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!

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 :)!

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!

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’

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!

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…

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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!

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’:

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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!