Archive for the ‘yarn and dyeing’ Category

true blue

Saturday, July 4th, 2015


this land is your land, this land is my land


from california to the new york island


from the redwood forests the the gulf stream waters,


this land was made for you and me.


as i was walkin’ that ribbon of highway


i saw above me that endless skyway.


i saw below me that golden valley


this land was made for you and me


I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps


To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;


And all around me a voice was sounding:


This land was made for you and me.


When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,


And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,

As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:

This land was made for you and me.


Nobody living can ever stop me,


As I go walking that freedom highway;


Nobody living can ever make me turn back

This land was made for you and me.

—woodie guthrie, 1956


all of us here—myself, david, erica, anastasia, laura, lillian, and lauren—extend our sincerest gratitude for your continued support of our american made products. each skein of BNWs is touched by the loving hands (and hooves!) of farmers, shearers, mill technicians, and our attentive staff—people (and animals) you know by name.

your purchases make the yarn world go ’round and we thank you. happy independence day!


shell game

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015


ahhh, i’m back to the soothing tones of knitting on my hemp blend shell project.

i laid it aside for a few days last week in order to finish up a large secret project i was eager to complete. i’m like that—while i love to have several projects going at once for variety, once i find myself in the home stretch on something big, i just want to get it off the needles and see how it turned out.

i wonder; am i like that because i’m a designer and every project is somewhat of a mystery until its completion? i don’t really hear anyone else talking about a bad case of finishitis, but i get it all the time. in fact, i often shilly shally about starting a project when i’m not absolutely convinced i have my strategy in order.


of course, a great yarn can serve to mask many, MANY misgivings and even lead me to knit myself into a corner from poor planning. not the case here, thank goodness—i am more in love with our new hemp yarn each day AND the shell is progressing beautifully, though i really did throw caution to the wind and cast on without much of a plan (it’s a simple shell, for heaven’s sake!). so far all the parts are falling into place without a fight; sorta sets the exact tone i wanted with this piece—fresh and uncomplicated.


i finished up the front piece some time ago—i know it was early last week, but honestly, it may as well have been last year for all i remember (my days tend to blur into each other). isn’t it kind of cool how the fabric creases like paper? no worries—it doesn’t feel anything like paper, but it does speak about how crisp and cool the fabric is. and so light, like a breath of air.


i started with a four ounce skein and after knitting that whole front piece, i still have about two-thirds left over. wow—i might be able to get a sleeve out of it after all. right now, my plan is to complete it as a semi-sleeveless style, with an armhole finish long enough to cover the top of the shoulder.

but now i’m thinking that i’ll have enough yarn to knit a pair of sleeves that hit just above the elbow and make a second, sleeveless top in another shade when the sample skeins arrive.


once the front was off the needles, i cast on right away for the back piece and started the garter stitch hem. for some reason, that first three inches took a while, but i think that’s because i was working so hard on both the knitting and the pattern for the other thing i had going.


i did work on it here and there when i needed a small, brainless project to knit during meetings and car rides. but i didn’t get much further than the hem until monday.

you might have noticed that the fabric seems a bit uneven or insubstantial. part of that is definitely the character of the cloth—the blend IS a bit uneven and quirky, but not so much that it lacks integrity as a fabric. i personally like the texture; it lends a nice character to otherwise plain knitting, but not so much as to be disturbing in lace patterns.


and part of the inconsistency we are seeing in the fabric for this project is because i am knitting with the unwashed sample skein. this yarn is just as it is when it comes off the spinning equipment—it hasn’t been soaked and washed yet, so the fiber isn’t quite as soft and definitely not as airy.


you can see that the washed skein on the left, from which i i knit my swatches, is brighter, poofier, a little fuzzier, and has much more body that the unwashed skein on the right.

i think that in this case, the washed yarn is a bit nicer to knit with and all of our production skeins will be washed at the mill. they will still transform a bit when you wash your garment at home, but not as drastically and you won’t have to plan around that.


my shell is designed to be the fabric that i swatched, so once i wash it, it will change considerably—in this case the finished piece will be wider and a little shorter than it looks here, while the fabric will be more fluid and at the same time, more cohesive, like my swatches (plus, cleaner and brighter).

that reminds me—we need to come up with names for out two new summer yarns. must put that on my to-do list. suggestions are welcome, no guarantees.


i’ve made considerable progress on the back since i completed my other project. on monday afternoon i finished up the hem section, changed needles and began the faster work in stockinette. because it’s such a simple garment, i’m trying something a bit different with the shape—i added a little short row shaping to the center back to create a downward curve over the hips. it adds maybe an inch and  half to the center back length.


