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Today we’re excited to announce a new addition to Brooklyn Tweed’s permanent stable of yarns: an airy Rambouillet laceweight from the softest fleece we’ve ever offered. Vale has been in development since last year and it’s been hard to keep it under our hats! Like all its BT cousins, this breed-specific yarn is 100% American made, from sheep to dyepot. Vale will be available for purchase on May 17. Ready for a sneak peek?

The Fiber

Rambouillet sheep are also known as French Merinos; two hundred years of careful breeding developed a fleece with even more crimp and bounce than the merino that’s widely available today. In the United States, Rambouillets are a favorite finewool breed on the western plains. The growers we work with in Wyoming achieve wool with a micron count of 21.5, the softest fiber we’ve used to date.

The Process

The same partners who help us produce Arbor bring our Rambouillet bales from raw fleece to finished skein. Chargeurs, based in South Carolina, scours it clean and combs it into the smooth and consistent top that’s required for worsted spinning. The fiber is shipped on to Maine for worsted spinning at the Jagger Brothers mill, and then travels a short distance to the Saco River Dyehouse for eco-friendly skein dyeing.

The Colors

Vale’s 14 custom shades augment some touchstone colors from the Arbor line with sophisticated softer tones. Dusty rose shades, glacial blues, and lichen yellows form a focused palette that offers both neutrals and brights.

The Knitting

We’ve handpicked a selection of favorite lace pieces designed by Jared Flood from the BT archives to re-knit in Vale. (Any guesses which they are?) We love the polished, even spin of this yarn, which shows off stitch motifs to maximum effect.

Mull over the palette and the pattern options and get ready to join us for a summer of lace! We’ll be hosting our first-ever knitalong starting in early July and posting our favorite tips and tricks for lace success. If you’re lace-curious but haven’t tried this beautiful form of knitting yet, it will be the perfect opportunity to get your feet wet.

Join us this week while we discuss Vale and all of its project possibilities on the BT Ravelry forum.

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Today we’re taking you behind the scenes to show you where Arbor gets its vibrant color: all aboard the bus for a field trip to Saco River Dyehouse!

When we set out to create a new palette of solid colors for Arbor, we felt Saco River Dyehouse in Biddeford, Maine would be the ideal partner for the job. We first worked with them on the colors for Plains, our single-batch Rambouillet laceweight, and the chance to collaborate on a fuller range of colors for Arbor was truly exciting. Apart from their skill at creating beautiful hues, Saco River stands apart in terms of environmental stewardship. This venerable company, which originally operated in Manhattan, changed ownership in 2012 and moved to an historic mill building on the banks of the Saco River in southern Maine. On a mission to bring their old-world craft into alignment with modern technologies and concerns, the dyehouse focused on making its processes organic and environmentally friendly. In 2013 it earned organic certification under the GOTS International Textile Standards, the only yarn-dyeing operation in the United States to have done so.

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Brooklyn Tweed’s woolen-spun heathered yarns are dyed in the fleece, but Arbor is different. It was spun in its natural sheep’s fleece white and then dyed in the skein. Skein-dyeing is a labor intensive and scientific process. It requires careful handling of the yarn and precise calibration of temperature and water flow to protect the lofty softness of the wool. The dyes must be mixed with perfect accuracy; it takes years of experience to master the chemical recipes that produce various colors and to achieve predictable and repeatable results—blue-greens are notoriously finicky, and even a single grain of pigment more or less can alter the final shade. The temperature must be adjusted over a process of several painstaking hours to develop certain colors or prevent a shift to unwanted overtones. Translating Jared’s vision for the Arbor palette into the final colors required many months of collaboration and test batches, but all that effort was well worth it. We love the depth and saturation the Saco River dyemasters were able to achieve.

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We’re excited about our partnership with Saco River Dyehouse and hope you’ll enjoy the many colors they’ve helped us create!

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We’re thrilled to unveil an all-new 100% American yarn today! It’s long been our goal to expand the range of Brooklyn Tweed offerings, but a great deal of planning, care, and time are required to build lasting partnerships, source everything domestically, and make sure our supply chain is robust enough to meet customer demand. Arbor has been in the works for more than a year — it’s entirely different from our woolen-spun core lines and its journey from sheep to skein is wholly new.

