Stitch Exchange: Papa Sweater + Horizon Yarn

Posted by Kristine Vejar on March 15, 2018 2 Comments

Last September, we began receiving little hints from Japanese designer, Junko Okamoto, that she may be using a Verb yarn to create a new pattern. Tiny flashes of Verb yarn began appearing on her Instagram feed. Being a huge fan of Junko's work, my eyes widened. With great anticipation and curiosity, I watched and waited for new clues. Soon enough I learned she was indeed using Verb yarn. One of my favorites, due to its local providence (Sally Fox's farm) and woolly texture, Horizon.

I am drawn to Junko's designs because of how she plays with shape - oversized, balloon-shaped, puffed sleeves. She typically throws in some texture in the form of cables (and has used them for shaping, a technique I find ingenious), or a dash of colorwork (ok, sometimes a lot of colorwork, see Twigs). So what would she make with Horizon?

Papa Sweater! Junko emailed to let us know she was in the process of designing a sweater. She told us her inspiration was a child wearing an oversized sweater. The colorwork motif would be similar to a child's scribble of flowers. All of us in the dye studio ooohd' and ahhhh'd, loving the originality of her design. I mean if you are going to design a big, oversized sweater, why not throw some flowers on it to, right? Right!

Oh! And don't let me forget to mention, as far as I have seen from her many patterns I have downloaded, she offers one size. With all of the strides we knitters and knitwear designers have taken to disassemble and reassemble sweaters, and to debate with great fervor over what is the best way to knit a sweater for the best fit for your body type, I find this one size approach, which is essentially a blanket for your body, a welcome respite. No need to deliberate over which size I am! I get to focus on the yarn, swatch, and cast-on.

Since the release of this pattern, many people have asked me how difficult this sweater is to make, in terms of the colorwork. My understanding is that a lot of people are drawn to try colorwork for the first time, which is really exciting! The fact that this sweater only comes in one size plays in the knitter's favor in terms of colorwork. Because, if your gauge is off (a bit, and yes, you must do a swatch), it is not going to throw the fit of your sweater off. Whereas, if you are knitting a traditional Icelandic sweater, where the colorwork is typically in the yoke of the sweater, if your row gauge is off, at all, your yoke will be too long, and honestly, it will look strange. The fit will be off. The same is true if you make a colorwork hat or mittens (or god help us, socks), your stitch and row gauge must be absolutely accurate.

Fair enough, correct gauge when knitting colorwork is an absolute worthy goal. That said, when knitting colorwork, there are other techniques to perfect like making a beautiful fabric. So as you may know, when knitting colorwork, you are knitting with two strands of yarn. I knit with the yarn which I want to show up most clearly in my left hand, and the color which I want to fade into the background, with my right hand. I usually knit (a bastardized version of) continental, so it takes me a minute to adjust to using my right hand to knit. So just right there, a skill to practice and perfect.

Next skill: Managing your tension which knitting colorwork. When you are knitting with one of the yarns, you are carrying the other yarn with you, this yarn, as it lies behind the fabric, is called a float. It is important that your float mirrors the tension of the fabric you create when knitting. Otherwise, if you are pulling the float tightly on the backside of the sweater, the fabric on the front-side cannot block flat, and will pucker. Wool is stretchy - but not that stretchy. Some people say to carry your float loosely. Maybe. What I find most useful is to while I am knitting, when I get to a point where I am going to use the yarn in my left hand (in this case, the yarn I am using to knit the flower) to unbunch the fabric on my needle, so the fabric is relaxed and flat, I make sure my float's tension matches the same length as the fabric I have just knit. If anything, allow the float to be a little too loose. But matching is better. At first, I go slowly, and watch my tension in this way, then I find, once I get into the rhythm, I can just knit without doing that. However, I will every so often, stop, and check-in to make sure I haven't begun gathering my floats too tightly. ("Oh yeah, I am in the process of knitting! Not just zooming through to be able to wear the Papa - but I so badly just want to wear Papa - ok well then you are going to have a puckered Papa. Ok, fine I will slow down." This is basically the conversation in my head when I am knitting colorwork.)

