Winter White (Part 3): Brogna from Verona and an English Wool in Italy

Three Winter Whites! Let’s begin with Brogna.

It’s long past Spring but, I still have white on my mind. As  I mentioned in the last posts, Winter White is rarely a true white. The whites that I’m looking forward to getting my needles into come from 4 different sheep breeds from 3 different countries but they all have one thing in common: they are made into yarn here in Italy. Although I’m calling these three ‘winter whites’ – they really belong to spring, the Italian shearing season which normally starts in April can continue through July. My first white is a beautiful creamy Brogna from the hills surrounding the city of romance, Verona.

A pair of socks from

A pair of socks from “Dave’s Toe-Up Sock Cookbook” made with Brogna…che belle!

Soft and delicate, this Brogna yarn is a buttery straw color and plied in a special way to create a texture like that of a fine gold chain.

Soft and delicate, this Brogna yarn is a buttery straw color and plied in a special way to create a texture like that of a fine gold chain.

Brogna is one of the forty-two autochthonous Italian breeds and in the 1980’s it was near extinction with only 50 head registered but now there are more than 1700 purebred Brogna Sheep currently registered in Italy. This wool was renowned in the Middle Ages for its use in fine Verona Woolens and I love the buttery/straw color and the way it takes dye!

Bright Lights shining from Southern England to Northern Italy

Next up: Lowland wool from Southern England, spun with care in Northern Italy, “Bright” is a smooth yarn that’s only slightly thicker than Jamison’s Heritage Shetland and a bit smoother and stronger. The white has a lovely sheen and is in fact ‘bright’ without looking bleached. This quality comes in quite a few colors (and I have quite few of them in my stash) so, having swatched for solid stockinette gauge, I’m now looking forward to knitting

“Bright” from the “Lights” series of Lowland wool from the Wool Box

some colorwork swatches with Bright, using the white as a base color. I’m wavering between Kate Davies elegant “Epistrophy” and Tin Can Knits’ geometric fair isle “Clayoquot Cardigan“…humm, both so beautiful!

Organic Poll Dorset: From France to Italy and back again

This soft, wooly, organic Poll Dorset from Renaissance Dyeing is bred and sheared in France and then Spun in Northern Italy's renowned woolen mills.

This soft, wooly, organic Poll Dorset from Renaissance Dyeing is from sheep bred and sheared in France. The wool is then spun in Northern Italy’s renowned woolen mills.

No mater if it’s ‘bare white’ or dyed with lush natural dyes – this organic wool is worth every penny of the extra cost. Not only that, for anyone concerned about how sheep are handled during the shearing process, this is probably the happiest wool you’ll ever handle! At only 9 euro per for an undyed, 3.53 oz, 380 yard skein, you can afford to try your own dye experiments – then you’ll understand that the natural, stable color line offered by the company is a bargain at 17.50/skein! I’m hoping to use my 3 skeins of white as the base for a transitional sweater with a bit of color…maybe Paper Dolls? Tired of white? My upcoming post will be all about color….meanwhile, Happy Woolworking!

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Winter White (Part 2): Abruzzo Wool washed and blocked

Winter White Too!

As I mentioned in the last post, Winter White is rarely a true white. The white I’m talking about today is really more like a buttercream (are you hungry yet?) or pale straw. Still, I’m willing to call it winter white too – it’s winter yet and just looking at this cosy color makes me feel warmer. This is “Laga” a beautiful wool from 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. If I had to make a comparison, I’d call it Italian Aran.

Here is my unblocked "Avery" Cowl in Laga - looking a little loose...just wait!

Here is my unblocked “Avery” Cowl in Laga – looking a little loose…just wait!

Abruzzo Wool Washed and Blocked: the big change

As I’ve written before, this is one of my favorite wools. It smells good, it feels nice and the stitch definition is phenomenal. So, when a friend asked if I could make Quince’s “Avery” cowl for her, I suggested Laga as a good 100% Italian choice. I ordered the pattern and printed it out. Then I swatched – and (sigh) I washed and blocked the swatch before I started! You know, I’ve never been much for swatching, I’m always too excited to get started, but when using wools that are not ‘superwash’ treated and that still smell a little lanolin-ish, you might be surprised to find out how much they ‘plump’ when you wash them. Take a look at the difference from the unblocked cowl in progress above and the washed and blocked finished work below!

