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!


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 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”.

Almost! One down and one toe to go…

Quince&Co Castle pullover in the Wool Box's Laga is finished!

Quince&Co Castle pullover in the Wool Box’s Laga is finished!

One toe shy of meeting my weekend challenge!

You can’t win them all…but I am very happy with the finished ‘Castle Pullover’. I did finish it on Saturday and have it blocked and dry in time to wear to my daughter’s kindergarten graduation party on Sunday afternoon (patted with a wet wash-cloth on both sides and then rolled up carefully in a dry towel and placed on top of the radiator overnight works great for me). It fits great, the yarn does not itch at all, even next to bare skin. I sat in the sun for 3 hours and didn’t get hot! In my book this was a Spring Knitting Project home run. I washed it in tepid water with a little Winnie’s Wool-wash this morning and it’s still looking great; Laga holds it’s shape magnificently. I was so pleased with this project that I’m thinking of making a ‘mini-castle’ for my daughter…she want’s pink so I may have to figure out how to dye ‘laga’ with something like madder root from Renaissance Dying.

Catch 22 (rows)…

Meanwhile…the socks. So close and yet no toe! I thought that the kindergarten celebration would be over about 5:30…we got home about 7! It was wonderful and the kids had a great time, the sun was finally out… but, the last little bit of my sock was longer than my little girl’s patience so I put it down to read her bedtime story and we both promptly fell asleep. I have only 22 more rows to the end of the toe and I swear that it will be done tonight before I go to bed!

Thanks for reading and happy wool-working!

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: or SKYPE us at: TheWoolBoxCompany or contact us by telephone at: (39) 015 9526223