For years, projects with a Noro yarn have been somewhere in my knitting queue. The long repeats of vivid colors, the subtle sheen and exciting textures, bring so much artsy interest to a project party! From my first Noro sweater, Sundby by Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton, to my recently completed Zoe shawl, these yarns create projects that are recognizably "Noro."
Several weeks ago, Rare Purls needed a sample knit for Silk Garden Sock. I looked for a simple, easy, shawl pattern that would show off the exceptionally long colorways of the yarn. I came across Zoe, an easy triangular shawl by Emily Kausalik, free on Ravelry, and knew it would fit the bill. The simple construction and stitch patterns were a snap to memorize and execute, so Zoe became one of my evening TV time companions, along with Hubby, little Rocky, and dear old Fergie.
Bill, Fergie, and Rocky
At first, all I could do was drool over the colors. It was fun to see each new color spill out of the skein, reminding me of a magician's handkerchief trick. My fascination at the complexity of colorway # 279 gave rise to its own little side show. By the time the first color repeated, I had knit over a dozen, distinctly different colors! I was so amazed at how far I had gotten into the skein before any color repeated, I actually weighed the remaining yarn to see how much of the ball I had used and just how many yards the colorway had ran. In the 100 gram ball, the first repeat of the colorway went on for 49 grams, for all practical purposes, half the skein. That is a colorway of approximately 150 meters/165 yards - wowsers! The second skein repeated this feat.
Though some knitters are happy to let the colors fall where they may from skein to skein when working with long colorways, I am a bit obsessive about sticking to the exact, same color progression throughout my project. When picking up my yarn, I had the forethought to choose two skeins starting with the same colors, so there was no need to fish through the second skein to keep the colorway intact. At bind off, my Zoe had exactly four tidy repeats of colorway #279, using up nearly every smidgen of my yarn. This little slice of perfection gave me a little "whoo hoo!" and a grin
Zoe, a simple shawl in Silk Garden Sock
As for the actual construction, Zoe is a simple, mindless knit, consisting of 20 row sections of garter and stockinette stitch, with four yarn over increases every other row. Though the pattern calls for only one skein of Silk Garden Sock Yarn, this only makes a shawlette, aka short wide scarf, and for me to love a shawl, it has to be on the generous side. (Honestly, if you wear it around your neck, isn't it a scarf?) As I am a plus size gal, it took a full second skein and some wicked wet blocking to make my Zoe wrap around me as a shawl, but the extra money and effort were well worth it, as I am delighted at the outcome! I also added a few extra rows to the optional ruffle edging and changed it to garter stitch, making the ruffle both longer and more distinct. This added touch of feminine flair is surely my favorite part of this design.
My lovely new shawl
Copyright June 2012
In the late 70's, I had the remarkable experience of residing in Hayama, Japan. For nearly two years, my new husband and I lived in a traditional Japanese house, immersing ourselves in the remarkable culture at every opportunity. Each day we walked barefoot on tatami floors, slept on a futon, spoke the language, and as Bill puts it, "ate our way through Japan." While Bill was busy at his post at the Navy hospital, I took dozens of classes, learning about Japanese culinary, floral, and needle arts.
To this day, I adore the aesthetics of Japanese art - the clean lines, the influence of nature, the nod to tradition. Our home decor still include treasures from our house in Hayama, including tonsu, wood block prints, silk screens, Imari porcelain, even a vintage silk kimono. Of course, not everyone has the privilege of an extended stay in the Orient, but one need only to travel as far as a well stocked yarn shop to bring home a Japanese treasure. Noro Yarns, the fiber art of Eisaku Noro, brings Japanese tradition to the needles of knitters around the world.
Noro - the world of nature
In the 30 years that Noro Yarns have been in production, they have become a phenomenon. With exacting standards at every phase of the journey from farm to local yarn shop, Noro consistently delivers superior yarns that delight hand knitters, crocheters, and weavers worldwide. The success of these yarns can be attributed to the company founder, Eisaku Noro, who began making yarns at age 15 in his homeland of Japan. His unique blending of luxury fibers and deft handling of color have become the Noro brand.
