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!

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.

Matchmaking: combining my favorite Italian Wools

Two of my favorite Italian Wools side by side: Naturalmente's Gentile di Puglia and The Wool Box's newest wool/mohair blend, Kimberley

Two of my favorite Italian Wools side by side: Naturalmente’s Gentile di Puglia and The Wool Box’s newest wool/mohair blend, Kimberley

Matchmaking

I’ve been really busy since my last post. Sometimes when I’m making it’s hard to decide to stop and write or post pics. The good news is that I’ve finished a ton of WIPs so I’ve been able to start in on a slew of new projects (YAY)! Now that quite a few of my long term projects are out of the way, I find that I have so many single skeins of beautiful yarn – so I’ve been matchmaking by combining my favorite Italian wools.

My newest favorite

The Wool Box has just released 3 new qualities of wool and I’m in love! The one I’ve really worked with is Kimberley, a mix of 75% pure wool and 25% South African mohair. It comes in 6 colors and I’m crazy about the green! When I saw it on the web, I decided to order some and try it out to see about gauge, texture and drape. Love, love, love all of the above! The day after it arrived I saw Kyle William’s latest cowl pattern, Wadsworth and there it was the perfect match! I made a few modifications for the slightly heavier weight yarns, pulled out a skein of warm, dark green Bose ( a beautiful 100% Italian wool from Valle Susa and Briançonnais areas) that I had been saving for a hat and went to work…

My version of Kyle William's Wadsworth Cowl in Kimberley and Bose.

My version of Kyle William’s Wadsworth Cowl in Kimberley and Bose.

I love how simple the pattern is, Mr. Williams has found just the right proportions for a short cowl (6″ x 26″) and the linen stitch is a lovely way to combine two pretty single skeins into a classic winter accessory with excellent drape. Did I mention that it’s super warm? This is not the end of the story – I’ve been doing quite a bit more matchmaking. Come back to see what other combinations I’ve been playing with.

Meanwhile, Happy Woolworking!

Where there’s a weekend there’s a way (to finish at least 2 WIP’s)!

Hybrid Highland Hose in Morron Bouton

Hybrid Highland Hose in Morron Bouton

Hybrid Highland Hose…Scotland and Finland meet in a pair of socks:

I wanted to make a pair of heavy duty socks for my husband who gives his socks pretty rough wear. The yarn I wanted to use, “Morron Bouton” from The Wool Box, comes in two weights (a light and a chunky) and I chose the thinner. It knits up soft on U.S. 6-8 (4mm-5mm) needles but I purposely chose a U.S. #3 to get a stiff fabric. I could have gone up a size but I didn’t have DPN’s in the right size and consequently I broke one of my #3 Hiya-Hiya bamboo needles halfway through the first sock (my bad)! At least they come with 5 in the package so it didn’t stop me from getting along with the project. I have already made my husband a pair of fingerless work gloves with this yarn and it wears wonderfully even under hard use and still becomes softer and more lustrous with every washing.

The color reminded me of the Kilt Hose pattern I’d seen in Nancy Bush’s “Folk Socks” but there was no way I was going to get that gauge with this yarn; besides, I wanted the fully-reinforced, dutch heel of her Finnish Socks. So, I used the Finnish sock pattern (p.97) for the construction of the heel and foot while I modified the leg pattern from the Kilt Hose (p. 109) and did a simple 1×1 rib at the top. I am 3/4 of the way through the second sock, heel turned and ready to complete the foot and toe. I will finish today even if I have to take it to bed with me!

