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:

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.

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’

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!

Non solo indaco : Not just indigo

Not just…

Here in Italy there are lots of shops that have names beginning with NON SOLO…! Just down the street is NON SOLO PANE! (not just bread!) and at the town up the road NON SOLO STAMPA! (not just prints!) – you get the picture. My husband and I always get a laugh thinking about what else it is you might find in that shop or restaurant…perhaps a bakery full of dictionaries or a printshop with a cold case full of fresh octopi?

Being green

Meanwhile, so that you all know, I’m not just crazy for indigo! I’ve been tending a friend’s garden while she’s on vacation and the greens are seductively lush:

Zucchini and Bay from my friend's garden, a celebration of green.

Zucchini and Bay Laurel from my friend’s garden, a celebration of green.

Hot tomatoes

I love the greens but more entrancing still are all the different colors of orange and red from tomatoes (all different breeds, shapes and sizes) in addition to a wonderful pumpkin and a few grapefruit that came from the Mange Bio store (those are meant to be marmalade!). I’ve made more different kinds of tomato soup that I’ve ever tried before – highly reccomended: The Joy of Cooking’s Tuscan Bread Soup (Pappa al Pomodoro). I don’t find their recipe on line but if you don’t have a copy of what we tell Italians is the “American Artusi“, this one seems to come pretty close. Meanwhile, look at these beautiful warm tones:

A luscious range of red to orange...more soup to be made!

A luscious range of red to orange…more soup to be made!

So, I guess I can say that this blog is NON SOLO LANA! Maybe you came looking for wool and found vegetables…there will be plenty of wool later after the indigo workshop. Meanwhile I’ll be winging my way back to Texas for a few weeks and then we’ll see what colors and wool news I bring back (for sure my Mother has already bought me the latest issue of Knitting Traditions which I can’t wait to leaf through) and maybe something worth bringing back from the new Tinsmith’s Wife in comfort?

Back soon and happy summer!

New wool shop in Italy!

Wool (and alpaca and cotton) In Abruzzo:

Wool (and cotton and alpaca!) in Abruzzo - thanks to Alice Tesser at Di Lana ed Altre Storie.

Wool (and alpaca and cotton) in Abruzzo – thanks to Alice Tesser at Di Lana ed Altre Storie.

I found a Ravelry message a few weeks ago from a nice Italian woman named Alice Tesser inviting me to visit her new e-store/blog Di Lana ed Altre Storie (Of wool and other stories). My first response was of course Whoo-hoo! A new wool shop in Italy! I’m always interested in a new source for yarn and knitting supplies and the note I received was anything but the self-promoting sales pitch one often gets, so I clicked the link.

What a great website! Clear, easy to navigate and offering a broad range of Drops yarns in cotton, wool and alpaca, a lovely selection of hand-painted lace weight by the Chilean artisans of Araucania, a few different weights and blends from Noro and Debbie Bliss, and  one very beautiful merino/alpaca/silk blend from Peru’s Mirasol (the purchase of which also funds a project supporting the building of schools). And then…

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Wool in Abruzzo – the real deal! Wool from sheep pastured in the Gran Sasso National Park and cared for by a shepherd who knows his sheep by name.

Naturally, Wool…What’s in a certification?

All of this selection was great, but the yarn (and the story) that really caught my attention was that of the local wool from Abruzzo that only comes in two colors: cream and brown – both undyed. The blog post that went with it was unbelievably touching, particularly the last paragraph where Alice reported a conversation with the shepherd:

In a world of certifications and pre-set interpretive models to read the label on this yarn and see that it was not designated as ‘pure virgin wool’, broke my heart. Giulio, the shepherd, responded, “There’s no need. I know each of my sheep by name; I know what they’ve eaten and when; the cheese produced [from their milk] is organic and the sheep already so.” So this wool – more than just organic, natural, untreated and undyed, except by the grasses and alum of the rocks in the pasture – is healthy and represents, rather than a nostalgic return to the past, a springboard towards the future.  – excerpted and translated from Lana, Naturalmente

Now that’s wool in Italy!

And other stories… I was also pleased and surprised to find an excellent selection of printed fabrics from the Florida based Art Gallery Fabrics, no biggie for those of you living in the U.S. but nice for those living in Italy to have easy access to a nice range of quilting and craft fabrics. Also, lots of circular needles, both interchangeable and standard, along with short DPNs and sewing supplies for quilters (all hard to come by in the provincial mercerie here in Italy). Meanwhile, my order was submitted on a Friday and arrived on Monday…now that’s fast!

The second surprise was a call from Alice on the Sunday after I placed my order. After I assured her that it was no bother, we had a brief chat about the website, the wool, Abruzzo and the man she called “one of our shepherds”. She lives in Montesilvano, Pescara and says that she’ll be opening a brick and mortar shop there in September…Sounds like a good reason to go to the Adriatic coast!

Meanwhile, I’m busy with my Drops ‘Muscat’ from the e-shop making one of the fabulous slip-stitch dishtowel patterns that I found at the Purl Bee…perfect summer knitting!

Drops 'muscat' cotton worked up in a slip-stitch pattern from The Purl Bee.

Drops ‘muscat’ cotton (produced in the EU and Oeko-Tex certified) worked up in a slip-stitch pattern from The Purl Bee.

 

Good products and good service from nice people, I’m glad to have found a new wool shop in Italy!

Happy wool-working!