Eisaku Noro (seated) at his yarn factory
Of course, when most knitters hear "Noro", they think of the incredible colorways. The yarns are drenched in dazzling combinations of vibrant color, with colorways that may include more than a dozen different, distinct colors. Even with the advent of computer assisted space dyeing techniques, Noro still chooses to stay with tradition. Rather than the yarn being simply spray dyed with a colorway, the luxury fibers are dyed first, then placed by hand in a carder. The carder produces rovings, already in a set color progression. The gorgeous rovings are then spun into the various yarns, from the 100% wool Kureyon to the lambswool/silk/mohair blend in Silk Garden.
Placing fiber in carder and spinning
As in much of Japanese art, the inspiration for these incredible colors is Mother Nature. Some colorways spring from memories of Noro's youth, especially the summers he spent in the Mie Prefecture with a view of a primeval forest. On a clear day, he could see Mount Fuji standing stately and majestic in the distance. That at one time I, too, was so often inspired by a view of Mount Fuji is one of those wonderful, mystical coincidences in life.
Although Noro is famous for remarkable colorways, the natural fibers that make up these yarns play no second fiddle. The luxury components are doled out in generous proportions and include lambswool, silk, mohair, cotton, and angora. Close attention is paid to the source of each fiber, so consistently only the very best quality materials are used in Noro yarns. The milling remains as hands on as possible. The slow spinning process produces a yarn that retains the characteristics of the natural fibers with very little "fracturing", making these yarns a fabulous tactile experience.
Noro with mohair goats
Noro, who to this day remains at the helm of his company, is not only a renowned fiber artist, but also a forward thinking industrialist. He makes sure that the natural fibers used in his yarns are from sources that respect the environment and are as free of manmade pollutants as possible. Even the cleansers, dyes, and labels used during production receive Noro-san's meticulous attention to detail. It is Noro's philosophy to recycle, save energy, and offer beautiful, quality yarns free of harmful chemicals. He is eco-friendly and has been long before it was cool to be green.
Kureyon colorways - Silk Garden
To truly appreciate Noro yarns, you have to work with them! These are not your typical soft and smooth plyed yarns, but single ply yarns full of character and raw beauty. One cannot experience the excitement of watching the colorway unfold, without knitting through the ball. Though some knitters are put off by the slubs inherent to these yarns, they are there by design and add subtle texture even to simple stockinette. The fiber art of Eisaku Noro is both beautiful and dramatic. Though not for everyone, his following is epic! And like sushi, sometimes the different and unusual must be tried to be appreciated. As for me, I love my excursions in Noro-san's Silk Garden.
Sweaters designed for Noro Yarns
To read more about Eisaku Noro's entire process and see photos of the yarn at every stage of milling, go to http://noroyarns.com/v2/pdf/Booklet_26_From_Farm_to_Product_NORO.pdf and read a most interesting free e-booklet, prepared by Noro Yarns.
Torii gate in Mie Prefecture
Copyright May 2012
This seems to be a month for quick projects. Accessories are always popular and Luke needed several for sample knits to display at Rare Purls. There is nothing quite like a design that can be held and even tried on to show customers how great a yarn will look once worked up. And I love making samples! It gives me the opportunity to experience a wide variety of yarns and interesting projects, without digging into my own wallet. So I put aside my half finished sweater project - it seems I always have at least one sweater in progress - and got to work on a new spring crop of sample knits.
Godiva Cowl in Alp Premier
When Rare Purls had a Feza Yarns event earlier this month, the favorite yarns were Alp Premier and Dazzle. With the free Godiva Cowl pattern (courtesy of Feza Yarns) and a single hank of either yarn, it is a piece of cake to knit up a gorgeous and interesting infinity scarf, with just the right amount of bling to add some sass to any outfit. Whether you knit or crochet, these yarns do most the work, changing color and texture every few yards to create a truly luxurious, one skein accessory. The hank, even before stitched up, is gorgeous. It is also nice that as far as component yarns go, which are always pricey, these are very friendly to your wallet, with a project cost of $36 - $38. (My neighbor has knitted quite a few of these and after adding a hand full of her incredible fringes, she sells them for $85 each.)
