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!

A Great End of Summer Offer

Stripes and Lace

Here’s a great opportunity to have what I think of as one of this summer’s “must have” knitting patterns for free from now through Sept. 7th! This tee showcases a mix of stripes and lace that can be either elegant or spirited depending on your color choices. Now’s your chance to get started on a wonderful End of Summer project and take a look at some of the other wonderful Jenjoyce Design patterns. Happy wool-working!

Jenjoyce Design's Penny Candy Tee!

Jenjoyce Design’s Penny Candy Tee!

Free through September 7th

“Dear Knitters ~~ Do you love stripes? Do you love lace? Do you love to wear light-weight hand-knits in the sunshine? Would you like to put them all together in a cute sweater for you, for your daughter, or grand-daughter, niece, or friend? Great, because from now (officially Labor Day weekend) through the first week of September ~~ September 7th ~~ I am offering to gift this pattern to all who participate in the promotion.” – to find out how, click on the link below:

http://jenjoycedesign.com/2014/08/29/for-knitters-penny-candy-tee-end-of-summer-promotion/

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…

0541-480x360

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!

Colors of Aosta: a day in Gressoney-Saint-Jean

Woman and her son wearing the traditional costume of Gressoney Saint Jean for St. John's Day

Woman and her son wearing the traditional costume of Gressoney Saint Jean for St. John’s Day

Red and White, Black and Gold: The legend of Gressoney-Saint-Jean’s traditional women’s costume…

I recently spent a lovely Saturday and Sunday in the Val de Lys in Italy’s province of Aosta, which is near the north-western border with Switzerland. Here we stayed in a little cabin just above Gressoney-Saint-Jean and directly below Monte Rosa.

On Saturday, I had gone up just north of Biella with two friends (SO’s and families in tow) to take a spindle-spinning workshop. My husband and his brother had decided, as long as we were close, to take advantage of the first days of open ski-lifts in order to spend a few days climbing up to Punto Gnifetti. So, after the workshop we drove up to Gressoney-Saint-Jean, ate at the wonderful Brasserie Creperie Paul Verlaine where they told us that Sunday was the festival day of the town’s patron saint (St. John’s Day – 24 June). After a snug night in a lovely cabin under woolen blankets, my husband and brother-in-law went up the hill while his girlfriend, my daughter and I went down into town. What a beautiful scene! Everyone was decked out in traditional costumes, including a fellow wearing these fabulous socks:

IMG_0699

Meanwhile, we’d picked up some information at the local tourist office and there was this dramatic story describing why the women (and some of the men) wear red, white and black…

Once upon a time all of the women of Gressoney-Saint-Jean wore black; for festivals they would wear either this or sometimes a blue or purple dress, always with a white broadcloth shirt and a black jacket. And so it remained until one day, tragedy struck. Legend tells that a mother had taken her flock out to pasture when her small son slid into a ravine.  Another woman, who was childless, saved his life while sacrificing her own. Broken on the rocks, her blood dyed her clothing red.

Since that day, in honor of her sacrifice, all of the women have worn red skirts to symbolize her blood, richly embroidered aprons and jackets that are black as the rocks that caused her death and blouses, pure white as the snow atop the mountains or the foaming waters of the Lys. The intricate golden filigree headdresses, often embellished with precious stones and proudly passed down from mother to daughter, are said to represent her golden hair. *

Who knows if the legend is true, but it does make for an excellent tale. After experiencing the town and watching St. Jean’s procession through the streets…

The procession of St. John by the citizens of Gressoney-Saint-Jean

The procession of St. John by the citizens of Gressoney-Saint-Jean

I feel inspired to make these socks in The Wool Box’s fabulous Oropa 1-ply. What color will I order? What else but Aosta Red!

Thanks for dropping by and happy wool-working!

*excerpted and translated from the document I Walser all’ombra del Monte Rosa: un tesoro fatto di lingua, tradizioni e leggende all’interno della Valle d’Aosta”

Loaves and Knitting

Loafing around in the morning…

Ahh, I just popped this loaf of bread in the oven and I can already smell it baking. Breakfast will be served (with butter and cherry jam) in a half hour!

Cherry-peach preserves are ready to eat as soon as this loaf comes out of the oven!

Cherry-peach preserves are ready to eat as soon as this loaf comes out of the oven!

…and then ready, set, KNIT (my first commission!)

I received my first knitting commission last week for three (!) pairs of my workman’s gloves. I’m so excited! I’ve always knit for my family but this is an adventure in long-distance fitting as well – all three pairs of hands are in Texas at the moment.

ready, set, KNIT! Everything is set up for my first commissioned knitting project.

ready, set, KNIT! Everything is set up for my first commissioned knitting project.

 

This yarn is made from a mix of Suffolk wool from Umbria together with wools from Biella and Abruzzo. Made with natural, undyed fleece accented with flecks of marigold, grass green, fuchsia and pewter. Shearing year 2011. It’s the perfect weight for accessories such as gloves, hats, cardigans or scarves. Very durable and one of my favorites.

