Wool Maker Lane

knitting, spinning and life with alpacas


3 Comments

Spinning Gandhi Style

At a recent meeting of the Irish Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers a lovely gentleman produced a box like object the size of a book.  He opened it out and informed us that it was a Charkha spinning wheel.  Now anything that turns and produces thread or wool of any kind grabs my interest but when I saw this compact machine I was transfixed.  I was aware of its association with Gandhi but what I hadn’t known was that he had actually invented this spinning wheel when he was in jail in Pune in the 1920s for civil disobedience.

16681948_399720327040273_8753088055880339431_n

“The spinning wheel of Gandhi brought us freedom.” (Punjabi folk song)

Whilst incarcerated Gandhi used the spinning wheel to spin cotton thread and produce fabric for his own clothing.  He rejected European style clothing, instead, opting for the simple loincloth that we so often see him wearing in photographs of the time.

This was a part of the Swadeshi movement which held an anti-colonial (anti-British) philosophy that attempted to promote the self-sufficiency of the Indian people.  At that time India was importing much of its cotton textiles from the north of England.  The movement encouraged Indians to create their own fabrics rather than import machine made cloth from Britain.  In an effort to reduce poverty in rural India and to stem the flow of Indian money destined for England Gandhi stated that it was

“the patriotic duty of every Indian to spin his own cotton and weave his own cloth.”

mgspinner

Gandhi received some criticism for being backward looking and eschewing the benefits of modern machinery but in response he claimed that “a plea for the spinning wheel is a plea for recognising the dignity of labour.”  He also argued that he was not against machines per se but that he was against India’s dependence on British machinery.

For Gandhi the spinning wheel was an emblem of non-violent protest.  It featured on the first national flag of India in 1921 but the flag went through a number of transformations before it got to today’s current version.

1921_india_flag-svg

1931_flag_of_india-svg                                                     06

Gandhi recognised the personal benefits of spinning.  It has been reported that he got up at 4 a.m. each morning and spun for one hour.  He claimed that spinning was akin to meditation and that it ‘calmed the nerves.’

 

Below is a video of a modern Charkha in action.  It was made by Jonathan Bosworth who created the Charkha that I saw at the IGSWD meeting in Dublin.

 

India gained its independence from Britain in 1947.  Gandhi was assassinated in 1948.  His personal Charkha spinning wheel was recently sold in the U.K. for £110,000.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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).

16708422_399720270373612_2969503317990318263_n

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).

16681817_399720307040275_6439947366367685386_n

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

16708243_399720290373610_8211308514630511439_n

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

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

15781021_380970062248633_1732011176156510358_n

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

14553164_1699570933691573_8891121849396625408_n1

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!

 


Leave a comment

October-Harvesting Time for Wool Dyers

Last year I spent a lot of time gazing at hedgerows waiting for the perfect moment to start picking blackberries and eventually I got lots and lots and was so pleased with the beautiful lilac and purple shades that I was able to get from the dye bath.  This year I am going to give elderberries a go.

main_blackelderberry_03

I’ve managed to pick about a carrier bag full which is taking up a considerable amount of room in our freezer and is making me very unpopular at the moment.  I was really tempted to order some wool for dyeing but then I came across a bag of Bert the white alpaca’s rejected fleece from last year ( this means that it didn’t quite make the grade but would be good for a bit of experimentation with elderberries).  Why I thought that this would be a quick fix where emptying the freezer is concerned I don’t know.  I take the spinning wheel out at every opportunity and still haven’t finished….I’m getting close though and have great plans for yarn dyeing next weekend.

14523076_334632673549039_1629796610451237954_n

I love it when the weather is dry as I am able to card outside.   It really means that all of the fluff, the dust and the dirt can remain in the garden.  Sometimes, if it is raining, I’ll take the drum carder into the shed as this also saves me house cleaning chores.

14523134_334632400215733_2636462240627513843_n

I’m almost there.  These bobbins are now full and just need to be plied.

Alpaca Antics

14448877_334633120215661_5055904438292678013_n

The boys occasionally ‘fall out.’  This happened last Friday.  Bootsy is the ‘flighty’, anxious one and usually starts spitting and hissing if he gets nervous.  He then tries to jump onto Albie’s back and Albie then retaliates by biting Bootsy’s legs.  The rows follow the same pattern each time.  I usually try to break the argument up if I see it as I worry that one of them is going to get hurt.  Thankfully neither of them ever has.  Such episodes usually last about a minute or two and soon the animals get back to their usual business of grazing and looking lovely.


Leave a comment

Haircuts for the Boys

Yes the time finally came for Albs and Bootsy to be rid of their fleece.  We had been waiting quite a while for this to happen but unfortunately the shearer’s machine had to be sent to the workshop for an overhaul as it had recently sheared about 2000 sheep.  Our friend Richie, who organised the shearer, called me the night before to tell me to get the boys ready in the pen the following morning as he was coming at 1 p.m..  So about 11 o’clock I headed into the pen with two bowls of food and as they were munching the gate closed behind them…

Bootsy is always sheared first as he is the ‘headcase’ of the pair.  It takes two people to hold the alpaca down and one to do the shearing.  The shearer was incredibly slick and fast getting each animal sheared in about 30 – 40 minutes.

14088410_317076555304651_4666540081902091580_n

It was so funny to see them when they ran out of the pen almost a third of the size that they had previously been.  It must be quite a relief to the alpaca to be free of all of the fleece that had been so incredibly thick.  14102675_317076578637982_3650126020941887464_n

Albs also got his toe-nails clipped and both animals got a drench for worms and parasites…that was even less popular with them than the shearing itself!

14117842_317076501971323_2201703976194784218_n

And this is the incredible amount of fleece that came from the two alpacas.  Soon after the afternoon’s activities I lay an old sheet on the ground and graded each animal’s  fleece into three sections:

  1. No Way
  2. Okay
  3. Fine and lovely

The no way fleece comes from the legs, tail and head and also fleece that contains guard hairs. Fleece that is cut too short to be able to be spun is also in this category.

Okay fleece is fleece that’s soft or just hasn’t got a lot of crimp.

Fine and lovely comes mainly from the saddle area and rump.  It is very soft and has lots of crimp.

14089264_317076481971325_4727894205456641075_n

Once sorted the different grades are then put into old pillow cases, to reduce the possibility of mould, and placed somewhere dry ready to be carded.

This was a great day the results of which will keep me busy during the long winter nights!


4 Comments

Minty Humbug is off to Germany!

13627194_292968344382139_4673091710292688288_n

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.

13612405_292968327715474_7767201601178238591_n

 


2 Comments

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.’

12654454_1697044337247580_7887606920818524335_n

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:

12650950_1697044267247587_7591109345144906759_n

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.

12524049_1697044183914262_6823411668069029298_n

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.

 

12647500_1697044403914240_4378009199082115953_n