design meets Italian Wool

California design meets Italian wool - JenJoyce and Oropa make a great match!

California design meets Italian wool – JenJoyce and Oropa make a great match!

A tale of two valleys…

Just one ridge over from Pettinago where I went to the spinning workshop and looking down at the border between Piedmont and Val d’Aosta, is Oropa, home of the famous sanctuary of the black madonna that sits above the city of Biella but still well below the crown of the surrounding alps. Sheep that were shorn this spring are grazing on the hillsides while, in the Biellese Valley, a wool cooperative is processing the fleece into a yarn that will be named after the National Park and Sanctuary where they graze: Oropa.

Meanwhile, in California, somewhere in the green between the Sonoma and Napa Valleys, in the shade of the pines, a designer is knitting gauge swatches, thinking and writing instructions for candy striped socks that can start at the ankle and end at the toe without ever breaking the yarn. She’s testing the different sizes and designing a version that is an adorable pair of picot-trimmed baby booties. These are “Penny Candy Socks”.

A tale of two valleys - from Sonoma to Oropa

A tale of two valleys – from Sonoma to Oropa

They came together in my living room, on Lago Maggiore’s shores and in Gemonio’s piazza…

My Penny Candy Socks: "Licorice Whip" in Oropa 1 ply: Aosta Black and Grigio Perla

My Penny Candy Socks: “Licorice Whip” in Oropa 1 ply: Aosta Black and Grigio Perla

If you make these with the magic loop and split the skeins, a sock and the yarn fits in your purse and goes anywhere! When California Design meets Italian Wool they make a great pair!

Happy wool-working!

A different spin on spinning

A little more weight on the bottom…giving it a whorl

The spindle spinning workshop that I took back in June was great! I just haven’t had time to get my pictures together to write about it (sigh…time is hard to come by). I was lucky and two english-speaking friends went with me so I was busy trying to simultaneously translate while learning about bottom-whorl spinning.

One of my friends joins two spun singles.

One of my friends joins two spun singles for plying

We all started out with four 25 gram hanks of 4 different kinds of tops/roving: Norwegian, English, Italian, and Brazilian. Each type of roving had a different characteristic quality and they each took a different mindset to spin. As I’ve said before, the Norwegian wool – like BFL but even more so – practically spins itself, just enough kink to cling and a really long staple fiber. The English wool was like the Amaranth wool I’ve been spinning at home, shorter fiber but even kinkier so it’s quite sticky enough to make a really fine gauge single and so also springy enough to push back against the twist if it wasn’t drafted well. The Italian roving (from Biella and Abruzzo wool), like many things Italian, required more attention, like the english fiber, it was a shorter but less kinky and produced a dry, complexly colored yarn. Last but not least, the Brazilian was long and silky with almost no kink at all and so I found it challenging to not let it slip through my fingers!

Modular spindle and raw fleece - spinning 'in the grease'

Modular spindle with roving at top (from left: Brazilian light brown, Italian Moretta, and Norwegian Grey) On the spindle: raw fleece – spinning ‘in the grease’

After lunch we go into the grease!

The lunch at Pettinengo’s Villa Piazzo was a delicious combination of local cheeses and vegetables from the villa gardens, wonderful pasta dishes and simply prepared meat and an egg dish (fritatta). In the end, the cooking was just what Italians do best – take fabulous ingriedients, prepare them simply and present them elegantly – food that’s low on fanfare, high on quality. After the last tasty nibble, it was time to get back to work.

Given that I’d already taken one workshop and learned the basics with a top-whorl, with minor adjustments I found the bottom whorl equally fun to use and our instructor, Emilio, showed me a great trick to keep a thinner single from breaking with the 80 gram whorl (thank you Emilio!). What came next was, for me, the most interesting part of the workshop.  Emilio pulled out three bags of natural fleece, one washed but not carded, one unwashed lambs wool that still had it’s little pointed locks, and one raw fleece that was neither washed, sorted carded or combed…all from the same kind of sheep! Wow, what an amazing difference between them. With these we all got a chance to try carding with the combs and making batts. What a lot of ‘not wool’ came out of the un-preped fleece when we carded! The wool that was washed spun much like the Italian Moretta that we’d spun earlier, the lamb’s wool was light and delicate as a cloud and then the un-preped fleece…I was amazed at how fine a single I was able to spin ‘in the grease’ compared to the same fiber when it was washed (and it softened and sheep-ified my hands too)! When I got home I washed the little bit of plied yarn and it came out fluffy and clean:

Yarn spun 'in the grease' from short-staple Italian wool after washing and drying.

Yarn spun ‘in the grease’ from short-staple Italian wool after washing and drying.

Later, Emilio showed us how to ply unspun roving with commercial yarn to make ‘Art Yarn’:

IMG_0656

Emilio shows us how to make ‘art yarn’ on a drop spindle with un-spun roving and commercial yarns.

Then, we had a chance to see and touch some rare (and quite expensive) luxury fibers: Camel, Cashmere Ultra fine, Qivuit, Musk Ox, Yak (brown & white), Yangir and Sea Silk.