as of now i am past the waist and the body decreases and have begun increasing back to the underarm. in about three inches i will begin the armhole shaping and after that, the rest will fly. i’m excited—i could maybe have a new top to wear to helena’s graduation party on sunday!


immersing myself in knitting to finish up a big project usually translates into putting other necessary tasks on the back burner—like garden work. well, we did also have a lot of very rainy days, so in my defense, we haven’t had good weather for working outdoors. yet the garden waits for no man—i think everything has doubled—and in some cases tripled—in size since last week’s photo.

i will take some close up photos for the next blog post so you can see what’s happening on the ground, but for one thing, i’m thrilled that nearly every chard seedling i transplanted has taken off and is flourishing. of course, the weather has been exactly what the greens love—cool, overcast, and wet. the original plantings will actually need to be thinned again very soon, which means i have to find space for more transplants.

don’t tell david, but i am eyeing the flower beds and imagining chard edgings . . .

heaven only knows what i’m going to do with all the chard, but i’m not complaining. haha, if we don’t start selling some more yarn, we may be living on it later in the year!


while ours is about a week away from being big enough to provide a meal, i was gifted a beautiful bunch of homegrown chard by my friend kris the other day and on saturday morning, i divided it up into a couple of meals. first i separated the leafy green parts form the stalks and wrapped those in damp toweling to keep in the fridge for week night omelettes.


i chopped the multicolored stems into chunks to throw into a mirepoix for soup (yes, it’s still actually soup weather here, haha). i pulled purple and yellow onions from our garden, along with parsley, basil, and oregano.


i took out one of the remaining cartons of last summer’s tomatoes from the freezer and opened a couple cans of chick peas (i have no luck cooking those from scratch; they always turn out awful). i also cut up some waxy yellow potatoes and drained  big jar of roasted peppers.


i wanted to make that spicy chick pea and tomato soup i had cooked while i was in NYC; i thought david would enjoy it.

he did and it was yummy—i forgot to take pictures of the result, but it looked very similar to the original pot. yum yum.


yesterday i picked two tiny zucchini plus some male flowers and david cooked eggs for dinner using these plus the chard leaves i cleaned the other day. it was the best omelet i’ve eaten all year.

i’m going to stop now because our test knitter is waiting for a pattern and i need to get back to work on that. tomorrow we are releasing another new sweater pattern, so don’t go far—we’ll want you on hand to celebrate with us!

get a little lost

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015


i know you come here for the knitting first and foremost, so i’ll start off today with some yarny chat. i haven’t meant to be  tease, keeping you in suspense about the new yarn we are testing out—just wanted to see if you could guess.


a couple of you did well, in fact—sharon came the closest, guessing a blend of cotton, alpaca, and merino for this deliciously next-to-the-skin soft fabric.


the actual content of our sample skein is 50 alpaca/25 cotton/20 merino/5 nylon.

i know you can’t feel it, but if you could, you would never have guessed such a high content of the wooly fiber (again, dehairing that alpaca provides the magic touch). i would sleep in this, it’s so soft . . . and i would hesitate an instant putting it next to the tenderest baby skin.


despite such a high percentage of alpaca, you would not believe how cool and cottony it feels and how springy and stretchy a fabric it makes. i am itching to cast on a sweater in it, maybe even a little sprössling for myself. i keep saying i’m going to knit another for summer, but up til now, haven’t quite found the yarn i’m dreaming of. i think this might be it—it certainly has the stretchy yumminess i’ve been seeking.


its ability for recovery is phenomenal; i find myself pulling on it it over and over, just to check it again.


yup; it’s still there. it’s a sport weight but the gauge is very close and i’m between two sizes for this sweater, so if i knit the smaller size it should work out perfectly. soon after i get home we will receive some skeins for garment testing and i can cast on.

sigh. sorry for running on; yarn adventures just get my blood racing! we have ordered some batches for retail release with next month’s shipment from the mill; we believe we’ll have that in around the third week of july.

speaking of which, are you ready for another surprise?


we have a second new yarn on our summer menu—this one is just what you’ll want to knit (and wear) when those intolerably sticky days arrive.


the fiber blend produces a stable fabric with a bit of irregular quirkiness to the texture—one of my favorite things about it, because i can knit a very simple fabric that is fascinating.

it can be knit sheer as voile or a little more firmly and it’s soft as a breeze, right off the needles.


