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:


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
 ………………………………………..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 :)!


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!

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!

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.


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



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

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!

A Dream Dye Workshop in Italy…Let’s go!

Natural dye workshop in Italy not to be missed!

I just read about this workshop and I’m drooling already! The dye-master from Renaissance Dyeing in one of the most beautiful corners of Italy hosting a weekend workshop so that you can learn this fascinating art, meanwhile there are activities to occupy your spouse and kids and Organic, 0 KM meals prepared on site so that you come on Saturday morning, that evening you can enjoy a wonderful meal and then fall into a clean bed, then walk away on Sunday evening with a skein of hand-dyed yarn and the know-how to do it again at home. All I can say is WOW! And it’s affordable, double WOW!

I’ve translated the information below for anyone who’s interested, I for one, am dyeing to go!

Andie, The Wool Box and Renaissance Dyeing

We’ve known her for awhile; at first she was hesitant, as a proper inhabitant of Albion’s shores, timid in approaching the continent’s southern lands of sun and mirages; but then, over time and with the establishment of a mutually respectful professional relationship, the rapport became ever more open and confidential.

We won her trust working with the wool that she sent us from France, Toulouse to be precise, where she lives, works, and above all dyes.

The courtship was a long and arduous one but finally, in the inviting atmosphere of Paris’ Aguille en Fete, we were able to convince her to bring to us, as her only stop in Italy, a workshop centered on her art.

She accepted, fascinated, both by the ambiance that we are preparing, in an absolutely stunning location, and by the possibility to share her passion so that it will grow and develop.

She’ll be with us the weekend of 01-02 June 2013 and lead us by the hand to discover the discipline that rules the transfer of colors locked within the secret heart of plants to the waiting wool. She’ll guide us in the search for plants, in the preparation of the fiber, in the understanding of the recipes, in the organization of the baths, in the color changes achieved with various metals; with her we’ll discover the miracle of vegetal dyes.

Pragmatic and disciplined, she’ll begin talking to us* about health and safety, or how to conduct this activity without running any health risks, initiating the encounter with the high-degree of professionalism that is her trademark. Then we’ll move on to the preparation of samples, to the winding, the binding and the washing of skeins before commencing with the theory of dyeing. We’ll learn about calculating the correct percentages of dyestuffs relative to the weight of the wool, extraction, reserves, color changes, the writing of recipes…and then it will be Saturday evening.

Marina, the owner of the house, who is passionate about dyeing, will welcome us with a dinner prepared with produce from her garden and other local products procured at km zero that we can enjoy together, two steps away from the rooms that will be already prepared, with simplicity and precision, marked by sober perfection. Sunday, at last, we’ll start dyeing and, between the investigation of dye-plants to be found in the woods and the vats, we’ll end our day with our colored treasures that will become the foundation for new adventures of discovery in the world of dyeing.

In essence, even considering the difficult situation around us, we’ve decided to propse an educational seminar that dedicated to acquiring the ‘know-how’, that you’ll be able to use again in future and even immediately in terms of its repeatability also in your own home, at a very reasonable cost, both in terms of participation and logistics (lunches, dinner, breakfast and an overnight stay)**, in a splendid location, far from the noise and confusion of daily life, where you’ll leave your car when you arrive and only remember it when it’s time to go home.

We’ve also thought about spouses and children they will be able to find a guide to discovering the park, the woods, the paths and be close by without having concerns about how to entertain themselves while you’re occupied, and you won’t be worried about having left them at home.

In short, we’re committed to ensuring a level of competence, professionalism and a welcoming environment that will encourage first meetings to blossom into friendships.

Although participation is limited, don’t hesitate to make a reservation now; we’re sure that it will worth it in every way. For additional, necessary details, consult the workshop programme.

So, what will you do … still undecided? 
We’ll be waiting for you the 01-02 of June. 
See you soon and happy wool-working.

* Andie speaks English and French. To aid with communication we’ve engaged an on-site translator for Italian speakers.

** These are the rates we’ve established with the facility that will be hosting the workshop and providing food and accommodations:
breakfast = 5,00€; lunch = 12,00€; dinner = 18,00 €;
price per night B&B = 30,00€;
price per night in a shared room = 10,00€

For additional information and reservations, don’t hesitate to write to us at: info@thewoolbox.it or SKYPE us at: TheWoolBoxCompany or contact us by telephone at: (39) 015 9526223