Long floats. Papa does indeed have some long floats - in other words - long spaces between lines of the flowers. This tutorial and commentary on colorwork (aka stranded knitting) changed my life in the best way possible. One invaluable thing it taught me was how to catch my floats while knitting which makes long floats bearable. Yes! Read it over, I swear there are many good lessons. 

It helps that Horizon is forgiving due to its woolly texture. It nicely fills in little gaps here and there, between your knit stitches, creating solid fabric. Plus, it is made from really cute sheep, who are grow a myriad of colorful fleece. I like thinking about them while I knit.

Kits for the Papa Sweater are available here.

Let me know if you have any questions!

- Kristine

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Stitches West 2016

Posted by Kristine Vejar on February 12, 2016 0 Comments

It is almost time for that magical event called Stitches West, where one can walk through miles of aisles of yarn, and have the choice of nearly any fiber spun into any size yarn, in every shade of color imaginable, and where designers pull out all the stops, and create new patterns.

At A Verb for Keeping Warm, as always, we will have a wide spectrum of naturally dyed yarn. We take the opportunity of Stitches West to celebrate the symbiotic relationship between dyer and designer, and team up with Rosemary Hill (aka Romi), to create a series of exciting, new pattern and yarn combinations.

The most anticipated is our annual Mystery Knit-Along Kit. The colors this year are stunning. New this year! There will be two base yarns to choose from and three color combinations. If you are new to this concept, here's how it works. The kit includes 2 skeins of Verb yarn, a shawl pin exclusively designed for the kit by Romi, and the first clue of the Mystery Knit-Along and a code so you can download the pattern on Ravelry. It comes in a project bag designed specially for Stitches West 2016. I always get a kick out of explaining what a Mystery Knit-Along is to people who have never heard of it before as the concept is quite amusing. It is a knitting pattern that has been broken into sections, and is doled out to you over the course of (typically) 4 weeks. Here's the kicker - you don't know what the pattern looks like when you start! The pattern is unveiled as you knit. There will be a thread in Romi's Ravelry group where you can participate / get support if you so desire.

There will be Mystery Knit-Along Kits available online - for those of you who can not make it to Stitches West. They will go on sale on Thursday at 5pm - at the same time as when the Stitches Marketplace opens. We will post a link, once they are live, to our Ravelry group.

We are releasing two new yarns this year at Stitches West. The first is named Entwined. It is a 2-ply yarn, one ply spun from Merino wool, the other ply spun from silver alpaca. once it is dyed, due to the difference in fiber content, the yarn develops a nubby texture. It is nearly the same gauge as our alpaca-silk-cashmere blend yarn, Floating. And is a lovely juxtaposition, as you will see in our newly hand-knit sample of Romi's Swoon. In this photo, you can see a close-up of Entwined and Floating nestled together in the dyepot.

The other new yarn we are releasing is called Range - 1st Edition. This is our newest California-wool farm yarn. We are so excited to release this yarn!! It feels like we have been working on it forever and a day and can not wait to get it out into the world. Made of Rambouillet wool, we are releasing 4 natural colors: white, silver, light grey, and dark grey. They are stunning. And for the first time ever, this farm yarn has been combed before being spun, so it has a smooth, more polished surface. It is DK weight (5 stitches per inch), so perfect for your next sweater - a pattern for which you might find across the aisle at Cocoknits booth.

Romi has created a new shawl pattern which can be knit in either Entwined or Range. This will also be available as a kit - complete with a shawl pin by Romi, the pattern, and a Stitches West project bag.

There will also be a third kit - featuring a sweater from Romi's new book, New Lace Knitting - the pattern is titled Bright Lights and will feature in Even Tinier Annapurna in Old Vine - a color reminiscent of red wine. Of course, we will have a plethora of other colors to choose from, and will be happy to help you choose.