Here is the same cowl, finished, blocked and washed. What a difference a little soap and water make!

Voila! Here’s the same cowl, finished, blocked and washed. What a difference a little soap and water make!

Had I swatched without washing and blocking, I would have made the gauge much too tight and and knitted my friend a cumbersome collar rather than an elegant cowl with structured drape. I also have to say that “Avery” was a great pattern as were “Madigan” and the “Castle Pullover”, the other two Quince patterns that I’ve used. Easy to follow and easy to adapt for other yarns. I’m a big fan!

Here you can see the elegant, structured drape of this Abruzzo Wool: 'Laga'

Here you can see the elegant, structured drape of this Abruzzo Wool: ‘Laga’

No mater if it’s ‘winter white’ or dyed with indigo or madder – this Abruzzo wool is worth queuing up on your needles – swatching, washing and blocking make sure that the final garment is exactly the beautiful piece you wanted to make for yourself or for a friend.

Coming soon, one last post on ‘winter whites’ before we move on to a burst of Spring color….meanwhile, Happy Woolworking!

Winter White (Part 1): Merino d’Arles

Winter White

I always thought that was a silly name for a color that was most often anything but the ‘white’ as the snow that the name brought to mind. More accurately they should have been named cream, eggshell, meringue or butter. Here in Italy the color would be ‘panna’ (cream) or ‘greggio’ (natural/untreated). I have come to love all the different variations of this lovely un-snowy color in both my knitting and my spinning.

'Ascot' length scarf in 1 x 1 rib knitted in Merino d'Arles from The Wool Box

‘Ascot’ length scarf in 1 x 1 rib knitted in Merino d’Arles from The Wool Box

Fabulous Merino d’Arles

I have a fabulous friend who has helped me so many times with my translation projects (while insisting to doing it for free) that I wanted a good way to say: “Thank you so very, very, very much!”. A friend with a sensitivity to wool…maybe. I made up 3 swatches of various yarns: Gryla (icelandic), Oropa (Italian), Bright (English), Merino d’Arles (French) and one handspun alpaca. I suggested wearing them next to the skin for at least a 5-10 minutes to see if any of them caused irritation – surprisingly none of them did! I think sometimes sensitivity to chemical dyes may be mistaken for a wool allergy; if you’re not sure, it’s always worth testing with a swatch of natural wool that hasn’t been dyed, treated with ‘superwash’ treatments, you might be pleasantly surprised to find that your skin likes wool after all.

Purl Soho's fabulous 'boyfriend hat' pattern made up in creamy, soft Merino d'Arles

Purl Soho’s fabulous ‘boyfriend hat’ pattern made up in creamy, soft Merino d’Arles

The yarn my friend chose was the Merino d’Arles, this wool comes from the Alpes Maritimes on the border between France and Italy. This fine, luxurious wool is known for both its softness and its warmth and of the samples I sent, this one was the best adapted for garments to be worn next the skin like scarves and hats.

So, whether we call this color blanched wheat, pale honey, sunlit straw or yes, even ‘winter white’ – the color of natural wool is beautiful, comfortable and most importantly warm :)!

Coming soon, more ‘winter whites’….meanwhile, Happy Woolworking!

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!

Color Inspiration

Color Inspiration from the Garden

The end of Summer is full of color inspiration and beautiful produce from the garden. On a short holiday trip to piedmont I rediscovered one of nature’s most inspiring color combinations, red and green…or in this case fuchsia and pale yellow-green in the wonderful hull of the Cranberry Bean.

A beautiful Cranberry Bean growing in our friend's garden near the town of Crodo in Piedmont.

A beautiful Borlotti (aka Cranberry) Bean growing in our friend’s garden near the town of Crodo in Piedmont.

Borlotti or Cranberry?

