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.

 

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!

herringweave cardigan

Posted on 14 CommentsPosted in Bare Naked Wools, book reviews/events, designing

it’s finally time for our 2017 ensemble look book rollout; do you love it??

from the response we’ve gotten so far, it seems that you do and that makes me glad. rolling out a new collection (plus club packages and more) means that i don’t get to spend as much time here on the blog as i’d like; i’ve been looking forward to a chance to chat.

yesterday we got to present the beautiful volta shawl design, knit in our cabécou sport by the incredibly talented and popular susanna IC, who i have just loved working with (and there are more BNWs designs from her to come; SO exciting!). and we have so many other designers to present whose work i admire.

but back to me, haha.

today, i get to tell you that one of my own designs is now available for purchase—the herrigweave cardigan, knit in our kent DK yarn in the driftwood shade (kits available here).

while i’m not privy to the processes that our other designers use, one thing i enjoy about my own process is having all of you to talk to when i get hung up on decisions. you are the best sounding board i know. even when i think i know the answer, i can ask what you think and you’ll tell me your honest opinion right away. most often it confirms the direction i already thought i’d be taking, but sometimes it surprises me. sometimes a surprise changes my viewpoint and other times, it doesn’t. but the interchange is so interesting and i love you for engaging with me while i bring designs to fruition.

i remember getting to the end of the first front shoulder and wondering if all that cable detail was just too much. but you loved it, so that helped me step back and realize i was just spending too much time close up to it. also, the proportion will change across the size range so it’s important that it still has impact as it does.

and i always like to bring you in on the button decisions because that’s what we do! choosing buttons is important and we have so many beautiful options in natural bone, horn, and shell available in our online store. we can even help you find a good match for your yarn if you drop us a note.

this view makes me appreciate the drama of the whole neckline and shoulder; it was a very popular shot on instagram when i ran it there, letting me know i had done the right thing to keep all those cables.

they are rich and eyecatching AND they serve to stabilize the sweater in all the right places so it keeps its shape beautifully—important if you wear your sweaters a LOT, like i do. i always marvel too at how much mileage i get from my skeins of bare naked wools—they go on and on; a sweater like this with generous length takes only about four skeins. click here to check out our kits.

after our big photo shoot weekend in early december, styled by our awesome new media and program director, hannah, i was finally free to wear this cardigan. just in time for the cold weather, too!

while i have knit many times with our kent DK yarn, most of those knits are shop samples and i still did not have a sweater of my own in it to wear—so this was it.

the verdict?

O.M.G. i had no idea. this yarn, spun from long, lustrous romney wool and soft, springy merino, is one that i characterize in my mind as “sturdy”, but i can’t say enough how it is also soft and airy—so much so, that what appears here to be a thick sweater is actually light and flexible. all that air of course translates to a cozy feel when i’m inside it; i love getting that warmth without the weight.

i’ve been wearing this cardigan several times a week since december; it’s become a workhorse garment in just a short time. in fact, i would love another one, maybe a size bigger and longer to wrap up in and layer over other things. ask anyone who works here and they might even say they get a little tired of seeing it. hmm, better get that second one on the needles soon . . .

if i do another i might go with the confection sport yarn for my second version; that’s another yarn that’s not represented in my sweater drawer. now to decide which shade; what do you think?

in a few days we’ll be looking at this design again, this time in the pullover version that i knit for david, which is included in the cardigan pattern (and a vest!). i’m hoping that just maybe, i can sweet-talk him into pulling it on and modeling it for us. we’ll see how that goes, haha.

fresh start

Posted on 10 CommentsPosted in Bare Naked Wools, book reviews/events, food and garden

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look at the lustrous coat on this beautiful greyaface dartmoor ewe. one of the pleasures of being a knitter in our time is having access to a wider range of fiber quality than ever before. once you’ve knit with a unique yarn that’s fulfilling to hold in your hands and make stitches with, you know the feeling of wanting to take extra special care of it over the life of your garment or accessory.

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fresh, clean handknit fabric should feel airy, fluffy, and have a fibery halo that sparkles as it catches the light. if your wool soap leave the fabric dull and heavy looking, you might be interested in making your own. DIY wool soap is easy to make, difficult to screw up, and has the added bonus of costing far less than commercial preparations. it also allows you control what goes into the mix, great for those with allergies or a preference for vegan products.