This yarn is made from a mix of Suffolk wool from Umbria together with wools from Biella and Abruzzo. Made with natural, undyed fleece accented with flecks of marigold, grass green, fuchsia and pewter, it’s the perfect weight for accessories such as gloves, hats, cardigans or scarves. Interestingly it’s both durable and luxurious, truly one of my favorites.

I have the first set of measurements, the pair I made to use as a model and 3 skeins of The Wool Box’s Morron Bouton, which is really what makes these gloves work.

I’m going to try and write my first pattern as well. I think I’ll need it if I’m going to knit three different sizes… We’ll see. Anyway, time to stop blogging and start knitting.

Happy wool-working!

 

 

Springing Towards Summer

Robin's Striped Hetty - I hope it still fits her in the Autumn!

Robin’s Striped Hetty – I hope it still fits her in the Autumn!

Striping it up!

Although I finished this a few weeks ago it was a job to get my girl to model it. She loves the top but, as evidenced by the day lily in her hair, summer weather has finally arrived in northern Italy and all she want’s to wear right now are sleeveless tank-tops. Then there was getting her to stop ‘modeling’; it’s hard not to laugh when she arches her eyebrows and puts her hand on her hip! Meanwhile, I did love Sarah Wright’s pattern, which was a good size for my 6-year-old. One of the advantages of top-down patterns for kids is that, If she get’s any taller, I can always pick up the bottom stitches and keep going. The decision to make stripes was inspired by Jenjoyce Designs’ Pin-Striped Sweater Tees (which I’m happy to say now has a pattern available). Over all I’m happy with how it came out, I’m only a tiny bit disappointed at how evident the increases are below the blue stripe at the waist although that’s due to the smoothness of the yarn rather than any problem with the pattern.

Coming to terms with super soft…once again

It is really, wonderfully soft. Even though this is super wash, I’ve had such bad luck with this yarn pilling (and I’m not the only one), that I’m going to keep washing by hand in cold to see if that helps. A polar opposite of the Morron Bouton that I used to make my husband’s Workman’s Gloves and Hybrid Highland Hose, I can’t recommend Lana Gatto Super Soft for anything you want to keep for a long time or that has to take wear and tear (i.e. forget it for aran sweaters or socks); although it’s not a heritage knitting yarn, it’s a fine choice for fun-colored, low-wear accessories, children’s or infant patterns that are fast to knit up and that only need to look good for a single season.

Robin's Striped Hetty in Process and Complete.

Robin’s Striped Hetty in Process and Complete.

Wrapping up Winter’s last WIP and The Incredible Gloves

Hybrid Finnish/Scottish Kilt Hose - Finished at last!

Hybrid Finnish/Scottish Kilt Hose – Finished at last!

Wool socks in June?

Back in May I blogged about how I was determined to finish these socks over the weekend. I missed my deadline by a day but then realized that, since these were part of my husband’s birthday gift, perhaps I was better off keeping them on the bottom of my knitting basket and off my blog until the big day. So here they are, making their debut after months in the knitting (due to giving other projects precedence as they weren’t hard or time consuming to make). And yes, it is June and these are made of really densely knitted, durable wool…where is he going to wear them? Hiking up Monte Rosa of course! There’s still plenty of snow up on the glacier and this way at least I know his feet will be warm. Although I was initially worried by the weird look of the reinforced ‘Dutch’ heel and the stiffness of the fabric when these were fresh off the needles, they washed and blocked out beautifully.

The Wool Box’s Morron Bouton :  the superhero of Italian wool

Workman's fingerless gloves in Morron Bouton from The Wool Box - amazingly durable.

Workman’s fingerless gloves in Morron Bouton from The Wool Box – after 6 months of hard wear.

Detail of repairs made to the palm of the workman's glove after a screw went awry.

Detail of repairs made to the palm of the workman’s glove – while working on an interior restoration in Venice, a screw went awry and left a few holes that I repaired with some hand-spun.

This yarn, which comes in two weights (a light and a chunky), is an excellent choice for anything that needs to last. At Christmas I gave my husband a pair of fancy, fingerless gloves knit up in Berroco Alpaca Ultra Fine on U.S. #1’s. He was so pleased with them that he didn’t want to take them off; but, my husband is an artist and a custom furniture designer in addition to doing restoration work on historic interiors here in Italy. He needed a pair of gloves he could wear every day that would stand up to steel and wood, loading and unloading materials in rain and snow while still keeping his hands warm and the tips of his fingers free for texting and making phone calls (something he’s always doing). Morron Bouton proved itself to be the superhero of Italian wool, these workman’s gloves that I knitted up in January have survived hard use up through the end of May and they’re ready to go back to work in October. And, despite being such a tough wool, it never once irritated the tender skin on the inside of his wrists.

Do you see the luster in this yarn…6 months of abrasion, 8 hand washings in soap and warm water and not a single ‘pill’ and no sign of felting! At less than 9 euro per 200 yard skein (I ordered two and made one sock and one glove with each skein) I’d say that’s an incredible bargain. Do you have a ‘superhero’ wool?

Almost! One down and one toe to go…

Quince&Co Castle pullover in the Wool Box's Laga is finished!

Quince&Co Castle pullover in the Wool Box’s Laga is finished!

