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.

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:

Card(ing) Shark…well it does have ‘teeth’

Colors I carded by blending with my new Ashford Carders (and the help of my little girl :)!

Colors I carded by blending with my new Ashford Carders (and the help of my little girl :)!

That’s Carders not Kardashian (sorry Kim – blending wool is way more interesting!)

Who needs superstar gossip when we can talk about carding! I’ve been having loads of fun with my new Ashford carders, a gift from my lovely mother who is a very talented fiber artist and who always encourages my varied forays into fiber world.

Learning how to blend with carders

Here's my sweet girl who loves to help with my wool projects wearing her 'cloud sweater' which I designed and spun the wool for.

Here’s my sweet girl who loves to help with my wool projects wearing her ‘cloud sweater’ for which I designed and spun the wool.

I found a great blending tutorial at Knitty, opened my boxes of colored and natural fluff some ordered from The Wool Box and some from Tricotin (from where I had also ordered the carders). Then I got started and with a little help from my daughter we went ‘batty’! When I had them all spun up and plied, my girl came up with the color names and I wrote the tags. Then, we sent the package off to my mom as a thank you and a way for all three generations to work on the same project. Robin and I can’t wait to see what she’ll make with our RBK yarn!

Dyeing to get started!

Happy and blue!

It has been months since I’ve posted but I have a wonderful excuse: I’ve been working on projects, and better yet I’ve been learning new things :)! I finally did some dying with indigo like I learned in the first workshop:

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My hand spun mohair dyed in the organic indigo vat – 100 g = 248 meters

Beautiful "Brogna" from The Wool Box came up this lovely 'vintage' indigo color.

Beautiful “Brogna” from The Wool Box came up this lovely ‘vintage’ indigo color.

Melissa LaBarre's lovely pattern "Madigan" with a few modifications...

Melissa LaBarre’s lovely pattern “Madigan” with a few modifications…

I also attended a second workshop on warm colors – using weld and madder –  taught by the inimitable Andie Luijk of Renaissance Dyeing. We also learned about using iron, ash water and copper modifiers.  Wow! It was too much fun 🙂IMG_0483
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 ………………………………………..In the end, I had so many short yardage samples that I decided to splice them all into a single ball – something my mother did for me when I was a kid and learning how to crochet. Now I read that they’re calling it “magic ball”, a fun new name for a time-tested way to use up leftovers.

I decided to use my magic ball as one of the colors in a new iteration of Marylene Lynx’s “Camille” – I loved the first one that I made earlier this year and I’m having lots of fun with this new color combination!

My first go at "Camille" completed this spring.

My first go at “Camille” completed this spring.

I have been up to much more since April and will try to get some more of it posted in the coming days. Meanwhile, thanks for reading and Happy Woolworking!

Purl side of my newest "Camille" - still rumpled and with the lace to go but I'm sure it will all come out in the blocking :)!

Purl side of my newest “Camille” – still rumpled and with the lace to go but I’m sure it will all come out in the blocking :)!

Experimenting with texture and scale…opposite ends of the spectrum

But I’m not talking about the color spectrum. I’ve been spinning up two very different fibers and aiming for two very different weights a ‘wooly’ fingering and a ‘featherweight’ bulky.

The Wooly Fingering – Norwegian Light Grey:

Lots of Norwegian Light Grey tops ready to spin!

Lots of Norwegian Light Grey tops ready to spin!

I bought this tops quite awhile back at the very reasonable price of 2 euro for 100 grams (3.53 oz.) along with its equally lovely ‘moorit’ brown partner. The price has gone up since then but I don’t think I’ll be needing any anytime soon. I have been spinning the brown with my drop spindle and knitting it (slowly, slowly) into a drop-stich-rib sweater for my husband. This lovely grey has been languishing in a bag in a box on the shelf for more than a year partially because, as you can see by the photo, I’ve a ton of it…okay, I really only have about 600 grams but; that’s a lot of fiber to confront with a drop spindle! – At least for me ;).

My hero the bumble bee and the thin, grey line!

Upon the arrival in Italy of my expatriated Texan spinning wheel (thank goodness it doesn’t require a residency permit!), spinning larger volumes of fiber at a consistent gauge suddenly became imaginable. Here’s a look at my progress so far:

Norwegian light grey 2- ply fingering. 13 wpi, 200 yards

Norwegian light grey 2- ply fingering. 13 wpi, 200 yards from 3 oz, worsted spun.

