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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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.

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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.

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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.

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Albie

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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..

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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.

Dyeing

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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!.”

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There were also equestrian competitions, craft competitions and best flowers and veg.

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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.

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Knitting

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.

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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.


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I managed to get the three and a half batts spun into singles, stuck the bobbins onto a Lazy Kate and plied them together.  This was a while ago and I have been waiting patiently for some decent weather to give the wool a wash and hang it out to dry.  Today is the day and as luck would have it I am staying at my mother’s house (she is recovering from an op) where there is an ‘all weather’ parasol in the garden which is perfect for today.  Not being sure exactly when the weather is going to change I have tied the skeins beneath it …  for peace of mind.

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I must say that Bert’s fleece is much cleaner this year.  Last year the water was filthy.  The water in the bowl was heated to 25 degrees Celsius and contained a small amount of washing up liquid.  I had another bowl waiting close by with water of the same temperature in order to rinse the wool.

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Up the skeins went ….  and now waiting for them to dry….

The time won’t be wasted though as the Ashford Traveller has come with me and will be spinning away for a repeat performance.

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