Winter White (Part 2): Abruzzo Wool washed and blocked

Winter White Too!

As I mentioned in the last post, Winter White is rarely a true white. The white I’m talking about today is really more like a buttercream (are you hungry yet?) or pale straw. Still, I’m willing to call it winter white too – it’s winter yet and just looking at this cosy color makes me feel warmer. This is “Laga” a beautiful wool from from the sheep that pasture in Abruzzo’s Gran Sasso national park in the Laga mountains. Soft and still smelling like the Apennine pastures it is an excellent example of a fine wool produced entirely in Italy. If I had to make a comparison, I’d call it Italian Aran.

Here is my unblocked "Avery" Cowl in Laga - looking a little loose...just wait!

Here is my unblocked “Avery” Cowl in Laga – looking a little loose…just wait!

Abruzzo Wool Washed and Blocked: the big change

As I’ve written before, this is one of my favorite wools. It smells good, it feels nice and the stitch definition is phenomenal. So, when a friend asked if I could make Quince’s “Avery” cowl for her, I suggested Laga as a good 100% Italian choice. I ordered the pattern and printed it out. Then I swatched – and (sigh) I washed and blocked the swatch before I started! You know, I’ve never been much for swatching, I’m always too excited to get started, but when using wools that are not ‘superwash’ treated and that still smell a little lanolin-ish, you might be surprised to find out how much they ‘plump’ when you wash them. Take a look at the difference from the unblocked cowl in progress above and the washed and blocked finished work below!

Here is the same cowl, finished, blocked and washed. What a difference a little soap and water make!

Voila! Here’s the same cowl, finished, blocked and washed. What a difference a little soap and water make!

Had I swatched without washing and blocking, I would have made the gauge much too tight and and knitted my friend a cumbersome collar rather than an elegant cowl with structured drape. I also have to say that “Avery” was a great pattern as were “Madigan” and the “Castle Pullover”, the other two Quince patterns that I’ve used. Easy to follow and easy to adapt for other yarns. I’m a big fan!

Here you can see the elegant, structured drape of this Abruzzo Wool: 'Laga'

Here you can see the elegant, structured drape of this Abruzzo Wool: ‘Laga’

No mater if it’s ‘winter white’ or dyed with indigo or madder – this Abruzzo wool is worth queuing up on your needles – swatching, washing and blocking make sure that the final garment is exactly the beautiful piece you wanted to make for yourself or for a friend.

Coming soon, one last post on ‘winter whites’ before we move on to a burst of Spring color….meanwhile, Happy Woolworking!

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Winter White (Part 1): Merino d’Arles

Winter White

I always thought that was a silly name for a color that was most often anything but the ‘white’ as the snow that the name brought to mind. More accurately they should have been named cream, eggshell, meringue or butter. Here in Italy the color would be ‘panna’ (cream) or ‘greggio’ (natural/untreated). I have come to love all the different variations of this lovely un-snowy color in both my knitting and my spinning.

'Ascot' length scarf in 1 x 1 rib knitted in Merino d'Arles from The Wool Box

‘Ascot’ length scarf in 1 x 1 rib knitted in Merino d’Arles from The Wool Box

Fabulous Merino d’Arles

I have a fabulous friend who has helped me so many times with my translation projects (while insisting to doing it for free) that I wanted a good way to say: “Thank you so very, very, very much!”. A friend with a sensitivity to wool…maybe. I made up 3 swatches of various yarns: Gryla (icelandic), Oropa (Italian), Bright (English), Merino d’Arles (French) and one handspun alpaca. I suggested wearing them next to the skin for at least a 5-10 minutes to see if any of them caused irritation – surprisingly none of them did! I think sometimes sensitivity to chemical dyes may be mistaken for a wool allergy; if you’re not sure, it’s always worth testing with a swatch of natural wool that hasn’t been dyed, treated with ‘superwash’ treatments, you might be pleasantly surprised to find that your skin likes wool after all.

Purl Soho's fabulous 'boyfriend hat' pattern made up in creamy, soft Merino d'Arles

Purl Soho’s fabulous ‘boyfriend hat’ pattern made up in creamy, soft Merino d’Arles

The yarn my friend chose was the Merino d’Arles, this wool comes from the Alpes Maritimes on the border between France and Italy. This fine, luxurious wool is known for both its softness and its warmth and of the samples I sent, this one was the best adapted for garments to be worn next the skin like scarves and hats.

So, whether we call this color blanched wheat, pale honey, sunlit straw or yes, even ‘winter white’ – the color of natural wool is beautiful, comfortable and most importantly warm :)!

Coming soon, more ‘winter whites’….meanwhile, Happy Woolworking!

