Wool Maker Lane

knitting, spinning and life with alpacas

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The Uffington Horse Jumper

Ian alighting tractor Uffington Horse jumper amended

Finally, after much time, my husband received his long promised handspun jumper and we are both delighted with the result.  To start with there was a lot of debate about what to put on the front of it.  I wanted it to be an attractive and easy enough design for me to be able to replicate in yarn and for him to be willing to wear.  The idea of a white horse came whilst driving through the Wiltshire countryside where there are a number of them carved into the chalky hillsides.  We decided to use the Uffington White Horse as not only is this the oldest of all of the white horses (hails from the Bronze Age from 1380 – 550 BCE) but it also has quite a basic, but uniquely identifiable, outline.

To get the design I used a sketch from William Plenderleath which I found available on Wikipedia (William Plenderleath in The White Horses of the West of England, 1892).


I placed graph paper over a print of the Plenderleath’s illustration and traced the outline of the horse.  This gave me a pattern to follow to achieve a similar image in yarn.  I spent some time knitting just the horse to see if it was achievable and was really happy with the outcome.  I knew that when it came to working on the real jumper that I would need to take care about the floats to the rear of the knitting.  It was important to make sure that they did not pull or become too loose.

To knit this jumper I had to spin a lot of alpaca fleece.  I kept having mammoth carding and spinning sessions thinking that I had a sufficient amount but I kept having to go back to the spinning wheel.

The actual garment construction was quite straight forward.  It needed to be loose at the bottom, achieved with stocking stitch,  and it needed a round neck and cuffs which I worked in K1P1 rib.  Being from handspun alpaca (thank you Bootsy and Bert for your massive contributions) it was knit in 2 large pieces back and front. I did this so that it would give more definition to the shaping of the body as I didn’t want it to skew or drape awkwardly.  I had planned to also knit the sleeves in pieces but it just didn’t work out as well as I would have liked so, being  drop sleeves,  I simply picked up the stitches around the sleeve opening and knitted down to the cuff.  This worked out really well as I was able to measure it for size against the new owner.

Ian Uffington pondering electric fence box - back of jumper From start to finish this took about six months to complete – there was a bit of a break at Christmas and New Year, but I am really delighted with this garment.  It was a really enjoyable knit and it looks so good on my husband.  I get tremendous satisfaction when I see him wearing it.








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New Home for All


Earlier this year we moved to a new place.  It’s not far from where we used to live but slightly closer to town.  We like it as it has more space both in terms of house and in terms of land for the alpacas.  They have been in heaven since they arrived and Donald, the labrador, loves his walks around the fields.  Summer has been really good and now it’s time to consider organising a shelter for the alpacas.  My husband saw a huge shed when we were in England which he would like to scale down:


We have bought all of the materials and are in the process of dodging raindrops to get it made.  We are busy working on the frame at the moment.  The alpacas have been mildly curious but will be really grateful when the bad weather comes.





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One of the most marvellous aspects of living where we do is that we live beside a wood.  It’s very much a working wood where pine trees are planted and subsequently felled by Coillte, our local forestry commission.  The land beneath the trees is peat and commonly termed as bogland, bog being the Irish word for soft.  It’s lovely to walk on as it is so bouncy.  I once walked with a friend from Romania through the bogland and she started to get rather worried as she thought that she was feeling tremors from an earthquake.

My visits to the wood punctuate my day.  When I am home I am there each morning, evening and night time.  The night before the summer solstice I was standing on a high bank of turf gazing at the beauty of the full moon before me, the sunset behind me and the huge swathes of bog cotton and wild orchids below me.  Soon this was all to be history as the following day the continued hot spell of weather caused the wood to catch fire and create devastation for the plants and wildlife within it and wreak havoc, mayhem and terror for all of us who live around it.


Obviously our greatest concern was getting the animals to safety while the fire fighters and helicopter crews worked slavishly away at the impossible task of getting the fire under control.  The alpacas were in a field of smoke.  Their eyes were watering from its effects.  It was such a relief for us, but incredibly scary for them, when my cousin arrived with a trailer and brought them to the safety of the building where I work which  has a large field attached to it.  They were delighted to see acres of long grass before them and leapt out of the trailer with glee.


I had hoped that they would be back home by now but the fires are still smouldering and only two days ago we needed more visits from the helicopters and fire the local brigade.   While going into work on weekends and over holidays is no fun I am so grateful that Bootsy and Albs are safe and hopefully they will come home soon.




