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.

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Card(ing) Shark…well it does have ‘teeth’

Colors I carded by blending with my new Ashford Carders (and the help of my little girl :)!

Colors I carded by blending with my new Ashford Carders (and the help of my little girl :)!

That’s Carders not Kardashian (sorry Kim – blending wool is way more interesting!)

Who needs superstar gossip when we can talk about carding! I’ve been having loads of fun with my new Ashford carders, a gift from my lovely mother who is a very talented fiber artist and who always encourages my varied forays into fiber world.

Learning how to blend with carders

Here's my sweet girl who loves to help with my wool projects wearing her 'cloud sweater' which I designed and spun the wool for.

Here’s my sweet girl who loves to help with my wool projects wearing her ‘cloud sweater’ for which I designed and spun the wool.

I found a great blending tutorial at Knitty, opened my boxes of colored and natural fluff some ordered from The Wool Box and some from Tricotin (from where I had also ordered the carders). Then I got started and with a little help from my daughter we went ‘batty’! When I had them all spun up and plied, my girl came up with the color names and I wrote the tags. Then, we sent the package off to my mom as a thank you and a way for all three generations to work on the same project. Robin and I can’t wait to see what she’ll make with our RBK yarn!

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 :)!

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.

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!

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.

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!

They’re Here! New Roving from The Wool Box

Roving stops at my house!

New Roving from The Wool Box: from left – South African mohair, Extra Fine Merino, Lincoln Lustre wool,  UK Grey/Brown Jacob Wool

New Roving from The Wool Box: from left – South African mohair, Extra Fine Merino, Lincoln Lustre wool, UK Grey/Brown Jacob Wool

They’re here! The new roving I ordered from the Wool Box arrived on my doorstep a few weeks ago! As soon as I opened the box I started spinning up small samples to knit. They’re so different! Each fiber with it’s own unique characteristics (with a click, all the pictures can be enlarged to ‘huge’ so that you can get a real close up look at how each fiber is different):

South African Mohair:

South African Mohair shines while each stitch keeps its shape!

South African Mohair shines while each stitch keeps its shape!

Silky smooth with almost no kink, I was glad that I chose to spin it from the fold. When I knit the sample each stitch held it’s shape with springy force although there was not an inch of stretch along the length of the fiber.

Extra Fine Merino:

This Extra Fine Merino is like spinning a cloud!

This Extra Fine Merino is like spinning a cloud!

It’s like spinning a cloud! My daughter couldn’t keep her hands out of it and had to try and spin some herself…so my sample is a little uneven, that’s alright! This fiber is so easily compressed from fluff to thread that when I knitted up the sample yarn the uneven quality of the yarn was barely evident! The little one has already requested a shawl made of this wool. Who wouldn’t want to wear a soft, white cloud around their bare shoulders in spring?

The ease with which this fiber compresses hides the uneveness of a single spun, in part, by a 6 year old :)

The ease with which this fiber compresses hides the uneveness of a single spun, in part, by a 6 year old 🙂

Lincoln Lustre Wool:

The Lincoln Lustre Wool has an incredibly long and luminous staple, beautiful and with the same forceful stitch definition I noticed in the mohair.

The Lincoln Lustre Wool has an incredibly long and luminous staple, beautiful and with the same forceful stitch definition I noticed in the mohair.

Like a more robust version of the mohair, the fiber was smooth and as lustrous as the name promised, easy to spin despite the relative lack of kink in the fibers and producing what Italian’s refer to as a ‘dry’ yarn. Like dry champagne, I can see that the yarn will be for special occasions; those when I want high stitch definition together with the long-wearing qualities that will make this fiber perfect for heritage knitting projects.

UK Grey/Brown Jacob Wool:

UK Grey/Brown Jacob Wool is a sweet, springy mix of soft and sturdy that wants to be made into a jaunty hat. a sweet little 'copre spalle' or an elegant but robust winter sweater.

UK Grey/Brown Jacob Wool is a sweet, springy mix of soft and sturdy that wants to be made into a jaunty hat. a sweet little ‘copre spalle’ or an elegant but robust winter sweater. Click on this photo to see how many different colors there are in this one wool!

Sweet and easy to spin, this fiber is as bouncy as the little sheep in the charming picture appeared. Lots of kink makes this one easy to spin but challenging (at least for me) to spin thin. So, why not make a chunky? Right on the balance point between soft and strong, this complex, naturally colored fiber will spin up into something cuddly but with character!

Now my mind and my fingers are spinning with ideas for projects that can be made with these fibers…do you want to try some too?