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i made my first batch of wool soap and blogged about it eighteen months ago, when i found myself low on soap and strapped for time to order the large quantity i needed. i used the recipe that i saw most frequently around the internet, one that has withstood the test of time and is still a classic. it appears on many websites and you can make it in full dilution or as a concentrate; the recipe is easily divided or multiplied. (one reason you might want to make a concentrate is to extend the shelf life if you don’t go through wool wash all that quickly).

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this recipe combines grated soap or boxed soap flakes, water, and denatured alcohol (mentholated spirits) with some essential oil to scent and act as an insect deterrent.

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my results were good and the soap worked well; i could not have been happier with the washed fabric! and it was seriously less expensive than any commercial wool soap i had considered—important because we wash a LOT of woolens around here, especially when it’s time to wash all the shop samples.

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one reason my wool soap was so kind to the fabrics is almost accidental—i used an old bar of homemade olive oil soap to make my wool wash and olive oil (castile) soap is extra conditioning—just what’s needed for wool.

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i did find i wanted to change a couple of things the next time i made mine, though. first, i did not care for the smell of the denatured alcohol. while almost all of it dissipated after 24 hours of standing, i just wasn’t a fan of that smell; it didn’t sit right with me.

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also, because castile soap is so rich, it doesn’t suds much at all. i could live with that part, but i was curious to see if i could change it any—like a kid with bubble bath, i love me some nice rich lather to squish through my fabrics. a wonderful reader who makes solid soaps gave me some tips and some leads about where to look next for ideas in creating the liquid soap recipe i wanted.

since then i’ve done more reading and research and have found lots of great information about liquid soap (here, i would like to recommend tracy’s blog, oh, the things we’ll make; she demystifies liquid soap making in a practical way that is really easy to understand and follow). making a wool soap without any alcohol is totally doable—not only that, it can be very, very simple and still save tons of money. and if you are willing to spend just a wee bit more time (not work!), you can make LOTS of rich, conditioning liquid soap at a very low cost that will serve multiple purposes around your home.

the last time i washed and blocked a few things, i noticed that our soap supply was getting very low, so this past week i prepared for the new year by making a fresh batch using my newest information; i thought it would be fun to update you on my latest recipe, which begins with liquid castile soap instead of the grated soap. one thing i learned while researching is that if you start with liquid soap, you will not need the alcohol to keep your dilution emulsified.

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you can buy pure castile soap already diluted the full amount needed, and also in concentrated dilutions. i found this concentrated, semi-solid soap paste on sale last year at bramble berry, where you can also purchase a variety of other supplies. this two-pound jar will eventually make eight to ten pounds of soap; when i saw it i thought that this form would be easiest to store. it didn’t sound like it was difficult to dilute so i decided to try it.

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straight out of the jar, it has the consistency of dried-out jello—leathery and kind of waxy. this paste does not dissolve instantly, so if you decide to go this route, be aware that it takes up to a couple of days to dissolve the paste. which is what i didn’t quite realize when i bought it. but once i read a little bit about using it, i was relieved that all it requires is a bit more time.

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a couple of days before soap-making day, i warmed up enough water in a pot to make a two-to-one solution. i dropped spoonfuls of my castile paste in the warm water, placed the lid on, and then let it sit. since i had never done this before i was curious, so i went back every hour or so to give it a stir, watching it turn from hard paste to soft, then more like a gel, the lumps getting smaller and more spread out over the afternoon. by evening it was nearly dissolved and by the next morning, i had soapy syrup of even solution (no lumps). i let it sit an additional day because i hadn’t planned to use it so soon.

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another thing i learned in my research is that coconut oil soap has great cleaning power and is a good sudser. be sure to buy one that is made only with coconut oil, so that you know what you’re working with (water, KOH or lye, and citric acid are normal soap ingredients).

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if you combine liquid castile soap with liquid coconut soap, you have a great all-around soap for a variety of purposes. i decided i wanted to use them together for my wool soap and to try a hand soap as well.

