Wool Maker Lane

knitting, spinning and life with alpacas

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Bath Time…and more


I’ve been  fortunate enough to have had a few days off work so I spent a long weekend in the U.K. and took a day trip to a beautiful Roman / Georgian city called Bath.  It’s really famous for its spectacular Roman Baths hence its name.  Although I have walked through these baths a number of times I thought that I would go again until I saw the queue outside.


Bath was heaving with tourists (I think that half of France must have been there) and with no chance of me standing for hours trying to revise my French conjugation I decided to drop in on the Museum of Fashion.


Anybody who knows me is probably giggling at this point wondering at what stage I started taking an interest in fashion but I do love history and it is just as well as the £8.75 entrance fee was waivered in view of the fact that there was only one gallery open … the Victorians.   It was indeed illuminating as the museum used quotes from contemporary novels to illustrate the way that the garments were worn and by whom.  This period also spanned the introduction of industrialisation so at the start of the 19th Century the glamorous fabrics were hand woven  in France and from the mid to late 19th Century they were being manufactured in Britain.



Whilst in Bath I made a further study in human behaviour at the ‘Wool’ shop.  This is a small establishment close to the centre of town but a little off the beaten track.  It had a fine array of yarns and lots of gorgeously knitted examples a long with folders galore filled with patterns.  The lady in charge was cheery and extremely helpful in assisting me to choose yarn for a baby pattern that I am presently trying to get underway.  The shop was empty when I arrived but being small it soon filled up.  Two separate couples entered.  One chap took his place on the comfy couch and read the newspaper while his significant other perused the colourful goods on the shelves.  The other fellow took a different approach.  He decided to follow his lady friend around the shop while she pulled handfuls of sumptuous yarns from their piles and conveyed all of her knowledge to him about the various products.   I moved closer in the hope that I could learn a little from this lesson about independent yarn producers however the tutorial was cut short by the gentleman exclaiming that he knew what wool looked like thank you and had no desire to see any more of it.  With that he left the shop promptly and she followed soon after.  The gentleman on the couch continued to read his newspaper while his lady friend  enjoyed her retail experience.  I wonder if she knows how lucky she is.

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Warning : Alpacas can change your life!

A decade ago we moved from a large provincial town to the end of a boreen (tiny rural road).  This took me some time to get used to.  Our small cottage came with just over one acre and for a long time this land was a football pitch for our son and his friends or simply  wilderness crying out to be tended to.  We had a lot of discussions about what we should do with it.  Time is not something that we have in abundance so gardening and the likes were out of the question.   We had mooted the possibilities of keeping various animals from pigs to sheep but there was always a reason why we shouldn’t.  One day, about four years ago an alpaca arrived in a field about a mile up the road.  It wasn’t long before a request was made that we should get one.  We thought it over and over and then said, ‘Well why not?’  And that was the start of it..

We began looking for an alpaca to buy and then realised that as they are pack animals it was necessary to buy not just one but at least two.  We went to visit a couple of breeders and learned that these animals are extremely expensive especially from breeders who seek  to create the uber alpaca strain.  Of course all that we wanted was a couple of pets who would keep the grass down and provide us with some entertainment.  Eventually, after a few let downs, we came across a lovely Australian lady who agreed to sell us one male, Albie, and his companion, Boots.  From his documents I know that Albie’s grandparents all came from Chile while his parents were Irish.  Bootsy’s lineage however is more shady but could indeed be similar to Albie’s.

It was quite daunting to suddenly be in charge of two animals that we knew very little about.  Having grown up in a city I didn’t really have a great affinity with any animal larger than a cat but that has definitely changed.  We bought a book called Llamas and Alpacas, A Guide to Management.  It has been written by a vet, Gina Bromage, who owns ‘camelids’ herself.  The book covers all sorts of information from feeding and handling to breeding and showing.  For the first year of caring for Albie and Bootsy I consulted this book many times and since then I have found it to be invaluable.


Having said that alpacas are extremely easy to care for.  Our two are pets were reared in a herd and not don’t really like human contact.  This was particularly evident when we first got them sheared.


This is Bootsy being freed from the heat of his huge fleece and what beautiful fibre he produces.  It was after this process, with the help of my mother and a local weaver called Áine Dunne, that I learned to how to spin.  Oh what fun.  I must say that I had never realised how involved the whole process was regarding the journey from fleece to fibre and I certainly did not anticipate the amount of time that was required but once this was   understood and accepted the hill did not seem so high to climb.  There is little to compare to the joy and satisfaction of spinning or knitting with the fibre from the animals that you know and love.

Providing shelter for the alpacas has been a bit of a saga….Last weekend we put up shelter number four.  To date each one has been rejected.   My lovely husband was in Scotland recently and came upon an alpaca farm where the shelters had open sides so last week we erected something similar made from old wood and corrugated sheeting in the hope that it would be acceptable to our furry friends.  This afternoon it was raining and BINGO they were beneath it.  What joy this brings me I can’t tell you.


Having these two animals has changed our outlook on life and the way that we live.  It is strange how sometimes your life can take you into directions that never could have been predicted even in the recent past.