Wool Maker Lane

knitting, spinning and life with alpacas


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Meet The Midwife’s Bunny….

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There has been a lot of interest recently in the BBC series ‘Call the Midwife.’  It’s a drama about a group of midwives working in London in the late 1950’s and early 60’s.  This has produced a certain amount of interest in the knitting and crochet world as a result of the beautiful infant clothes and baby blankets that are often shown on the screen.   Rebecca, from Littlemonkeyscrochet.com was so taken with the handiwork on display that she has written a crochet pattern for one of the blankets which she calls ‘The Midwife Blanket.’

I have my own tale to tell about the work of the London midwife during the 1960’s.  The other day as I was going through a box of belongings I pulled out ‘Bunny.’  This little fella was knitted for me by the midwife who delivered me nearly fifty years ago.  How wonderful is that?  It just goes to show how these amazing nurses really went (and still go) the extra mile for their patients.

It has been knit in a basic garter stitch  using white and blue wool, blue being used to imply clothing, and finished off with embroidered facial features and buttons.  Bunny was stuffed with either nylons or stockings.  I’m not sure which but there is a little piece poking out of the back of its left arm.

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I feel so lucky to still have this toy which was given to me by a most important person and it is such a privilege to be able to share this story with you all.


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Minty Humbug is off to Germany!

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This week I managed to complete Minty Humbug which I was delighted with but also a bit sad about as I had enjoyed knitting it so much.  Anybody who has knitted for children knows that the sooner you finish your project the better because if you’re not careful the child will have already outgrown the garment – especially at the baby stage.

To get good measurements to help me to project the child’s size in a few months I consulted the Craft Yarn Council website where I found the industry standard sizes ( http://www.craftyarncouncil.com/ ).  The amount of detail was superb and assisted me greatly when I was working out stitches and gauge.   My notes for this jumper were rather rudimentary to say the least and for a lot of the project I just worked by eye as I went along.

For the yarn I used a combination of Albie’s brown fleece and natural Aran wool.   I had spun Albie’s fleece into a 2 ply yarn during my last trip to Bristol (I seem to do so much more spinning when I’m away!).  The Aran came from Blarney Woollen Mills and was left over from my Barley Twist pullover.  The two colours worked really well beside each other.  13600120_292968394382134_2152869494523988849_n

I used a combination of straight and circular 4.5mm and 5 mm needles for the ribbing and the body on the front and back.   Circular needles used for the collar and DPNs for the sleeves.  For ease of getting the jumper on and off I made a tab with buttons on the right shoulder.  I had considered  going to Dublin to buy the buttons as I thought that there would be plenty of choice but decided to nip into my local wool shop where I was delighted to find gorgeous rustic buttons that suited the jumper perfectly.

And now the Minty Humbug is all ready to be wrapped up and sent over to its beautiful new owner.

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Those needles ROCK!

KNit drummer

I really wish that I had taken this photo but it is a clue to the punch line of a story that I am about to tell you.  Yesterday I visited our local €2 Shop in Navan for nothing more than a browse when I came across these massive wooden needles on a shelf in the back of the store.  They were size 20 mm and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on them to start experimenting.  I brought them up to the young male cashier who looked puzzled when I handed them to him.  ‘I didn’t know we sold drum sticks!’ he declared.  When I told him that they were meant to be knitting needles we both began laughing.  It was a lovely exchange.

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Meanwhile, back at home, I decided to give my new ‘drumsticks’ a go with some super thick wool that I recently bought for another project.  I couldn’t believe it; fifteen stitches and you have enough width for a scarf.  Utterly wonderful..not to mention how fast the knitting grows.  Obviously there are slight drawbacks e.g. the weight of the needles for a start, and the fact that my index finger isn’t capable of flicking the wool around the needle with as much ease, or for that matter, with any ease as my whole right hand has to leave the needle to complete the stitch.  All that said, I am really enjoying using them and simply having a go.  I don’t know that I will go much further than the picture shows as this wool is ‘earmarked’ but I won’t rule out the odd scarf being produced as Christmastime approaches.

 

Minty Humbug

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I’ve started Minty Humbug, a new pullover for a little person in Berlin.  It is being made with handspun yarn from Albie’s fleece and Aran wool from Bunratty Woollen Mills.  So far it has been knit on a circular needle up to the arm holes and then straight needles were used to work the upper front and back.  The collar and one and a half sleeves have also been produced since this picture was taken so it is very close to finishing which will be great.

Rain prevents shearing

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Albie and Bootsy desperately need to be shorn however the weather has been so wet recently that there hasn’t been an opportunity to do this.  It’s really crucial that their fleeces are cut soon as the later that it is left the colder it will be for them come the winter time as there won’t have been enough time for it to grow back so I’m hoping for some good weather this week and a shearer who has time for a visit.

 

 


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Intercultural Cables

On a recent trip to the UK I was fortunate enough to buy a mesmerising book by Elsebeth Lavold called Viking Patterns for Knitting.

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In her research Lavold studied the interwoven artwork found on old Viking artefacts in Scandinavia and England.   She translated these patterns into knitted designs and  incorporated them into beautiful garments many of which, I am sure, will stand the tests of time.

Down through history there is evidence of many cultures, Arabic, Indian, Roman etc., using interlacing cables in their art work.  The Celtic knotwork that we are so familiar with today most likely arises from the ornate illustrations, produced by monks during the 8th Century, such as those found in the gospels like The Book of Kells.  Soon after this period the Vikings arrived in Ireland.  Lavold acknowledges the similarities between Celtic knotwork and designs created during the Viking era explaining that while Vikings came into contact with many cultures, rather than copy new designs that they would come across, they would incorporate new aspects of design into their own.

Much of the book is devoted to charts and illustrated swatches of the cable work that she came across.  She also explains a method that she devised of picking up additional stitches to keep the design true to the original.  I couldn’t wait to have a try:

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Lavold’s chart was really easy to follow.  The swatch begins and ends with angles which is new to me.  The inspiration for this ‘lattice’ work came from a gravestone in Hellvi, Gotland, in Sweden.

 

 

 


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Introducing The Barley Twist

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Today my sweater, The Barley Twist, is ready for presentation and I have to say that I am extremely pleased with it.  I wanted to knit a jumper using aran wool that gave a nod to aran design without being overcome with a pattern that was so dense with stitches that it was too heavy to wear.  It’s a very simple shape with a roll neck, cuffs and base.  The cable design, which goes up the front side,  meets the same cable from the back of the jumper at the shoulder.  I had been tempted to put a smaller cable up one of the sleeves but I’m glad now that I didn’t.

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I used Blarney Woollen Mills Aran Handknitting Wool which I bought in Bunratty last November.  It’s a beautiful shade of creamy white and as a wool it is very strong.  On a scale of softness from one to ten I would give it a six.   The jumper was knitted on 5. 5mm needles so I do expect it to keep its shape and hopefully it won’t pill so easily as can happen with softer wools and looser knits.

I thought that I would have this jumper completed quickly but as I was knitting from scratch I had to be meticulous with measurements and numbers so it took a lot longer than anticipated.  Luckily I’ve kept good notes so that if I wanted to make another it would be a much swifter affair.   Alongside this creation other events requiring a quickly knitted hat or baby cardy kept coming up and so the inevitable diversions occurred.

I chose the name Barley Twist because the colour of the wool resembles growing barley and, of course, the twist part refers to the cables.

I’m really looking forward to wearing it on a cool evening.

 

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Bootsy admiring my finished jumper.  


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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!