Wool Maker Lane

knitting, spinning and life with alpacas

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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.’





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.



Iceland- What a geography lesson..

Last week, for a very special birthday, I was treated to a trip to Iceland. We took a two hour flight from Belfast to Keflavik, which is about 40km west of Iceland’s capital Reykjavik.  The first thing that we were struck by was the difference in the landscape.   As we’d expected it seemed very rugged and quite barren but never short of a natural feature to interest the eye.

We stayed in an apartment in the centre of Reykjavik.  Like all capital cities this is a very busy place.  There was lots of construction going on and many many tourists even for the month of October.  Most of the visitors seemed to hail from the U.S. and China.  Occasionally we heard an Irish accent or recognised faces from our plane trip over.


Being based in Reykjavik was great.  We hired a car which meant that we could visit lots of the interesting geographical features of the country which were close by.


We visited Geysir which is basically a large field full of bubbling geysirs of varying sizes. All of the geysirs have different names and varying time lapses between each eruption e.g. the one shown above, which is the original geysir, only erupts about once every ten years.


It’s nearby neighbour, Strokkur, erupts about once every 7 minutes.  We sat on a nearby bench and admired it’s spouting burst of boiling water a number of times during our visit.


Waterfalls are a common feature of the Icelandic landscape.  When we came across the first waterfall we were totally in awe by the sheer size of it.  The volume and the speed of the water was breathtaking.   We took numerous photos from all angles.  By day two we realised that waterfalls were everywhere and although we enjoyed looking at them the cameras stayed in our pockets.


The Thingvellir National Park is a rift valley where the North American and the Eurasion tectonic plates are drifting apart.  It was here that the first Icelandic Parliament took place, where laws were passed and (very nasty) punishments carried out.


Volcanic material was in evidence in many places that we visited.


At this spot, in Laufskálavarda, a farm was destroyed by volcanic activity in 894.  By tradition everybody passing by for the first time picks up a stone and places it on one of the mounds.


During our short time we walked on glaciers in the dark hence the lack of photos (absolutely not to be recommended safety wise), and we chased the Northern Lights, catching only a teasing glimpse…

Iceland is one incredible place.

More to come…



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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!


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Bath Time…and more


I’ve been  fortunate enough to have had a few days off work so I spent a long weekend in the U.K. and took a day trip to a beautiful Roman / Georgian city called Bath.  It’s really famous for its spectacular Roman Baths hence its name.  Although I have walked through these baths a number of times I thought that I would go again until I saw the queue outside.


Bath was heaving with tourists (I think that half of France must have been there) and with no chance of me standing for hours trying to revise my French conjugation I decided to drop in on the Museum of Fashion.


Anybody who knows me is probably giggling at this point wondering at what stage I started taking an interest in fashion but I do love history and it is just as well as the £8.75 entrance fee was waivered in view of the fact that there was only one gallery open … the Victorians.   It was indeed illuminating as the museum used quotes from contemporary novels to illustrate the way that the garments were worn and by whom.  This period also spanned the introduction of industrialisation so at the start of the 19th Century the glamorous fabrics were hand woven  in France and from the mid to late 19th Century they were being manufactured in Britain.



Whilst in Bath I made a further study in human behaviour at the ‘Wool’ shop.  This is a small establishment close to the centre of town but a little off the beaten track.  It had a fine array of yarns and lots of gorgeously knitted examples a long with folders galore filled with patterns.  The lady in charge was cheery and extremely helpful in assisting me to choose yarn for a baby pattern that I am presently trying to get underway.  The shop was empty when I arrived but being small it soon filled up.  Two separate couples entered.  One chap took his place on the comfy couch and read the newspaper while his significant other perused the colourful goods on the shelves.  The other fellow took a different approach.  He decided to follow his lady friend around the shop while she pulled handfuls of sumptuous yarns from their piles and conveyed all of her knowledge to him about the various products.   I moved closer in the hope that I could learn a little from this lesson about independent yarn producers however the tutorial was cut short by the gentleman exclaiming that he knew what wool looked like thank you and had no desire to see any more of it.  With that he left the shop promptly and she followed soon after.  The gentleman on the couch continued to read his newspaper while his lady friend  enjoyed her retail experience.  I wonder if she knows how lucky she is.


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.’


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:


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.


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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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


(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.


Woolly Pyrite


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.