Archive for the ‘spinning and fiber’ Category

who’s ready for refreshments?

Sunday, July 26th, 2015


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.


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 . . .


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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).


but you know we never stop at one.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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!


mixed greens

Thursday, June 25th, 2015


our area was literally engulfed in rain during the time i was in new york and for several days after my return. it was so dark and dreary in fact, that i caught myself dozing off at my desk at the most unlikely times (like 9:15 am after waking up at 7!).

it wasn’t all bad though—our garden certainly got off to a healthy start with all of that delicious rain to feed it. but the weeds also benefitted and by the weekend, things were looking more than a little bedraggled out there.


so when the skies cleared on monday and actually stayed that way into the evening, david and i made it our business to get out to the garden for some much needed cleanup.


when i first got home last thursday, the swiss chard were mere sprouts, an inch high with a couple of cotyledons. by sunday afternoon they were six inches tall with several sets of true leaves and in dire need of thinning. i knew if i didn’t get it done on monday, it would be several days before i would be able to get back to it and by then the roots would have set, making the job more difficult.

so first i got to work on that, gently removing seedlings that were growing one on top of the next. the largest and most intact ones i replanted all around the garden, wherever i could find space; i figure they should “take” somewhere or other. there almost can’t be too many greens  . . . says she.
(i love greens; they are my favorite garden thing and i could eat them every day. that said, i have almost no time to deal with a boatload of garden produce each day, so we shall see!)


there were many, many seedlings that were much too small or broken to transplant; these i placed in a small basket and plunged into an ice bath inside the house to soak and wash. after our garden work was done for the night (essentially, when it got too dark to see), we made big salads for dinner and used these as an ingredient. tiny green sprouts like these are one of the most nutritionally dense foods you can eat—go us.


the next thing on my agenda was pruning the tomato plants. tomatoes produce best when they have few leggy limbs to divert energy from the fruits. lateral growth should be nipped in the bud because it encourages overgrowth of leggy, nonproductive limbs. this takes some time but is SO worth the trouble, especially if you are gardening in a smaller space. i will refer you to the experts for actual advice, demonstration, and illustration of tomato pruning:


our basil is doing wonderfully this year as well—david interspersed it with the tomatoes and it seems very happy (unlike our previous couple of years, when most of our basil failed). you might have noticed that he also put down some black cloth to discourage weeds—something new for us. it will keep some moisture in the soil on hotter days as well and help the mounds keep their shape, too.

BTW, the mounds really showed their advantage during the rainy weeks—the soil drained very well and there was next to no puddles laying around the garden (and by extension, very few insects or nasty fungus).


this morning i was up at the crack of dawn and went to visit the garden for some photos before the sunlight got too harsh. still damp out there, but with everything weeded, thinned, and trimmed up, the garden looked much, MUCH better.


tomatoes looking strong and straight, with plenty of space around their stems for air circulation (the better to keep fungus away).


potatoes growing taller by the hour—they are looking super this year as well. we plant everything in rotation except for the tomatoes (because of their growing frames, we will move them less often). this year the potatoes are in the area where i had greens last year.


the greens kind of failed in that spot because the earth was so heavy that they couldn’t put down a good tap root. this year we planted potatoes there instead, so they could go to work breaking up some of that clay soil. david made mounds on top of them planted with onions, leeks, and some peppers; garlic is also nearby. with all the root vegetables in one place, we can rotate greens over there next year (leaf follows roots).


on the other side of the tomatoes, closer to the back street, we have rows of squash, eggplant, beans, and greens. the squash is looking very well so far; fingers crossed that it stays that way.

we have a great variety of squashes in all shapes and colors. another vegetable i love to cook with when it’s fresh form the garden—hopefully, it won’t be long before these first ones are ready.


look at my eggplant!! i am so pleased over this one—i would have picked it by now but i really want to take it just before i’m ready to cook it and that will be friday night, for either a thai or indian curry. my mouth is already watering. round and oblong eggplants are also on their way to go with the squash into large pots of ratatouille.


and last but not least at the very back of the garden, my green beans have started climbing the fence—they are on their way and looking good. we just have to make sure now to keep those weekends free in late july and august for putting stuff by when it all comes to fruition.


remember what i said the other day about those lilies? there you have it, they are blooming.


around the corner, the dye bed is exploding with meadowsweet blooms—how beautiful are these?


they are complemented by tansy, also in bloom—no wonder i’m almost choking on pollen, haha.


out near the front of our yard, the yucca is heavy with flowers as well—i remember when we moved here and this plant was a single short stem; these are well over six feet in height, maybe seven.

i know that these are the best days of gardening, when all the plants are still growing and the weather hasn’t gotten to them. june is so beautiful, but july can be very, very hard on them. let’s hope we don’t have too many big temperature swings or overly dry weeks; i would love to have a successful garden year for once, haha; the last few have been discouraging.


it’s positively inspiring, to be able to look, touch, smell, and dream on all this luscious green. and you know where i’m funneling all of that inspiration, don’t you? if you guessed ENVY club, that would be correct. excitement is ginning up over in our ravelry clubhouse—if you need a little taste of what’s to come, i highly recommend a visit there, haha. kat is bubbling over to know what we’re going to knit first—let’s keep her company while she exhausts herself guessing, haha.

signups for ENVY club will close in one week; we have some single spots and some double dip upgrades available now, but when they’re gone, there won’t be more. our yarn orders for the entire club are now finalized—get these last ones before someone else does!


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?