A Great End of Summer Offer

Stripes and Lace

Here’s a great opportunity to have what I think of as one of this summer’s “must have” knitting patterns for free from now through Sept. 7th! This tee showcases a mix of stripes and lace that can be either elegant or spirited depending on your color choices. Now’s your chance to get started on a wonderful End of Summer project and take a look at some of the other wonderful Jenjoyce Design patterns. Happy wool-working!

Jenjoyce Design's Penny Candy Tee!

Jenjoyce Design’s Penny Candy Tee!

Free through September 7th

“Dear Knitters ~~ Do you love stripes? Do you love lace? Do you love to wear light-weight hand-knits in the sunshine? Would you like to put them all together in a cute sweater for you, for your daughter, or grand-daughter, niece, or friend? Great, because from now (officially Labor Day weekend) through the first week of September ~~ September 7th ~~ I am offering to gift this pattern to all who participate in the promotion.” – to find out how, click on the link below:

http://jenjoycedesign.com/2014/08/29/for-knitters-penny-candy-tee-end-of-summer-promotion/

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 :)!

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.

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…

Red Letter Days

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“Mamma spindle and Baby spindle” as my daughter calls them. Red is her favorite color so I ordered this fluff to make her a sweater, hopefully she’ll help me spin it!

Another year another spindle

I’ve had quite a few red letter days in the last two weeks; even amidst the chaos of single-momming while my husband works in another city and the ‘real-job’ projects keep coming in…my daughter’s 6th birthday celebrated twice last week, once at home and once with her school friends! Above is the spindle that I made for her (she asked for a smaller, lighter one than mine which is to the left). Then we went to Venice to see my husband who has been working there for the last three weeks. I was bummed that Lellabella was closed, I had wanted to explore, but happy that the sun came out for the few hours we were there and that the city was its usual, glorious self.

Robin and her Dad sketching the Bacino di San Marco.

Robin and her Dad sketching the Bacino di San Marco.

The Zen of Spindles

Then the night after I got a really sore throat and it went down hill from there! We got home and I fell into bed, just now feeling better and finally finished with the big editing project I had to complete this week! Sigh. What to do to make my head stop spinning with misplaced comma’s and typo’s? Why not try out that new red fluff that came right before we left? Spinning is so calming and I was amazed with how thin of a single I was able to get from this English wool (processed here with Italian expertise). Without waiting to wet-set this tiny first test-bit, I just knit some up to see how the color would look…WOW! Everything I’ve ordered from The Wool Box so far has been so great that it’s hard not to want to try everything!

Carded English Wool, color: AMARANTO (it comes in Raspberry/LAMPONE as well).

They call this “carded English wool” and the color is AMARANTO (it comes in Raspberry/LAMPONE as well). I knitted it up on 8s (6mm) and found it springy, lofty, and soft. It will be the perfect thing for my girl’s new winter sweater!

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?

In search of…Wool in Italy

I am a Texan and an avid knitter and beginning spinner who’s been living in a small town Northern Italy for the last 5 years. Considering that Italy is famous for it’s fine woolen products you would think finding yarn and fleece would be easy…yes and no.

And I’m not the only one who’s run into this problem. Lots of little towns have ‘merceria’, small shops that sell thread, yarn, lace, embroidery floss and sewing notions (sometimes even underwear and hair clips as well). While they do carry yarn, every little shop seems to carry exactly the same brands (sigh). Circular needles and (short) double-pointed needles for sock-knitting are almost impossible to find. A spindle and roving…maybe in a specialty shop in a big city, maybe not.

Looking in the weekly outdoor markets in nearby towns I found only the same wool yarns as I found at the mercerie, synthetic yarns and, frustratingly, imported Chinese wool (even bigger sigh). I survived by getting my yarn fix once a year when I went back to Texas and visited my mother who lives near Comfort’s amazing yarn shop The Tinsmith’s Wife.

After 5 years of depravation, you can imagine how thrilled I was when one day on my Facebook sidebar there appeared a little graphic of a black box with a white ball of yarn, the text read “The Wool Box”.

I clicked, expecting to find a page for a U.K. or U.S. based company and was surprised to find an Italian one. Curious, I clicked on the website link and found the yarn shop of my dreams: fluff, spindles, circular needles, DPN’s in every size and, best of all, yarn made from kinds of wool I’d never heard of and ones I recognized but hadn’t been able to find. Excited, I thought I’d give it a try and ordered a box of wool for my birthday…what can I say, since January I’ve been hooked on The Wool Box!

This blog was inspired in part by wanting to let the English-speaking world know that this little project was out there, working to save the wool-growers, the native sheep species of Italy and to do that in an environmentally responsible way. I’ll be talking more about that part of the adventure and translating some of the most interesting information I have found on their blog. In addition I’ll continue to explore, in search of the best workshops, shops, exhibitions and Wool In Italy and letting you know where to find it in person or on the web.

Meanwhile, all the best and happy wool-working!

I selected this post to be featured on my blog’s page at Knitting Blogs.