Luxury fibers spun and unspun...the intriguing dark brown is 'sea silk'...

Luxury fibers spun and unspun…the intriguing dark brown is ‘sea silk’…

In the end, the workshop was everything I hoped it would be. I solidified what I already knew, learned new techniques that are helping me spin faster and more consistently and I got to do my favorite thing: experiment with lots of different kinds of materials!

Now, I can’t wait for Andie Luijk’s indigo dying workshop in September!

Going a’ roving into new territory!

A dash of South African Mohair, a pinch of Extra Fine Merino, a little bit of of Lincoln Lustre, and a touch of Grey/Brown Jacob…yes, I couldn’t help myself! Spinning fever just crashed into interesting new fibers to be discovered and…I ordered a little ‘wool tasting’ menu of the Wool Box’s latest offerings! The great thing is that it costs so little that I don’t even have to feel guilty (besides, it’s not like I ordered them all! Just a smidge of those four to see what they’re like :).

Check out the sheep!

Wonderful new roving from the woolbox

The little ‘Jacob’ on the end is so cute! What will the wool be like? I can’t wait to find out…

Here’s the text that I translated from The Wool Box Blog…I’m looking forward to learning about these different sheep and wool almost as much as I’m looking forward to my small package of new roving….almost:

Lincoln Lustre, Falkland Fleece, Blufaced Leicester, UK grey/brown Jacob wool, Extrafine Merinos.

This could be a series of tongue twisters or passwords known only to members of a secret society.

But really, these are just the names of our freshest ‘tops’ that have just arrived and are ready to be spun.

Saying that these fibers are rare would be an understatement. We challenge you to find similar range, 100% made in Italy and especially at these prices.

Week after week we’ll take you on a journey of discovery, learning about these ovine breeds and the special qualities of these fibers, offering you the possibility to create absolutely unique yarns, entering the exclusive domain of those trendsetters on the new frontier of luxury.

Can you spin? Great; for you this represents a unique opportunity to try new fibers that otherwise you might never have known.

Don’t know how to spin? No problem. We can teach you!

You don’t want to spin but you want to work with these exclusive fibers? Wonderful, just let us know and we’ll spin up a custom blend just for you.

In short, there’s something for everyone. For more information write to: info@thewoolbox.it

Colors of Aosta: a day in Gressoney-Saint-Jean

Woman and her son wearing the traditional costume of Gressoney Saint Jean for St. John's Day

Woman and her son wearing the traditional costume of Gressoney Saint Jean for St. John’s Day

Red and White, Black and Gold: The legend of Gressoney-Saint-Jean’s traditional women’s costume…

I recently spent a lovely Saturday and Sunday in the Val de Lys in Italy’s province of Aosta, which is near the north-western border with Switzerland. Here we stayed in a little cabin just above Gressoney-Saint-Jean and directly below Monte Rosa.

On Saturday, I had gone up just north of Biella with two friends (SO’s and families in tow) to take a spindle-spinning workshop. My husband and his brother had decided, as long as we were close, to take advantage of the first days of open ski-lifts in order to spend a few days climbing up to Punto Gnifetti. So, after the workshop we drove up to Gressoney-Saint-Jean, ate at the wonderful Brasserie Creperie Paul Verlaine where they told us that Sunday was the festival day of the town’s patron saint (St. John’s Day – 24 June). After a snug night in a lovely cabin under woolen blankets, my husband and brother-in-law went up the hill while his girlfriend, my daughter and I went down into town. What a beautiful scene! Everyone was decked out in traditional costumes, including a fellow wearing these fabulous socks:

IMG_0699

Meanwhile, we’d picked up some information at the local tourist office and there was this dramatic story describing why the women (and some of the men) wear red, white and black…

Once upon a time all of the women of Gressoney-Saint-Jean wore black; for festivals they would wear either this or sometimes a blue or purple dress, always with a white broadcloth shirt and a black jacket. And so it remained until one day, tragedy struck. Legend tells that a mother had taken her flock out to pasture when her small son slid into a ravine.  Another woman, who was childless, saved his life while sacrificing her own. Broken on the rocks, her blood dyed her clothing red.

Since that day, in honor of her sacrifice, all of the women have worn red skirts to symbolize her blood, richly embroidered aprons and jackets that are black as the rocks that caused her death and blouses, pure white as the snow atop the mountains or the foaming waters of the Lys. The intricate golden filigree headdresses, often embellished with precious stones and proudly passed down from mother to daughter, are said to represent her golden hair. *

Who knows if the legend is true, but it does make for an excellent tale. After experiencing the town and watching St. Jean’s procession through the streets…

The procession of St. John by the citizens of Gressoney-Saint-Jean

The procession of St. John by the citizens of Gressoney-Saint-Jean

I feel inspired to make these socks in The Wool Box’s fabulous Oropa 1-ply. What color will I order? What else but Aosta Red!

Thanks for dropping by and happy wool-working!

