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!

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 :)!

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.

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’

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!

Mood Indigo

Stormy Weather - the beautiful low blue of storm clouds over Gemonio

Stormy Weather – the beautiful low blue of storm clouds over my little town, Gemonio

Stormy weather and a hankering for indigo

Day before yesterday there was a huge storm in our little town and the sky turned just the colors I love best – every possible shade of that water-heavy cloud blue that contrasts so beautifully with tones of terracotta, mustard yellow and fresh cream. Can I learn how to make these blues? Should I dye my newly spun mohair and if so, what color?

Victoria Finlay's book  "Color" - the indigo chapter - and my first 130 yards of handspun mohair.

Victoria Finlay’s book “Color: a natural history of the palette” – the indigo chapter – and my first 130 yds of handspun mohair. Ms. Finlay notes that while we call the color indigo (based on the Greek indikón meaning ‘from india’), in India it’s called nil.

Bluing?

I reread the indigo chapter in Victoria Finlay’s imminently enjoyable “Color: a natural history of the palette” one of my favourite stories that she recounts (along with that of Benito Hernández’s dye works in Oaxaca) involves the uses of indigo both as a base color for black and as “laundry bluing” to make whites whiter:

“…while woad or indigo are important as “bottom” colors for black dyes…another factor is their ability, in the form of laundry blue, to give white clothes a new lease on life. In poorer parts of India you can sometimes see older  gentlemen in the streets radiating what seems to be ultraviolet from their white clothes.” – from Color: a natural history of the palette

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Possibilities…

So, could I dye my newly spun mohair one of the colors from this stormy sky or a midnight sea or the pale sapphire of my grandmother’s earrings or a blue so pale it glows like the indian gentelman’s well-washed white cotton; then again perhaps colors like these? I’ll find out in September when I go to Andie Luijk’s indigo dying workshop in the foothills of the Alps just north of Italy’s famous textile center, Biella….mmm, ‘mountain blue’ mohair… what beautiful something could I make that into…?

The unfinished WIP blues

Meanwhile, I have a month to get going and spin the rest of my mohair fiber and also finish a few of these! Right now it’ll just have to get past my hankering for the blues by listening to the majestic Ella singing Ellington’s masterpieceMood Indigo.

The WIP blues...so much left to do (from top left:

The WIP blues…so much left to do (from top left: Robin’s Rainbow Sweater Redux, Deco Socks, Laura’s Workman’s Gloves – from bottom left: Matthew’s Reversible Stripes Scarf, Cotton Slip-Stitch Dish, Swatch for Kate Davies “Paper Dolls” and Bonnie’s “Josephine”.

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!