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.


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.

images (2)(photo: mythicalireland.com)

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.’


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:


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.


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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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.


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.


Bootsy awaits his daily rations


Digging in the Round

I have been looking for a while for interesting stitches for an aran jumper and I was captivated by a pullover that I saw in the Knitter’s Almanac book by Elizabeth Zimmerman.  It was called ‘Fish Trap’ and I liked it because it didn’t require the use of a cable needle, just travelling stitches, and didn’t appear to be too prominent on the garment ie. it didn’t jut out 3-D wise.  Like a new Zimmerman disciple I decided to make a hat rather than a swatch, and for the first time I thought that I would have a go at knitting on a circular needle.

I have knitted in the round before, always on four needles, and have quite  enjoyed the thought of limiting the amount of sewn seams to finish a garment but I have to say I did find it a bit peculiar.  I am guessing that circular needles are a relatively new invention compared to using four needles:



( Visit of the Angel, from the right wing of the Buxtehude Altar, 1400-10 (tempera on panel)CreatorMaster Bertram of Minden (c.1345-c.1415)NationalityGermanLocationHamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany

This painting is meant to depict Mary of Nazareth knitting in the round. Now,  I can’t say whether Mary actually did knit but I think that this painting definitely indicates that this type of knitting took place in Germany during the lifetime of the artist in the 14th-15th Centuries.)

From my own experience I found it difficult initially to work with the shortness of the needles but after about ten to fifteen rounds of the ‘hat’ I was well into the swing of it and now I see no point in using two needles for a hat again.  This part was a great success.

The only drawback in the whole project was the ‘fishtrap’ pattern.  I found this really disappointing.  Due to busy commitments I wasn’t quite able to get a good run at it and I found myself stopping and starting and losing my place in the instructional chart which was extremely small (and at times having no pen or pencil to mark off how far I had reached. )


(This is an example from Google Images of a hat with  ‘half fish trap’ pattern)

To make the stitches ‘travel’ without a cable needle was fairly simple particularly when travelling  or twisting to the right.  It basically went like this:

Right Twist

K2 together, Leave on left needle, K first stitch again, Remove two stitches from the left needle

This was the easy one.  The next, twisting to the left, required, as Zimmerman would put it, a ‘dig’.

Left Twist

Knit (read ‘dig’) into the back of the second stitch, knit into the front of the first stitch  and remove the 2 stitches from the left needle.

Digging , of course, is the operative word here although, prodding, poking or stabbing would easily suffice.  By row 6 or 7 I had had enough of the chart and decided to just enjoy what I was doing and take charge.  My efforts look nothing like the beautiful hat in the picture above.  At many stages I was considering the ‘abort’ option but I feel that I have mastered the use of the circular needles, I now (eventually) can knit the fish trap pattern and being more relaxed the tension of the stitches has loosened so there is less violence and emotional outbursts required during the left twists!  I am now about to start the decreases for the crown of the hat.  It will be one that I can wear as I go out to the field on a cold evening.  I’m sure the alpacas will love it!



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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.


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.


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.




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?



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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Autumnal Furrows

As the weeks get closer towards Hallowe’en the days seem to get busier and busier.   During the past week I had the joy of receiving three wonderful books two of which were knitting related.  Every spare moment I have had my nose in one of them seeking inspiration, or simply to improve my practice as a craftsperson.


One of the books, Projects for Each Month of the Year,  is a small one by Elizabeth Zimmerman and was first published in 1974.  It is such fun.  She wrote this book in a very matter of fact way and to read it is like sitting down and having a chat about knitting with your favourite aunty.  I find such pearls of wisdom jumping off the page e.g. if you want to do a patterned swatch for a jumper why not elongate  your swatch and just turn it into a hat.  There is also a section about aran jumpers which I rather like.  There are ‘patterns’ within the book but not as we expect to see patterns nowadays as they are embedded within the text and accompanied by rudimentary graphwork.  The most comical pattern though is for ‘nether garments’ and you have to see them to believe them.  I guess they are basically knitted long johns but they resemble the leg wear of the gents you’d see prancing about in a Bruegel painting.  All in all it’s a lovely lovely book that I really have enjoyed.


The next book that I had the privilege of acquiring this week is Wild Color by Jenny Dean.  I could quite happily pore over this book for hours.  I have to say that I no longer look at plants and trees in the same way.  I just keep asking the question “I wonder what possibilities there are if I were to use that to dye with?”  I realise now that while I was sitting around all summer trying to locate alum as a mordant I could have used the many rhubarb leaves in the garden instead.  I am delighted that I have so many plants all around my house that should be perfect for dyeing use and so I can’t wait to get started.


This is where my hectic schedule and my lack of undyed wool gets in the way.  I have two alpaca fleeces yet to spin. I really need to spin them so that I can knit them.  Those of you who know about spinning will be aware that this is weeks/months  worth of work.   I’m also mad to get some more dyeing done (and the more that I read the Jenny Dean book the more enthusiastic I become).  Both of my animal fleeces are dark coloured and no use whatsoever in a dye bath so that leaves me with the dregs of Bert’s fleece which is white.  Yes, I’m afraid that’s what it has come to until I send off to the UK for more undyed wool.  I have spent a couple of evenings carding and spinning Bert’s leftovers into singles.  It’s not been too easy as it’s fairly short and has lots of noils.   I want a 3 ply yarn so I need to do one more bobbin’s worth and then I can dye away…. My new problem will be that I can’t decide what plant to use as a dye.  How spoiled am I?

Albie’s ulcer



Poor lovely Albie has been recovering quite well this week but, understandably, he does not enjoy getting penicillin being shot into his eye.  The job of aiming and firing was mine until this week when I decided to have a go at catching and holding instead.  I am much better cut out for this activity.  As you can see from the pictures Albie is quite resistant to being caught.  It involves placing food in a ‘pen’ constructed from sheep wire and when he enters the wire is enclosed behind him so that he is contained.  That’s my cue to go in and ‘grab.’  Once caught one arm needs to go around the neck while the other is on the alpaca’s back.  He’s usually okay after this although I have received a few head butts this week as the drops were being applied.    It’s all worth it though as thankfully his eye is on the mend.

Autumnal Furrows

Last night I needed to knit and I realise that I am a frugal knitter.  I don’t buy wool on spec without having a plan so I had to go to my left over pile which doesn’t really contain that much.  I opted for the end of a ball of wool that I knitted a baby hat with recently (for Liam) and I cast on a 100 stitches to make another hat with but this time for an adult..(yes Christmas is definitely coming).  At 8cm I started casting off  in equal 10 sections every fourth row until there were 10 stitches left.


Et voila..Autumnal Furrows.

It fits really well and is incredibly soft.  I’m so pleased with how it’s turned out.

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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.