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!

Mood Indigo

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

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

Stormy weather and a hankering for indigo

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

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

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

Bluing?

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

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

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Possibilities…

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

The unfinished WIP blues

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

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

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

Somewhere Over the Rainbow Sweater

One of my hand-spun skeins and three beautiful colours from Renaissance Dyeing

One of my hand-spun skeins and three stunning colours from Renaissance Dyeing

French wool, Italian Know-how, Natural dyestuffs:

Having read about the Wool Box’s fabulous dyeing workshop the first weekend in June, I couldn’t resist ordering some wool from Renaissance Dyeing dyed by Andie Luijk herself. You know how it is, we see something on the web but that’s a world away from the experience of holding the skein in our hands! What would ‘poll dorset organic wool’ feel like and ‘natural dyes’ really look like; most importantly, how will it ‘knit up’? When my daughter Robin came home from school she was excited to find it on the living room table and immediately held a skein to her nose, “thank you so much mamma, but it doesn’t smell like wool” she remarked. My girl is used to the undyed wool and naturally coloured fluff that I have been ordering and so dyed wool with no lingering ‘sheep scent’ was a surprise. It does have a smell, fresh and sweet like Savon de Marseille…

Recovering from the ‘discount super wash wool’ disaster

If you read my post about the ‘not-so-super’ discount superwash wool that I used to make my daughter’s Rainbow Sweater, then you know that I’ve become a bit gun-shy about cheap, easy-care wool. So, determined to re-make the Rainbow Sweater in wool worth wearing, and heartened by the fact that Renaissance Dying has their Organic Poll Dorset wool combed and spun by the same non-profit Italian wool consortium that supplies my favourite Italian wool shop the Wool Box, I ordered three rainbow colors to follow my hand-spun amaranth.

Troubadour/Narbonne/Miraval

Troubadour      /      Narbonne      /      Miraval

I haven’t decided which ‘blue’ to add after the green and before the ‘indigo* and violet’ I’m considering Mont Canigou…mmm, I do also have to wait for my budget to allow another three skeins at 17.50 each. Still, that gives me plenty of time to finish spinning some of that lovely red fluff to the right weight and to discover how this luscious-coloured wool knits. A side benefit to knitting for a 6-year-old is that there will be plenty of yarn left over (each skein is just under 400 yards) to work into other projects, I have my eye on this lovely little Kate Davies’ cardigan or a fabulous set of colourwork socks…who knows what wonderful new world of WIP’s will follow the completion of the New Improved Rainbow Sweater!

Meanwhile, I’m working like crazy doing everything but knitting or spinning. I’ve been teaching teenagers how to speak english in a town that’s a 50 min. commute away (both ways but fortunately a paying job), teaching two workshops for kids about the colours in nature at my little girl’s kindergarten (for free but little smiles are another kind of payment), and last but not least working on 4 translation and two editing projects (whew!). I’m ready to get back to knitting and spinning…soon.

Happy wool-working to all of you and thanks for reading and following Wool in Italy!

 

*P.S. I just found out that Andie will be teaching an ‘indigo’ workshop in September :); more about that later!

Is super-wash really that super?

super wash wool: not so super

Am I the only one who dreads washing a ‘super wash’ garment for the first time?

The truth is, super wash wool is not so super for every project…

I’m a sucker for both for bright colors and the lure of easy-care; however, I’m starting to change my mind about both of those. I knit the ‘rainbow’ sweater above for my daughter just before Christmas and she has worn it a lot. She requested it, chose the colors and the style and then bothered me about it until it was done. I made it in a size that would last through next winter but now I’m wondering why I bothered.

robin in the rainbow sweater

This is what it looked like the day it was finished, pretty isn’t it! It was smooth and soft but even before washing it was developing ‘pills’. Now, just so you know, I don’t think hand washing is that big of a deal and I still don’t. I dunked this one in my sink with cold water and a little wool wash, let it sit for 10 min, rinsed and squeezed in a towel and laid it flat to dry. But, had I put it in the wash, the results would have been the same or even worse…time saved washing is lost in fishing out the sweater shaver and de-pilling so that it doesn’t look like a reject from the second-hand store.

Think twice before investing your time in a big project with super wash wool:

I was about to just reconcile myself to the fact that soft wool meant pilling and there was no way around it. At least it was just a kid’s sweater, something she’d grow out of and that hadn’t been so time consuming to make. But what about the next big project, the new deco cardigan pattern that I just ordered from Kate Davies?  Meanwhile, I had also begun to notice something else, the ‘super-wash’ wool socks that I had made not only pilled a lot, but they weren’t as warm as the others…hmmm.

A strand of hope:

Then, I knit a hat…with a non super-wash wool, just as soft; then I washed it 3 times (by hand) in warm water with the same wool wash and set it to dry on a towel over the radiator… take a really close look:

Super Wool that really washes

Not only is this wool not pilling, it’s not even THINKING about pilling!

It’s smooth, it’s soft and it get’s softer and prettier with every wash and, it’s really warm too! It reminds me of my husband’s magic sweater that now, after 35 years, has the loveliest finish I’ve ever seen.

It’s true that this yarn doesn’t come in a ‘rainbow’ of colors. I see that they have it in a classic palette of navy, orange, brown, green and this pretty natural cream. But the next time I start a project: a full-sized sweater, a mega-cowl, or even a pair of long socks; I’ll think twice before using a soft super-wash and I wouldn’t even consider it for a heritage knitting or crochet project such as a baby blanket, an afghan or even pillow covers. Yes it can be thrown in the washer on the wool cycle, but once it’s dry, will I really want to wear it a second time?