H+H Goes Green

Last Friday I travelled to Cologne for H+H, the international trade fair for creative handicraft and hobby supplies. It’s the largest trade fair for textile hobby supplies in Europe, the place to be for discovering new trends and finding new suppliers. I’ve been looking specifically for new certified organic yarns. In the next few lines I’ll tell you what I’ve learned this year.

Let’s list what existed so far with a GOTS certificate.

BC Garn has Bio Shetland, Bio Balance and Semilla Melange.
Rosy Green Wool has Cheeky Merino Joy, Big Merino Hug and Manx Merino Fine.
Lane Mondial has Bio Lana, Cotton Soft Bio and Bio Soft.
And there’s Garthenor, since the beginning of times.

Over the last year quite a few new yarns have been added to the range, some by suppliers extending their current range, other by suppliers entering the certified organic market.

Lane Mondial has added two new sizes to the Bio Lana range: Bio Lana Fine (last summer) and Bio Lana Big (new at the trade fair and not online yet).

Bio Lana Fine is a classic knitting yarn for needle size 3,5 – 4,5 mm. A ball of 50 g has a length of 175 m. There are 20 colours.

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Bio Lana Big is a 100% organic wool roving yarn, but I forgot to write down the details and there’s no web page!

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Rosy Green Wool found a source for merino wool in Europe and added Merino d’Arles in 11 colours to their range. It’s a fine knitting yarn for needle size 2,5 – 3 mm composed of 100% organic French Merino d’Arles wool and you get 200 m on a hank of 50 g.

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Rosários4, a Portuguese spinning mill and yarn brand with a range of eco-friendly yarns now has a GOTS certificate for some of their existing yarns.

Belmonte is a mix of 50% organic cotton and 50% organic wool. As opposed to other cotton-wool combinations Rosarios4 have obtained the mix by plying a cotton and a wool strand before dyeing, resulting in a two-tone marl of the same colour. Nice! Belmonte is designed for needle size 3,5 – 4,5 mm and comes in 11 different colours. A ball of 50 g measures 125 m.

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Bio Love is a fine 100% organic cotton yarn for needle size 3 – 3,5 mm. It comes in 16 different shades but it’s not online yet. A ball of 50 g measures 175 m.

Bio Wool is an aran weight knitting yarn for needle size 5,5 mm, 72 m for 50 g, 100% organic wool and available in 15 colours.

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Ecocotton Ecologico in 100% organic cotton has been designed for needle size 5 mm. Balls of 50 g measure 95 m. Not online yet.

For Nature and For Nature Print are composed of 100% organic cotton and require needle size 3,5 – 4 mm. For Nature comes in 50 g balls, For Nature Print comes in 50 g hanks, both measuring 150 m. There are 28 colours of For Nature and 11 colour combinations of For Nature Print.

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Lalalã is a roving yarn for needle size 15 mm and up, available in 9 colours and composed of 100% organic wool. A ball of 200 g gets you 50 m of yarn.

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The good news here is that Rosários4 has a slightly lower price setting than we’re used to for certified organic yarn. I didn’t do a price search on the internet, but based on the wholesales price I’d assume you would be able to find a ball of Bio Wool for less than 4,50 €.

Schoppel makes a first entry in the organic market with Bio Merinos, a mix of 95% felted organic merino wool and 5% linen from France, in a range of 9 bright colours. 150 m on balls of 50 g, needle size 2,5 – 3,5 mm.

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Plassard launches Bio-Logic, an insanely soft cotton in 5 equally soft pastel colours, sourced in Greece and spun in Italy, aimed at the newborn market. A ball of 50 g measures 125 m. It’s supposed to be knit with 4 mm needles.

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It looks somewhat as a trend. There’s more choice now than a year ago and well established brands enter the market. New yarn sizes and colour ranges open new options for us organic knitters. With the exception of the 5% linen in Shoppel’s Bio Merinos the fibre content stays limited to sheep wool and cotton because other fibres are difficult to get in a certified organic version.

I might have missed out on some products. If you know about new or existing GOTS certified yarns that I didn’t mention here, I’ll be glad to hear about it!

One more thing: the people from BC Garn will retire soon. They’ve sold the brand to their German distributor Schmeichel Partner who will continue the existing range of yarns.

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Jan’s Isometric Scarf

In January I wrote about Rib Magazine, a magazine specifically created for men who knit or those who wish to knit for them. When we received issues 2 and 3 we – my husband Jan and me – were very excited about a number of patterns in the magazines. Jan knit Cecelia Campochiaro’s Revolution Watch Cap in no time, with Rosy Green’s Cheeky Merino Joy in the colour Cornish Slate. For his next project he decided on making Alice Caetano’s Isometric Scarf, in Rosy Green’s Big Merino Hug in Garden Pond, a deep green blue colour.

