Wool Maker Lane

knitting, spinning and life with alpacas


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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.

Sheep

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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.

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Cattle

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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!

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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.

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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.

Crafts

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:

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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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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!


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Minty Humbug is off to Germany!

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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.

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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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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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A swirly whirly week

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This weekend my fingers were itching to do some knitting. I had managed a couple of hours spinning over the week but felt the need to produce something other than wool.  I looked into my stock pile and found 100 grammes of petrol coloured aran wool from Tivoli Spinners which was left over from a pair of mittens that I made during the summer.  I figured that I would be able to get a hat out of it and duly cast on the stitches and started a k2p2 rib.  At the end of the ribbing I thought that a bit of a design would be quite nice and I found a lovely ‘South American’ swirly design in ‘The Encyclopedia of Knitting’ by Stansfield and Griffiths (2011).  The pattern for the design only covers 5 rows but I have to say that I was on tenterhooks the whole time that I was knitting it because I couldn’t be sure that it was going to be right until the five rows were actually complete.  Thankfully I made no mistakes and I think that it really enhances the hat which will be sent over to my niece in the UK shortly.

Albie’s eye update

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Poor lovely Albie is still suffering with eye problems.  The vet came out on Thursday and announced that he has an ulcer on his eye.  As she had never treated an alpaca before she went back to her surgery and called the Veterinary College in Dublin for advice.  That evening I picked up three tubes of Isathal, which is basically penicillin, to insert into his eye twice a day.  Now I have to say that this is easier said than done.  Firstly it is a two person job and secondly Alpacas lashes are beautiful and long and get in the way of a novice trying to take aim with a tube of ointment at the eye beneath them.  It’s looking slightly better but I’m not 100% sure yet.  I have everything crossed that it will clear soon.

Dyeing

Yes I’m saving the best till last.  A week ago I was dyeing with blackberries and boy was I thrilled with what came out of the pot.

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It was a gentle shade of purple..almost lilac really.  Spurred on by this success I decided that I would mordant another 500 grammes of wool and use the same dye liquid which I had put into the fridge with the small net curtain bag full of black berries and also, as it turned out, a maggot.  Again I used alum (25g) as the mordant in two and a half litres of water.  I simmered the wet wool in this for one and a half hours. I took the mordanted wool out and left it in the dark overnight.  The following evening I warmed up the blackberry dye with the net bag of berries and placed the wet mordanted wool into it.  I simmered it for one and a half hours and left it overnight.  After work the next day I was the happiest dyer on the planet with 500g of a most gorgeous shade of my favourite colour.  It’s so funny how the same mordant and the same dye solution were used but the shade variation is so great.  The only variable is the age of the blackberry dye.

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Now I am left with the quandry of what to do with the wool.  At the moment I am content to sit and look at it and wonder on the magic of the whole process and how lucky I am that I have been able to do this but I’m sure those fingers of mine will get itchy again soon and find something new to knit.