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Knitting Castles out of ‘Gran Sasso’ wool:

I had ordered some new yarn for spring projects and it was love at first sight when I saw this pattern on Ravelry. I downloaded the pattern only to find that my yarn knit up at a larger gauge; but in the end I was happy with that as the sizes offered by the pattern were not exact for me (34” bust is too small and a 38” too big). As it is my gauge worked up at 19 st and 25 rows = 4” on US 7 (4.5 mm). This gauge change made the collar a bit wider (and looser) than I want, I tried (unsuccessfully) to make a knitted facing with a narrow-gauge yarn but I’m going to have to resolve that with a bit of grosgrain ribbon facing on the inside once it’s done. At least two other ravelers who’s notes I read later (sigh) had the same problem so at least I’m not alone.
I’m not an experienced lace knitter and this pattern is EASY; however, as I went along with the lace I discovered it’s also VERY easy to lose or gain a stitch and VERY frustrating to pick out a whole row because the mistake was made at the beginning, so I started counting out the repeat (9 st). Since I started counting the lace is moving along much faster without any errors (cross fingers and knock on wood)! Should be finished soon, I’m aiming for this Sunday. Deep breath, it is doable, I only have another 5 inches of lace before the bottom and it does knit up fast.

Quince&Co. Castle Pullover knit in The Wool Box's Laga

Quince&Co. Castle Pullover knit in The Wool Box’s Laga

As for the yarn…I LOVE LOVE LOVE ‘Laga’, it works up like a dream. It’s a 100% Italian wool from 2012 shearing 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. This wool is blended from several merino breeds to produce a yarn that is both soft and structured. It’s a warm straw-cream colour that I want to make it into cardigans, socks, some beautiful ‘aran’ cabled gloves, a dress, underwear! Really anything that needs the stitch-work to take center stage. The castle pullover sweater has taken only 1-1/3 skeins so far and I’m already planning what to do with the skein and a half that I’ll have left over. Meanwhile, I have gifted a few skeins to friends to see if they love it as much as I do.

I’ll let you now if I manage to finish these two this weekend. Wish me luck and 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?

Winter Wrap-up: making room for spring (part one)!

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One down, two to go…

Okay, I’ve finally started to wind down my winter projects. You know those things that we started with good intentions in the fall, thinking we’d be wearing them by December and which spring finds still in the workbasket (and in the other workbasket, and in that cute little paper shopping bag all crowded around the most comfortable knitting chair)? I have three of those that have been on my ‘must finish before it gets warm’ list, how about you?

The first, pictured above, I finished this weekend (YAY!). It’s made with a lovely pink Italian wool that was produced to support women’s breast cancer associations in Europe. You can read about this wonderful project in English and order wool or find out where to buy it HERE.
It’s a classic worsted that is 10 wpi and works up perfectly on U.S. #8 (5mm) needles. I ordered two balls of this wool (50g = 85m) from The Wool Box in January because my daughter, after seeing the fingerless gloves I’d made my husband for Christmas, was bound and determined to have some too. Of course, she wanted pink!

Robin Kay

“I think they’ll want to see the gloves too,” she says.

My girl is just about to turn 6 next week so the gloves went quick and I had an entire ball of pink wool left over; so I asked her, “Hat or scarf?” She requested something in-between, what the italians call a fascia and what I’d call an ‘ear warmer’. Since she has plenty of hats and scarves, the project sat in the basket while I toyed with the idea of adapting a helix scarf and adding cables to make it coordinate with the gloves. Then I got lucky, while browsing Purl Bee for patterns, I fell in love with this mini-herringbone stitch! So easy (once you get the hang of it) and very adaptable. A little graph paper and a few swatches later, I had adapted the design for Robin Kay’s ear warmer.

Here she is, holding up her hand at the last minute to show you all the gloves. At least for this winter wrap-up project it’s still cold enough here in Northern Lombardy for her to wear it to school almost every day. I’ve been impressed that, despite her incredibly sensitive skin and the fact that this is not an extra-fine merino – just plain ol’ virgin wool, she’s never been irritated or itchy; not even the insides of her wrists or the nape of her neck. Not only that, the wool gets softer with every wash. I love (real) Italian wool.

Coming soon…I’ll finally be finishing that cardigan that’s been in my workbasket for the last 3 years! Or or maybe it will be the second sock of the new pair for my husband…the project in that cute shopping bag?