Wool Maker Lane

knitting, spinning and life with alpacas


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 


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A Stretch in the Evenings..

This is a phrase that I am beginning to hear more and more at the moment and it is music to my ears.  It’s not about nocturnal walks or 8pm yoga classes but refers to the fact that the days are getting noticeably longer.  It can now be light past 5 pm.  The weather hasn’t improved much despite it being St. Brigid’s Day tomorrow.  This is the day when Ireland celebrates the first day of spring.  In pagan times  it used to be called Imbolg which translated straight from Gaeilge means in the belly.  If it is a fine day the rising sun will illuminate a chamber in nearby Tara called The Mound of the Hostages.

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For me the lengthening days mean that I can see more of the animals and also spend more time outside.

 

Carding from the outside in

The fleeces that I have been carding have been rather dirty as they contain a lot of dust especially Albie’s.  For this reason I have been carding in the outside shed and leaving all fleece and carding equipment there.  Last week I went to card some fleece and noticed that the carder had a film of mould on it so I had to remove what I could outside and then bring it into the house to give it a thorough clean.    In doing so I removed the rubber ring which connects all of the wheels together.  This is where the fun started trying to work out exactly how to return it to its designated spot around each wheel so that the large drums would turn.  Every permutation that I tried failed so eventually I went onto the internet and got a picture of a drum carder and traced the path of the rubber ring very carefully around each wheel until it started to function.

Singed Fleece Does Not Smell Good

Delighted with the carder being back in action I took out the remainder of Albie’s fleece (there’s quite a lot of it still but the best bit, the saddle, has long been spun).  I placed it onto a newspaper on the floor and at some stage the wood burner needed to be fed….Before I say anything I need to tell you that due to the proximity of the fleece I was aware that I needed to be ever so careful but unfortunately I was not careful enough.  When placing a few lumps of coal into the stove a few sparks leapt out and landed onto the fleece.  Well talk about being overcome by a pungent odour.  The stench was horrendous.  I quickly stamped out the singeing fibres but the smell remained for at least a good hour encouraging all sorts of complaints about my ‘hobby.’

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It’s official: I am a multi project knitter!

For all of my years of knitting I have always retained focus by having just one project on the needles at a time but increasingly I find that unexpected events occur when I could do with my hands being productive.  These events usually involve elderly relatives and hospital waiting rooms.  Last Wednesday evening I spent four hours in a Dublin  A and E department with nothing to do but watch rolling news on the T.V. so I figure that having some mindless knitting, e.g. a scarf,  in the car would prepare me for a similar situation in the future.  I have this one ready for the follow up appointment this Friday:

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My pullover is coming on quite well.  I have made inroads into the front of it now as the back is up to the arm hole decreases.  I enjoy working with the wool and the simplicity of the cables but it’s a case of ploughing away little and often and making progress.

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Bootsy’s Wound

Bootsy is now sporting another wound but this time it is not shearing related.  I have no idea where it came from.  It is on his back and I can only guess that he was poked badly by a low branch as he was squeezing under a tree.  He is an extremely ‘flighty’ animal so I am treating him with salt and warm water administered through a water pistol…Goodness knows what the neighbours think that I am up to.

 

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Let it snow…..or maybe not…

Stubborn Boys refuse to feel the cold

Two evenings ago we got snow…yes the real stuff coming down from the sky in great big clumps and resting on the ground..everywhere looking magical and wintry..and people rushing to get home safe from work where they could sit by the fireside and get cosy; well most people.  My role once I’d reached home consisted of trying to coax two stubborn alpacas to into the shed but they were having none of it preferring instead to kush down beneath a cluster of birch trees that we have at the bottom of our garden.  With no other choice I took all of their generous haylage and feed portions out of the shed and placed it before them.  That sorted the situation out.   I must say that they are extremely hardy animals.

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The falling snow has pretty much left us but there is still plenty afoot.  The animals don’t seem too put out by it except that there is less greenery to eat so the rations that we provide have considerably increased.  They are quite messy eaters and leave remnants of their meals all around their bowls.  The local robin population is well aware of this and the birds hover nearby in order to profit from the alpacas’ poor ‘table manners.’  We could give them their food in buckets, as we did when we first got them, but they prefer shallow dishes as they can still see around them and feel safe whilst they eat.

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The Sidewinder

I had great plans over Christmas.  I was certain that I would be able to get the best part of a jumper knitted … at least the body.  Of course that was merely ambition!  I started knitting with the beautiful Aran wool that had been purchased for this purpose.  I brought my work over to the UK  for New Year and managed knitting a good five inches which gave me great pride however when I got back to Ireland I took a long hard look at the piece and put it against me.  This was when I realised that there were way too many stitches on the needles so I scrapped it and started again.  This time I’m making much better progress and really look forward to putting in a few rows every evening.  The pattern is very simple; stocking stitch with a cable design running up one side, and it’s easy to pick up and continue where ever I leave off.

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Spinning

Just before Christmas I received a present from my cousin and her partner in Cornwall.  It was a booklet entitled Spinning and Spinning Wheels by Eliza Leadbeater. 10599279_1687098394908841_4844677361177013372_n

I took a long time studying the lady on the front cover and wondering what era she was from.  If you study the clothes that she is wearing it kind of looks like an ‘old fashioned could be from any time in the early 20th Century’ picture but on second, or indeed third, glance the haircut seems to betray that theory.  It was published in 1979 so I’m wondering if, in fact, it is the author herself.  Whatever about the front cover this is a fascinating compendium of information all about the history of spinning and the tools used down the centuries to convert fleece and flax into workable fibres for further use.  It gets quite technical quite early on and it is good to have some basic knowledge about spinning wheels before reading.  There are lots of black and white photos of spinning wheels and associated tools through history from the British Isles, Europe and North America along with some contemporary drawings from the Eighteenth Century.  I must say that I was transfixed when I got it and had to read it all immediately.  There were lots of  lovely little nuggets of information that I found interesting such as spinning wheels for flax having small pewter bowls dangling from them.  These would have contained water so that the spinner could moisten the fibre to assist the spinning process.  I also enjoyed learning about North American wheels mainly having three feet as it was thought that the floors were quite uneven although I can’t imagine that they were even in many other parts of Europe at the time either.

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I so loved the hand spun alpaca hat that I made for Hubby at Christmas that I’ve decided to make another for myself.  His was made with 3 ply but I have decided to go with a 2 ply as it won’t be quite so thick…I’m sure that this cold spell will be over soon!

 

 

 

 


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Happy 2016!

Stormy Weather

Unexpected trip to Wales

I’m back in Bristol for the New Year celebrations and I must say that I am delighted to be this side of the Irish Sea….I always love my time here but we had a bit of a blip on our journey last week.  First of all we had to leave home at 3.30 a.m. to get to the airport for the first flight at 6.30 a.m.  When the plane actually took off nasty old Storm Frank was doing its best to scare the living daylights out of the lady sitting to my left (she was crying).  Soon after the young fellow sitting on the other side of me started fretting when the captain announced that we would no longer be flying to Bristol but would be diverting to Cardiff instead.  He had never been to England before and his mother had only given him directions about how to get to his destination from Bristol Airport.  I managed to pacify the  young chap with information about alternative routes to Cheltenham but unfortunately there was no way of calming my female neighbour until we eventually touched down on the runway.    My lucky husband slept soundly on the back seat through the whole flight totally oblivious that anything untoward was happening.  We eventually made it to our home at 12.30 p.m. and it was a relief to get here safely.

Shelter from the rain

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(Albie enjoying Christmas Dinner)

Albie and Bootsy have had to deal with numerous storms over the Christmas period.  Last week they had to endure Storm Eva.  Their field is really damp and sodden and they spend a lot of the day in our garden where the ground seems to be drier.  Each day we have tried to tempt them back up to their shelter by placing the haylage there but they will merely eat it and move back into the field or the garden even if it is bucketing down.  The day before we left for England Hubby tried to enlarge their shelter to make it more attractive to them but the storm got so bad that he had to leave the job half done.  There are lots of trees with wide boughs that they can shelter beneath but they still opt for the open skies so there is little that can be done under the circumstances.  Hopefully we’ll get a dry spell soon.

Knitting

Woolly Pyrite

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My lovely cousin Sinead had a beautiful baby boy called Leon over the holidays so  I made this little hat to keep him cosy.  I knitted it using King Cole Country Tweed which is a double knit yarn.  It was very easy using a standard hat formation but keeping the last few stitches on the needle to knit up a sausage shape.  After sewing up the short side seam the sausage was tied into a knot.  The name Woolly Pyrite comes from the speckles in the yarn.  It reminds me of ‘Fool’s Gold’ that you can occasionally see in an odd lump of coal.

 

Chestnut Delight

This is Hubby’s Christmas gift which has been named ‘Chestnut Delight.’  I must say naming these creations is tremendous fun but does require an amount of thought.  I made this using the yarn that was spun from Albie’s fleece.  It is 3 ply and very thick but sooo wonderfully soft to work with.  I used a circular needle (yes I’m still persevering there) until I got up to the crown of the hat and then I swapped over to double pointed needles.  I have to say that Hubby was thrilled with this present and I get a tinge of pride each time that I see him wear it.

Thank You

I would like to thank all of my readers who have taken the time to look at my blog over the last six months.  It has been great to get your feedback as I really enjoy hearing from you.  I wish you all lots of luck in 2016 and I hope to bring you more news about my life with alpacas, spinning and yarns in the coming year.

 

 

 


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Into the darkness…

Heading towards the shortest day

Near where we live in County Meath there is a massive Neolithic passage tomb called Newgrange. It was built over 5000 years ago and is older than either Stonehenge or the pyramids at Giza. Each year on the mornings around the time of the winter solstice the rising sun shines through a roofbox and illuminates the passageway and the centre of the tomb. It is quite spectacular. The tomb is quite small inside and there is a lottery each year so that members of the public can have the chance to witness this incredible event.

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Newgrange / Brú na Bóinne

The lack of daylight at this time of year affects all of us. I dislike going to work in the dark and also coming home in it. It means that I don’t get to see the alpacas at all other than at the weekends. When I feed them it is with a torch in my hand which is a shame but I look forward to the days getting longer in the new year. The lack of sunlight this time of the year can also have an effect on the alpacas’ health so we have to give them a vitamin supplement. Usually this would be administered by shooting it into the back of their mouth with a large syringe but when we originally tried this it was spat straight back at us. Now we just mix a tiny bit into their food everyday and they seem quite content with this arrangement although it does have to be stirred in thoroughly or they will leave it. It is vitally important for them though to keep healthy over the winter period.

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Bootsy awaits his daily rations


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Deliberations over Albie’s wool

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I have been busy trying to find the time to spin some of Albie’s fleece this week. I must say it was so dirty. He really has been such a boldie this summer…rolling around in the gravel trying to keep cool while we waited patiently for the shearer to come. As I watch his wool drying over the fire I wonder to myself whether I should incorporate it into my jumper that I am planning to work on over the Christmas. My main concern would be that although Albie’s wool is three ply it would not be the same thickness as the Aran wool that I would be working with (yes I know I should go to my Craftsy Class and go back over the numbers!). Also being handspun the thickness isn’t quite as uniform throughout but that’s part of its charm.


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International Mitten Knitting Rule 1: Pay More Attention!

What a difference a millimetre makes

Do you find that one of your hands is bigger than the other?  Will a ring that fits on say the ring finger of one hand fail to fit on its equivalent finger on the other?  Yes I find that too.  By sheer good fortune my right hand is a tad bigger than my left basically because I am right handed.  And the reason that this is so fortunate is because I recently returned to Bristol and took up where I had left off a month previously knitting the second of a pair of beautifully soft, moss green mittens.  I had brought my pattern book with all of my notes with me so I was simply following these.  I proudly knitted up to the wonderful tips of the fingers and sewed up the side with pride.  Eventually I went to the drawer to find the matching mitten and what a shock I got when I found that, with the exception of the colour and the basic design, the latest mitten was way bigger than the original.  Yes I had neglected to pay attention to the needle size and instead of using 4mm needles I used 5mm.  It’s a simple mistake to make but I really must be more careful when I make notes as this was a serious omission.  These mittens were destined for the ‘Christmas Pressie’ Pile but now they shall adorn my own hands and I can have a giggle each time I look at them.

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Sun, Cross and other design features

While I was away I got the chance to browse in lots of local charity shops.  There is a super charity bookshop nearby and I spied a book called ‘Sun and Cross’ (1984, Floris Books, Edinburgh) which is a history book written by a Swiss guy called Jakob Streit.  It chronicles the cultural changes in Ireland from pagan times to the arrival of Christianity.  What I suppose I found most interesting was the intermingling of the two cultures.  The book is full of splendid black and white photographs which depict lots of ancient stone  monuments with their spirals and lozenge designs.  The pictures then move onto the Celtic cross style of monuments and show how initially these pictorial pagan elements were incorporated into the carvings. Interestingly Ireland is now at a similar crossroads where, through immigration, many new religions are now being practised and there is also a strong movement towards secularism.     Socially it’s a very exciting time to be living here and it will be fascinating to see how our society will shift to accommodate and integrate new ways of thought and living.

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New Skein

During my charity shop rambles I came across this gorgeous skein of petrol coloured wool. It had no label on but is incredibly similar to Donegal Tweed.  It only cost £2 so I shall leave it in Bristol and make a lovely hat during my next visit (paying close attention to the needle size of course!).  It is a tiny bit scratchy so I’ll see what it is like when it has been made up and washed but I may have to consider a lining if the hat is still coarse.

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Albie

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Lovely Albie’s eye is all better now for which I am extremely grateful.  I must say that I was extremely worried but he has made a super recovery and is now back to his tip top self.  It took about three weeks for his ulcer to heal altogether.

Spinning Wheel Fix Up

Last year I bought a second hand spinning wheel in Bristol.  It’s an Ashford Traditional model from New Zealand.  It required a lot of TLC.  I took the bobbins and the Lazy Kate from it and brought them to Ireland to use.  Having a lot of fleece in Ireland to spin I thought that it would be a good idea to get the Bristol wheel up and running so that I can do some spinning when I’m in England.  I sent off to a suppliers and got a new fly wheel, brake band, bobbins and a spring and my wonderful husband crafted a footman for it out of a length of wood.  Can you spot the additions?

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I just can’t wait to use it.

Meanwhile I have been spinning the alpaca’s fleece for a friend in Sydney who wants to make a hat.  Here is a combination of Bert (2 plies) and Albie/Bootsy (1ply).  I loved carding and spinning the Albie/Bootsy combination.  It will be great to see the beanie when it’s finished.

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