wool seekers

Posted on 89 CommentsPosted in Bare Naked Wools, book reviews/events, spinning and fiber

a few weeks ago, i received a copy of this beautiful book—in search of the world’s finest wools, written and photographed by dominic dormeuil, current chairman of house of dormeuil  and jean-baptiste rabouan, whose photojournalistic work has focused on the cultures of nomadic people.

sensing  the profound impact of social, economic, and environmental change on the global wool industry and wishing to acknowledge the “growers and artisans of wool”, the authors set out to meet and photograph the animals, people, and places around the globe that produce our most precious fibers.

for the reader, the journey begins on the tundra in greenland to study the ancient musk ox, producer of rare, fine qiviut wool.

what i love about this book is the knowledge that is shared throughout its pages—it’s not only a stunning photographic encyclopedia, but also the well researched product of a passionate wool advocate.

dormeuil, whose family textile firm has operated for five generations within the global fiber market, writes with great sensitivity, depth, and concern for the relationship between man, animal, and environment.

from greenland, we travel across the book’s pages to mongolia, where the best cashmere fiber is grown and harvested.

one fact that is driven home time and again throughout this story is that much of the world’s most precious fibers are produced in the harshest climates. and while maybe not places where the majority of the world wishes—or has the temerity—to live, these environments hang in a delicate balance on which we all have an impact.

directly related to that fact is the realization that we would know nothing of these fiber rarities if it weren’t for the fierce preservation of ancestral traditions by highly skilled farmers and herdsman.

from the ability to understand climate, terrain, and husbandry, to the assessment and marketing of product, deep cultural traditions play an enormous role in whether or not we will knit or weave or sew with cashmere, qiviut, mohair, yak, vicuña, or taewit wools.

on kyrgyztan’s vast grazing lands, the authors teach us about that last one—taewit—gleaned from a unique cashmere-cross goat originating in the region during the period when the soviets used kyrgyzstan as an agricultural breeding laboratory and showcase for communism.

from there we move on to ladakh and the high western plateau of tibet, known as changtang, where pashmina goats are raised.

as with so many other rare fibers, these goats can only be raised by herdsmen willing to practice their husbandry in a wild, inhospitable place. not only is the climate in this area harsh and resources limited due to the extreme altitude, but predators are many. the lifestyle of the herdsmen is seen as almost anachronistic when compared to that of villages in nearby settlements, but for the time being the pursuit of the fine pashmina fiber helps it persist.

from ladakh, we are taken to the shetland islands, where sheep are the focus for the first time in the book.

thanks to its rather isolated location, shetland is home to breeds preserved and maintained from ancient stock of scandinavian sheep, brought to the islands from nearby norway by the vikings. the scandinavians established a sustainable rural society on shetland, which included the processing of wool and manufacture of wool yarn, textiles, and garments—first by hand at home for family use and eventually, for trade.

today, shetland’s wool industry continues to thrive and grow, with investment in eco-friendly milling and processing. while reintroducing us to a perhaps more familiar culture, the author still provides some thoughtful reminders that wool is a product of place, history, and environment toward which humans have a responsibility.

next we leap from nearly the top of the globe to the bottom, landing in new zealand and australia where the world’s largest percentage of merino wool is raised. thanks to the a scottish immigrant named eliza forlonge who gathered the first flock of saxon merino sheep and sent them to australia, almost every knitter is familiar with the squishy, springy, soft merino fiber.

a few of those first imported sheep were purchased by the ranch we visit in this chapter as we get a glimpse of what it takes to run a herd of 12,000 merinos while adhering to the strict oversight of the australian trade organizations. again, so fascinating to absorb and understand exactly what it takes to provide wool for our pleasure.

after australia, we hop over to south africa to look at the herds of  one of my favorite fiber animals—the angora goat, from which mohair fiber is obtained. unlike the double coated cashmere goat, angoras are single coated, producing only long locks of lustre fiber.