 

The pattern comes in two versions, a smaller and a larger scarf. Jan opted for the smaller version and decided to execute the pattern as is, without swatching and using a needle size 4 mm. A bit daring, but hey, it’s only a scarf!

The i-cord cast on proved a bit difficult at first, but once that hurdle was taken the Isometric Scarf was an easy and straightforward knit. The pattern is well written. The sequence smartly applies to both sizes given (and could actually apply to any width once the set up has been done).

Mind you, not having made a swatch we’ve ended up with a somewhat larger and much much longer scarf, but a gorgeous scarf it is. What’s more, thanks to the yarn from Rosy Green Wool it’s incredibly soft and squishy, it has a well-defined drape and on top of that it’s GOTS certified organic and machine washable!

 

This pattern requires blocking. Usually I use the ironing board, but that wasn’t possible with this length of scarf. As we’ve never needed to block something this big, we don’t have blocking wires or blocking mats. Wires aren’t necessary, without wires you just need a lot of pins. Blocking mats are something else though. I had already been looking for them, but the only ones I could find were those giant puzzle pieces in horrible synthetic materials. That’s not in our book, blocking organic yarn on plastic mats made in China! We’ve ended up using our beautiful two-colour yoga mat. It’s made from felt and it has been produced in Germany from the wool from local, Belgian sheep. We’ve bought it last year from Heid de Frenay at Valériane in Namur and it was perfect for the job.

Isometric Scarf Blocking

Knitting with double yarn

There’s only a limited choice of GOTS-certified yarns on the market. Taking the yarn double increases the number of choices, but the label never mentions a needle size or a gauge for double yarn. I didn’t even start calculating, and I’m already feeling a headache coming up!

I wondered if there was some kind of simple rule, but Google couldn’t find it. Most probably that’s because I didn’t ask the right question, not because nobody ever wrote about it … Anyway, I set out to do my own tests and I started from the idea that doubling the yarn would require more or less 1,5 times the original needle size.

I’ve tried a few swatches with BC Garn Bio Balance and Semilla Melange. Let’s start with Bio Balance.

Bio Balance

Bio Balance is a 3-ply yarn* composed of 55% organic wool and 45 % organic cotton. The label gives a gauge of 25 stitches by 35 rows for 10 by 10 cm with 3,5 mm needles. For a nice and regular fabric I knit Bio Balance with 3 mm needles. That results in a slightly different gauge: 26 stitches by 38 rows. Most probably on 3,5 mm needles the gauge would be as on the label but then the fabric would be a little bit loose to my taste.

When doubling the yarn I tried 4,5 mm needles and obtained a gauge of 19 stitches by 28 rows. That confirms the idea I had that doubling the yarn in general requires to multiply the needle size by 1,5.

But then I tried Semilla Melange …

Semilla Melange

Semilla Melange is a 2-ply yarn* composed of 100% organic wool. The label gives a gauge of 22 stitches by 28 rows for 10 by 10 cm with 4 mm needles. That’s surprising. With 4,5 mm needles I have a gauge of 25 stitches by 40 rows, with 5 mm needles I’m at 23 by 34. Larger needles wouldn’t make for a nice fabric. To get the gauge from the label with 4 mm needles I’d have to knit very loosely. When I knit the Murrayfield beanie I used 3 mm and 3,5 mm needles with Semilla Melange!

When doubling the yarn we had the nicest results with a 6 mm needle, resulting in a 16 by 26 gauge. That is quite far from multiplying the needle size by 1,5!

I’ve put all the figures together in a table. We’ll come back on this subject when we’ve tried other types of yarn and other needle sizes, because this is not enough to come to any kind of conclusion.

Gauge Table

All samples were knit with white brass circulars from addi.

* n-ply is about the number of strands the yarn is made of, not the confusing yarn size indication

Fluffy and organic

Yesterday a customer was looking for something fluffy and organic to knit together with Bio Shetland from BC Garn, something kid silk alike. Kid silk usually refers to a mix of 70% kid mohair and 30% silk. The silk is used to create the core of the yarn and to hold the mohair together. It’s the mohair that creates the fluff of the yarn. In cheaper alternatives the silk is replaced by a synthetic fibre type.

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Mohair is spun from the hair of angora goats. The fibre gets thicker with the age of the goat, so kid mohair refers to the finest variety of mohair, from younger goats. Mohair is not to be confused with angora, which is made from the coat of the angora rabbit.

