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!

Meg Swansen in Italy! April 2014 Knitting Workshop

Meg Swansen in Italy! April 2014 Knitting WorkshopCan you think of a better reason to plan an Italian vacation than spending two days in the lush alpine landscape of Biella and spending 4 hours each day learning advanced knitting techniques? I can’t! A brief overview of the workshop at the following link:

Meg Swansen in Italy! April 2014 Knitting Workshop.

via Meg Swansen in Italy! April 2014 Knitting Workshop.

Una Cosettina

And here they are! Elegant, engaging and charmingly feminine ‘una cosettina’ showcases Italian heritage wool at it’s best.

jenjoyce design

jenjoycedesign©Lacey Little  Somethings

Una Cosettina, or ‘ A Little Something’ is the name of these half-mitts, designed especially for Oropa 1ply yarn, which is made with wool from sheep which have roamed the foothills of Alps of Northern Italy for perhaps a thousand years. Who knows for sure?  But, there is an age-old mill in Biella which uses much the same processing methods  as of long ago , and which make the wool from these Old-World sheep into yarn. Oropa 1ply is a rustic heritage yarn as rugged as the mountain terrain it comes from. Truly Oropa yarn is nothing less than a timeless treasure.

((Lots of information about The Wool Box  at bottom of page))

I talk a lot about the yarn, and Biella’s place in Italy’s wool industry in  Posted From Italy  ,  Yarn Whisperer  , and some about elements of design process in my previous post.

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Maverick Heritage: a sneak peek at a little something…

As the volunteer wool ambassador for The Wool Box, I’m so excited to follow Jen Joyce Design’s new project with Oropa 1-ply. She’s taking beautiful photographs and  posting on her blog as the project goes along and doing a great job telling the story of this Italian Heritage Wool and it’s unique (and sometimes ‘Maverick’) character. Join the fun and follow Jen’s adventure HERE.

Meanwhile a few quick pictures of my christmas project that I knit with the, somewhat more tame, Oropa 2-ply and it’s sturdy cousin, Verbania.

My husband Matthew does his impression of Big Tex laughing while I'm trying to get a photo of the scarf I made him for Christmas! The scarf is made with Oropa 2-ply, Verbania and a selection of indigo dyed Laga from the natural dying workshop that I attended last summer.

My husband Matthew does his impression of Big Tex laughing while I’m trying to get a photo of the scarf I made him for Christmas! The scarf is made with a selection of Italian Heritage wools Oropa 2-ply, Verbania in Green and Brown and several shades of indigo dyed Laga from the natural dying workshop that I attended last summer.

Matthew's Workman's Gloves in Oropa 2-ply with 'wedding ring' embroidered in indigo dyed 'Laga'

Matthew’s Workman’s Gloves in Oropa 2-ply with ‘wedding ring’ embroidered in indigo dyed ‘Laga’

Posted From Italy

I’m very excited about Jen’s new project in collaboration with The Wool Box. Subscribe to her blog to follow the progress of ‘a little something’…

jenjoyce design

storiedilana The Wool Box ~ 100% made in Biella, Italy ~ photo by Manuele Cessonello

There is a place in Northern Italy which is nestled in the beautiful foothills of the Alps, called Biella.  High mountain pastures and bountiful springs and lakes has been intrinsic to Biella’s  standing in the wool & textiles industry as far back as mid 13th century.  However, since the turn of the modern 21st century,  the wool industry has suffered from widespread global competition.  Today, the “Wool Box” is there,  still in the midst of it all,  striving to keep heritage wools alive and well and most importantly ~~  available.

The Wool Box offers a carefully curated selection of rare Italian and European wool yarns in addition to a fine selection of wool roving for spinners and felters. The Wool Box focuses on short supply chain processing and full traceability of materials so that their 100% Italian wool…

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Blue Daze Part 1: A Wool Box workshop with master-dyer Andie Luijk

The Organic Vat: Indigo dye concentrate made with indigo, quicklime and sugar ready to go.

The Organic Vat: Indigo dye concentrate made with indigo, quicklime and sugar ready to go.

This last September, shortly after I returned from Texas, I went to one of the Wool Box dye workshops that I’ve been pining to go to since last year! I don’t have a lot of studio space and I do have a young daughter and a cat…not a good combination for most kinds of dying that require a special set of pans, an outdoor set up and a series of instructions as long as both of your arms on how to mordant and how to keep things at the right temperature (and for how long) without felting up your wool!

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Andie carefully releases the dye concentrate into the vat.

