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.

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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.

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

IMG_0841

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.

Spinning with excitement!

Spinning workshop tomorrow!

I’m so looking forward to attending The Wool Box’s class for beginning drop spindle spinners at the splendid Villa Piazzo in Pettinengo that has this fabulous view:

Third Paradise Garden

Third Paradise Garden

I attended my first hand spinning class last year – at the Kid n’ Ewe in Borne, TX – as a gift from my amazingly talented mother, the Texas fiber artist Sara Crittenden Coppedge. She and I had loads of fun learning how to handle top-whorl spindles and BFL fiber from the charming and adept Seth Bruce.  I took my spindle and some fluff back to Italy and I have continued to spin even more since I came across the wonderful variety of fluff, carded and combed roving available from The Wool Box. With some practice, the quality of my yarn has improved.

The next step…

Now I feel ready for a little more information and some new techniques. The 6 hour course will offer a general review of fiber basics. Spinning of single strands with the use of a variable gravity spindle*. Plying 2 strands to make 2-ply yarn. Practical exercises to familiarize yourself with the technique. Practice spinning different types of fiber: raw fleece, combed fleece, carded roving and ‘fluff’. Preparation of fibers for making sample yarn. Creating yarn samples with two strands. Practice making yarn with more than 2 strands and an introduction to ‘artistic’ techniques….ooh, I can hardly wait! (and it’s only costing 55 euro with materials included!)

If I’ve understood correctly, they’ve also promised a sneak peak at some rare luxury fibers: Camel, Cashmere Ultra fine, Qivuit, Musk Ox, Yak (brown & white) and YangirThey look quite enticing…

Beautiful rare fibers. From top left: Camel, Cashmere Ultra fine, Qivuit, Musk Ox, Yak (brown & white) and Yangir.

Beautiful rare fibers from The Wool Box. From top left: Camel, Cashmere Ultra fine, Qivuit, Musk Ox, Yak (brown & white) and Yangir.

Then there’s the new ‘variable gravity spindle’ and the 100 grams of fiber that comes with the course. Having only ever worked with an Ashford top-whorl 90mm (3½ins), 80gm (2¾ozs) drop spindle – which is quite heavy – and the one I made for my daughter – which is quite light – I’m curious to try something different…

So I’ll be taking my camera and my notebook, along with two English-speaking friends, up into the Alpine foothills on the other side of the lake. The lunch, prepared from garden produce grown on the villa grounds, promises to be lovely as well. I wish you were all coming with me! I’ll let you know all about how it went it next week.

Meanwhile, happy wool-working!

*patent pending