The fiber

Arbor comes from purebred Targhee sheep grazing the rangelands of Montana and South Dakota. The Targhee is an American breed, based on Rambouillet stock but augmented with Corriedale and Lincoln longwool for strength. Targhee yarn knits up as supple, long-wearing fabric that’s luxuriously soft but everyday durable.

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The Milling Process

We send our Targhee clip to the historic Jagger Brothers Spinning Mill in southern Maine for worsted processing. This yarn is not the rustic jumble of lightly twisted fibers you’ve come to expect from Brooklyn Tweed. Worsted spinning involves combing all the fibers into smooth alignment before spinning to produce a perfectly even roving. Arbor is a bouncy, round 3-ply yarn with a tight twist for superior stitch definition and strength.

The Palette

We wanted Arbor to be a celebration of color with a deep, nuanced range of hues. From the velvety depths of Nightfall and Dorado to the blaze of Firebrush and the tang of Tincture, our custom-dyed solids span the spectrum. The neutrals offer unexpected twists — the faded black denim of Porter, the subtle warm tones of Humpback, the lichen green of Gale, the barely-there blush of pink in Degas. A few of our favorites from the Plains palette — Morandi, Rainier, and Treehouse — now have a permanent home in the Arbor line. These colors are created with minimal impact on the environment by the master dyers at Saco River Dyehouse, the country’s only organically certified yarn dyeing operation.

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The Collection

To introduce this new yarn, Jared Flood has created a tasting menu of accessories that will let you sample Arbor in bite-size projects or wrap yourself in rich color at a larger scale. Some of the patterns are familiar favorites from the Brooklyn Tweed archives reworked for Arbor’s gauge and unique characteristics; others are fresh offerings. The Arbor Collection includes nine patterns for hats, scarves, shawls, and cowls that sing the yarn’s praises in cables, twisted stitches, and textural motifs. With gift knitting season upon us, we hope you’ll find inspiration in our new lookbook for treating your knitworthy loved ones.

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We’re so excited about our new partnerships in the U.S. textile industry that have allowed us to bring you Arbor, and we hope it will find a home in your workbasket. We can’t wait to hear what you think and to see what you’ll make.

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Amirisu released their fourth issue last week, which highlights Brooklyn Tweed as the magazine’s featured brand. We had a lot of fun working with Amirisu, contributing both design and written content throughout the issue. If you aren’t familiar with this online publication, it is the passion project of a Tokyo-based knitting/editing duo whose shared goal is furthering the online knitting culture in Japan. The magazine’s content is presented in both Japanese and English.

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Last Fall, editor Meri Tanaka interviewed me about US-yarn production and my history as a designer. Within the article I talk a bit about how I got my start developing  and manufacturing yarns, as well as my start as a knitter. See pages 50-57 for the full article (excerpts shown below).

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I also contributed a short written piece for the magazine entitled “Elizabeth For Beginners”. Though Elizabeth Zimmermann is a national icon to us American knitters, Amirisu informed me that her work is not well-known in Japan and requested I contribute a piece that would act as a sort of gateway to EZ’s work. Within the article I give a very brief version of Elizabeth’s story and suggest some of her most beloved patterns for folks who are just discovering her work (pages 68-71).

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Last but not least – patterns and yarn! Brooklyn Tweed’s own Michele Wang and Leila Raabe contributed designs to the collection using BT yarns. Michele’s Tsubasa Top is a fun, spring-ready pullover worked in Shelter (color Blanket Fort) with arrowhead lace panels and dolman-style cap sleeves. Leila’s Preble Hat is worked in Shelter (color Snowbound) and features a woven texture pattern and twisted-stitch cable insertion. Both patterns can be downloaded directly from Amirisu (pattern info is also available on Ravelry).

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Tsubasa by Michele Wang | Preble by Leila Raabe.

A big thank you to the editors of Amirisu for featuring our work throughout the issue!

– Jared

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Our yarn has come a long way from its original state as scoured wool. The construction is now complete and only a few finishing touches remain. The yarn must now be removed from the bobbins in 50-gram (140 yard) increments to create individual skeins. The skeining machine (which unfortunately eluded my camera) is set for a certain number of rotations (pre-measured based on that specific yarn’s yards-per-gram ratio) which wind off consistent, exact amounts for each skein.