Spinning Gandhi Style

At a recent meeting of the Irish Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers a lovely gentleman produced a box like object the size of a book.  He opened it out and informed us that it was a Charkha spinning wheel.  Now anything that turns and produces thread or wool of any kind grabs my interest but when I saw this compact machine I was transfixed.  I was aware of its association with Gandhi but what I hadn’t known was that he had actually invented this spinning wheel when he was in jail in Pune in the 1920s for civil disobedience.


“The spinning wheel of Gandhi brought us freedom.” (Punjabi folk song)

Whilst incarcerated Gandhi used the spinning wheel to spin cotton thread and produce fabric for his own clothing.  He rejected European style clothing, instead, opting for the simple loincloth that we so often see him wearing in photographs of the time.

This was a part of the Swadeshi movement which held an anti-colonial (anti-British) philosophy that attempted to promote the self-sufficiency of the Indian people.  At that time India was importing much of its cotton textiles from the north of England.  The movement encouraged Indians to create their own fabrics rather than import machine made cloth from Britain.  In an effort to reduce poverty in rural India and to stem the flow of Indian money destined for England Gandhi stated that it was

“the patriotic duty of every Indian to spin his own cotton and weave his own cloth.”


Gandhi received some criticism for being backward looking and eschewing the benefits of modern machinery but in response he claimed that “a plea for the spinning wheel is a plea for recognising the dignity of labour.”  He also argued that he was not against machines per se but that he was against India’s dependence on British machinery.

For Gandhi the spinning wheel was an emblem of non-violent protest.  It featured on the first national flag of India in 1921 but the flag went through a number of transformations before it got to today’s current version.


1931_flag_of_india-svg                                                     06

Gandhi recognised the personal benefits of spinning.  It has been reported that he got up at 4 a.m. each morning and spun for one hour.  He claimed that spinning was akin to meditation and that it ‘calmed the nerves.’


Below is a video of a modern Charkha in action.  It was made by Jonathan Bosworth who created the Charkha that I saw at the IGSWD meeting in Dublin.


India gained its independence from Britain in 1947.  Gandhi was assassinated in 1948.  His personal Charkha spinning wheel was recently sold in the U.K. for £110,000.











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Spinning a Sweater

This has to be my most ambitious project to date for a number of reasons but mainly because of the time involved.  Over the Christmas holidays (doesn’t that sound like ages ago?) I was listening to the AndreSue Knits podcast and she was chatting to a fellow knitter, Sue Stokes, about a Sweater spin.  This has been a goal of mine since the alpacas first came to live with us but anyone who has been near a spinning wheel will know the hours that it can take to spin even a small ball of wool.  Habitually I have a grand plan to spin ‘tonnes’ of wool and then produce a substantial pullover that would keep one cosy in a Force Ten gale but usually the moment that I have enough yarn spun for a hat or a pair of gloves…off I go and the amazingly grand garment gets put onto the long finger (this is a wonderful Irish phrase often used to describe the inactivity of procrastinators).


So brimming with enthusiasm I signed myself up to this challenge.  And indeed where spinning is concerned challenge is the word.  My right foot, which still has a painful fracture, is redundant and the left has taken over.  It’s doing well and treadling beautifully however my body has to take on an awkward posture when I am on the Ashford Traveller as the ‘business end’of this spinning wheel is to the left of the treadle.  Slowly but surely I am getting there.

I am spinning Albie’s fleece, which I love to bits, into a two ply yarn.  This will be the last beautiful brown fleece that we get from him as over the winter he has started to grow a lot of grey hair on his fringe (which isn’t used) and down his neck (which usually would be).


Also, this will show you how impulsive I am, I have no pattern in mind.  I have merely cast a sufficient number of stitches onto a circular needle and I’m going for it.   The plan is to knit up to the armpits and then decide what sort of a design the jumper will take.  I have been researching stitch patterns and pullovers from a number of traditions which I have to say is phenomenal fun but hugely distracting.  The good news is that I have about 45 more rows before a decision has to be made so there’s no rush really.  If possible I would like to use a contrasting fleece….but we’ll see!


Bristol Hat Fine and Finished


On a recent trip to the UK I managed to finish this little lovely out of leftover Debbie Bliss yarn.  I had started it before Christmas and left it there to be finished off when I returned.  It’s always great to have a project waiting for you that you can get stuck into straight away.  On my next jaunt over I will have to apply myself big time to the great spin fest so that I can make more headway on the sweater spin challenge.  This means being highly organised and taking plenty of carded fleece and bobbins with me.