Stitches West 2016 is an exciting year because Romi and I both published books in Fall of 2015. So this year, it is going to be great fun to have both of our books in the booth - with the accompanying trunk shows. This means you can stop by and see all of the projects in the books in real life. Romi and I will be signing books on Friday and Saturday at 1pm.

You know who else just published a book - and is going to be at our booth ??? Clara Parkes!! She will be with us on Sunday from 11:30-1pm signing copies of her newest book, Knitlandia.

Other than that, we will have all of our usual suspects: Reliquary II, Even Tinier Annapurna, Floating, Annapurna, Flock, and Horizon. And a few fun extras, like Fringe & Co Field Bags, Merchant & Mills scissors, Liberty of London fabrics, etc.

We hope to see you very soon!
- Kristine

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Best of 9 - 2015 Edition - The Modern Natural Dyer, The Shop's New Look, and Farm Work

Posted by Kristine Vejar on December 30, 2015 0 Comments

You may have seen people playing a fun game currently circulating on the internet. Visit this website, enter your Instagram name, and it will pull the 9 most popular photos you posted to Instagram in 2015. Kind of fun, right?

I was excited to pull ours as Verb can feel like a whirlwind - and it is interesting for me to be able to step back and to see what the things are you like to see. Here are our results. Let's do a recap. 

In October, I published my first book, The Modern Natural Dyer. I signed the contract to write my book in August 2013. Writing my book has been such a tremendous journey, with a great period of anxiety and anticipation during the period of finishing the manuscript and waiting for it to be published. It has been such a relief - and so very exciting to have my book printed and now available to the public. Plus! It seems like people are using it and like it. I spent so much time, alone, writing, hoping that the book would work. That it could be a tool and people would really be able to use it, but I really didn't know if that would be the case. Though now the book is out, and people are already diving in and using it, and it works! Hurray! I am so grateful for your support.

The book has been going so well - that in November, my publisher sold out! (Hence the photo of Callie, my dachshund, with her face covered in yarn, which she did herself by the way). I could have never dreamt of such a thing. Natural dyeing is such an incredible form of art and craft with endless possibilities. I am so happy that others are interested in learning about it - and in creating their own natural dyeing practice. The Modern Natural Dyer is a culmination of work I began in India in 1999, and my current natural dyeing practice. Its completion marks the end of a nearly 15 year cycle of work. It is very freeing to think what might come next. 

In addition to releasing the book in October, we celebrated 5 years in our current space on San Pablo Avenue. While waiting for the book to be printed and for its release, we decided to remodel the shop. In an attempt to really open the space, create a blank canvas for our yarn and fabric, we built new shelves and painted them white. We expanded the dye studio. Verb's classroom used to be in the front corner of the shop, this is now part of the dye studio, and the classroom moved towards the back of the shop. Now, the dye studio has more space to conduct research and to design projects. The classroom is more integrated into the shop-side of Verb. Customers now have a place to sit and plan projects. There are still some tweeks to be made, though overall, the change has been really helpful while trying to run Verb efficiently and effectively. 

In 2015, we spent a lot of time on northern California farms, continuing to work towards our goal of supporting farmers by sourcing locally grown raw materials. Back in 2002, I saw the natural course of my life leading to a PhD program. As I interviewed for the different schools, I couldn't help but think I wanted to use my hands, and that all of the programs I was considering were heavily academic, and book-related intensives. I throughly believe to achieve a holistic understanding of a material and process, it takes a hands-on approach. Actually being on the farm, and working as part of the farm team, helps to understand the materials I take and make into yarn, in a physical way. The physical sense of the labor it takes to make these beautiful, whole materials we use to make clothing from. Hopefully, in 2016, I will write more about that topic. 