*excerpted and translated from the document I Walser all’ombra del Monte Rosa: un tesoro fatto di lingua, tradizioni e leggende all’interno della Valle d’Aosta”

The (new) history of Italian Wool

The (new) history of Italian Wool. Let’s write it together!

Once you start paying attention, it’s clear that wool and wool working, especially at home, is becoming more popular all the time. It’s no longer a flash-in the pan trend as any quick scan of U.S. or U.K. based blogs, shops, or news stories will tell. So, what’s going on in Italy? Are they on trend or behind the times? Just yesterday I read a blog post from my favorite Italian wool Co-Op, The Wool Box, and found that official/government support is as slow and/or non-existant as ever but individual italians are coming up with innovative projects on their own and showing that inventive spirit that Italians from Leonardo to Giò Ponti have made famous.

StorieDiLana

I was struck by Manuele Cecconello’s moving, dramatic photo of Biella, which was, until relatively recently, one of the premiere centers of wool production and processing not only in Italy but also in all of Europe.

 

The following is translated from The Wool Box blog:

The time has come; the signs are all around us.

 

Interest in wool, in all of its varied aspects, is on the rise. From the raw wool all the way to the finished garment: the idea that it’s better to create it with your own two hands, is beginning to take hold worldwide. The U.S. has taken the lead in terms of both market stimulus and accomplishments and Northern Europe, thanks in part to an impressive promotional campaign supported by Prince Charles, continues to keep up the pace, producing a continuous stream of quality products.

 

And here in Italy? As we’ve come to expect, only after a trend has become well established are Italians ready to come out in the open and enjoy our portion of the limelight. Each one of us finally brings out the precious contributions that we’ve been working on in solitude, with passion, method and rigor. Unfortunately these valuable, carefully thought out projects, are rarely supported by officials or institutions, what a shame!

 

Still, wool continues to be an extraordinary raw material, not only for its physical characteristics but also because it’s a completely organic material and 100% biodegradable and therefore creates no significant negative impact on the environment. When wool is processed locally (at 0 km), or better yet at home, the carbon footprint is reduced to almost zero and, consequentially, its inherent value increases exponentially.

As we’ve always believed: passion, skill, know-how and rhythm.

 

So, here’s our proposal: let’s not wait for what’s already an established trend before joining the avant-garde in support of our own national initiatives.

With this goal in mind, here in Miagliano, in The Wool Box headquarters, we’ve established the “Comitato Amici della Lana (Friends of Wool Committee)”. We aim to promote wool-related cultural initiatives, research, teaching opportunities, sports and entertainment.

It’s an ambitious project and it requires the participation of our local community as well as artists, creative people, professionals and ordinary people, lots of ordinary people just like us; people who find in this amazing, natural material, a meaningful touchstone and a positive vision of the future.

Ideas, knowledge, work, creativity and development are the core concepts that characterize the goals and projects of the Comitato Amici della Lana.

Membership is, of course, completely free and simply supporting the ideal in and of itself (even from a distance) already constitutes a sustaining element of the project and serves as a ‘thermometer’ to gauge our awareness of…our future.

So, if you’re with us, let us know right away, become a member of the Friends of Wool Committee now.

You’ll be with us at the forefront of what in our near future will be the trend of the century…at least we hope so.

 

See you soon, and as ever, … happy wool-working!

Loaves and Knitting

Loafing around in the morning…

Ahh, I just popped this loaf of bread in the oven and I can already smell it baking. Breakfast will be served (with butter and cherry jam) in a half hour!

Cherry-peach preserves are ready to eat as soon as this loaf comes out of the oven!

Cherry-peach preserves are ready to eat as soon as this loaf comes out of the oven!

…and then ready, set, KNIT (my first commission!)

I received my first knitting commission last week for three (!) pairs of my workman’s gloves. I’m so excited! I’ve always knit for my family but this is an adventure in long-distance fitting as well – all three pairs of hands are in Texas at the moment.

ready, set, KNIT! Everything is set up for my first commissioned knitting project.

ready, set, KNIT! Everything is set up for my first commissioned knitting project.

 

This yarn is made from a mix of Suffolk wool from Umbria together with wools from Biella and Abruzzo. Made with natural, undyed fleece accented with flecks of marigold, grass green, fuchsia and pewter. Shearing year 2011. It’s the perfect weight for accessories such as gloves, hats, cardigans or scarves. Very durable and one of my favorites.

This yarn is made from a mix of Suffolk wool from Umbria together with wools from Biella and Abruzzo. Made with natural, undyed fleece accented with flecks of marigold, grass green, fuchsia and pewter, it’s the perfect weight for accessories such as gloves, hats, cardigans or scarves. Interestingly it’s both durable and luxurious, truly one of my favorites.

I have the first set of measurements, the pair I made to use as a model and 3 skeins of The Wool Box’s Morron Bouton, which is really what makes these gloves work.

I’m going to try and write my first pattern as well. I think I’ll need it if I’m going to knit three different sizes… We’ll see. Anyway, time to stop blogging and start knitting.

Happy wool-working!