The 50-gram skeins are placed in a plastic lined box and sent along for a final wash. In order to remove residual spinning grease as well as ‘block’ the finished  yarn (e.g. brainwash the wool to its new identity), it is important that each skein is washed before it leaves the mill. Equipment-wise, the washing method is no different than running a load at your own home.  All finished yarns are gently washed in (packed-to-the-gills) regular-sized domestic washing machines. The difference between a washed and an unwashed skein of milled wool can be rather astounding. In the case of woolen yarns it seems to transform the weight significantly as the fibers relax and fully bloom.

After a trip through the washing machine, the skeins are hung evenly along a wall of drying racks. Here they they will sway in front of a brigade of rotating fans which speed drying-time remarkably (I use this same trick at home when wet-blocking garments).

The drying wall is enough to make most of us yarn-folk woozy with delight. All that lofty wool swaying gently in the breeze… to say nothing of the sweet, sweet wool fumes wafting through the air.

When the wool is completely dry, it is hand-twisted into hank form and whisked off towards the labeling station.

Lucy (The Saint) labels each and every skein by hand, making sure each one is properly placed and affixed with an adhesive tag that designates a specific skein’s color name and lot number.

When the yarn looks like this, it is ready for its entrance into the Wide World. Each labeled skein is bagged (10 skeins together, organized by color), loaded into freight boxes, and finally shipped to our warehouse in Portland, Maine. The warehouse is one of our team’s nerve-centers: from here we fulfill online orders and ship larger amounts to Flagship stores. Each yarn’s story beyond this point is different, and we hope they bring tactile pleasures to knitting hands wherever they end up.

I hope you’ve enjoyed getting a taste of what happens behind the scenes to create and spin Shelter.  As I mentioned in my first post, such a magical process deserves to be shared. This experience may even inspire you to seek out a mill and witness this magic in person. In my own experience with mills in both America and Europe, owners and employees are generally very proud of their work and love to share that joy, either through tours or a general eagerness to discuss yarn making. My wish is that we begin to see more US production being done in support of our own mills, before they’re gone. Thanks for joining me!

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Yesterday we ended with a fresh batch of singles loaded up onto bobbins.  Because Shelter is a 2-ply yarn, the next step obviously involves plying, but before that can happen these babies get a trip to the Wool Sauna.

A proper steaming of the yarn in its current form is necessary before plying begins. Steaming saturates the fibers with moisture, causing them to relax and accept their new identity as twisted plies. Before steaming, the (newly given) tension in each ply is fighting to unravel.  Much in the same way a good blocking makes everyone’s knitting look better *cough*, the same principle applies here.  Wool always behaves better after a bit of moisture sets it straight.

The bobbins are placed in a metal rolling cart that is covered with small holes.  These holes are necessary to allow steam to pass through the cart and effectively reach all the bobbins inside.  Above you can see one of these “sauna” carts full of finished yarn.  While the ‘Fossil’ yarn shown here is a few steps ahead of us at our current stage of the tour, I wanted to give you a good shot of the carts used for steaming.

After the wool’s trip through the sauna, the bobbins are ready to be loaded onto the twisting frame (more simply referred to as “the twister” at the mill) and plied into a final 2-ply yarn. The twister functions much in the same way as the spinning frame in that a flyer adds twist (in the opposite direction this time, to balance the direction of twist added by the spinning frame), moving the singles off of their current bobbins, plying them, and winding them onto new ones.

Pictured above on the left are all the bobbins with single plies being shuttled up and over the ‘tunnel’ and back down onto the twister (right).  While this machine is running, it requires at least one worker to constantly monitor all the bobbins concurrently, passing up and down the tunnel between bobbin racks and twister. This is a nerve-wracking job that takes precision and timing when loading on empty bobbins or fixing an occasional break in a given ply. This part of the mill is Sarah’s domain, and watching her work is fascinating. The thought of keeping that many things under control while the machinery is running makes my blood pressure rise. The mill workers are a really talented and wonderful bunch of people! (A funny side note: the metal structures running overhead and shuttling the plies to the twister are adjusted based on the height of the worker running the machine.)

When the bobbins on this frame are filled, the yarn has completed the milling process and moves onto the finishing stages — it is now very close to the form you’ll see on your doorstep, or in a yarn shop, but a few more things need to happen to get it ready for the spotlight.  It is with these finishing stages that we will conclude our tour tomorrow morning!