Indigo seemed an ideal place to start: first the water does’t have to be overly warm, the indigo extract itself can be mixed, as Andie showed us, with quicklime and fructose in such a way that the solution is easy to neutralize when you’re done dyeing, and, best of all, no mordant and no cooking time!

To get started, it’s enough to soak wool in water for a few hours or cotton overnight.

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A batch of pre-soaked “Laga” goes in…

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and it goes under very carefully so as not to introduce any oxygen…it hardly looks blue does it?

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After just a few minutes in the vat, it’s time to take it out again. Now the alchemy begins! As soon as the yarn hits the air it starts to oxidize and quickly shifts from cream to green and then….

…………………………………I was amazed at how little time it took for the yarn to take the color. Andie explained that to get a denser color we could leave our yarn out for about 30-40 min and then dip it again, repeating that process until we achieved the depth of color that we were looking for.

Then there was the magic moment: I’d read about it and heard it described many times, but seeing it happen was truly wonderful. As the yarn was slowly pulled out of the tobacco-gold colored liquid in the vat, it immediately began to shift from cream to green and then the blue seemed to wick through the fiber! Indigo, we excitedly dipping the pre-soaked fleece into the vat and prepared a second vat of yellow ‘weld’ to take the skeins and roving, which Andie had kindly pre-mordanted for us. These would become the brilliant grass greens and turquoise.

Afterwards we learned how to make up the concentrate ourselves, measuring out the simple ingredients, testing the temperatures, stirring the mixtures at the right time and then watching the sediment settle. It was a long day, full of fascinating information, pleasant companionship and the simple pleasure of making something beautiful with our own hands…

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Indigo! You can read Andie’s own blog post about the workshop HERE.

The next post will take us to the emerald city where weld and indigo cross paths….in the meantime, I especially want to thank my fellow student Emanuela for generously sharing her photographs of the workshop with me to fill out the (very many) wonderful moments that I didn’t catch with my camera. Happy wool working!

Back and Blue (and yellow and green!)

The full range of indigo and green colors that Andie taught us to make at the Woolbox's dying workshop.

The full range of indigo and green colors that Andie taught us to make at the Woolbox’s dying workshop.

I got back from Texas and dove into the blue, indigo that is! A wonderful experience in a beautiful place, I’ll be posting more about it (and my trip to Texas) later. Meanwhile, here’s a sneak peak at some of the results….

Roving hanging up to dry

After a vinegar bath, newly dyed roving is hung up to dry.

We dyed several types of roving: a rugged, local heritage wool from Biella, a lovely BFL and a super-soft merino. Once I had set the color with a vinegar rinse at home, I couldn’t resist spinning it up and making something!

With one robust wool in pure indigo and two softer wools – a turquoise BFL and a gradient dyed merino that went from lime-green to yellow – I chose a brioche stitch cowl to keep the warmest, sturdiest yarn on the outside and the softest on the inside while still allowing all of the beautiful colors to be seen on both sides.

Brioche stitch cowl in hand-dyed/hand-spun wool: Indigo Biella wool, Turquoise BFL and gradient dyed super-soft merino.

Brioche stitch cowl in hand-dyed/hand-spun wool: Indigo Biella wool, Turquoise BFL and gradient dyed super-soft merino.

Happy wool-working to all of you and I invite you all to come check out my latest effort to help bring authentic, traceable Italian and European heritage wools into the limelight: The Wool Box USA. Take a look at the new Facebook page and if you FB give it a like. Feel free to send me links or good ideas about what you’d like to see there.

Meanwhile, I’m glad to be back and blue!

Non solo indaco : Not just indigo

Not just…

Here in Italy there are lots of shops that have names beginning with NON SOLO…! Just down the street is NON SOLO PANE! (not just bread!) and at the town up the road NON SOLO STAMPA! (not just prints!) – you get the picture. My husband and I always get a laugh thinking about what else it is you might find in that shop or restaurant…perhaps a bakery full of dictionaries or a printshop with a cold case full of fresh octopi?

Being green

Meanwhile, so that you all know, I’m not just crazy for indigo! I’ve been tending a friend’s garden while she’s on vacation and the greens are seductively lush:

Zucchini and Bay from my friend's garden, a celebration of green.

Zucchini and Bay Laurel from my friend’s garden, a celebration of green.

