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!

Dyeing to get started!

Happy and blue!

It has been months since I’ve posted but I have a wonderful excuse: I’ve been working on projects, and better yet I’ve been learning new things :)! I finally did some dying with indigo like I learned in the first workshop:

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My hand spun mohair dyed in the organic indigo vat – 100 g = 248 meters

Beautiful "Brogna" from The Wool Box came up this lovely 'vintage' indigo color.

Beautiful “Brogna” from The Wool Box came up this lovely ‘vintage’ indigo color.

Melissa LaBarre's lovely pattern "Madigan" with a few modifications...

Melissa LaBarre’s lovely pattern “Madigan” with a few modifications…

I also attended a second workshop on warm colors – using weld and madder –  taught by the inimitable Andie Luijk of Renaissance Dyeing. We also learned about using iron, ash water and copper modifiers.  Wow! It was too much fun 🙂IMG_0483
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 ………………………………………..In the end, I had so many short yardage samples that I decided to splice them all into a single ball – something my mother did for me when I was a kid and learning how to crochet. Now I read that they’re calling it “magic ball”, a fun new name for a time-tested way to use up leftovers.

I decided to use my magic ball as one of the colors in a new iteration of Marylene Lynx’s “Camille” – I loved the first one that I made earlier this year and I’m having lots of fun with this new color combination!

My first go at "Camille" completed this spring.

My first go at “Camille” completed this spring.

I have been up to much more since April and will try to get some more of it posted in the coming days. Meanwhile, thanks for reading and Happy Woolworking!

Purl side of my newest "Camille" - still rumpled and with the lace to go but I'm sure it will all come out in the blocking :)!

Purl side of my newest “Camille” – still rumpled and with the lace to go but I’m sure it will all come out in the blocking :)!

Playing (and plying) with my new toy!

Yes, I got it for Christmas but I didn’t tell you and now it’s already Spring! My husband gave me a Bumble Bee from Bluebonnet Spinning Wheels in Texas. The trick is that we live in Italy and they don’t do international shipping…but I have a splendid Mother in Law who carried it as ‘additional baggage’ when she came for a visit in January and I’ve been happily playing and plying with it ever since (and working on a few other things too…) Here’s a sneak peek at just a few of the things in my basket…

A few of the projects hat I've been working on, from upper left: Toe up socks with gusset heel, Dutch Lace Shawl, Josephine Jaquard socks. Lower left, Sunset over Lago Maggiore (an art yarn project), 200 yards of Southafrican Mohair and me at my new wheel with a lap full of Extra-Fine merino.

A few of the projects that I’ve been working on, from upper left: Toe up socks with gusset heel, Dutch Lace Shawlette, Josephine Jacquard socks. Lower left, Sunset over Lago Maggiore (an art yarn project), 200 yards of South African Mohair and me at my new wheel with a lap full of Extra-Fine merino.

I’ve also spent a fair amount of time working on projects for friends so I’ve built up a stack of WIP’s that go beyond what’s pictured above…in fact, in addition to the 2 pairs of socks, there are 2 shawls and 2 sweaters (one made with handspun Norwegian Moorit Brown 2-ply). I’ve dedicated myself to finishing at least one of each thing before I cast on anything new even though I’m dying to get started on JenJoyce Design’s “Una Cosettina” although I haven’t decided if I wan’t to use the Oropa 1-ply yarn that they were designed for or something from my lovely (albeit small and as yet untouched) stash of Hélène Magnússon’s  Grylammm better get knitting so that I can get started on those before the fall!

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”.

Can’t talk…Spinning

South African fiber and Italian know-how create this lustrous river of combed and carded fiber ready for spinning.

South African fiber and Italian know-how create this lustrous river of combed and carded fiber ready for spinning.

Using the light-weight top whorl that I made for my daughter to keep the singles as fine as possible...

Using the light-weight top whorl that I made for my daughter to keep the singles as fine as possible…

This beautiful, luminous fiber seems to just spin itself!

This beautiful, luminous fiber seems to just spin itself!

My first skein of spun mohair...20 grams / 33 meters

My first skein of spun mohair…30 grams / 70 meters

I’ve decided to start the serious spinning with this luminous, silky South African mohair that, after being processed with Italian expertise in Biella, seems to practically spin itself! Wow, only 70 more grams to go before I can make something with it! Can’t talk…spinning!

Wool-gathering: Merino grades, Mohair and BFL (how do they compare)?

Amazing Australian Merino Champion Ram

Amazing Australian Merino Champion Ram

What does ‘Merino’ really mean?