*The title of this post is a pun on New Hampshire’s state motto “Live Free or Die”, which I read and appreciate every time I cross the border on my way to the mill.
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We left off yesterday with a rack full of fine strands of roping. Because these ropings currently lack twist, they appear thicker than they will be in the finished yarn. Adding twist to fiber is the key to making yarn — it traps necessary energy and tension into the yarn, increasing strength and (in most cases) elasticity. The amount of twist you add when making single plies of yarn is very important and can take the hand and behavior of the yarn in different directions. Any amount of twist though, be it a lot or a little, is essential for creating knitable yarn.

At this point, the ropings pictured above are loaded on to the spinning frame where they will be twisted and wound onto bobbins. Some of my favorite objects at the mill are the antique wooden spinning bobbins that have been in use for over six decades. They are beautiful objects in their own right. On this trip I was lucky enough to snag one of them as a souvenir, which now resides on the desk in my studio with my small collection of inspirational objects.

The spinning frame is also responsible for drafting the fiber, which happens just before twisting occurs.  When roping is drafted, it is pulled slightly to open up and lengthen the fiber structure before the single plies are “committed” through twist. The amount of drafting can be increased or decreased at this stage and is also a player in the finished behavior of the yarn.

After the fibers are drafted, a flyer spins and concurrently winds them onto a bobbin. On this machine, the fiber starts on racks high above the machine and works its way down towards the floor, where fully loaded bobbins are collected and shuttled off to the next work station.

A fresh batch of bobbins is a thing of beauty. When all the bobbins are collected into a rolling cart, they are ready to move onto the steamer, which is where we will begin tomorrow. Until then though, a beautiful batch of grey wool!

 

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I started yesterday by telling you about one of the two aspects that affects Shelter’s milling process: fleece dying and color blending.  The second quality that significantly affects the process is its preparation as a woolen-spun yarn. Woolen-spun yarns, unlike their smoother worsted-spun cousins, are prepared using a process called carding.

We left off in our last post with a mish mash of loud-colored wool going into the Picker. Once the Picker has done its work, the wool gets loaded onto the Carder: a giant machine with several rolling cylinders covered in metal teeth. The purpose of this machine is to open up the fiber, blend the wool together evenly, and prepare it into individual plies of roping which will be later spun into yarn. You’ll notice right away that the carder has already whipped our bright wool confetti into shape, producing an even, golden heather.

Unlike combing, which occurs during worsted-spinning, carding allows large amounts of air to be trapped within a cloud of slightly jumbled fibers. These tumbleweed-like layers of wool allow for a loftiness and springiness that will translate into the behavior of the finished yarn. The carded fiber emerges as a ‘web’ halfway through its carding process; the wool at this stage looks incredibly beautiful and delicate, like a gentle veil of color floating through space.

If the fiber was being prepared for handspinning, it could be taken off the machines at this stage in batting form. Below is a box of freshly carded grey fiber that wasn’t spun beyond this point. If you could reach your hand in here, you’d be amazed at how soft and fluffy this stuff feels. You might want to set up camp inside of this box.

As the fiber approaches the end of the carding machine, a large cylinder called the doffer is used to relay the bat into the final section of the machine, where it is split into several individual ropings (the term “roping” is specifically used to describe this stage in woolen spinning mills, versus the more commonly known term “roving” which is used in a worsted spinning processes.) These fine strands of roping will make up a single ply in every spun yarn, but as yet have no twist in them. If you’ve ever knit with an unspun icelandic yarn before, the plies at this point have a similar appearance.

The unspun roping strands mark the conclusion of the carding process. When a batch of roping cakes are ready, they are removed from the Carder and stored on racks (shown here) where they await the next step of the process: the spinning frame. It is there they will get their first taste of true twist.

Tomorrow, we’ll make some plies.

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Shelter has two unique qualities that dictate the way in which it is made.  The first of these qualities concerns the way heathered color blends are achieved through a combination of dyeing and blending wool. This will be the subject of today’s first installment of our mill tour.

Shelter is a true dyed-in-the-wool yarn and undergoes a process known as Fleece Dying. If you take a close look at a heathered yarn, paying careful attention to the individual fibers in any given length of it, you’ll notice that  the overall color (a golden yellow, in the case of ‘Hayloft’ above) is actually a combination of blended fibers of many different colors.  When you look closely at heathered yarns, you’ll often be surprised at just how many colors you may see in one yarn, and often unexpected ones too. Some of our color recipes are comprised of up to 6 solids at a time.

