Wool Maker Lane

knitting, spinning and life with alpacas

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In the pink

Having dyed Bert’s wool pink last week I decided to put it to good use and to make a baby hat for Hannah who is the daughter of Bert’s owner.  First of all I made a small swatch:


The wool that I dyed last weekend came out as a really subtle shade of pink which was perfect.  When knitted up on 4 mm needles it turned out that 10cm x 10cm could be achieved with 19 stitches and 26 rows.  I cast on 72 stitches and started knitting in stocking stitch for about 11 cm.  I divided the total number of stitches by 8 and then started decreasing evenly across 8 divisions every alternate row working 16 rows altogether before breaking off the wool and passing it through the remaining stitches and sewing up the side seam.  So easy and quick.  I was delighted.  I decided to embellish the hat with a small flower and hey presto it was complete.  Hannah now looks gorgeous with her new headgear.


Sock knitting


I returned to my sock knitting this morning.  I haven’t touched these for a while now and I have a feeling that I messed up where the Fair Isle pattern is concerned (the curse of watching t.v. and counting stitches simultaneously).  I studied what I knitted briefly and I really can’t imagine anybody getting down around my ankles with a magnifying glass so I’m just going to keep on working away at them.


My efforts to get the resources for dyeing this week have moved on somewhat thankfully.  Last week I ordered some alum from WildColours.co.uk and it arrived to my workplace.  My colleagues couldn’t understand my joy when I pulled it out of the package but they gave me understanding looks when I explained how hard it had been to get.


A few minutes later I was handed another small package from a friend and I got such a shock when I opened it:


More alum but where the alum from the UK was in crystal form the most recent alum was in a small block.  It turns out that it came from one of the Chinese markets in Dublin and the lovely note accompanying the packet informed me that if I need more that is where I should go.  I’m really delighted to hear this and can’t wait to get started with dyeing wool naturally.  I even bought some undyed wool so that I don’t waste any of the teensy amount  of white/grey alpaca fleece that I have left.


The only fly in the ointment is that those bushes that are growing all around me are just not bearing enough fruit at the moment so it’s a bit of a waiting game.  I’ve been reading an old book that I found in my mother’s house.  It’s called The Woolcraft Book, spinning dyeing weaving and is by Constance Jackson and Judith Plowman (1982, pub. William Collins).  I must say that it is fascinating reading and I have been returning to it again and again.  The authors are based in New Zealand and recommended, not surprisingly, ferns for dyeing.  I hurried out into the wood to see what is available there:


Somehow I don’t think that I need to worry about finding a source of green material.  I shall give the blackberries and elderberries a little more time though.


The boys have been allowed down into the garden again as the grass is getting rather long.  Usually they have the whole run of the place but recently Bootsy decided that when they are by the house it is too far to go to the back field to relieve himself preferring to use the driveway instead.  This morning I had to put up a hasty barrier using string and garden chairs and old bits of a trampoline.  Alpacas are very good with barriers though however flimsy they may be.  Unlike sheep it doesn’t take much to keep them contained.


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Fun at the fair and other items..


The skies are now full of swallows getting very excited. They’re darting around overhead making a lot of chattering noise as they prepare for their long voyage to Africa.

This has been a really busy weekend with lots going on.   I’ve been dipping my toe in the water where dyeing is concerned, visiting the county fair and finishing off the purple mitts that I started a few week’s ago.


I have tried, in vain, to get any alum here in Ireland so I have resorted to using the wildcolours website in the UK.  They’re really nice people to deal with so I am looking forward to a delivery of alum and 100g of undyed wool (which I also tried to get locally but to no avail).  I was talking to my cousin Karen about not being able to source alum and she suggested using urine like they did in the past.  While I’m all for using alternative methods where possible I think that I’ll give this one a miss. ( If this interests you there is information on the following website)  http://www.textilearts.net/tutors/rosemariesmith/naturaldyeing.php

It turns out that at the moment there is no great rush as the blackberries are far from ripe and the elderberries are just about to turn colour.


Itching to get some dyeing done I bought a commercial dye by Dylon in my local wool shop.  There were four colours available: dark green, dark brown, black or powder pink.  Naturally I went for the powder pink colour.

I started by washing some newly spun wool.  Then I diluted the sachet granules into half a litre of warm water.  Next I added 250g of salt to a basin containing 4 litres of water at 40 degrees Celsius and then added in the dye mixture.


After a good stir I added the wool.  I stirred the ‘mixture’ gently for about an hour and then left it for a few more hours before taking the wool out for a wash and a rinse.


I must say that I am really quite pleased with the results.  Above is a batch of the original colour next to the newly dyed ‘tutu’ pink.  I’m still waiting for it to dry so that I can start a small project that I’ve had in mind for a while.

County Fair


Today I visited the County Fair which is one of those events that brings people from the rural areas and from the town together and you find yourself bumping into people that you haven’t seen for ages.  Farmers, who you usually see in the local farm supply store wearing wellies and overalls, are suddenly donning their Sunday best or clinically white doctor’s coats to show off their animals in the ring.  It really is a lovely day out and the atmosphere in the livestock area is buzzing.


I found the sheep categories very interesting indeed.  As a person who is fond of wool and spinning I naïvely thought that the judges may be looking at the quality of the fleece but not so.  It turns out that their main concern was the potential for meat supply therefore the animals were being judged on the size of their legs and shoulders etc.  Many of the sheep had their fleece dyed a strange orangey colour.  I had a chat with one of the stewards who said that it was to make the sheep look more attractive (???).  He informed me that the farmers start to apply the colour about a month before the show and he compared the practice to “all of the young ones nowadays putting on this spray tan!.”


There were also equestrian competitions, craft competitions and best flowers and veg.


My absolute favourites though were the alpacas.  These beauties were just on display to look at and not in any competition.  They were behind a high fence which had donkeys tethered just in front of it.  When I went behind the donkeys to say ‘Hello’ to my alpaca pals I got a kick from the hind leg of the donkey behind me.  Luckily the blow to my calf was nothing too severe but it was still a bit of a shock.



I am delighted that I have finally got around to finishing the second mitten that was completed a few week’s ago.  They are made on 5mm needles with Tivoli New Celtic Aran wool from Tivoli Spinners in Co. Cork.  The pattern in the central panel is the Tree of Life often found in Aran designs and the panel is framed either side by a twisted cable.  I have to say these knit up really quickly and are a joy to make.


They are so cosy and most definitely my favourite colour.  I know that there is somebody who already has their eye on them so they will be put away until their birthday arrives in November.