Hot tomatoes

I love the greens but more entrancing still are all the different colors of orange and red from tomatoes (all different breeds, shapes and sizes) in addition to a wonderful pumpkin and a few grapefruit that came from the Mange Bio store (those are meant to be marmalade!). I’ve made more different kinds of tomato soup that I’ve ever tried before – highly reccomended: The Joy of Cooking’s Tuscan Bread Soup (Pappa al Pomodoro). I don’t find their recipe on line but if you don’t have a copy of what we tell Italians is the “American Artusi“, this one seems to come pretty close. Meanwhile, look at these beautiful warm tones:

A luscious range of red to orange...more soup to be made!

A luscious range of red to orange…more soup to be made!

So, I guess I can say that this blog is NON SOLO LANA! Maybe you came looking for wool and found vegetables…there will be plenty of wool later after the indigo workshop. Meanwhile I’ll be winging my way back to Texas for a few weeks and then we’ll see what colors and wool news I bring back (for sure my Mother has already bought me the latest issue of Knitting Traditions which I can’t wait to leaf through) and maybe something worth bringing back from the new Tinsmith’s Wife in comfort?

Back soon and happy summer!

New wool shop in Italy!

Wool (and alpaca and cotton) In Abruzzo:

Wool (and cotton and alpaca!) in Abruzzo - thanks to Alice Tesser at Di Lana ed Altre Storie.

Wool (and alpaca and cotton) in Abruzzo – thanks to Alice Tesser at Di Lana ed Altre Storie.

I found a Ravelry message a few weeks ago from a nice Italian woman named Alice Tesser inviting me to visit her new e-store/blog Di Lana ed Altre Storie (Of wool and other stories). My first response was of course Whoo-hoo! A new wool shop in Italy! I’m always interested in a new source for yarn and knitting supplies and the note I received was anything but the self-promoting sales pitch one often gets, so I clicked the link.

What a great website! Clear, easy to navigate and offering a broad range of Drops yarns in cotton, wool and alpaca, a lovely selection of hand-painted lace weight by the Chilean artisans of Araucania, a few different weights and blends from Noro and Debbie Bliss, and  one very beautiful merino/alpaca/silk blend from Peru’s Mirasol (the purchase of which also funds a project supporting the building of schools). And then…


Wool in Abruzzo – the real deal! Wool from sheep pastured in the Gran Sasso National Park and cared for by a shepherd who knows his sheep by name.

Naturally, Wool…What’s in a certification?

All of this selection was great, but the yarn (and the story) that really caught my attention was that of the local wool from Abruzzo that only comes in two colors: cream and brown – both undyed. The blog post that went with it was unbelievably touching, particularly the last paragraph where Alice reported a conversation with the shepherd:

In a world of certifications and pre-set interpretive models to read the label on this yarn and see that it was not designated as ‘pure virgin wool’, broke my heart. Giulio, the shepherd, responded, “There’s no need. I know each of my sheep by name; I know what they’ve eaten and when; the cheese produced [from their milk] is organic and the sheep already so.” So this wool – more than just organic, natural, untreated and undyed, except by the grasses and alum of the rocks in the pasture – is healthy and represents, rather than a nostalgic return to the past, a springboard towards the future.  – excerpted and translated from Lana, Naturalmente

Now that’s wool in Italy!

And other stories… I was also pleased and surprised to find an excellent selection of printed fabrics from the Florida based Art Gallery Fabrics, no biggie for those of you living in the U.S. but nice for those living in Italy to have easy access to a nice range of quilting and craft fabrics. Also, lots of circular needles, both interchangeable and standard, along with short DPNs and sewing supplies for quilters (all hard to come by in the provincial mercerie here in Italy). Meanwhile, my order was submitted on a Friday and arrived on Monday…now that’s fast!

The second surprise was a call from Alice on the Sunday after I placed my order. After I assured her that it was no bother, we had a brief chat about the website, the wool, Abruzzo and the man she called “one of our shepherds”. She lives in Montesilvano, Pescara and says that she’ll be opening a brick and mortar shop there in September…Sounds like a good reason to go to the Adriatic coast!

Meanwhile, I’m busy with my Drops ‘Muscat’ from the e-shop making one of the fabulous slip-stitch dishtowel patterns that I found at the Purl Bee…perfect summer knitting!

Drops 'muscat' cotton worked up in a slip-stitch pattern from The Purl Bee.

Drops ‘muscat’ cotton (produced in the EU and Oeko-Tex certified) worked up in a slip-stitch pattern from The Purl Bee.


Good products and good service from nice people, I’m glad to have found a new wool shop in Italy!

Happy wool-working!