the angora goat has thrived in south africa since the mid-1800s, raised mainly in an interior mountain chain. here, a superior mohair product is produced on a third generation family farm. here, the goats can wander in a semi-wild state on the rocky terrain and are brought in twice each year for shearing.

the fleeces are sorted by hand and graded for fineness and color, then milled locally or exported, depending on demand. the author points out here, that while the entire discussion of the book is focused on fibers aimed for a luxury market, economics at the farm level are always precarious. market prices for raw wool remain low; retail prices on finished goods often reflect the high cost of transportation and factory labor, rather than compensation to the farmers and herdsmen.

our world travels with author and photographer wind up with an examination of the almost mythical vicuña, in the high andes mountains of peru. this once plentiful creature was driven almost to extinction by the 1960s, but under extremely close supervision by the peruvian government, a program of protection and breeding is giving new life to its future.

vicuña live and graze on a huge reserve, well-protected from human interference. in addition to preserving and multiplying the breed, the program provides for community based fiber harvesting, so that animal population may be monitored and fiber procured without hunting. while still considered and endangered species, today the vicuña is no longer close to extinction.

i’ve run on and on, just to give you a small chunk of what’s inside this amazing book! if you love the world of fiber, you will want to get yourself a copy. the subject matter is of such interest to me and i know from the popularity of our bare naked knitspot club that i’m not alone—just check out the discussion threads in our club ravelry group and you’ll see we have community that is quite excited about natural fiber).

now if you’ve had the patience and/or interest to read this far, you are in for a treat. firefly books, publishers of this delicious volume, have provided a giveaway copy for one lucky reader.

to be eligible, leave a comment at the end of this post before 9 pm EDST on tuesday, march 14th, telling me which of the above fibers was new and different to you. we will choose a winner at random and announce it in the blog post to follow.

 

amandine takes the cake

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in projects

thank you everyone who participated in the naming game for our new shade of cabécou brillant sport!

amandine took the prize for overall favorite, with crème brûlée and croquembouche tying for second place.

i guess we love our sweets around here, huh? and the winner of a trio of patterns is cynthia E; congratulations cynthia!

while i have knit quite a lot with our cabécou lace yarn, i have not knit a sizable project with the sport weight, which substitutes well for any of our DK weight yarns. because, while it has a slightly smaller diameter, once it blooms its gauge is similar to stone soup DK or better breakfast DK. it can be knit on needles of the size i would use for those yarns—as it is in the volta shawl or that luce stellare scarf i showed you the other day.

and as i was finishing up my birches cardigan, i got to thinking—i sure would love a copy of this sweater in that light and airy cabécou yarn. i can just imagine how soft and minky that shawl collar would feel around my neck and shoulders on a cold day. so as soon as our box of the sel gris shade was counted in and weighed up, i asked lillian to put aside a batch for me. i plan to cast on soon; i know barb is also anxious to knit one for herself in the amandine shade so we’ll have a little test knitting KAL while the pattern is prepared for publication.

meanwhile, i’ve got other projects brewing (always something new!). i had me a little swatching jam session to reset my brain after the ensemble rollout, in search of themes for summer and fall designs. this is the pile of unwashed swatches i ended up with, mostly revolving around two cable patterns.

absolutely loving this one in a variety of our fingering weight yarns. one of the things we strive to do with our yarn lines is to make them interchangeable in gauge so that several of the fingering weights can work in a single pattern; ditto for the sport, DK, and worsted weight choices. this allows our customer more latitude for expression and for using favorites in a variety of garments. it also makes our designs more versatile.

i’m not sure yet what kind of garment or series of pieces i’ll be designing with this cable, but over the next few months i’ll figure it out.

now i’ve been hankering to work with this cable ever since i spotted it in norah gaughan’s knitted cable sourcebook. such depth! such scale! so lush! i actually started out this whole effort in search of the perfect cable to knit a special fingering weight batch of our precious yarn blend (unfortunately, too small to even offer in our shop), but i could not resist trying it out in several fibers.