So, with 200 yards over 3 oz. and 21 more ounces to go that makes for about another 1400 yards to be spun…okay, I am not freaking out! It’s a big number for a beginner like me but I know I can do it. You may now be asking, why is she making such fine yarn, why not an aran or even a ‘chunky’? Well, I suppose it’s because it’s a very ‘wooly’ wool, it has a lovely halo and it’s really, really warm. I’m imagining a light, airy shawl, something like Hélène Magnússon’s Halldóra long shawl that can be worn as a warm, light layer rather than as a bulky, heavy sweater. We’ll see, by the time I’ve finished spinning I may well have a new project in mind.

Light and fat, the bulky Featherweight!

No, I’m not talking about homemade gnocchi in cream sauce…I’m talking about the yarn I’m spinning up from the extra-fine merino tops that I ordered last year.

Light and fat, extra-fine merino tops

Light and fat, extra-fine merino tops.

The polar opposite of the Norwegian grey with it’s structured wooliness, my extra-fine merino is so cloud-soft that when my daughter gets near it she can’t keep her fingers out of it! It’s also ‘sticky’ – so crimped and light that it wants to attach itself to anything and everything, including the sleeve of any sweater I happen to be wearing while I’m spinning it.

Seeing as it’s a more expensive fiber – 3.50 euro per 100 grams – I had only ordered 200 grams (7 oz.) and started out making an almost cobweb fine yarn with it on a drop spindle. But, when I thought about it, I didn’t really want a shawl or a pair of socks from this luxury fiber, I wanted something where it’s lightness and softness could be the main feature…and I wanted to try and make some ‘bulky’ yarn.

Featherweight 'bulky' extra-fine merino hand-spun. 2-ply, 7 wpi, 150 meters/100 grams

Featherweight ‘bulky’ extra-fine merino hand-spun. 2-ply, 7 wpi, 150 meters/100 grams

Since the beginning I’ve had trouble spinning ‘thick’ singles, my hand-spun yarns were always edging towards the anorexic. In my mind’s eye I saw the possibility of this becoming a richly textured and modulated ‘bulky’ but featherweight yarn, something with which I could make my daughter a little ‘cloud’ of a shrug. I just have another 40 grams to spin so I should be able to finish up with just over 200 yards, I think it will be plenty for a 7-year old sized something with rhinestone buttons! Maybe a ‘mini-Moussaillon’ based on the Cleonis pattern….So, I’m going to get back to spinning and finishing a few of the many languishing WIP’s in my workbasket. I did finally finish the toe-up socks with a flap heel and they look wonderful! I won’t know if they will fit my friend until he comes to try them on but I have my fingers crossed!

"Fabulous" toe-up socks with heel gusset.

“Fabulous” toe-up socks with heel gusset.

Playing (and plying) with my new toy!

Yes, I got it for Christmas but I didn’t tell you and now it’s already Spring! My husband gave me a Bumble Bee from Bluebonnet Spinning Wheels in Texas. The trick is that we live in Italy and they don’t do international shipping…but I have a splendid Mother in Law who carried it as ‘additional baggage’ when she came for a visit in January and I’ve been happily playing and plying with it ever since (and working on a few other things too…) Here’s a sneak peek at just a few of the things in my basket…

A few of the projects hat I've been working on, from upper left: Toe up socks with gusset heel, Dutch Lace Shawl, Josephine Jaquard socks. Lower left, Sunset over Lago Maggiore (an art yarn project), 200 yards of Southafrican Mohair and me at my new wheel with a lap full of Extra-Fine merino.

A few of the projects that I’ve been working on, from upper left: Toe up socks with gusset heel, Dutch Lace Shawlette, Josephine Jacquard socks. Lower left, Sunset over Lago Maggiore (an art yarn project), 200 yards of South African Mohair and me at my new wheel with a lap full of Extra-Fine merino.

I’ve also spent a fair amount of time working on projects for friends so I’ve built up a stack of WIP’s that go beyond what’s pictured above…in fact, in addition to the 2 pairs of socks, there are 2 shawls and 2 sweaters (one made with handspun Norwegian Moorit Brown 2-ply). I’ve dedicated myself to finishing at least one of each thing before I cast on anything new even though I’m dying to get started on JenJoyce Design’s “Una Cosettina” although I haven’t decided if I wan’t to use the Oropa 1-ply yarn that they were designed for or something from my lovely (albeit small and as yet untouched) stash of Hélène Magnússon’s  Grylammm better get knitting so that I can get started on those before the fall!

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’:

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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!