One toe shy of meeting my weekend challenge!

You can’t win them all…but I am very happy with the finished ‘Castle Pullover’. I did finish it on Saturday and have it blocked and dry in time to wear to my daughter’s kindergarten graduation party on Sunday afternoon (patted with a wet wash-cloth on both sides and then rolled up carefully in a dry towel and placed on top of the radiator overnight works great for me). It fits great, the yarn does not itch at all, even next to bare skin. I sat in the sun for 3 hours and didn’t get hot! In my book this was a Spring Knitting Project home run. I washed it in tepid water with a little Winnie’s Wool-wash this morning and it’s still looking great; Laga holds it’s shape magnificently. I was so pleased with this project that I’m thinking of making a ‘mini-castle’ for my daughter…she want’s pink so I may have to figure out how to dye ‘laga’ with something like madder root from Renaissance Dying.

Catch 22 (rows)…

Meanwhile…the socks. So close and yet no toe! I thought that the kindergarten celebration would be over about 5:30…we got home about 7! It was wonderful and the kids had a great time, the sun was finally out… but, the last little bit of my sock was longer than my little girl’s patience so I put it down to read her bedtime story and we both promptly fell asleep. I have only 22 more rows to the end of the toe and I swear that it will be done tonight before I go to bed!

Thanks for reading and happy wool-working!

Where there’s a weekend there’s a way (to finish at least 2 WIP’s)!

Hybrid Highland Hose in Morron Bouton

Hybrid Highland Hose in Morron Bouton

Hybrid Highland Hose…Scotland and Finland meet in a pair of socks:

I wanted to make a pair of heavy duty socks for my husband who gives his socks pretty rough wear. The yarn I wanted to use, “Morron Bouton” from The Wool Box, comes in two weights (a light and a chunky) and I chose the thinner. It knits up soft on U.S. 6-8 (4mm-5mm) needles but I purposely chose a U.S. #3 to get a stiff fabric. I could have gone up a size but I didn’t have DPN’s in the right size and consequently I broke one of my #3 Hiya-Hiya bamboo needles halfway through the first sock (my bad)! At least they come with 5 in the package so it didn’t stop me from getting along with the project. I have already made my husband a pair of fingerless work gloves with this yarn and it wears wonderfully even under hard use and still becomes softer and more lustrous with every washing.

The color reminded me of the Kilt Hose pattern I’d seen in Nancy Bush’s “Folk Socks” but there was no way I was going to get that gauge with this yarn; besides, I wanted the fully-reinforced, dutch heel of her Finnish Socks. So, I used the Finnish sock pattern (p.97) for the construction of the heel and foot while I modified the leg pattern from the Kilt Hose (p. 109) and did a simple 1×1 rib at the top. I am 3/4 of the way through the second sock, heel turned and ready to complete the foot and toe. I will finish today even if I have to take it to bed with me!

IMG_0514

Knitting Castles out of ‘Gran Sasso’ wool:

I had ordered some new yarn for spring projects and it was love at first sight when I saw this pattern on Ravelry. I downloaded the pattern only to find that my yarn knit up at a larger gauge; but in the end I was happy with that as the sizes offered by the pattern were not exact for me (34” bust is too small and a 38” too big). As it is my gauge worked up at 19 st and 25 rows = 4” on US 7 (4.5 mm). This gauge change made the collar a bit wider (and looser) than I want, I tried (unsuccessfully) to make a knitted facing with a narrow-gauge yarn but I’m going to have to resolve that with a bit of grosgrain ribbon facing on the inside once it’s done. At least two other ravelers who’s notes I read later (sigh) had the same problem so at least I’m not alone.
I’m not an experienced lace knitter and this pattern is EASY; however, as I went along with the lace I discovered it’s also VERY easy to lose or gain a stitch and VERY frustrating to pick out a whole row because the mistake was made at the beginning, so I started counting out the repeat (9 st). Since I started counting the lace is moving along much faster without any errors (cross fingers and knock on wood)! Should be finished soon, I’m aiming for this Sunday. Deep breath, it is doable, I only have another 5 inches of lace before the bottom and it does knit up fast.

Quince&Co. Castle Pullover knit in The Wool Box's Laga

Quince&Co. Castle Pullover knit in The Wool Box’s Laga

As for the yarn…I LOVE LOVE LOVE ‘Laga’, it works up like a dream. It’s a 100% Italian wool from 2012 shearing from the sheep that pasture in Abruzzo’s Gran Sasso national park in the Laga mountains. Soft and still smelling like the Apennine pastures it is an excellent example of a fine wool produced entirely in Italy. This wool is blended from several merino breeds to produce a yarn that is both soft and structured. It’s a warm straw-cream colour that I want to make it into cardigans, socks, some beautiful ‘aran’ cabled gloves, a dress, underwear! Really anything that needs the stitch-work to take center stage. The castle pullover sweater has taken only 1-1/3 skeins so far and I’m already planning what to do with the skein and a half that I’ll have left over. Meanwhile, I have gifted a few skeins to friends to see if they love it as much as I do.

I’ll let you now if I manage to finish these two this weekend. Wish me luck and happy wool-working!