Cherokee Princess Cowl
Another recent project using Feza Yarns is my moebius scarf using Alp Natural. Knit in the round, the attractive twist is built in on the first row. As in the Godiva cowl, stockinette, reverse stockinette, and faggot stitch (yarn over, knit 2 together) work with the sections of cotton, silk, rayon, and linen to create fabulous textures. This yarn is what the industry calls a "monochromatic variegate," As the different fibers and compositions take up the dye at varying rates, the result is a pleasing collection of hues.
The Cherokee Princess Scarf looks great hanging casually on the shoulders with the twist centered (as in the photo) or pull it down around both shoulders for a topper with a very different look. (If you are a big girl, like me, for the second look you will need a longer cast on and possibly additional yarn.) Though my version is unadorned, I think this infinity scarf would look awesome with oddments of wood beads and shell on fringes, tied here and there on the fabric for a nature inspired necklace.
Flights of Fancy in Pichasca
As crochet is the most popular in years, we needed a snazzy, crocheted sample accessory for spring. The Flights of Fancy Scarf, free on the Lion Brand website, worked up beautifully in Ester Bitran Pichasca. Earlier this year in Vogue Knitting, Martha Stewart commented how much she liked cotton scarves, so I began to comb the shelves for an interesting cotton yarn, lightweight and in spring colors. Pichasca was my pick. This true hand dyed yarn from Chile is perfect for summer scarves and wraps. It has great yardage and the matte, thick/thin single ply of cotton pairs well with cotton tees and tanks. The quick crochet project is a great way to add some color to summer tees.
Outre' in Berroco Borealis
Although not a sample project, I knit up a third Outre' in Berroco Borealis for a friend, another easy accessory. Worked up on size 11 US needles in Berroco Borealis, this delightful, shimmery kerchief is a customer favorite and I often have requests for us to sell the sample right off the mannequin. Outre' is another great idea for Christmas gifts, as one size fits all, including tweens and teens.
Interlacements Sweet Feet - Stained Glass on needles
No matter what else I am working on, I always have a sock project on my needles. Of course, I use them to demonstrate techniques in my sock classes, but the main reason I knit so many socks is my guys love them! My latest pair are for Hubby Bill in Interlacements incredible Sweet Feet sock yarn in Stained Glass. Sweet Feet is the perfect blend of superwash merino, silk, and merino fibers. When I purchased my Sweet Feet, I picked up a second hank and gave them both to Bill on our recent 32nd wedding anniversary, with a promise socks in both would soon follow. He is such a dear and spoils me terribly, so with so many accessories completed, I am full steam on socks for now! Not hard to do when the sock yarn is this yummy, yummy, yummy
Interlacements Sweet Feet - Fireplace Embers
Copyright April 2012
The new SMC Select yarn line from Westminster Fibers, the North American distributor of the hugely popular yarn lines, Regia and Rowan is one of the new kids on the block. When the yarn rep. came by to show us the flagship line, I knew right off which ones I wanted for the shop. Of course, everyone who likes wool loves a nice merino, so Luke and I chose Extra Soft Merino and Extra Soft Merino Color as the first yarns from SMC Select to line the shelves at Rare Purls.
Extra Soft Merino & Extra Soft Merino Color
At first squeeze I liked these yarns, nice and springy, as one would expect from a ball of quality merino. The fresh, crisp colors are amazing! Extra Soft Merino are gorgeous solids, where the Extra Soft Merino Color skeins are interesting multis with long repeats. Moments 08 and 09 contain the supporting patterns for these two new yarns. The design team did a great job on this collection! There are garments and accessories for men, women, and children, something for everyone in the family. The designs are classic in styling with lovely details.
Moments 08 and 09
I chose the welted cowl for our sample knit, using Extra Soft Merino Color (ESMC) in Granite, a predominantly black colorway with grays and a teal blue as highlights. The color pattern is described as a "batik like" effect and the coordinating colors appear as pleasing patches on the background color, as if painted by a brush. As each 50 gram ball delivers 142 yards of plump DK weight, extra fine merino yarn, it only took 5 balls to knit the super size cowl.