I’ll bet lots of you already know; but if you’re like me, you might have known that there is Italian and Australian and Spanish ‘merino’ wool – and that it’s a ‘high-quality’ wool – but still be clueless about what makes this breed of sheep special. I was reading a blog post over at The Wool Box this week and found some great information about Merino which inspired me to do a little extra research on my own and to place Mohair and BFL in context with Merino’s different grades.

First of all, I learned that ‘merino’ is a breed category that encompasses several different types of sheep, some bred for meat and carpet-grade wool, some for ‘strong’ or ‘broad’ wool (23–24.5 microns) and yet others for fine, high-quality clothing wool.

Here’s a translation of what The Wool Box had to say about different diameters of Merino wool:

“Often, all ‘Merino Wool’ is grouped together as if it were one quality; this keeps us from understanding how one type is different from another and how each quality is suited to a specific purpose. Anyone who is interested in how these fibers are classified can just glance at the table below:

Merino = any wool from any breed of Merino sheep.

Fine Merino = fiber diameter from about 19.5 to 21.0 microns.

Super Fine Merino = fiber diameter from about 17.5 to 19.5 microns.

Extra Fine Merino = fiber diameter of less than 17.5 microns.

With this information, spinners, knitters, and other fiber artists can find their way through the ‘merino’ labyrinth without running the risk of settling for less than exactly the right material for the project at hand.”

It helps me to remember that some of the finest grades come from the younger animals so, super fine ‘baby’ wool for making ‘baby’ knits that go closest to your skin! Meanwhile, the thicker, more twisted, and longer the fiber, the longer it will wear. These not-quite-so-soft fibers are best for cardigans, pullovers, scarves and hats that get a real work-out – with the added benefit of (often) having higher stitch definition and less pilling*.

I saw that in addition to these 3 grades of merino tops they had added ‘mohair’ and ‘BFL’ tops.

So, how does Mohair and BFL compare to Fine Grade Merino Wool?

For the Mohair, I checked out the United Nations Trade and Markets Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s website and found the following information:

“Mohair‘s diameter ranges from 23 microns at first shearing to 38 microns in older animals. Fine hair from younger animals is used in clothing, while thicker hair from older animals goes into rugs and carpets and heavy fabrics for jackets and coats. Light and insulating, its tensile strength is significantly higher than that of merino wool. Like wool, mohair has surface scales, but they are thinner, making it smooth to the touch. Light reflected from the surface gives mohair a characteristic lustre.”

So that makes Mohair right there at the bottom of the Merino scale but with other qualities that make it behave really differently.

For BFL I checked with the Bluefaced Leicester Union of North America and found the following information:

“The Bluefaced Leicester is classified as a longwool breed with a staple length of 3-6 inches, a fleece weight of 2½-4½ lbs., and a fiber diameter of 56s–60s count, or 24-28 microns. It creates high-quality semi-lustre yarns with soft hand, beautiful drape, and excellent dyeing properties.”

* From good old Wikipedia: “Any wool finer than 25 microns can be used for garments, while coarser grades are used for outerwear or rugs. The finer the wool, the softer it is, while coarser grades are more durable and less prone to pilling.”

Australian Merino, BFL, and South African Mohair from The Wool Box

Australian Merino, BFL, and South African Mohair fiber from The Wool Box

If you’re looking for Fine Merino, BFL, and Mohair, they’re having a ‘festival of white’ over at the Wool Box…they’ve done their usual magic by taking raw wool from around the world and using centuries of Italian expertise in the wool trade to process it into lovely fiber for spinning and felting…check it out:

“Taking a look at three diameters of the same fiber can help us fully appreciate the unique qualities of each one. Today we got some Australian Merino wool fresh from the combers. We’ve been looking to get ahold of this wool for some time and our efforts have finally paid off; this is the very best.

We’re talking about Medium, Fine and Super Fine; only when we place them side-by-side and work with them, can we talk about their differences and for what uses each quality is best suited.

We had thought of offering this kind of choice because our clients have told us that one of their major concerns is being uncertain about finding fibers with reliably consistent characteristics on the market. Basically, often one has no certainty regarding the fineness of the fiber and, in some cases; it’s quite difficult to find the quality that you want. 

We complete our ‘festival of white’ offerings with carded sliver tops of South African Mohair and the increasingly popular BFL.  These wools, along with the three qualities of Merino, are being offered at excellent prices, even more so if you order more than 5 kg (11 lbs) or take advantage of our More Friends, More Savings program.” – The Wool Box

Meanwhile, remember: although the word merino is often used when referring woolen garments and fibers, that doesn’t mean that fiber, yarn or fabric is actually 100% merino wool from a Merino variety bred particularly for its wool. The wool of any Merino sheep is considered “merino wool” even though not all merino sheep produce wool suitable for clothing or knitwear that’s to be worn close to your skin! Happy wool-working…