Wool Maker Lane

knitting, spinning and life with alpacas


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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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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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The Bramble Beauty

My lovely cousin sent me a book on dyeing for my birthday and would you credit it it is the same as Jenny Dean book, Wild Color, that I already have. I have to say that I was delighted to get it as it means that I can bring it to England when I go and leave it there as it will give me the opportunity to dye whilst I am over. It is much cheaper to get undyed wool in the UK but I will need to be on the look out for dye stuff. I have spun a skein of Bert’s second best fleece and I am considering what to dye it with. The days are very short here at the moment which curtails my foraging activities in the garden and the woods. I am wondering whether I should go with onions or ivy. There are plenty of ivy leaves around but I just don’t know how long it would take me to gather a sufficient amount for a dye bath. I do get very excited thinking about the possibilities though I must say.

The wool that I did manage to dye successfully with blackberries I made into a hat which I have called the ‘Bramble Beauty.’ I love to wear it and I’ve received a number of compliments which multiply once I explain the process of achieving the colours.

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The Numbers Game

Garment Design Course

In an effort to make a garment that really fits me properly I decided to sign up to a Craftsy Class called ‘Handknit Garment Design.’  As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago I’ve bought what I hope is a sufficient amount of aran wool to make a jumper and would like to make a good go of it during the Christmas break…or at least get past the ribbing section.  In the past when I have knitted jumpers without a pattern they have followed a very rudimentary design; square for the back and front, two rectangles for the sleeves and a slash neck.  This formula always worked well in earlier years however I would really like to make a better go of it this time.  I’m slightly older now and while I certainly don’t have more time on my hands I’m not in such a rush to get things finished as I would have been before.   I want to enjoy the process as well as to learn from it.

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I have learned a lot so far from the Craftsy Class.  The instructor is Shirley Paden.  She is extremely thorough and seems, like me, to have a love of maths as numbers have featured a lot in the lessons so far.  One of the early topics deals with how to take measurements.  I have to say I just kept watching in utter amazement as the realisation dawned on me that there is so much more to this knit a jumper business than I had previously accounted for.   Paden goes to great lengths visually to explain the importance of pattern flow in shaping especially when stitching changes alter the gauge.  One aspect that I have found extremely useful is how to work out the amount of yarn required for the project prior to starting.  Hopefully by the end of the course I shall know whether I need to go back to the wool shop or not.

 


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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:

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( 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. )

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(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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The Aran Jumper: Myth or legend?

I recently grasped the opportunity to buy twelve hanks of beautiful Aran wool during a trip to the West of Ireland.   I have been dying to start an aran jumper for some time so when I came across this bargain I just had to dive in.  Having made the purchase I hunted for a pattern and this quest led me down all sorts of avenues…involving a little bit of research on the history of the old Aran.

The Aran jumper originates from the Aran Islands off the West Coast of Ireland.  There appears to be a number of phases in its story though.  During the 19th Century knitters on the Aran Isles were thought to be influenced by traditional guernseys worn by fishermen from England and Scotland which were mainly dark blue in colour.   Indeed the Gaelic word for jumper is geansaí (gansey) which obviously derives from the word Guernsey.  Playwright John Millington Synge took many photographs around the turn of the century during his time there.  One of these shows local men sporting such garments:

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Image of the Aran Islands between l898 and 1902 taken by the playwright John Millington Synge for Weekend Arts

Synge also contributed to some of the myths surrounding Aran sweaters; most notably the one where each family would only knit jumpers using particular stitches or pattern designs.  In one of his plays, Riders to the Sea,  a drowned fisherman could only be identified by the stitches on his gansey.

Another romantic theory was introduced during the 1930’s by a German author  Hans Kiewe.  He  made the argument that all of the stitches had a deeper sacred meaning but more recent research has put this theory into disrepute.

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(This picture of a quay in the Aran Islands, thought to be taken in the 1940’s – 1950’s, shows some young men wearing the familiar white Aran sweaters.)

Ann O’ Dowd, curator at the National Museum of Ireland, believes that the Aran jumper was not worn on the Aran Islands until the 1930’s and 40’s.  A combination of the influence of the fisherman’s guernsey, emigrants returning home with new knitting techniques and the contributions from local knitters all merged over time to bring forth the pullover that we recognise today as an Aran.

Throughout the 1950’s and 60’s Aran Sweaters became very fashionable when celebrities such as Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe and Steve McQueen started to wear them.   In fact one traditional Irish music group, Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers, always wore them whilst performing thus adding to the garment’s popularity.   As a child myself during the 1970’s I well remember donning a scratchy, heavy Aran made by my friend’s granny from coarse báinín wool.  Its design was fairly simple with symmetrical repeating patterns spanning out from a honeycomb panel in the centre.  Along side the twisted and diamond cables other common stitches used such as moss stitch and blackberry stitch.  Here is an example of an Aran Sweater from this period.

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More recently there has been another shift in the evolution of the Aran Sweater.  Designers, such as Alice Starmore and Carol Feller, have been making the cables more intricate resembling Celtic artwork found in ancient monastic scripts.   These very beautiful garments require an enhanced level of skill and concentration as the patterns don’t seem to repeat so regularly and many are knitted on circular needles.  Nowadays though they are knitted in wool that is softer and lighter on the wearer and also the knitter’s hands.

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I have a lot of thinking to do to decide how traditional or modern I wish to be in choosing a design for my wool.

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