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as a little “extra” for the wool soap, i dissolved about a tablespoon of lanolin in hot water, then diluted that with the water i planned to add.

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lanolin is very milky when it dissolves, but it will eventually clear. i left that to fully dissolve while i made the hand soap.

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a fully diluted soap has four parts water to one part solid soap or soap paste. my 2:1 solution (three quarts) was much more than i was going to need for this batch, so i portioned off a quart to store away for future use (see—my next batch is halfway done!). i still had two quarts left that could dilute up to four; i planned to fully dilute the portion i would use for hand soap and only half dilute the portion for the wool soap, to make that a little more concentrated.

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once your soap is liquid, the rest is easy. if you are starting with liquid soap, you can jump in here! i gathered all my ingredients (sorry i took out the alcohol and photographed it but didn’t use it).

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i suddenly realized i was still going to end up with a LOT of liquid soap, so i ran around digging up bottles to use. luckily, david had the foresight to keep the last few bottles of wool soap he’d emptied and i found his stash on a basement shelf.

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haha, scrubbing off the old labels took more time than making the soap!

the dilution is really a matter of taste. you can read more about this on the blog i mentioned above, but the author makes a good point—most people are pretty habitual about the amount of soap they use, whether it is concentrated or not. i tend to use a full pump of hand soap to wash my hands, so it does not need to be very concentrated. when i wash woolens, however, i tend to go with a “capful”, no matter how many i’m washing; i have to remind myself that a bigger load requires more. so in that case, a concentrate works best.

a fully diluted soap is a pretty thin liquid, but don’t be fooled that it won’t have cleaning power. cleaning power is not related to viscosity—think of how thin commercial household cleaners are. but if you enjoy a thicker liquid hand soap, you can achieve that by adding certain essential oils or a salt solution; the soap queen blog has a great tutorial for this.

i just realized that i’m making this seem really complicated by telling you all kinds of information that i learned, but really, making a liquid cool  or hand soap is really REALLY easy, i swear!

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after diluting one-third of my remaining castile fully, i added some coconut oil soap and i was done. a good proportion is 70/30 castile to coconut. since some essential oils fade over time and i like variety, i decided to add scent only to the amount i planned to use right away. the two bottles i was putting on the shelf remain unscented until further notice.

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i also tested the hand soap in a foaming dispenser and it gave me a nice thick, rich foam, not that kind that’s all air.

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next i finished mixing the wool soap concentrate, then tested to see if my dilution was to my liking and if using the coconut soap gave me the lather i wanted. i dissolved a teaspoon or so in a couple of gallons of water (my “capful”). SCORE! it’s nice.

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half an hour later, still pretty sudsy; i’m sold. i will test it on some fabric in the next couple of days, when my next project comes off the needles.

i went ahead and scented the wool soaps once i bottled them because we use those regularly and in winter, we use a good amount. also, we need to wash all those shop samples again, so we’re going to be going through a bottle or two pretty soon.

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the solution will be milky for a while until it settles—the more diluted or warm it is, the more clear it will become; concentrates can cloud up when stored in a cold area. i left the bottle sitting open for a couple of hours to cool and they all cleared nicely.

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a light layer of essential oil and suds was still floating on top, but a quick shake disperse that. and i bet if i look again it might even be gone by now.

to use your soap, just add a teaspoon or two to a basin of water for hand washing and maybe one-eighth of a cup (two tablespoons) to each machine load. it’s good to experiment with a few hand washables in a basin to start; if the water is sudsy and feels slightly slick, that’s enough soap. if it feels quite slimy, you’ve added too much. i also recommend using a splash of white vinegar in the rinse water to completely clean the fabric of residue (from soap, dirt, or minerals in hard water) and to balance the pH of your fabric.

all in all, for about $20, i ended up with five big 16-ounce bottles of wool soap and three 8-ounce bottles of hand soap PLUS enough castile dilution to make another batch of the same size. if i purchased a diluted castile soap, i’d get four bottles for about $30—still a big savings. the main thing for me is getting a conditioning formula that leaves my woolens soft, fluffy, and gleaming with life—plus, i can share it with friends. and don’t forget, i also still have half a container of castile paste left . . .

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i better get knitting to use up all that soap . . .