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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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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Those needles ROCK!

KNit drummer

I really wish that I had taken this photo but it is a clue to the punch line of a story that I am about to tell you.  Yesterday I visited our local €2 Shop in Navan for nothing more than a browse when I came across these massive wooden needles on a shelf in the back of the store.  They were size 20 mm and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on them to start experimenting.  I brought them up to the young male cashier who looked puzzled when I handed them to him.  ‘I didn’t know we sold drum sticks!’ he declared.  When I told him that they were meant to be knitting needles we both began laughing.  It was a lovely exchange.

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Meanwhile, back at home, I decided to give my new ‘drumsticks’ a go with some super thick wool that I recently bought for another project.  I couldn’t believe it; fifteen stitches and you have enough width for a scarf.  Utterly wonderful..not to mention how fast the knitting grows.  Obviously there are slight drawbacks e.g. the weight of the needles for a start, and the fact that my index finger isn’t capable of flicking the wool around the needle with as much ease, or for that matter, with any ease as my whole right hand has to leave the needle to complete the stitch.  All that said, I am really enjoying using them and simply having a go.  I don’t know that I will go much further than the picture shows as this wool is ‘earmarked’ but I won’t rule out the odd scarf being produced as Christmastime approaches.

 

Minty Humbug

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I’ve started Minty Humbug, a new pullover for a little person in Berlin.  It is being made with handspun yarn from Albie’s fleece and Aran wool from Bunratty Woollen Mills.  So far it has been knit on a circular needle up to the arm holes and then straight needles were used to work the upper front and back.  The collar and one and a half sleeves have also been produced since this picture was taken so it is very close to finishing which will be great.

Rain prevents shearing

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Albie and Bootsy desperately need to be shorn however the weather has been so wet recently that there hasn’t been an opportunity to do this.  It’s really crucial that their fleeces are cut soon as the later that it is left the colder it will be for them come the winter time as there won’t have been enough time for it to grow back so I’m hoping for some good weather this week and a shearer who has time for a visit.

 

 


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Introducing The Barley Twist

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Today my sweater, The Barley Twist, is ready for presentation and I have to say that I am extremely pleased with it.  I wanted to knit a jumper using aran wool that gave a nod to aran design without being overcome with a pattern that was so dense with stitches that it was too heavy to wear.  It’s a very simple shape with a roll neck, cuffs and base.  The cable design, which goes up the front side,  meets the same cable from the back of the jumper at the shoulder.  I had been tempted to put a smaller cable up one of the sleeves but I’m glad now that I didn’t.

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I used Blarney Woollen Mills Aran Handknitting Wool which I bought in Bunratty last November.  It’s a beautiful shade of creamy white and as a wool it is very strong.  On a scale of softness from one to ten I would give it a six.   The jumper was knitted on 5. 5mm needles so I do expect it to keep its shape and hopefully it won’t pill so easily as can happen with softer wools and looser knits.

I thought that I would have this jumper completed quickly but as I was knitting from scratch I had to be meticulous with measurements and numbers so it took a lot longer than anticipated.  Luckily I’ve kept good notes so that if I wanted to make another it would be a much swifter affair.   Alongside this creation other events requiring a quickly knitted hat or baby cardy kept coming up and so the inevitable diversions occurred.

I chose the name Barley Twist because the colour of the wool resembles growing barley and, of course, the twist part refers to the cables.

I’m really looking forward to wearing it on a cool evening.

 

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Bootsy admiring my finished jumper.  


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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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The Numbers Game

Garment Design Course

In an effort to make a garment that really fits me properly I decided to sign up to a Craftsy Class called ‘Handknit Garment Design.’  As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago I’ve bought what I hope is a sufficient amount of aran wool to make a jumper and would like to make a good go of it during the Christmas break…or at least get past the ribbing section.  In the past when I have knitted jumpers without a pattern they have followed a very rudimentary design; square for the back and front, two rectangles for the sleeves and a slash neck.  This formula always worked well in earlier years however I would really like to make a better go of it this time.  I’m slightly older now and while I certainly don’t have more time on my hands I’m not in such a rush to get things finished as I would have been before.   I want to enjoy the process as well as to learn from it.

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I have learned a lot so far from the Craftsy Class.  The instructor is Shirley Paden.  She is extremely thorough and seems, like me, to have a love of maths as numbers have featured a lot in the lessons so far.  One of the early topics deals with how to take measurements.  I have to say I just kept watching in utter amazement as the realisation dawned on me that there is so much more to this knit a jumper business than I had previously accounted for.   Paden goes to great lengths visually to explain the importance of pattern flow in shaping especially when stitching changes alter the gauge.  One aspect that I have found extremely useful is how to work out the amount of yarn required for the project prior to starting.  Hopefully by the end of the course I shall know whether I need to go back to the wool shop or not.

 


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Digging in the Round

I have been looking for a while for interesting stitches for an aran jumper and I was captivated by a pullover that I saw in the Knitter’s Almanac book by Elizabeth Zimmerman.  It was called ‘Fish Trap’ and I liked it because it didn’t require the use of a cable needle, just travelling stitches, and didn’t appear to be too prominent on the garment ie. it didn’t jut out 3-D wise.  Like a new Zimmerman disciple I decided to make a hat rather than a swatch, and for the first time I thought that I would have a go at knitting on a circular needle.

I have knitted in the round before, always on four needles, and have quite  enjoyed the thought of limiting the amount of sewn seams to finish a garment but I have to say I did find it a bit peculiar.  I am guessing that circular needles are a relatively new invention compared to using four needles:

KnittingMadonna

 

( Visit of the Angel, from the right wing of the Buxtehude Altar, 1400-10 (tempera on panel)CreatorMaster Bertram of Minden (c.1345-c.1415)NationalityGermanLocationHamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany

This painting is meant to depict Mary of Nazareth knitting in the round. Now,  I can’t say whether Mary actually did knit but I think that this painting definitely indicates that this type of knitting took place in Germany during the lifetime of the artist in the 14th-15th Centuries.)

From my own experience I found it difficult initially to work with the shortness of the needles but after about ten to fifteen rounds of the ‘hat’ I was well into the swing of it and now I see no point in using two needles for a hat again.  This part was a great success.

The only drawback in the whole project was the ‘fishtrap’ pattern.  I found this really disappointing.  Due to busy commitments I wasn’t quite able to get a good run at it and I found myself stopping and starting and losing my place in the instructional chart which was extremely small (and at times having no pen or pencil to mark off how far I had reached. )

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(This is an example from Google Images of a hat with  ‘half fish trap’ pattern)

To make the stitches ‘travel’ without a cable needle was fairly simple particularly when travelling  or twisting to the right.  It basically went like this:

Right Twist

K2 together, Leave on left needle, K first stitch again, Remove two stitches from the left needle

This was the easy one.  The next, twisting to the left, required, as Zimmerman would put it, a ‘dig’.

Left Twist

Knit (read ‘dig’) into the back of the second stitch, knit into the front of the first stitch  and remove the 2 stitches from the left needle.

Digging , of course, is the operative word here although, prodding, poking or stabbing would easily suffice.  By row 6 or 7 I had had enough of the chart and decided to just enjoy what I was doing and take charge.  My efforts look nothing like the beautiful hat in the picture above.  At many stages I was considering the ‘abort’ option but I feel that I have mastered the use of the circular needles, I now (eventually) can knit the fish trap pattern and being more relaxed the tension of the stitches has loosened so there is less violence and emotional outbursts required during the left twists!  I am now about to start the decreases for the crown of the hat.  It will be one that I can wear as I go out to the field on a cold evening.  I’m sure the alpacas will love it!