we received two sample skeins in the laceweight (one washed and one unwashed) and i couldn’t resist casting on immediately for a simple shell top with the unwashed skein (swatches above have been washed).


the fabric is just out of this world light and airy—with ethereal luminosity. it’s worth knitting just to be able to stare at the fabric, i mean it.


i love how the blend produces these cloud-like areas of subtle, shifting shades (we can manipulate this to a certain degree be varying shades of one contributing fiber).


it would be gorgeous in lace of course—frillibet, squallempreinte, twig and leaf (or twinings), campanula, hamsaalhambra—the list goes on and on.


this piece, along with the hat, has been my mindless knitting while i’m away; they also serve as decoy knitting to distract prying eyes from my secret projects.


and they are doing a good job! can you guess what the blend is? the person to guess the closest by friday—including percentages—gets a free pattern for hamsa, one of my favorites (i should knit another of those . . .).

i can’t wait to get this top done and it won’t be long; it’s knitting up fast. it’s very simple—sleeveless (or tipped a tiny bit over the shoulder to make mine look wider, haha) with a loose fit and some very slight shaping to guide the drape. possible short rows at the back hem for some extra length and shape.

i’m planning a v-neck but i have still to finalize the neck finish.


i started with an idea of a scarfy sort of finish that gave it a vintage sailor look (ish). but now i’m thinking about keeping it simpler, along the lines of the mister’s pullover, though a little softer and more feminine.


(sorry, i didn’t draw that very well, but the neck is scrunched slightly into a crossed button closure so that it riffles just a little at the edge, much neater than it appears here, haha).

this option will allow me to repeat the garter stitch pattern at the top. still deciding, but i have a little time . . .

often i mull over these questions—and a lot of my design work or business challenges—while i run. it’s a good use of my time for one thing, but the rhythm really helps me organize my thoughts and inspires many a light bulb to go off. just about anything will suddenly make me see how to solve a problem.


we had some hot days over the weekend, so i decided to end my longish friday run with some walking and headed for a shadier path parallel to the park road.


when it veered away into the woods, i went along, thinking it was just a little detour. soon enough i realized it led into a larger part of the park i had never explored and seemingly not as well travelled by others either. hmm.


it didn’t feel creepy or anything—just a little less used. but i kept going and soon found some old buildings that intrigued me.


then i saw signs for the “children’s corner” and i really had to check that out, because to me it was feeling less sesame street and much more grimm’s fairytales—which would be a refreshing take on a children’s environment of today.


around a bend things opened up not the lefferts historic compound, comprised of the old lefferts home, garden, and house yard (another thing i love about wandering new york is discovering the roots for some of the avenue and neighborhood names, in this case lefferts blvd, the end of the subway line).


you can wander around, play with the various tools, and visit exhibits describing life at the dutch-style farm in the 1800s, in flatbush village.


among other things in the yard, i discovered a bed of flax (linen) just beginning to bloom—a little bit of joyful green in the middle of the woods planted by the kids in the spring as i understand it. i’m going to miss it, but this weekend they are holding a flax event, where you and your family can learn about this fiber plant and try some processing tools for turning the fiber into yarn and fabric. (there was also a flax harvest scheduled for the last weekend in june, but the plants won’t be ready so it has been cancelled).


a thatched structure in the yard captured my curiosity and i’m trying to find out more about it, but i can’t seem to put my finger on it just yet. it looks like it could have been a sheepfold or a place to keep wood dry.


further on the path took me to the zoo entrance; i can’t believe i never knew any of this was here and such beautiful old buildings, too.


of course i didn’t live near prospect park during my years in brooklyn; david and i would ride to park to cycle laps on week night when the weather permitted, but go offroad much. if i had lived nearby, i might have explored more inside.


near the zoo another building was just opening up—the carousel! well i had to get a closer look . .


and so glad i did; it’s magnificent, with all manner of individually crafted creatures you can ride.


the ceiling is a fantastic swirl of lights as well


with a frieze of painted depictions of brooklyn past, many of them telling of its history, seafaring and pastoral scenes alike.


the shadowy depths of its center column are brightened figures of mermaids and seascapes; i love it.


and just as i was turning to go, a class of children arrived, probably as and end of school treat.

i thought i’d be back to the park entrance after walking through this area but it turned out i had not progressed far at all along the roadway. that put me in an area i had often noticed from the road while running—at the bottom of a meadow, a series of primitive, sculptural forms had been erected that i wondered about.


well, there’s no time like the present so off i went to investigate. i had noticed there were often children and parents over here, climbing on the structures and playing in the dirt.