Now that the roving has stopped at my house, I’m hoping to have some hanks to show you all soon :). Meanwhile: here’s the tiny knitting sample that I was able to work up on a pair of 3mm needles:

I'm still a beginner at drop spindle spinning but I was amazed at how these fibers seemed to fly into yarn with so few breaks or snarls. With the exception of the Extra Fine Merino, I spun them all from the fold and plied two singles.

I’m still a beginner at drop spindle spinning but I was amazed at how these fibers seemed to fly into yarn with so few breaks or snarls. With the exception of the Extra Fine Merino, I spun them all from the fold and plied two singles. From left: South African Mohair, Lincoln Lustre Wool, UK Grey/Brown Jacob Wool and to the far right, Extra Fine Merino.

A different spin on spinning

A little more weight on the bottom…giving it a whorl

The spindle spinning workshop that I took back in June was great! I just haven’t had time to get my pictures together to write about it (sigh…time is hard to come by). I was lucky and two english-speaking friends went with me so I was busy trying to simultaneously translate while learning about bottom-whorl spinning.

One of my friends joins two spun singles.

One of my friends joins two spun singles for plying

We all started out with four 25 gram hanks of 4 different kinds of tops/roving: Norwegian, English, Italian, and Brazilian. Each type of roving had a different characteristic quality and they each took a different mindset to spin. As I’ve said before, the Norwegian wool – like BFL but even more so – practically spins itself, just enough kink to cling and a really long staple fiber. The English wool was like the Amaranth wool I’ve been spinning at home, shorter fiber but even kinkier so it’s quite sticky enough to make a really fine gauge single and so also springy enough to push back against the twist if it wasn’t drafted well. The Italian roving (from Biella and Abruzzo wool), like many things Italian, required more attention, like the english fiber, it was a shorter but less kinky and produced a dry, complexly colored yarn. Last but not least, the Brazilian was long and silky with almost no kink at all and so I found it challenging to not let it slip through my fingers!

Modular spindle and raw fleece - spinning 'in the grease'

Modular spindle with roving at top (from left: Brazilian light brown, Italian Moretta, and Norwegian Grey) On the spindle: raw fleece – spinning ‘in the grease’

After lunch we go into the grease!

The lunch at Pettinengo’s Villa Piazzo was a delicious combination of local cheeses and vegetables from the villa gardens, wonderful pasta dishes and simply prepared meat and an egg dish (fritatta). In the end, the cooking was just what Italians do best – take fabulous ingriedients, prepare them simply and present them elegantly – food that’s low on fanfare, high on quality. After the last tasty nibble, it was time to get back to work.

Given that I’d already taken one workshop and learned the basics with a top-whorl, with minor adjustments I found the bottom whorl equally fun to use and our instructor, Emilio, showed me a great trick to keep a thinner single from breaking with the 80 gram whorl (thank you Emilio!). What came next was, for me, the most interesting part of the workshop.  Emilio pulled out three bags of natural fleece, one washed but not carded, one unwashed lambs wool that still had it’s little pointed locks, and one raw fleece that was neither washed, sorted carded or combed…all from the same kind of sheep! Wow, what an amazing difference between them. With these we all got a chance to try carding with the combs and making batts. What a lot of ‘not wool’ came out of the un-preped fleece when we carded! The wool that was washed spun much like the Italian Moretta that we’d spun earlier, the lamb’s wool was light and delicate as a cloud and then the un-preped fleece…I was amazed at how fine a single I was able to spin ‘in the grease’ compared to the same fiber when it was washed (and it softened and sheep-ified my hands too)! When I got home I washed the little bit of plied yarn and it came out fluffy and clean:

Yarn spun 'in the grease' from short-staple Italian wool after washing and drying.

Yarn spun ‘in the grease’ from short-staple Italian wool after washing and drying.

Later, Emilio showed us how to ply unspun roving with commercial yarn to make ‘Art Yarn’:

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Emilio shows us how to make ‘art yarn’ on a drop spindle with un-spun roving and commercial yarns.

Then, we had a chance to see and touch some rare (and quite expensive) luxury fibers: Camel, Cashmere Ultra fine, Qivuit, Musk Ox, Yak (brown & white), Yangir and Sea Silk.

Luxury fibers spun and unspun...the intriguing dark brown is 'sea silk'...

Luxury fibers spun and unspun…the intriguing dark brown is ‘sea silk’…

In the end, the workshop was everything I hoped it would be. I solidified what I already knew, learned new techniques that are helping me spin faster and more consistently and I got to do my favorite thing: experiment with lots of different kinds of materials!

Now, I can’t wait for Andie Luijk’s indigo dying workshop in September!