A great topper for pullovers
Despite its generous size, this cowl is not heavy on the shoulders due to the finer gauge of the yarn. Also, it has absolutely no itch. Merino wool, coming from the breed of sheep with the same name, is the finest of all wool fibers. It is found commercially in luxury knits and woven suits. The fibers are consistently soft and supple, which is why when they are used exclusively in a yarn, "merino" is most often proudly listed on the label, rather than the generic "wool." Lustrous raw merino fiber fetches a higher price than other wools, so the resulting, consistently superior yarns and fabrics also fetch a higher price. Worth it? A resounding yes, for any wool project where lasting, next to the skin softness is a consideration.
Australian Merino rams
Not only are the Extra Soft Merino yarns pure high quality fiber, that fiber spent quality time at the mill. In both of these yarns, the springy merino plies appear nearly horizontal from the twist. This generous twist means more time to mill, a few less yards per skein, and a bit costlier yarn to produce, but again, so worth it. These yarns will offer great stitch definition and reduced pilling for garments that will look great year after year.
Check out the twist
As for my cowl project, from start to finish this project is easy peasy. The traditional welt stitch pattern is simple bands of stockinette and reverse stockinette. With only three rows of shaping, projects don't get much simpler! It looks fantastic with my pullovers and it seems others agree, as several people asked me "where did you buy that"!?
Copyright March 2012
Introducing Rare Purls New Ball Winder!
Oops! Wrong photo!
Anyone coming by Rare Purls in 2012 has seen the new addition to our staff, my beloved husband, Dr. Bill Mather. Although Bill has always helped us with events, shipping orders, and other support tasks, he is now a full time fixture at our Duluth, Ga. shop and is quickly learning about such knitterly terms as "gauge","DK", "wips" and the wonders of Ravelry. From living with me for over 30 years, he already knows quite a bit about knitters and has even held his share of hanks in the winding ceremony. I am loving his approach to bettering the shop, which always seem to include some form of tool.
Just last week, I walked into the back room and found Bill bent over the table. I figured he was working on our ailing winder, but to my surprise, he was installing an awesome new ball winder! When winding yarn this past month, Bill had noticed that my little Royal ball winder was grunting and groaning from the work load. Royal makes a superb little winder, especially for the price, but it is meant as a personal tool, not for commercial use where it keeps turning hours every day. All those 400+ yard hanks of sock and lace weight yarns had our little winder on its last leg.
Royal yarn winder
So you can imagine my delight when Bill surprised me with a new, jumbo, more efficient, heavy duty ball winder. It is made by U-nitt and will wind much larger balls, up to 10 oz. hanks! The U-Nitt winder utilizes a gear system, so one turn of the crank turns the cylinder with the new ball approx. 4 times, rather than the 1:1 ratio of our previous winder. So much less effort and no more having to wind awesome huge hanks into two separate balls! Whoo hoo!
Yes, Bill has saved us a bunch of time and effort and I suspect he has a few other tricks up his sleeve for the fixtures at Rare Purls. That I now have more time to devote to knitting and teaching has made me a very happy girl. I am loving working with my hubby again! Also, now Luke has time to get back to his computer repair/networking jobs, although he remains active in the business as owner/president of Rare Purls, LLC.
So if you are in the Atlanta area, please be sure to stop by Rare Purls. Check out all the gorgeous yarns, delightful patterns, and our new yarn winders. You will notice that one of them is actually quite charming
On Kay's Needles -
I have been knitting up a cool streak! Luke is wearing new socks on his size 13s, knit in Heritage 150 Paints. I wish you could all feel just how warm and cozy those socks knit up. Also finished is the cowl in SMC Select Extra Fine Merino Color. The splashes of color are all in the yarn. The welt pattern is super easy and with only 3 rows of shaping, the knitting is easy, too. More about the cowl and this new DK weight merino yarn in my next post.
Cowl in SMC Select Extra fine Merino Color
And check out Dan's Honeymoon Hiker Hat knit in Cascade Sierra, a comfortable blend of cotton and wool. Dan in an active guy and I wanted him to have a hat to keep his noggin warm on those marathon bicycle rides, he so enjoys. This is the sample knit for the 20sts./4" gauge in the upcoming pattern.
Daniel in his new hat
Copyright - Feb. 2012