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.

 

don’t sweat it!

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Bare Naked Wools, designing, patterns, projects, spinning and fiber, yarn and dyeing

We know that the knitters and crocheters who love Bare Naked Wools love the simplicity of a great selection. Those who try our yarns know they aren’t being deprived of color, but instead are getting to try the truest form of a fiber for themselves. What better time than mid-summer to try a fiber that is one of the oldest in the world, but still new to many crafters? Hempshaugh, one of our favorite yarns from the Bare Naked Wools line, is a blend of 40% Merino, 30% Hemp, and 30% Silk. Since Anne shared her ongoing project in this great yarn, we’re here to help you start dreaming up projects of your own, too.

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Hempshaugh comes in two weights—lace and fingering. Hemp is a strong fiber and is sometimes called bast (this just means it comes from plants). Longer than your typical wool, it blends beautifully with silk, but it can be tricky to blend with wool. Luckily, our mill knows exactly what to do with it, and Anne knows when she comes across the perfect mix. This yarn is lightweight, has great shine, and a beautiful hand that translates into warm weather garments you can actually wear.

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Our Ensemble series is the perfect place to look for inspiration. From this year’s Spring collection, we have to recommend the beautiful Estlin pullover from designer Bristol Ivy (you can find the kit here!). Featuring delicate details like a two-toned yoke, short row shaping, and elbow-length sleeves, it’s easy to wear this piece long past summer ends—just in case you tend to knit at a leisurely pace.

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Kit available here 

Living in deep summer heat? Don’t despair, when working with hemp, you can still wear your knits proudly. Anne was wearing Salt and Pepper from the Spring collection all weekend in Washington, D.C.—and the weather was well into the 90’s! Knit in Hempshaugh lace weight, this is the perfect traveling companion project. Wandering bodies (and minds) are a match made in heaven for stockinette stitch. The clean lines of this garment will assuredly match anything in your wardrobe, too. (Though, might we suggest you think about pairing it with the Amalfi Coast skirt? The look is just too chic!)

White jeans or shorts and the casual classiness of a knit polo (with a bit of feminine flair) are exactly what you find with our Janet Guthrie pattern. Designed by Anne, this top can be sporty or sweet, and in Hempshaugh Fingering, it’s decidedly cool. Even with all the delicate details, this pullover can be a speedy knit—with options to bypass the sleeves if you get impatient.

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Make it in two colors for contrast stripes, or knit in a solid color like Millet if you want to go for a more shell-like sheen.

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In Ensemble, we recommend substitute yarns from the Bare Naked Wools selection on every pattern, should you decide to go your own way. That said, with a great yarn like Hempshaugh in two weights, a few more months of summer stretching out before us, and needles itching to cast on, why would you?

It’s Back

Posted on 8 CommentsPosted in Bare Naked Wools, patterns, projects, spinning and fiber, yarn and dyeing

Hi, again! I had to drop by and show you some more tempting new things…..

For those of you that missed out on the spinning fiber last month, we have some more!

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This time around we have one of our very special plant fibers as a roving option. This super shiny and silky soft fiber is Hempshaugh Buckwheat. Hemp is usually a rough plant fiber, so many spinners haven’t used it, but this is a soft and unique blend that will make for an excellent project!

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The other fibers are Better Breakfast (65/35 Merino/Alpaca). This dark, stormy grey is a rich color that will complement many outfits and skin tones.

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This creamy white is a soft and luscious color. It has some slight variations in shade that lend a lot of character and charm to the roving.

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You all seemed smitten with the Chebris Multi last month, so we had our brilliant millers create a similar fiber blend in Better Breakfast. This unique mix is similar to our muesli with a stunning blend of grey and brown. It is the perfect shade for a sweater or accessory as it pairs beautifully with most neutrals.

Now, for the yarn! I mentioned in my last post that I wanted to use the fluffy and cozy new Better Breakfast Worsted to make a blanket wrap for my sister. I could not decide which of those shades to use, so I grabbed a couple skeins of each and decided on some stripes.

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I am knitting Hypoteneuse. I highly recommend this pattern if you’re like me and haul your knitting everywhere! I knit in the car, in class, at the laundromat, restaurants, waiting rooms, and everywhere else. I had this pattern memorized three rows into the motif and it goes so quickly. I am knitting a half to a full stripe a day, depending on my homework demands.

