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.

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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!

California Design meets Italian Wool

California design meets Italian wool - JenJoyce and Oropa make a great match!

California design meets Italian wool – JenJoyce and Oropa make a great match!

A tale of two valleys…

Just one ridge over from Pettinago where I went to the spinning workshop and looking down at the border between Piedmont and Val d’Aosta, is Oropa, home of the famous sanctuary of the black madonna that sits above the city of Biella but still well below the crown of the surrounding alps. Sheep that were shorn this spring are grazing on the hillsides while, in the Biellese Valley, a wool cooperative is processing the fleece into a yarn that will be named after the National Park and Sanctuary where they graze: Oropa.

Meanwhile, in California, somewhere in the green between the Sonoma and Napa Valleys, in the shade of the pines, a designer is knitting gauge swatches, thinking and writing instructions for candy striped socks that can start at the ankle and end at the toe without ever breaking the yarn. She’s testing the different sizes and designing a version that is an adorable pair of picot-trimmed baby booties. These are “Penny Candy Socks”.

A tale of two valleys - from Sonoma to Oropa

A tale of two valleys – from Sonoma to Oropa

They came together in my living room, on Lago Maggiore’s shores and in Gemonio’s piazza…

My Penny Candy Socks: "Licorice Whip" in Oropa 1 ply: Aosta Black and Grigio Perla

My Penny Candy Socks: “Licorice Whip” in Oropa 1 ply: Aosta Black and Grigio Perla

If you make these with the magic loop and split the skeins, a sock and the yarn fits in your purse and goes anywhere! When California Design meets Italian Wool they make a great pair!

Happy wool-working!

Colors of Aosta: a day in Gressoney-Saint-Jean

Woman and her son wearing the traditional costume of Gressoney Saint Jean for St. John's Day

Woman and her son wearing the traditional costume of Gressoney Saint Jean for St. John’s Day

Red and White, Black and Gold: The legend of Gressoney-Saint-Jean’s traditional women’s costume…

I recently spent a lovely Saturday and Sunday in the Val de Lys in Italy’s province of Aosta, which is near the north-western border with Switzerland. Here we stayed in a little cabin just above Gressoney-Saint-Jean and directly below Monte Rosa.

On Saturday, I had gone up just north of Biella with two friends (SO’s and families in tow) to take a spindle-spinning workshop. My husband and his brother had decided, as long as we were close, to take advantage of the first days of open ski-lifts in order to spend a few days climbing up to Punto Gnifetti. So, after the workshop we drove up to Gressoney-Saint-Jean, ate at the wonderful Brasserie Creperie Paul Verlaine where they told us that Sunday was the festival day of the town’s patron saint (St. John’s Day – 24 June). After a snug night in a lovely cabin under woolen blankets, my husband and brother-in-law went up the hill while his girlfriend, my daughter and I went down into town. What a beautiful scene! Everyone was decked out in traditional costumes, including a fellow wearing these fabulous socks:

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Meanwhile, we’d picked up some information at the local tourist office and there was this dramatic story describing why the women (and some of the men) wear red, white and black…

Once upon a time all of the women of Gressoney-Saint-Jean wore black; for festivals they would wear either this or sometimes a blue or purple dress, always with a white broadcloth shirt and a black jacket. And so it remained until one day, tragedy struck. Legend tells that a mother had taken her flock out to pasture when her small son slid into a ravine.  Another woman, who was childless, saved his life while sacrificing her own. Broken on the rocks, her blood dyed her clothing red.

Since that day, in honor of her sacrifice, all of the women have worn red skirts to symbolize her blood, richly embroidered aprons and jackets that are black as the rocks that caused her death and blouses, pure white as the snow atop the mountains or the foaming waters of the Lys. The intricate golden filigree headdresses, often embellished with precious stones and proudly passed down from mother to daughter, are said to represent her golden hair. *

Who knows if the legend is true, but it does make for an excellent tale. After experiencing the town and watching St. Jean’s procession through the streets…

The procession of St. John by the citizens of Gressoney-Saint-Jean

The procession of St. John by the citizens of Gressoney-Saint-Jean

I feel inspired to make these socks in The Wool Box’s fabulous Oropa 1-ply. What color will I order? What else but Aosta Red!

Thanks for dropping by and happy wool-working!

*excerpted and translated from the document I Walser all’ombra del Monte Rosa: un tesoro fatto di lingua, tradizioni e leggende all’interno della Valle d’Aosta”

Wrapping up Winter’s last WIP and The Incredible Gloves

Hybrid Finnish/Scottish Kilt Hose - Finished at last!

Hybrid Finnish/Scottish Kilt Hose – Finished at last!

Wool socks in June?

Back in May I blogged about how I was determined to finish these socks over the weekend. I missed my deadline by a day but then realized that, since these were part of my husband’s birthday gift, perhaps I was better off keeping them on the bottom of my knitting basket and off my blog until the big day. So here they are, making their debut after months in the knitting (due to giving other projects precedence as they weren’t hard or time consuming to make). And yes, it is June and these are made of really densely knitted, durable wool…where is he going to wear them? Hiking up Monte Rosa of course! There’s still plenty of snow up on the glacier and this way at least I know his feet will be warm. Although I was initially worried by the weird look of the reinforced ‘Dutch’ heel and the stiffness of the fabric when these were fresh off the needles, they washed and blocked out beautifully.

The Wool Box’s Morron Bouton :  the superhero of Italian wool

Workman's fingerless gloves in Morron Bouton from The Wool Box - amazingly durable.

Workman’s fingerless gloves in Morron Bouton from The Wool Box – after 6 months of hard wear.

Detail of repairs made to the palm of the workman's glove after a screw went awry.

Detail of repairs made to the palm of the workman’s glove – while working on an interior restoration in Venice, a screw went awry and left a few holes that I repaired with some hand-spun.

This yarn, which comes in two weights (a light and a chunky), is an excellent choice for anything that needs to last. At Christmas I gave my husband a pair of fancy, fingerless gloves knit up in Berroco Alpaca Ultra Fine on U.S. #1’s. He was so pleased with them that he didn’t want to take them off; but, my husband is an artist and a custom furniture designer in addition to doing restoration work on historic interiors here in Italy. He needed a pair of gloves he could wear every day that would stand up to steel and wood, loading and unloading materials in rain and snow while still keeping his hands warm and the tips of his fingers free for texting and making phone calls (something he’s always doing). Morron Bouton proved itself to be the superhero of Italian wool, these workman’s gloves that I knitted up in January have survived hard use up through the end of May and they’re ready to go back to work in October. And, despite being such a tough wool, it never once irritated the tender skin on the inside of his wrists.

Do you see the luster in this yarn…6 months of abrasion, 8 hand washings in soap and warm water and not a single ‘pill’ and no sign of felting! At less than 9 euro per 200 yard skein (I ordered two and made one sock and one glove with each skein) I’d say that’s an incredible bargain. Do you have a ‘superhero’ wool?

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!

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?