another example of recycling precipitated by hurricane sandy. children can play all over the blocky pieces to their hearts content, tiring themselves toward a good afternoon sleep.

it’s a real contrast to the older building thought the park and yet speaks back to some of the items in the lefferts compound that made use of felled trees and grasses as well.


a great environment for the imagination, whether you are a toddler or a gray haired runner, haha.


time to head home—i took the nearest path up and up, hoping to finally be led to the place where i came in.


while the paths are not as well kept here yet, they do allow for some undisturbed growth on the old wood alongside. and there are no stars so getting a stroller down to the natural exploration isn’t difficult.


to a lot of people, these parts of a city park might look dangerous to be exploring alone, but honestly, it’s just not. the new york parks are much safer than ever depicted on TV and i can’t think of once that i felt even a little threatened while walking in one (though i don’t treat this privilege recklessly by going there alone late at night or anything).

i always feel bad that this reputation lingers around city environments; cities are so rich with simple offerings such as walks in the park or through unfamiliar neighborhoods . . .

ok, i know this post has gotten long, but i just wanted to share that even though i’m by myself for a week, i have been cooking and not relying on eating out.


last thursday after my botanic garden excursion, i made a delicious soup—moraccan spiced chick pea and tomato. i’d had some from a neighborhood take out that was yummy and wanted to replicate it if possible. i figure if i made a pot, i could eat from it several times this week.


i used this recipe mainly, but incorporated components from this one as well PLUS i added a few waxy yukon gold potatoes to more closely imitate the one i had eaten.


herbs from nancy’s terrace garden to finish it off and then i let it sit overnight to allow the flavors to meld. it’s a completely vegan dish, in case you were wondering—just veggies and herbs.


omg, it is SO good. it is so good, that it’s delicious cold as well, which i discovered when the temperatures soared into he 90s over the weekend. you know how that is—salad is fine for a couple of nights (my own go-to hot weather food), but eventually you want something more substantial, though you can’t even bear to think about heating up the stove.

a dish like this is one answer; you can make it early in the morning and have it any time you want. super yummy and it makes plenty; i’m leaving a couple of containers in nancy’s freezer to share the love, haha (i hope i haven’t oversold it).


i also made a nice stir fry one night; i didn’t even cook rice for it, just ate the veggies and tofu. mmm, too bad david isn’t here . . . he would love this.

(i did ask him to come, but he wanted to stay home  . . . oh well).

ok, i’ve had your ear long enough (sorry!); time for me to get out for a run and then back to work. i’ll fill you in the last of my trip next time (hopefully one more before i go home).

get my goat

Friday, June 5th, 2015


when it comes to appearance and behavior, i think goats are my favorite fiber animal. i love their light, springy movements and delicate features; i’m amused by their funny faces, made all the more mischievous when topped by a glowing halo of curly fleece.


last spring we were lucky to be able to explore mohair fiber in our bare naked knitspot club. and while mohair yarns are plentiful throughout the knitting universe, undyed mohair yarn is scarce—and nonexistent in the quantities we required for our club.

as you know, all we need to hear is that something doesn’t exist and we set off to make it happen. and so it was with our quest to provide a quality mohair yarn that any knitter could love.


and so we began asking about mohair farms through friends and at shows; this research eventually led us to pinxterbloom farm in eastern pennsylvania, home to john and jeanne frett and their gorgeous flock of angora goats.

in addition to his angora goat enterprise, john  is a professor of landscape horticulture at the university of delaware and director of the university botanic garden.


at the peak of the season, john’s herd numbers between seventy and  eighty goats, with as many colored goats as he can breed (breeding for color in goats is not very straightforward; for more in-depth information on this topic, please my BNK 2014 eBook).


by diligent breeding, john has managed to develop a representation of about 25 to 30 percent colored fleeces; these range from reds (brown and fawn fleece) to black (gray and black fleece).


interestingly, the reds are darkest close to birth and grow lighter as they mature, often ending up with pinkish, creamy white fleeces.


during our visit to the farm in december 2013, we got to tour the barns and grounds to meet all the adorable residents. john talks about his goats as if they are people; it’s not always clear at first that the characters in his stories are animals.


john names each new generation after a plant genus; the first born is given the name of the genus (this year it is redbuds, so the first is named redbud) and then each subsequent kid is named for a species in that genus. in march of this year, when i wrote to inquire about kidding season and the availability of fiber, john wrote:

Kidding is finished for the year. Five colored buck kids, 4 brown and one black, and five doe kids, one brown and 4 white. They are off to a great start. This year all of the kids are named after redbuds an early flowering small tree native in this area. Some of the names are, Cercis, Racemosa, Silaquestrum, etc. They are a great source of amusement and inspiration; watching them leap around and dart in and out of the barn is energizing and soul lifting.


after a look around the place, we headed indoors to and down to john’s basement workshop, where fleeces are sorted and skirted to make them ready for sale. some will be sold to hand spinners at retail wool shows and the rest will be sold on the market for use in making textiles.


john runs us through the process of sorting, skirting, and measuring the staple length while determining the grade and weight of each fleece. whatever isn’t discarded in placed in a bag and marked with this data, as well as the name of the animal that produced it.


there was a good stock on hand the day we visited, with some fleeces left from the previous season and some still left to grade from the fall clip.


as the work progressed downstairs anne marie and i wandered upstairs to talk to jeanne, who showed us the beautiful rolags of hand-carded mohair fiber (she gets pick of the fleeces each year!) as well as some of the beautiful items that she and john make from their handgun mohair yarns. jeanne teaches classes in natural dyeing and uses her soft hues in colorwork projects such as mittens and hats.


jeanne does natural dyeing, handspring, and knitting; john is a weaver and has a big look on which he can produce blankets and other fabrics.


we left that day with about 225 pounds of fiber ranging in grade from kid to young adult and in all shades—white, red, steel gray, and black. we drove it straight to sweitzer’s mill for drop off, planning that the largest portion—150 pounds of white and tan fiber—would go into our club yarn, a 60/40 merino/mohair blend in a heavy lace weight.


the darker fiber—including 25 pounds of kid mohair—would be spun afterward into the first generation of our cabécou brillant sport yarn—in poivre (more about this lustrous blend later).


the club yarn—chebris lace—turned out lovely and as soon as i had sample skeins in the house i began work on the design we’d be shipping with it.

the 2-ply heavy lace yarn had a bouncy hand and while a bit bumpy in texture, offered great stitch definition. with such a generous yardage (750 yards per skein), i had plenty to knit a shawl project that could be a triangle or square, sturdy enough to be worn every day, but with a wonderful bold edging to show off some knitterly skills.  i kept the main portion of the project in simple garter stitch, which showcases so well the rustic qualities of the yarn but also lends balance and drape to the final fabric.


the mohair content helped the yarn block out to a beautifully consistent surface, with crisp points accented by a soft sheen. the result pieces were the deliciously soft and cuddly capricorn triangle and amalthea square.


the triangle is simple, soft, and warm, but also dramatic when you want it to be. it makes a special gift for a new mom—something to toss for those walks between bed and nursery, or when sitting nighttime vigil with a fussy infant.


and it works equally well for running errands out and about. the pattern includes several sizes so it can be tailored to any function or frame you like.


on the other hand, the square shape of amalthea is generous enough to perform all sorts of roles—baby square, sofa throw, nap blanket.


the garter fabric is sturdy and highly functional for these tasks while the grand edging gives it some fancy flare.

the patterns for capricorn and amalthea are now available for purchase in the knitspot pattern shop or in our ravelry pattern shop.


last summer we started working with a small mill in ohio and eventually they took over the production of our mohair yarns. with the new mill came the opportunity to spin a finer laceweight yarn, so we ran some tests with our luxurious cabécou blend.

this yarn turned out SO beautifully—i just love the fabric it makes.


hattie knit this stunning pine and ivy sample from just half a skein—isn’t it incredible?


the way it catches the light; it takes my breath away. the yarn is fine, but has plenty of grip so it’s a pleasure to knit. it will work with such favorite designs as the alhambra scarf, campanula, and nightingale wing stole.


and we also have it spun in the popular sport weight for more substantial wraps and sweaters


like this morning glory wrap, the gnarled oakwood wrap, obstacles, or stonewall.

more experimentation resulted in the expansion of our chebris line as well, with variations in sport and worsted weight.


the worsted weight is so light and poofy; perfect for featherweight blankets, oversized jackets, and soft, delicious caps.


it’s a knockout in cables—wow.


the sport weight makes excellent blankets, too. its lofty, bouncy hand—a direct result of using high quality fiber and handling it carefully—allows all of these yarns to be knit on larger needles than you’d expect. it almost seems as if the more room you give to each stitch, the more the yarn will bloom to fill that space. i love that!


well, i could run on and on, but i’m sure you’re tired of hearing me talk, haha. how about a few more photos to dream on over the weekend?