Unlike dunk-dyed solid yarns that are spun first into white yarn and dyed afterwards, these wools are dyed as large batches of scoured fleece before any spinning occurs. To achieve the final heathered color, various amounts of solid-dyed fleece are blended together to create the finished hue.  This process is just like mixing paint colors to achieve a desired tone or shade when painting. And just like with painting, you can use a small number of base colors to achieve an infinite variety of finished colors. Each colorway, then, has a ‘recipe’ of solids which are blended in specified amounts to create the final result. Developing these blends allows for unbelievable nuance and was personally my favorite part of the whole development process.  Palette development is a topic for another series of posts entirely, which I hope to share more about in the future.

While our current palette has 17 heathered colors, we begin with a base of 10 solids from which all blends are created. One of the major benefits of composing a palette in this manner is that it guarantees a certain cohesiveness across the entire range. If all colors, no matter how different in appearance, are rooted in the same solids, they all resonate together in varying degrees of color harmony. I’m still amazed at how easily these colors seem to meld together in even the most bizarre combinations as a result of this process.

Dyed-in-the-wool yarns bring their own set of challenges as well. They involve more advance planning and projection (“Which colors use which solids? How much of each solid are needed to ensure all recipes can be made again? Will certain colors have higher demand than others? If so, how will that effect our dyed amounts?”), and are more expensive to make because of the larger initial dye quantities that are required. In my mind though, the end-result in fleece-dyed yarns far outweighs these particular challenges. The level of sophistication and nuance that this kind of dyeing allows is really something special.

The photo above shows a detail of a giant cube of solid dyed fleece in a rich midnight blue. One of the most surprising aspects of the solids to me was how insanely bright they are before blending (for your eyes’ sake, I’ve chosen to show one of the lower intensity solids here). When you blend colors together, whether with paint or wool, increasing color diversity within a blend will begin to ‘muddy up’ your final shade. If you begin with weak colors, muddiness takes over much faster. In order to keep a rich, saturated feeling of color in the finished blend, it is important to start with colors that are bright and strong. No matter how hard they are to look at during this stage, their loudness is essential.

To begin the spinning process of a given color, all solid-colored fleeces that are involved in that color’s recipe must be gathered together in their corresponding percentages and put through the first stage of milling, called picking.

It looks like a mess now, but these brightly colored lumps of wool are at the beginning of an amazing transformation process. The Picker will begin the mixing process as well as apply spinning oils to the wool that will allow the carding and spinning machines to process it more efficiently.

Tomorrow we say goodbye to this fluorescent wool confetti and hello to beautiful blended gold when the process of carding begins.

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I’m writing this morning fresh from a magical weekend at the mill. While we’re just starting to feel teasing hints of spring in NYC, the past few days were such a wonderful reminder of the reasons I love Winter.  Journeying to Harrisville, which has recently been blanketed with several layers of snow, was like being transported to an ethereal winter fantasy land. I didn’t think the place could get any more beautiful… but then again, they continue to surprise me up there.

The trip coincided with the long-awaited conclusion of a large production run of Shelter. So the best news of the week is that, after some rather turbulent months of being in a supply and demand tail-chase, our warehouse stock is now fully loaded!  If you’ve had trouble in the past weeks getting your hands on a specific color, they’ve finally all arrived, so have at it!

Being at the spinning mill is always a bit intoxicating. An overabundance of wool is always dizzying, but in a tweedy riot of colors, it really borders on sensory overload!

Having allowed myself some extra time for photography on this visit, I finally got the chance to do something I’ve been scheming since the very beginning: an official photo essay of the yarn-making process, from dyed wool to finished yarn.

In celebration of our freshly completed production run, I’ve decided to do a special multi-part blog series this week on what happens behind the scenes at the mill.  Seeing yarn being made is such a magical and educational experience. It’s a process I think needs to be shared, as best as possible, and since we can’t all meet there for a walk through the mill together, I’m hoping to bring you the next best thing. This week I’ll take you on a virtual tour-in-photographs of the rich processes that go on every day in a bona fide American woolen mill.

So buckle up, the ride begins tomorrow morning.

 

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