We helped shear over 1000 pounds of wool in Mendocino County - which is where we captured the photo of the newly shorn ewe jumping for joy. This wool is in storage right now as we decide on the mill it will be sent to and design the yarn which it will be made into. We also spent a lot of time with our friend and organic farmer, Sally Fox. In the Spring, we helped shear approximately 500 pounds of wool. We sent this wool, in its multitude of colors, to Vermont, and made our 4th batch of Horizon.

In the Summer, we travelled to Sally's farm to help plant her cotton breeding nursery. Cotton has been literally next to me my entire life, to think of how many t-shirts I have worm, and is a plant and material that I have completely taken for granted. Throughout this 15 year course of textile-intensive research, I have read about cotton and have learned how to spin it. I have learned about its water intensive characteristics and about the farming practice of using pesticides used to grow it. But I know very little about the different species, what each has to offer, and the various methods of farming. Sally has taught me so much about this amazing plant. When I listen to her speak about it, and growing it, it is almost like listening to someone speak a foreign language. Or like being a kid, overhearing adults talk, being able to pick out familiar words, but not quite understanding how to they fit together, and what the larger meaning is. I find this fascinating and compelling, and want to learn more. We returned to Sally's farm in October, to see the now grown, the first cotton bolls forming, among a sea of cotton flowers. In the photo, you can see, the deep, rich, caramel-colored cotton boll. We walked through the field, as she gave us the history of each plot, where the seed came from originally, who were its parents, and if she will cross it with another plant in the nursery to create a new seed. In the distance, low, grey clouds loomed, because finally, the rain is coming.  

Making our way to the last photo in this collaged-sequence, a rainbow of naturally-dyed yarn. This year, among Sally's cotton, we grew one row - 900 feet - of dye plants, as an experiment. Between the dye we grew at Sally's, the dye we have been raising in the backyard at Verb, and the indigo Rebecca Burgess raised, which we have used to create indigo fermentation vats, we were able to create the entire rainbow of color from 100% locally grown dye. AND we were able to use this dye on 100% locally grown wool. Some of it organic wool. It has taken us FIVE years to be able to do this, with a large helping of sweat and tears. 

As we head into 2016, though I have many ideas for projects I would like to start, I am currently working on not starting any new projects for the next few months. Instead, I am wrapping up projects that are almost near completion (like a new yarn that will be released in the next few weeks). I am taking time to reflect on the journey I have been on and to support The Modern Natural Dyer. I really want to help people establish a natural dyeing practice and to help them find the joy I have found in using natural dyes. One thing is for certain, I have learned a lot about time, and the time it takes to grow roots. Five years used to seem like a long time to work on something, and now - it is clearly a reasonable amount of time it takes for a seed to germinate. 

At Verb, this has been our best year yet. Thank you so much for being part of our community! I can't wait to make more things with you - and to continue investing in farmers and textiles in 2016. 

Happy New Year!

- Kristine (and the Verb crew) 

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Flock / 1st Edition : From Sheep to Shelf

Posted by Kristine Vejar on July 31, 2015 2 Comments

I learned to spin in 2002 - and instantly became obsessed with the idea of combining fiber types when making yarn. My first goal was to learn about the properties of each type of wool. Feeling confident that I knew the main differences between an Icelandic fleece and a Targhee fleece, I found myself looking at the various strengths - or weaknesses - and looking to pair fibers.

We have decided to create a line of yarn called Flock - which indicates that we have combined either fleece from various farms and / or fleece from various types of sheep or types of animals. Today, we are releasing our 1st edition of Flock, our newest California wool yarn.

Flock / 1sr Edition is constructed of one strand of spun wool - this is referred to as a single. This has always been one of my favorite kinds of yarn to spin and to knit. I adore the rustic quality.

This yarn has quite a tale to tell - starting back in 2012. Sue Reuser, a renowned Cormo sheep farmer, living just outside Chico, had a stroke. Sue had been raising Cormo for many years. She paid great attention to her sheep, only breeding those with the best attributes of strong body, wool, and mind. She raised Cormo sheep in a multitude of colors. Her award winning fleeces were highly sought after by spinners. While she had a positive recovery, Sue decided that her time had come to sell her farm and her sheep. I had quite a few fleeces from Sue which I was hand-spinning (ahem, coveting). I decided to purchase a large quantity of white fleeces from her with the idea of milling them into yarn for Verb.

