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!

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!

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

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!

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?