Hanging out with Emma on a Sunday , knitting A Little Something for Wool Box with Oropa 1ply yarn
“Oropa” wool is a very rare thing, a ‘heritage wool’ as it can not be found anywhere else because the breed of sheep is indigenous to a border region of Italy in the foothills of the alps, neighboring France. The wool is so special in fact , that it requires particular methods of processing which make Biella’s very old mills unique. “The Wool Box” is a collective effort to promote traditions of these local heritage wools and wool industry ~ from shepherding to processing ~ all back to Old World basics. Just in case you missed it, I mention The Wool Box, and my project designing with Oropa 1-ply wool in my previous post.
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The other evening I was winding off the new skeins into balls (with two chairs and hand-wound ball method) thinking it has very much a hand-spun feel, with a deal of twist in it, and so I wondered what it would say, but I wouldn’t find out it’s secrets until casting on. Casting on numerous times on as many different sized needles, I found myself unsure how to do justice for it. Honestly, I am worried that I have become far too use to docile modern yarns and very unsure of myself designing with yarn having any kind of personality.
At the start, I held a strand of Oropa 1-ply next to a strand of some of my Superwash Merino sock yarn, and gave it a glance , thinking that they were “close enough” , and so I cast on with the same needles I’ve been knitting oodles of socks and gloves for an eternity with ~~ all because it looks similar in ‘weight’ (we all know that really means thickness). Merrily swatching away, with US 2’s, then 3’s I found that the stitches ‘sproinged’ into loops with tremendous energy it was *almost* wrestling with and twisting the swatch fabric. It was obvious that Oropa 1-ply was not going to make the 8-stitches-to-the-inch design I’d had prepared ahead with … um… right, with that docile superwash sock yarn. In fact, the two colors, Pearl Grey & Natural, of the same Oropa 1-ply yield different gauges with the same needle. I basically have to take the approach one needs with hand-spun yarn, and factor in a bit of inconsistency.
Swatching, wet-blocking, ripping, and starting again, finally my thoughts shifted as my idea of what I wanted to make needed to be surrendered somewhat. I tell you, I was convinced that words like ‘coarse’ described Oropa, until I realized I was literally forcing it to being smothered in tiny stitches, unable to breath and bloom and and show off it’s real personality. Now having knit it on larger needles ( US 4 – 3.25mm) it is anything but coarse, in fact, it is wonderfully resilient and alive, sturdy and with superior definition. It has a lovely fuzziness and halo , yet a bit hair-like too, and no surprise, as it is furthest from modern milled yarns that you can get. Having been shorn from Old World sheep, and spun from an Old World mill, it has a whole different feel, just in case you can’t imagine. It is not well behaved like a lap dog, no, it is more like a mustang in the training corral … sassy, stubborn, and smart … with real sturdiness and it’s own ideas of what it wants to do. I just didn’t know, couldn’t know, until putting down the reins and letting it tell me how to work with it.
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This design process is a lesson for me about paying attention to the yarn, and also patience, as well as a little compromise, but I’m enjoying myself immensely, and suddenly I wish winter would last forever so I could knit a whole bunch of these Little Somethings with Oropa 1-ply !