Then, in 2013, I began to work with Matt Gilbert, a local shearer, and the person who is working to start Mendocino Wool Mill. Through Matt, I was able to purchase Targhee from a Mendocino County wool grower. In 2014, Matt connected me with a farmer, named Leigh, who loves animals - and has quite a collection - including the Corriedale used in this yarn. Sarah went on quite an adventure to get this wool. When shearing season comes around, we like to say that things becomes very alive - in other words - chaotic (though now with more perspective, and having continued to work with nature and the earth this Summer, I think anytime when working this closely with nature, life tends to be rather edgy - more on that soon).

I had planned to go with Matt to shear Leigh’s sheep. Matt shears, and we skirt (remove all the poopy bits / wool that is too short to be milled into yarn). One thing led to another, and when the shearing date came, it landed on a day in which I was going to be out of town. So Sarah bravely volunteered her time to travel to Cloverdale and skirt with Matt.

Leigh’s sheep are more like pets than livestock. She doesn’t like to shear her sheep because she thinks it is stressful for them. Yes, the sheep do bleat while waiting to be shorn. That said, the sheep, once they have received their annual haircut, jump out of the pen, and go right back to grazing. If I were to project onto the sheep what I think they could be feeling - I would have to say, in 100 degree weather, hardly a tree in sight, the sheep feel better without 12 pounds of wool. Needless to say, Leigh had not shorn her sheep in over a year and a half, so their wool was quite long. Leigh’s barn is not set up for organizing the sheep into a line for shearing, so it was quite an adventure to catch the sheep to lead them to the shearing station. Sarah and Matt persisted. When you look at Flock, that beautiful line of grey running through the yarn is from Leigh’s pretty, naturally colored sheep

In 2014, I was very occupied writing my upcoming book, The Modern Natural Dyer, dreaming about the yarn I could make when the book was completed. Writing a book was so exciting, yet I had no idea how many things had to be put on hold to fulfill that monumental project. So, once the final manuscript was submitted to my publisher, with photos. I began to wade through this large amount of wool I had amassed, and began to contemplate what to do with it.

Looming in the wings, I had promised Verb’s yarn club, Pro-Verbial, I would mill a yarn for them, and I needed to come through on my promise. That was my first priority. Because the designs created for Pro-Verbial (subscriptions opened today for Year 6!) are focused upon shawls and wraps, I knew I wanted to mill something a bit finer; lace-weight, fingering-weight, or sport-weight. I analyzed using only one of the wools for this yarn. But then began to think how beautiful it would be to combine these various wools into one yarn. The Cormo is exquisitely soft, though can be prone to pills since the fleece is so fine, the targhee picks up dye nicely, is a great middle-of-the-road fleece, soft but not so fine that it is hard to mill, and the corriedale, which can be a bit toothy at times, which the cormo would help balance, was shades of beautiful brown and grey.

We have had a great experience working with Green Mountain Spinnery, so we decided to send it to them to have the yarn milled. Though first before the wool could be sent to Green Mountain Spinnery, it had to be packaged. The only wool we have worked with from farm to finished yarn - is Sally’s wool for our line of yarn named Horizon. At Sally’s we had put the wool into cardboard containers, strapped these to pallets, and shipped them from Sally’s farm. This is the first time we needed to figure out how to get 350 pounds of wool packed. We began to brainstorm. And remembered meeting a man, named Joe Pozzi, at Fibershed’s first Fine Wool Symposium. He was on the panel there. And his flock is over one thousand heads. Most of his wool is used for wool felt, batting for comforters, and the like, as it has a bit too much tooth for knitting sweaters. We decided to give him a call to learn what he does with his wool. And guess what? He did! He has a motorized wool baler. Usually the wool baler is out, sometimes for months with the shearing team, though it just so happened that it was dropped off at his western Sonoma county barn. He graciously invited us to bring our wool and have it baled. His baler is from New Zealand.