Broken Joint

During my last stint of spinning in the UK  I managed to break the conrod joint of the Ashford Traditional.  This is a piece of leather that attaches to the treadle.  I had a quick hunt around for some leather to replace it with and stumbled upon a pair of redundant jeans with the perfect label.  What could be better?



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Knitting for Comfort During the First World War

During a recent trip to Bristol I visited an exhibition called ‘Parcels of Comfort’ in the Cathedral in the centre of town.  This small display used textiles to illustrate the contents of parcels which were sent to British Army soldiers during World War I.  Most remarkable was the way that much of the work on view was produced by GCSE students at a local secondary school in Cotham.


The exhibits illustrated the crucial role played by women and girls in the fabrication of garments for serving soldiers and how they plugged the gap left by a shortage of woollen garments.  Magazines of the day provided patterns.


The most common items were gloves, socks and balaclavas.  These were known as ‘comforts.’

Socks were deemed to be the most important items to send as a fresh supply of clean dry socks could prevent the onset of ‘trench foot’ which is a fungal infection that can lead to gangrene or even amputation.  For me the eeriest item was the rifle glove pictured above.  This has two significant apertures- one for the thumb and the other for the trigger finger. I can’t imagine what it must have been like knitting one of these for a close relative knowing that the hand that it is being made for may kill or that the person wearing it may die from a hand wearing a similar garment.

Blankets were also knitted for hospitals.  During this war wool was in short supply and had to be imported from Australia, New Zealand and even South America.  Women were encouraged to use subdued colours such as grey, khaki and brown but occasionally brighter coloured wool was used.

This exhibition was thought provoking for me.  It made me consider the ways that women were unofficially used to assist the war effort.  It is very hard to gauge their motivation without being there to judge the mood of the day.  I have no doubt that patriotism was involved but surely by being emotionally attached to a loved one away fighting was reason enough to produce these ‘comforts.’




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Happy New Year…Happy New Jumper

Icelandic Sweater

Yes miracle of miracles I have completed my Icelandic yoke sweater in what, for me, is super quick time .  There is a reason for this….I have fractured a bone in my foot and have been under strict instructions to “Rest up.”  Easy for a consultant to say when you’ve just limped in the door but a pretty hard task when you have a busy life that doesn’t stop for broken bits and pieces .  While this ‘inconvenience’ did not prevent me from going to work it did allow me to take it easy the rest of the time with leg raised and needles clicking.  Every cloud…

This has meant that I have had lots of time to focus on the yoked sweater that I returned from Iceland enthusing about.  I had never knitted one before and really wanted to learn about the construction of such a garment.  Whilst in the Hand Knitting Association of Iceland shop in Reykjavik  I bought nine 50g balls of dark blue Léttlopi, and two 50g balls each of pale pink and sea green.

I used the Anniversary Pattern from Ístex which I downloaded for free on Ravelry.  I found the instructions to be really clear and easy to follow including the chart for the pattern.  As usual I went off piste slightly by changing some of the design.  At the base of the pullover, I simplified the colour work by using a two by two pattern in the contrasting shades.  This was because I was worried that I hadn’t got enough wool.  In fact coming up to the end I hurriedly ordered some more balls from Iceland which eventually weren’t required (hats, mitts….?)

Every part of this project seemed so easy.  My major worry was the joining of the sleeves to the body to form the yoke but it actually all worked out fine.  It did seem to take an age to get around the 272 stitches that were on the needle at one point but it was only for nineteen rows as on row 20 the first of five sets of decreases commenced.

I must say that I really loved making this jumper and work started taking a go slow towards the collar as I didn’t really want it to end.  I now have no ongoing knitting here at the moment as I try to decide whether the next pullover will be a traditional gansey style or a pullover with a yoke.


Coats are a growing


Albie and Bootsy’s coats are starting to grow back now as it has been four and a half months since they were sheared.  Luckily, for them, we have had a really mild winter up to now.  I found it very hard to get down to the field to feed them with the bad foot so one particularly dark, muddy evening I decided to put their feed in the boot of my car and drive down to them.  All was going well until I got the car stuck in a ditch and had to get a local farmer to pull the car out the following day.

Left legged spinning


As my left leg is now the main shaker around here I have had to train it to work the treadle on the spinning wheel.  I’m getting better at it I must say as the spinning wheel now remains stationary rather than being pushed towards the middle of the floor by an over zealous foot.  I would really love to make my next knitting project from Albie’s fleece so there will be plenty of spinning going on now that the left leg is as good as the right used to be!