Wool Maker Lane

knitting, spinning and life with alpacas


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!



The Woollyness of Iceland

For a wool enthusiast Iceland is a very interesting place to visit.  Firstly the sheep seem to be sporting a phenomenal amount of fleece on their backs which no doubt they will need for the coming winter.


Having so many of these woolly beings means that Iceland produces a lot of wool.  The greatest thing about this is that it is so easy to buy.   Most supermarkets that we visited had an aisle dedicated to wool crafts.


All of the wool that I saw was indigenous.  The most common wool on sale was Icelandic Lopi and  for the most part it was extremely cheap.

Wool could also be bought at the Handknitting Association of Iceland in Reykjavik. This very busy shop is full of tourists who come here to buy their yoke sweaters.


As you can see from the picture there are hundreds to choose from in all colours and sizes and each one has been handknitted.

I decided to take the plunge and have a go at my own yoke sweater so I bought some Léttlopi (which means light lopi) and made a start on the plane back to Belfast.


One thing I was a little surprised about was how coarse Lopi wool is.  It’s not too difficult to knit with although it is two ply and occasionally the needle will just knit into one of the plies and I find myself undoing the stitch and starting again.  This means that I really have to watch the knitting and not go into autopilot when carrying on a conversation or watching t.v.  Once knit up the jumper should be fine if it is over a layer so that it doesn’t feel too ‘scratchy.’

Knitting away from home

My hands certainly weren’t idle during the long car rides that we made.  I brought over a cabled swatch that I had started in the summer time.  I enjoyed making it so much that I couldn’t stop until I had thought of something to do with it….and yes of course it became a gorgeous hat which I am now crazy about!


I knitted this using Blarney Woollen Mills Aran Handknitting Wool.  The cabled band was made with size 4.5 mm needles.  I sewed up the ends and then with 5 mm needles I picked up the stitches and knitted away merrily decreasing when I came to the crown.

Although I was miles away it felt good to still be working on something from home.



Iceland- What a geography lesson..

Last week, for a very special birthday, I was treated to a trip to Iceland. We took a two hour flight from Belfast to Keflavik, which is about 40km west of Iceland’s capital Reykjavik.  The first thing that we were struck by was the difference in the landscape.   As we’d expected it seemed very rugged and quite barren but never short of a natural feature to interest the eye.

We stayed in an apartment in the centre of Reykjavik.  Like all capital cities this is a very busy place.  There was lots of construction going on and many many tourists even for the month of October.  Most of the visitors seemed to hail from the U.S. and China.  Occasionally we heard an Irish accent or recognised faces from our plane trip over.


Being based in Reykjavik was great.  We hired a car which meant that we could visit lots of the interesting geographical features of the country which were close by.


We visited Geysir which is basically a large field full of bubbling geysirs of varying sizes. All of the geysirs have different names and varying time lapses between each eruption e.g. the one shown above, which is the original geysir, only erupts about once every ten years.


It’s nearby neighbour, Strokkur, erupts about once every 7 minutes.  We sat on a nearby bench and admired it’s spouting burst of boiling water a number of times during our visit.


Waterfalls are a common feature of the Icelandic landscape.  When we came across the first waterfall we were totally in awe by the sheer size of it.  The volume and the speed of the water was breathtaking.   We took numerous photos from all angles.  By day two we realised that waterfalls were everywhere and although we enjoyed looking at them the cameras stayed in our pockets.


The Thingvellir National Park is a rift valley where the North American and the Eurasion tectonic plates are drifting apart.  It was here that the first Icelandic Parliament took place, where laws were passed and (very nasty) punishments carried out.


Volcanic material was in evidence in many places that we visited.


At this spot, in Laufskálavarda, a farm was destroyed by volcanic activity in 894.  By tradition everybody passing by for the first time picks up a stone and places it on one of the mounds.


During our short time we walked on glaciers in the dark hence the lack of photos (absolutely not to be recommended safety wise), and we chased the Northern Lights, catching only a teasing glimpse…

Iceland is one incredible place.

More to come…



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October-Harvesting Time for Wool Dyers

Last year I spent a lot of time gazing at hedgerows waiting for the perfect moment to start picking blackberries and eventually I got lots and lots and was so pleased with the beautiful lilac and purple shades that I was able to get from the dye bath.  This year I am going to give elderberries a go.


I’ve managed to pick about a carrier bag full which is taking up a considerable amount of room in our freezer and is making me very unpopular at the moment.  I was really tempted to order some wool for dyeing but then I came across a bag of Bert the white alpaca’s rejected fleece from last year ( this means that it didn’t quite make the grade but would be good for a bit of experimentation with elderberries).  Why I thought that this would be a quick fix where emptying the freezer is concerned I don’t know.  I take the spinning wheel out at every opportunity and still haven’t finished….I’m getting close though and have great plans for yarn dyeing next weekend.


I love it when the weather is dry as I am able to card outside.   It really means that all of the fluff, the dust and the dirt can remain in the garden.  Sometimes, if it is raining, I’ll take the drum carder into the shed as this also saves me house cleaning chores.


I’m almost there.  These bobbins are now full and just need to be plied.

Alpaca Antics


The boys occasionally ‘fall out.’  This happened last Friday.  Bootsy is the ‘flighty’, anxious one and usually starts spitting and hissing if he gets nervous.  He then tries to jump onto Albie’s back and Albie then retaliates by biting Bootsy’s legs.  The rows follow the same pattern each time.  I usually try to break the argument up if I see it as I worry that one of them is going to get hurt.  Thankfully neither of them ever has.  Such episodes usually last about a minute or two and soon the animals get back to their usual business of grazing and looking lovely.