Side Note: Upon researching balers we came across a collection of amazing videos.

This first one - about 2 minutes in - watch two women get to work on creating a wool bale by hand. Tough stuff! 

Then, we came to learn about a competition in New Zealand called the Golden Shears. Here's a video of women in a shearing competition with Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cindi Lauper playing in the background.

Back to this story --> So now we had our wool packed hard into a very large tyvek envelope. Joe, using a pair of very sharp hooks fit over his hands - which are usually used to move straw bales - rolled the bale into Adrienne's pickup truck.

We were so excited - cruising down the road - where we made a pit stop at the beach before heading home. Just me, Adrienne, Cleo, Callie, and our bale of wool.

So now it was time to ship the bale. And we quickly ran into a know, we are really used to weighing pretty small quantities of yarn - or dye - in the shop - things more in the range of 1 pound, maybe 10 pounds. Well, something we did not think about was how on earth we were going to weigh this bale in order to ship it! Moreover, how were we going to get the bale out of Adrienne's truck, onto a scale, and then back onto Adrienne's truck.

We drove over to West Oakland, near the Port, amidst the semi-trucks hauling containers, we drove onto the scale. From researching on the internet of what Adrienne's truck might weight, and what we guessed the weight as from our invoices for the wool, we were able to schedule the pick-up for the wool for the next day. The truck showed up - and we rolled the bale into the trailer. We waved goodbye - hoping that it would make it safely to Vermont. Then, Adrienne jumped back into her truck to have it weighed so we could double check our numbers. Now, we have the weight of her truck on file!

About 2 months later, we received our new yarn. It was as beautiful as imagined. As always Green Mountain Spinnery did a lovely job. We began the process of scouring, mordanting, and dyeing the yarn.

One of the most compelling parts of this yarn, is the way the natural, brown-silver wool appears every so often, almost like a grey vein running through white granite. As a natural dyer, I adore overdyeing natural colored fleece because of the depth and nuances it adds to the naturally dyed color. This yarn is 300 yards to 50 grams, making a lightweight yarn which can be knit into a variety of things from wraps to lightweight sweaters.

It has been so exciting to see this yarn come to life! I hope you will try it out and let me know what you think! You can find Flock here.

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In the Dye Studio: Mendocino Wool & Fiber Indiegogo Campaign

Posted by Kristine Vejar on November 18, 2013 0 Comments

Sarah, Adrienne, Chris, and I traveled to Point Reyes Station last Saturday to attend the Fibershed's 2nd Fine Wool & Fiber Symposium. It was tremendous to think about everything that has transpired over the last year since the last symposium. In particular for us, it was at the last symposium that I met Sally Fox for the first time, and began to develop Horizon.

In terms of the community, Matt Gilbert, one of the most prolific shearers in Northern California, spoke at last year's event about shearing and about building a mill - which we so desperately need in this area. And this year, he announced the start of his indie-go-go campaign for the mill!

I am so excited for Matt. He has worked really hard on writing a business plan. He is in escrow right now for a new home and building where the mill will be housed.

If Matt receives the funding to build this mill, we will be able to send wool just up the road, about 100 miles from here, to be washed, carded, and spun into yarn. This means that it will be better for the environment than us shipping the wool 2000-6000 miles round trip. It will also save on the the expense of shipping the fleece and all of its grease to the Midwest or East Coast. By saving on these expenses, it means that it is more likely we will be able to continue making yarn from local fiber producers' wool.

It means that we will have more jobs created in this region related to the production of materials made to make textiles.

And it means that we invest in one of the best things of all - wool. I hope if this kind of thing interests you - and you would like to see the local textile market grow and flourish that you will consider making a contribution - even if it is a small contribution. Every penny counts!

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