from left to right: the precious, then better breakfast fingering in the muesli shade (middle), and stone soup fingering in slate (right). i was hoping they would all knit to the same gauge but that precious blooms SO much, it’s more like a sport yarn. i just adore the cable in all three yarns, but i’m going to have to design with the two regular fingering yarns and then knit my precious version after the pattern is written, probably from a different size to compensate for the weight.

but wow, do i love them all—that stone soup version is killer, light, airy, and crisply defined, despite its tweediness.

and man oh man, do i love the drape and sheen of the better breakfast version too. it actually knits to the same gauge as the stone soup fingering, though the fabric is very different; silkier and more relaxed, very stretchy.

you know i love my stone soup fingering sweaters and i talk about it all the time. that said, i have to confess that lately, i’ve been wearing a better breakfast sample sweater (which i can’t show you right now, but trust me it’s just the bees knees) almost constantly. as in, even david is looking at it slightly askance when it appears my shoulders day after day. i can’t help it; i’m in love.

so i decided to start this mega cable design project with the better breakfast fingering and secured a SQ from the shop in the poppyseed shade (the swatch above was knit on a much larger needle; i was experimenting with pushing the gauge as far as i dared).

of course, i decided all of this sometime after midnight on the night before we left to visit my mom, haha. but i just HAD to wind my yarn, print out my working pattern, and pack my needles because i needed to have this sweater as soon as possible. i even started on the cuff that very night while watching TV before bed.

i got almost to the underarm on the first sleeve while david drove for his half of the trip; it knit up so fast.

i cast on right away for the second sleeve while at my mom’s and knit that one too during the trip. it was really nivce to arrive home with sleeves complete.

i cast on for the body the other night; i am knitting it all in one piece to the underarm because the big cables sit squarely on the side seams—in fact, they take the place of the side seams, providing some structure and support to an otherwise very soft frame.

working the body in the round makes for some longer rows, but once the ribbing is done, it begins to fly along faster with the body mostly in stockinette. i am just loving this—the large cables relax out a lot after soaking and washing so they take on the fluidity of the rest of the garment.

and who doesn’t love a good charcoal gray?

while i work away on the more or less mindless portion of the sweater, i’m swatching on the side to configure the neckline detail—i’m aiming for a v-neck that is framed in the mega cable, but still working out how it will grow from the body of the sweater.

there are some challenges. obviously, one of them is gauge—the cable squeezes a lot at the crossing row but not so much in between. this is one of my working swatches, where i was testing out and increase pattern and also which direction the cables should cross. i would like this just fine except that there is a lack of dimension right at the center front as it takes so many rows for the pattern to grow to a “crossable” size. the mega cable has such a long row repeat that there will be just a few twists alongside the neck—i think it will end up looking funny if there is no action at the center front. back to the drawing board; i know there is a solution.

it always amazes me how much thought and work go into designs that look carelessly simple.

but if this idiot squirrel can come back and try day after day to work on cracking the case of the ‘squirrel buster’ bird feeder, i can figure out a cabled neckline.

shop update!

Posted on 74 CommentsPosted in Bare Naked Wools, book reviews/events

when we presented our first piece from winter ensemble 2017—the volta shawl by susanna IC, we sold out our stock of cabécou brillant sport in a wink—especially in the sel gris shade.

the shawl was such a hit that it caused a run on cabécou skeins and shawl kits and many who wanted some but did not see it in time for the grab.

and when we released the urbanza hat and cowl by elena nodel, where cabécou sport is cleverly paired with kent DK in an unexpected contrast of crisp and soft, we didn’t even have the featured sel gris shade on hand for the kits.

first, a box of the sel gris—gorgeous, taupey/silvery gray. each batch is slightly different from the last, because they are made from different lots of undyed fleece, but this one is a pretty good match for the last one (though not exact).

