Wool Maker Lane

knitting, spinning and life with alpacas


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…



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.


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.


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.


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

Alpaca Antics


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.


Way home Knitting


Every evening, on my way home from work, I drop into my mother’s house.  This is our time to have a catch up chat about how the day has gone and to get on with our knitting.  My mother is currently making me a navy pullover which is very close to the end.  She’s working on the collar at the moment and I am so looking forward to it being finished.


By contrast I am working on a small jumper for my cousin’s little lad Diarmuid.  I leave this in my mother’s house and pick it up every evening to do a few extra rows.  It’s really knitting up very quickly.


Please note the funny faces on the needles.  These were the only pair of 4mm needles in the house but they work perfectly.


Leave a comment

Meet the Olympia Cardigan…the Olympic race that finally saw the finish line!

Early in July, during a weekend in Bristol, my husband and I decided to go to a sale in John Lewis to look at shirts…..Whilst perusing the menswear section it came to my attention that there was a sale on in the haberdashery area so I needed to investigate.  I was in so much luck as there was a large area brimming with various yarns and wool all with discounted labels.  A few of them had been bagged up as job lots.  This is where I came across the beautiful pinks and greys in the Debbie Bliss Elektra yarn…all ten balls of it (each of 50 grammes).  There and then I had to have it as I was sure that I would get a complete garment from it.  This was going to be my new project to accompany me during my Olympics viewing.

I knew that I wanted to make a large, cosy cardigan for the chilly evenings to slip over whatever I happened to be wearing.   Following a quick swatch using 6mm needles (the label suggests 8mm) and a few rudimentary measurements I got started.  I must say that this was the most liberating project.  No pattern was used other than a basic idea in my head of how I wanted the cardigan to look.  While the games on the telly got underway so did I.


As everyone knows ‘Life is what happens when you’re making other plans’ and on a number of occasions both my cardigan project and my Olympic watching were interrupted with more pressing matters at work and home.  I was able, though, to pick it up easily and carry on when I was able to snatch a half hour here and there and it just grew and grew so quickly that it was very gratifying.

I knitted it all in one piece from the bottom up.  I split the stitches at the armholes for the back and the fronts and continued in stocking stitch up to the shoulders.  Next I sewed up the shoulders, picked up the stitches from the armholes and knitted the sleeves from top to cuff.  Finally I picked up and knitted the stitches around the collar using garter stitch and did the same for the button band.

I managed to finish it this week just when the Para Olympics started  (so I am still within the  Olympic timetable) and I love wearing it.



1 Comment

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!


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.


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!


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.


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!

1 Comment

Summery Projects

Infinite Cables

It’s been a busy summer with LOTS of events going on so knitterly projects have been attended to in fits and starts.  I started to swatch a cable and found that I enjoyed it so much that I couldn’t stop…


It is still on the needles and I am trying to decide whether to simply sew the ends together and turn it into a headband for the winter or to pick up the stitches on one side of the band and to make it into a hat.  No doubt I will make a choice when the bad weather comes in.

Hata Shéamuis


This is Hata Shéamuis (pronounced Hata Hamish).  It comes under my ‘auto pilot’ knitting category.  I spent a long time in a waiting room recently and had the forethought to bring a couple of balls of wool and some needles with me.  The bulk of the hat was knitted at this time and by the end of my visit I had managed to get up to the decreases. Two different types of wool were used.  The darker one, which looks almost blue in this picture but is actually an emerald green, is Donegal Tweed and the multicoloured yarn is from Katia.  The hat was knitted on a 5 mm circular needle.


Albie’s Eye Alert


Poor old Albs got another eye infection.  I went to the local vet and was given two bottles of eye ointments…to be administered an hour apart.  Now anybody who knows alpacas will understand that you might be able to fool them once with a bit of extra grub to get them into a pen, allowing the squeezing of eye drops to take place, but there is no way that they’re going to fall for that trick 60 minutes later.  With this knowledge I decided to leave Albs in the pen while I had a spot of lunch…..Forty five minutes later I returned to an empty pen.  Albs had crushed the sheep wire and had leapt over it.  I could spy him at the bottom of the back field but I knew that no more medical intervention was going to take place that afternoon.  Miraculously the following day the eye had all cleared up.  This was amazing and quite a relief as the vet had said that if he didn’t recover he would have to go to UCD in Dublin  All is well thankfully and the eye problem was less serious than I’d expected.

Peg Weaving


Last Sunday my mother and I had the joy of going a long to the Irish Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers’ meeting in The Constant Knitter in Francis Street in Dublin.  Here we met lots of interesting women with their various wheels, spindles and table looms.  It was a wonderful opportunity to share both experiences and information about yarn and fabric- making issues in a really relaxed and supportive environment.  As we were the only people who’d arrived sans projet we were introduced to peg weaving and were really taken with it.  Merely the idea of looping a warp to the bottom of small sticks seems remarkable to me and it was just such an easy way of making a braid or a belt.  It would also be a great way of introducing children to weaving.


Private Spinning Fest


Earlier in the summer I arrived in Bristol with LOTS of fleece with the expectation that I would have it spun up and ready to knit.  What I hadn’t banked on was leaving all of the bobbins in Ireland and as a consequence no spinning occurred.  This gave me the opportunity when I returned to Ireland to card even more fleece which, given the beautiful weather we had, was no hardship.  Last week I returned to Bristol, laden with plenty of Bootsy’s gorgeous carded fleece and plenty of bobbins.  14022183_314004035611903_2940642724327335998_n

This is my current project…and given the rainy conditions outside there’s no better place to be other than in the lounge chatting and spinning.  Perfect!