Silk is harvested from the silkworm. There are different varieties of silk, but by far and large the bigger part is mulberry silk, produced by the mulberry silkworm (Bombyx mori). This caterpillar forms a cocoon for its transformation into a moth. The cocoon is entirely made out of one single thread that can be as long as 2 km. In silk production the cocoons are boiled before the moth eats its way out of it. That kills the caterpillar and dissolves the glue that keeps the cocoon together. Then the cocoon is unrolled to harvest the thread.

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Other types of silk exist. In some cases the silkworm is allowed to eat its way out of the cocoon. The cocoon can no longer be unrolled in one single thread and the shorter fibres are spun into a less smooth type of yarn. That’s called wild or Tussah silk, but my reading didn’t help me understand how exactly those two words match or overlap. Tussah silk is supposed to come from a “wild” silkworm of a different species than the mulberry silkworm. This silkworm doesn’t create its cocoon out of one single thread. That’s why the silkworm is allowed to come out of the cocoon. But I guess one could also use the term “wild” silk for mulberry silk if the silkworm was allowed to come out of the cocoon.

All of this doesn’t have anything to do with the end product being organic or not. For silk to get an organic certification, the silkworms have to be kept in organically certified agriculture. Then the complete post processing (washing, spinning, dyeing) has to be done according to a set of organic and fair trade standards.

Both mohair and silk exist with a GOTS certification, but so far no certified hand-knitting yarn has been created from these fibres.

Looking for alternatives I remembered Florence, a French lady whom I met at a training about wool from laines.be. Last year she started her angora goat farm annex bed and breakfast in the Vosges: La ferme sous les Hiez. Twice a year she brings the clip from her goats to a cooperative that spins the fibre into yarn, then she sells the yarn and knitwear in her online shop. There’s no guarantee for its organic status, because a certification would be too complex and costly for this type of operation. It’s a business model that does not allow for wholesale, so even if I would want to, I couldn’t offer this type of yarn in my shop. But it’s as local as it gets and there are no big corporations involved, so if you’re looking for something fluffy, this is what I’d recommend.

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Boost

About a month ago I wrote here about the Cabled Scarf designed by Annelies Baes with Greener Wool Mergelland. Together with Annelies I planned a small social media campaign where I would post something about the scarf on Facebook and Instagram and she would share the post with her following.

Thanks to shares by accounts with a large following (Filière Laine, Annelies Baes, Brei- en Haakdag and Inside Crochet) and a few friends that resulted in a reach (as calculated by Facebook, you never know what it really means) of 5.138. That’s gigantic! At the very best a post from Greener Wool has a reach of over 250, but most of the time it doesn’t get over 150. For once Facebook’s nudging that this post was performing better than normal and that I should boost it convinced me in doing so. Mind you, they’ve said that about almost every post so far.

I set a budget of 8 (eight) euro and I asked Facebook to do the following:

Target men and women, ages 13 – 65+ who live in 6 locations, and have 9 interests.

Location – Living In: Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Japan, United States and European Economic Area (EEA)

Excluded Connections: Exclude people who like Greener Wool

Age: 13 – 65+

Language: Dutch, English (UK), French (Canada), English (US), Dutch (België) or French (France)

People Who Match:
Interests: Sustainability, Sustainable living, Ravelry, Environmentalism, Sustainable Brands, Natural product, Ecology or Organic product
And Must Also Match:
Interests: Inside Crochet, Simply Crochet, Crocheting Club, Crochet Guild of America, I Love Crochet, Crochet! Magazine, Crochet, Knit and Crochet Now! or Crochet World Magazine

That resulted in an additional reach of 6.468. My phone just didn’t stop buzzing for 7 days because of the incredible number of likes on Instagram.

I have to admit that this most probably wasn’t a very expert targeting, but honestly, I think it was all fake.

I took the effort to look deeper into the people liking the post. Checking their profile on Facebook or on Instagram showed time and again the same stuff: duckfaced millennial fashion victims with no interest whatsoever in sustainability, crafts or crochet! At first I had – on Facebook’s advice! – selected the entire world as geographical area. They would take care of selection the appropriate regions for me, they said. On the first day all the likes received by my post about a woollen scarf came from Middle Eastern desert places where it’s 40° on cold days. So I changed the parameters and selected only countries where I’ve actually already had real likes and real customers. To no avail: the origin of the likes changed, but the profiles where of the same type.

Will I ever again boost a post on Facebook? Obviously not! Did I get something for my 8 euros? Yes, I’ve learned that the real boost comes from real people.