In Italian it’s the Borlotti Bean and in English the Cranberry Bean, but this bean by any name is still stunningly beautiful! Now open up the Borlotti bean hull and what do you find:

Here are the empty Borlotti Bean hulls and you can see why they're also called 'Cranberry' what an amazing dark fuchsia against the startlingly pale interior!

Here are the empty Borlotti Bean hulls and you can see why they’re also called ‘Cranberry’ what an amazing dark fuchsia against the startlingly pale interior!

Inside is the deliciously creamy-nutty flavored bean itself. Not quite as vivid as it's outer shell it's still lovely.

Inside is the deliciously creamy-nutty flavored bean itself. Not quite as vivid as it’s outer shell it’s still lovely.

Now, what to do with this wonderful color inspiration from the garden? It just so happened that, when we went on vacation to Piedmont, my right wrist and shoulder had begun to bother me with the tale-tale signs of a RSI…bummer! I decided to take a project-free vacation and packed no knitting and no spinning, determined to rest my right arm. After coming home and spending another week in stretching, yoga and using a heated massager borrowed from my kind neighbor (and not knitting and not spinning). I was feeling a bit better but not much.

 

Long-draw to the rescue!

Then it came to me, I would experiment with ‘long-draw’ fiber drafting where I could use my very sound and un-irritated left arm and hand with minimal effort from my right. Long-draw and You Tube to the rescue! After watching two very helpful videos – one by Spindlicity, with multiple fiber types and approaches, and another by Long Draw John, with a focus on using merino roving – I was ready to try the challenge. I decided to card up a few rolags: blending some roving from my wool box stash: fuchsia, red and pink for one set and pale yellow, blue and white for the other. Voilà! My color inspiration from the garden turned into my first long-draw skein 🙂

Here's my Long Draw Bean Skein inspired by the beautiful colors of the Borlotti Bean hull.

Here’s my Long Draw Bean Skein inspired by the beautiful colors of the Borlotti Bean hull.

A Bean Bag!

What to make with this scant 40 meters of yarn? It had to be something quick and easy on larger diameter needles. Something that wouldn’t aggravate my irritated appendage but still satisfy my stymied creative energy. I found the perfect solution in what I decided to call my ‘bean bag’! A wonderful bag pattern by VERONIKA just called for a stockinette or garter stitch rectangle with a width length ratio of 1:3. I washed and dried my skein and cast on 25 stitches on U.S. #8’s and got going. The very fast (and wrist friendly) result was this little bag that’s just the right size to hold two little balls of sock yarn!

My Borlotti Bean Bag with an antique shell button and an I-cord strap will be a great way to take summer's color inspiration from the garden on into the cold Lombard winter!

My Borlotti Bean Bag with an antique shell button and an I-cord strap will be a great way to take summer’s color inspiration from the garden on into the cold Lombard winter!

 
Last but not least, a little more color inspiration from the beautiful landscape of Piedmont’s Val Formazza:

Card(ing) Shark…well it does have ‘teeth’

Colors I carded by blending with my new Ashford Carders (and the help of my little girl :)!

Colors I carded by blending with my new Ashford Carders (and the help of my little girl :)!

That’s Carders not Kardashian (sorry Kim – blending wool is way more interesting!)

Who needs superstar gossip when we can talk about carding! I’ve been having loads of fun with my new Ashford carders, a gift from my lovely mother who is a very talented fiber artist and who always encourages my varied forays into fiber world.

Learning how to blend with carders

Here's my sweet girl who loves to help with my wool projects wearing her 'cloud sweater' which I designed and spun the wool for.

Here’s my sweet girl who loves to help with my wool projects wearing her ‘cloud sweater’ for which I designed and spun the wool.

I found a great blending tutorial at Knitty, opened my boxes of colored and natural fluff some ordered from The Wool Box and some from Tricotin (from where I had also ordered the carders). Then I got started and with a little help from my daughter we went ‘batty’! When I had them all spun up and plied, my girl came up with the color names and I wrote the tags. Then, we sent the package off to my mom as a thank you and a way for all three generations to work on the same project. Robin and I can’t wait to see what she’ll make with our RBK yarn!

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!