and the other box was filled with a brand new shade, shown above.

you might remember that when david and i went to the michigan fiber festival in august, i had a chance to attend the judging of the mohair fleece show, where i learned so much about choosing the fiber that goes into our cabécou and chebris yarns.

i can’t tell you enough how grateful i am to the farm producers and professionals in the fiber industry who take the time to talk to me about the raw materials that go into our yarns—this is invaluable to me and ultimately, to you, too!

i shopped this show and spotted a number of award winning fleeces from one farm, so i made a beeline for that producer and explained that i was looking for a larger quantity of colored fleeces for yarn production. he took me back to his booth, where he had a good sized store of them.

while we were hungry to get our hands on some silver and black fleeces, these were mostly reds—which is mohair speak for browns and tans. the bags held every color from silvery rose gray to toasty brown and i shopped as if it was 1999, all the while texting with our mill owner carrie; i was so afraid of buying fleeces that weren’t the right thing, haha.

great fiber is directly related to good health and diet in an animal—when we see soft shiny, strong fiber, we know our producers are well loved and taken care of. these fleeces were really lovely and of a consistent quality—the fair judge to handed them several blue ribbons, so we figured they were a good bet for us; only the best for you!

fast forward six months, when we are past the production of our club yarn, smoothie, and finally the mill had some time to make more cabécou sport. carrie was very low on gray fleeces for this run, but had those bags of browns i scored in michigan. into the carder they went and what came out is nothing short of spectacular!

this new shade is a tawny, shimmering gold, pale and buttery; barb nearly swooned when she saw it and instantly claimed  a sweater quantity (it really does look fantastic against her skin and hair!). we leave this yarn unwashed after it’s spun to tame the bloom, making it easier on the knitter while working, but when it’s washed—holy halo, batman! it blooms like crazy and doesn’t stop.

blended with silk and shiny coopworth wool for triple lustre, each fiber catches the light as they escape form the yarn shaft in bloom.

but we need to give this color a name and that’s where you come in. as you might have noticed, our cabécou shades are all named for fine french foods. we came up with a short list of possibilities and we want you to vote and help us out—if you leave a comment by 9 pm EST on monday 3/6, with your vote and tell us what you’d knit with it, we’ll pull  a name and send one lucky winner three patterns of their choice!

ok, here is the list:
Almandine
Croquembouche (spun sugar)
Crème Brulée
Choux
Escargot

tell us which one you like best and what you would knit with it!

consider this light-as-air version of the luce stellare scarf from my lace lessons book; knit on size 8US (5.0 mm) needles and using two skeins of cabécou sport in the poivre shade. big enough to be a stole but also a lush scarf to wrap around when the winds blow.

if lace isn’t quite what you have in mind, how about a version of the meander hat, scarf, and mitts set by irina dmitrieva?

or knit an abri hat and cowl set to match the volta shawl; this pattern includes notes on changing the yarn weight and stitch counts so you can easily adjust the size and weight of the pieces.

and if you’ve been holding out for a garment, you are in luck—here’s a hint at something delicious; this soon to be released beauty was held back from the bounty of ensemble so we could make a special feature of the design. knit in cabécou or chebris sport, we are looking forward to showing it off soon.

cabécou is brought to you by hardworking midwest reds like these two—support your regional producers so we can continue to bring you excellent yarn choices. and don’t forget to vote!

knitting landscape

Posted on 14 CommentsPosted in Bare Naked Wools, designing, lace/shawls, projects

back in november and december when the temperatures were well below freezing and it looked like the winter ahead might be rough, i decided i needed a warmer oversized sweater—something in a heavier weight. my fingering and sport weight sweaters get the most year-round wear and those knit in our lofty BNWs are especially cozy, but when the temps hit the teens and below, i reach for DK and worsted weight ones.

since i hadn’t yet knit myself something with our stone soup DK in the marble shade, i pulled six skeins and sat down to design a cardigan along the lines of my caïssa or my dock and cabin designs—longer, easy-fitting, and textured.

i swatched a few stitch patterns, picked one that i liked and, as we set off to spend thanksgiving with my mom, i cast on for one of the sleeves. i knit maybe three-quarters of that first piece during the trip but once we got back home, the project was laid aside as the work on the winter ensemble picked up and the deadline for another sweater design drew near. with not much knitting time to spare over the next few weeks, my cozy sweater languished a while, sadly.

it ended up well, though—the time away gave me a chance to choose and chart up a large cable pattern to place along the front edges. the sinuous background texture and the branched cable gave me the idea to call the design birches. and in the marble shade, it is the color of white birches, one of my favorite trees.

during christmas week, anxious for some time off to knit, i settled back in with this project and enjoyed some progress—working with lofty, soft stone soup DK on size 8US (4.5 mm) needles, i was able to gain inches in a single sitting, which was just what i needed.

i was liking the front panel an awful lot—the large cable segued to simple, lush ribbing at about chest height and once i got to the shoulder, i began to muse about turning the lapel into a shawl collar.

i threw that out on instagram and wow—the response was immediate and unanimous. shawl collar it is. the shaping didn’t even require much experimentation; it practically knit itself, for which i was awfully glad. i know it looks weird, but when you bend it and stitch it down . . .

shawl collar origami!

in january ensemble once again cut into my knitting time considerably, but with just this one project on the needles, i was still able to make progress through a second front.

then, shortly after the last ensemble piece rolled out and the club patterns were done and dusted, i gave myself a couple of knitting days to catch my breath and by that sunday morning, i had a satisfying stack of completed pieces. i was truly going to stop there and write a long overdue blog, but the call of the steam iron was too strong and i caved (sorry blog, next time i will be stronger).

could not resist of shot of the strange and wonderfully shaped front piece.

it actually took a bit longer than i’m used to spending, but was so worth it—as the sun was setting, i folded up the last blocked piece. would i be able to resist seaming them that night??

no i would not (i am so weak).
actually we did go to a movie too, but i spent the rest of the evening grafting my collar and seaming. another advantage of a looser knit sweater on big needles—seaming is super easy.

now this cardigan could be shorter (i will probably offer two lengths), worn loose and overlapping, or belted, or you could add buttons. i like buttons, so what i did was to add three eyelet buttonholes for public buttons on the right side, secreted away in the rolled edge and one buttonhole on the opposite side to secure an inside button. my thinking was that the buttonholes don’t show, so even if i decide to wear it open or belted, they would be tucked away out of sight.

i finally got around to giving this one a good soaking bath the other day. the toggles i ordered had arrived and i wanted to put that final touch on.

i have a choice of these kind of flattish ones made from horn . . .

which have a bit of warm brown along with the charcoal

or these antler tip toggles (i even have a choice of colors with these)

these are more true gray with streaks of a lighter, yellowy color and they are round rather than flat.

what do you think? i’m leaning toward the flatter ones because i like the contrast, but either one is really good-looking.

i don’t have modeling shots yet; every time i think about doing them, i feel like i’m just not looking my best right then, haha.

i still have to finish writing up the pattern and then send it through tech editing; i’m thinking that once it’s all done, it will be truly spring and this sweater won’t be in such demand. so we’ll probably save it for a fall release, maybe during rhinebeck month. we’ll see . . . one thing is for sure, i am going to knit another one of these from our cabécou brillant sport—i have been drooling over this yarn since we first received it in the sel gris shade and now i’ve found its match. can’t you just picture that collar in our minky mohair cabécou  or chebris blend??

gosh i just ran on and on about that project, sorry . . . i think i’ll hold off on sharing more right now because there is at least that much to say about my current couple of projects.

i’ll leave you dreaming about deliciously juicy mega cables.