Pitti Filati

Last week I traveled to Florence for Pitti Filati. That’s a bi-annual business fair where the Italian spinning mills present their products to the fashion business and more specifically to the buyers of the big fashion companies. They’re the people who buy what is needed to make next season’s garments, from tissue over yarn to buttons, clasps, ribbons and any other haberdashery item you can imagine.

In the fashion circus this business fair is actually preceded by another one, in Paris: Première Vision. That’s the place where the colours for the new season are shown for the first time to the fashion industry. Mind you, in September 2017 they presented the colours for spring-summer 2019 and it’s all very secret: visitors are not allowed to take pictures (which everyone sneakily does anyway) and if you want to take the colours home you have to buy a horribly expensive booklet.

At Pitti Filati, which is half a year later, there’s no secret. The news is out in the open anyway, so the entry price includes a sampler with yarn in the new colours, they have an extensive online media gallery and they have a place where you can take samples from big cones of yarn. It’s quite funny to see all the people wind small balls of yarn around their fingers …

It might look as if nobody knows where the colours come from, but that’s not entirely true. There are expensive fashion bureaus like WWD where hot shot consultants know all about it: they study trends, which enables them to predict the new trends, which they study of course. Obviously they’re always spot on.

For a small company such as Greener Wool there’s not much to find at such a gigantic industry fair. Real buyers are looking for tonnes of produce and kilometers of fabric. Once you mention sustainability and organic certification, most companies have nothing to offer. If they have, it’s almost never as a stock service (where they keep some stock in-house so that small companies can buy small quantities directly from them). So if I’d like to buy this marvellously soft yarn in these splendid colours that is entirely GOTS certified, then there’s the beige and the black in stock service. The other colours though have to be produced especially for me. That’s starting at 40 kg, per colour. Now that makes for quite a few skeins of yarn!

Double Knitting

This week I’ve taken up double knitting again. I almost forgot how much fun that is.

Quite a while ago I wanted to knit multi-coloured mittens. I looked for a pattern and I decided on working with this one from Drops:

Fideli Mittens from Drops

Never having done stranded colourwork I was in trouble right away: there was no way I could get the tension right. So I tried to learn more about all the different possibilities for colourwork, and I discovered double knitting. That did not only solve my tension issue, it also made the inside of the mittens as beautiful as the outside!

At first double knitting is really confusing: I kept forgetting what was back and what was front, which should be a purl stitch and which should be a knit stitch. It takes a while to figure out how to handle the yarn. Some people knit with both colours in one hand, other people have a colour in each hand. That’s what I’m doing. In The Knitter’s Book of Knowledge Debbie Bliss states that this is the fastest and most even way of holding yarns, but it requires some practice, especially for the hand that you usually don’t use to hold the yarn. I’m still struggling to get even purl stitches with my right hand.

The basic principle of double knitting is that you create a two-coloured reversible fabric. Where you change colour both sides of the fabric hold together, but when you work rows entirely in the same colour the front and the back only come together on the sides.

 

In double knitting you create the reversible fabric by alternatively working a stitch on the front side and a stitch on the back side of your project. In my blue and white sample with both sides in stockinette stitch, I will first knit a blue stitch, bring both yarns forward, purl a white stitch, bring both yarns to the back and repeat the whole sequence. If I want a white stitch to appear on the blue side however (and a blue stitch on the white side), I knit a white stitch and purl a blue stitch. While I’m working on the blue side of my sample, that is. When turning around the work, it’s the other way around, and that’s where I went wrong at first in this sample: as I hadn’t been double knitting in a while, I couldn’t get my head around switching the colours, so I had to make my drawing twice …

Double knitting motif

The most easy way not to get lost in double knitting is to consider every pair of stitches as one (a blue one + a white one, a knit stitch on the front + a purl stitch on the back). When counting one counts only pairs, not single stitches.

For double knitting I learned a lot from watching instruction videos. Most credit for helping me figure out how to work double knitting goes to Nathan Taylor aka Sockmatician, an actor with a passion for complex knitting projects. On his YouTube channel where he vlogs about knitting, he also has a series of excellent instruction videos for some more advanced knitting techniques. His expert patterns for socks and other things are on Ravelry.

For the blue and white sample I’m working on now, I’ve used the two-colour long tail cast on Nathan shows in this video:

 

The selvedge with slipped stitches is shown in this video. Mind you, I had to watch it at least 20 times before I got it right! I’ve decided to keep the selvedge the same colour throughout the sample, because when I try to make it follow the pattern I get confused again!

 

If you’ve never worked double knitting before and you’d like to give it a try, it might be a good start to watch this video over and over for an hour or so …

 

Or have a look at this video from Drops if you’d rather keep the both yarns in one hand: