Wool Maker Lane

knitting, spinning and life with alpacas

Leave a comment

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?



Leave a comment

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.’




Leave a comment

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.



Way home Knitting


Every evening, on my way home from work, I drop into my mother’s house.  This is our time to have a catch up chat about how the day has gone and to get on with our knitting.  My mother is currently making me a navy pullover which is very close to the end.  She’s working on the collar at the moment and I am so looking forward to it being finished.


By contrast I am working on a small jumper for my cousin’s little lad Diarmuid.  I leave this in my mother’s house and pick it up every evening to do a few extra rows.  It’s really knitting up very quickly.


Please note the funny faces on the needles.  These were the only pair of 4mm needles in the house but they work perfectly.


Leave a comment

Meet the Olympia Cardigan…the Olympic race that finally saw the finish line!

Early in July, during a weekend in Bristol, my husband and I decided to go to a sale in John Lewis to look at shirts…..Whilst perusing the menswear section it came to my attention that there was a sale on in the haberdashery area so I needed to investigate.  I was in so much luck as there was a large area brimming with various yarns and wool all with discounted labels.  A few of them had been bagged up as job lots.  This is where I came across the beautiful pinks and greys in the Debbie Bliss Elektra yarn…all ten balls of it (each of 50 grammes).  There and then I had to have it as I was sure that I would get a complete garment from it.  This was going to be my new project to accompany me during my Olympics viewing.

I knew that I wanted to make a large, cosy cardigan for the chilly evenings to slip over whatever I happened to be wearing.   Following a quick swatch using 6mm needles (the label suggests 8mm) and a few rudimentary measurements I got started.  I must say that this was the most liberating project.  No pattern was used other than a basic idea in my head of how I wanted the cardigan to look.  While the games on the telly got underway so did I.


As everyone knows ‘Life is what happens when you’re making other plans’ and on a number of occasions both my cardigan project and my Olympic watching were interrupted with more pressing matters at work and home.  I was able, though, to pick it up easily and carry on when I was able to snatch a half hour here and there and it just grew and grew so quickly that it was very gratifying.

I knitted it all in one piece from the bottom up.  I split the stitches at the armholes for the back and the fronts and continued in stocking stitch up to the shoulders.  Next I sewed up the shoulders, picked up the stitches from the armholes and knitted the sleeves from top to cuff.  Finally I picked up and knitted the stitches around the collar using garter stitch and did the same for the button band.

I managed to finish it this week just when the Para Olympics started  (so I am still within the  Olympic timetable) and I love wearing it.



1 Comment

Annual Visit to the Royal Meath Show

Well the first Sunday in September has arrived and wow what a splendid day it has been …starting with some decent weather and all the fun of the Royal Meath Show.  This is a yearly event when the farmers of  Meath (and indeed further afield) come with their precious animals to see if they can win a rosette or even a trophy or two.  For each winner of a category there is a token monetary prize which usually covers the cost of the initial application.

One of the loveliest aspects of the show is that in many of the cases the farmers’ children are encouraged to show off the animals and walk them around the ring.



This year there seemed to be less sheep which had been dyed yellow.  The sheep above were in a holding pen while those in the pictures below are of the animals in the ring with their owners making a great effort to keep them still while they waited for the judge to come down to their end of the line.




Above is Henry the Highland bull.  He was on display along with his pal Hamish but as there were no other Highland Cattle they weren’t in competition.   I find this chap’s horns formidable and I couldn’t imagine what it must be like trying to carry out certain husbandry activities on him….alpacas are difficult enough to subdue when necessary!


This young bull belonged to two brothers and he was just about to be brought into the ring.  One of the lads is busy with the last minute grooming which involved sprinkling a load of ‘sparkle dust’ onto the animal’s coat to make it glisten.  It’s incredible the length that the people went to to get the ‘edge’ on their fellow competitors.


This lovely young girl brought her cow Christabel along to the show.  She did so well for her first time out by coming fourth and I have been informed that she is definitely coming back next year.


Other animals 

Horses formed a large part of the show and were competing throughout the entire day. There were also classes for goats but alpacas, being kind of rare in these parts, were just on display.  These beauties were from Trim Alpacas.

Donkeys and snoozing piglets were also on view.  Trim is synonymous with donkeys as there is a field of them beside the castle.  It is a popular past time for families to go into town to feed the donkeys.

Gardening classes

There were a number of vegetables on display but by far the most beautiful gardening category for me was the dahlias.  They were in plentiful supply and added great colour to the marquee.  You can see that marrows aren’t too popular..only one in the category which, naturally, turned out to be the winner.


Many crafts were also on display but as usual for me it was the knitting that caught my eye.

Doll’s dresses seemed to be popular while there were some soft toys.  Of course there were also garments in the competition:


As there was a barrier about a yard in front of the display tables it was very difficult to see anything in great detail but it seems that the winner was the beautiful Aran Cardigan.

These ladies were discovered in the Craft Tent selling knitwear.  They are from the Trim Library Knit ‘N’ Natter group which meets every Thursday morning.  They were very warm and welcoming and maybe if I find myself free one Thursday I may just head down there.

All in all it was a great day and I’m thinking that if I could get organised a little more next summer I could possibly submit something to the knitting category…we’ll see!