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My kitty, CC, loves to cuddle under it while I knit. She is an adult, but will never get bigger than a kitten due to a genetic disorder. She is a great knitting buddy and loves anything Alpaca!

More to tempt you…

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Biscotti on the top and Muesli on the bottom. The biscotti is a little different from the fingering and DK shade as it was blended with brown alpaca and light merino as opposed to brown merino and light alpaca.

When I saw the two new shades in Worsted, I was planning my next project. I love the way this yarn is working up as a blanket or wrap, but I want to do a cabled hat like Woodcutters Toque or Gobi  with the new shades.

What would you knit with the new Worsted, and which fiber was your favorite this month?

who’s ready for refreshments?

Posted on 15 CommentsPosted in Bare Naked Wools, designing, lace/shawls, spinning and fiber

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the dog days of summer are officially upon us. linked to the rising of the dog star, sirius, ancient romans observed the dog days from july 24 through august 24. well, we are right on schedule with rising temperatures and humidity that threaten to to throw us into sultry, late summer torpor.

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dog days were popularly believed to be an evil time when, according to according to Brady’s Clavis Calendaria 1813:
“the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies.”

hmm, no wonder our knitting mojo can go astray in this weather—makes you wonder how the world might have turned out if A/C hadn’t been invented . . .

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oh wait—you can just stop by our place, haha.
like those old egyptians and romans—and most people on earth today, in fact—we live without mechanical cooling and find other means by which to keep comfortable during these hottest days of the year.

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naturally we seek yarn solutions—as we do with all of life’s challenges. believe it or not, there are fabrics that not only make this time of year tolerable, but actually enjoyable.

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so naturally we wanted to represent our love of these fabrics in our yarn lines. we started a couple of years ago, sampling hemp and cotton blends with one of our mills, but those plans kept getting sidelined because the mill was too busy to handle the experimentation process.

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i happened to mention the situation to our ohio mill in the spring, never dreaming that they’d be positioned to produce the kind of yarns we desired and SNAP! next thing i knew we were holding samples. and not just attempts, but seriously fine test skeins.

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well we got right on that, swatching and knitting and making and drooling the whole time—we looooved these yarns!

and now we can share them with you so you can experience them for yourselves. i’m telling you, these will cure any knitting malaise you’ve fallen into.

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first, we’ve got hempshaugh, a merino/hemp/silk blend that has a wonderful airy crunch while feeling like a soft old t-shirt next to the skin. this one is a super wicking fabric; it never feels soggy, whether you’re knitting with it or wearing it. hempshaugh is available as a fingering weight in millet (left) and buckwheat (right).

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i knit my swatch on size 7US (4.5 mm) needles for an airy fabric that has plenty of structure for garments. i’m planning to knit a skirt with it as soon as i finish my current project, which is knit in hempshaugh lace.

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this amazing yarn has such wonderful body that the laceweight version can be knit into featherweight tops, scarves, and shawls on needles we can all deal with—size 5US (3.75 mm) and even bigger for lace.

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it makes just the most beautiful fabric; you won’t want to miss knitting something with this yarn. like the fingering version, hempshaugh lace is available in both millet (above) and buckwheat (below).

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but you know we never stop at one.

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what fun would that be? and how would we layer things up to create wonderfully varied looks if we had just one cool yarn?

plus, we just couldn’t resist—when our mill showed us this luscious alpaca/cotton/merino/nylon blend, we were lost. we’re calling this blend ginny and it is also available in two weights—ginny sport and ginny DK. right now it is in stock in the first shade, texas, a creamy off-white, perfect for hot summer days.

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haha, yesterday erica picked up this swatch and smiled, then said, “it feels like a stuffed animal!” i knit this one in the round to see if the yarn would work for the gearhead pullover and it will, though it will be very light and airy (but comfy!).

ginny is cool and smooth and amazingly stretchy with great recovery.

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the sport weight is perfect for lightweight sweaters and socks and shawls and just about anything you’d use a heavier fingering yarn for. i can’t wait to try it in some socks.

next time i will be back with another post about these yarns, discussing more of the nitty gritty facts and figures, as well as lists of pattern ideas for knitting some up now.

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til then, why not browse our selections of ginny sport, ginny DK, hempshaugh lace, and hempshaugh fingering. tell us what you think; tell us what you’ll knit!