Wool Maker Lane

knitting, spinning and life with alpacas


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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Alpaca Antics

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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.


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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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Autumn is coming

Autumn is certainly upon us even if the BBC weatherman announced this morning that it doesn’t officially start for another two days.  The weather has definitely turned chillier and the nights are now drawing in.  Last night it was dark at about 9.15 p.m.  The word for autumn in Irish is fómhar (pronounced fo-war) which means gather or harvest.  The farmers have been busy bringing in the hay but as there is very little arable land around here there aren’t many other signs of autumn yet.

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Yesterday I bought two large bales of peat briquettes to start the fire going.

During my podcast fest in Bristol, I was watching Rosehip Knits where Hannah suggested a Dye a long.  This was like music to my ears.  I have always wanted to try my hand at dyeing wool and really just needed a ‘push’ to go ahead with it.  The dye a long  is open to all sorts of dyeing during the month of September and naturally I thought that there would be tonnes of blackberries on the bushes and I would have the end of Bert’s white fleece knocking around..what a great excuse to get myself some gorgeous purple wool.  I have hit a few stumbling blocks however but nothing that can’t be overcome.  I have been doing lots of homework courtesy of Shades of Lynx blog, Jenny Dean’s Wild Colour website and Wildcolours.co.uk.  I decided that I needed some alum.  I have been asking around locally in the wool shop in town and at chemists for it but it seems to be very hard to get in these parts without having to order it in the U.K.  I will keep trying though.   When I mentioned in the wool shop that I wanted it to dye wool with blackberries the lady gave me a grin and exclaimed, “Ooh that’s an awful waste of blackberries!”  And she might have a point.  However I went down to the field this afternoon and I don’t even know if the blackberries would be ready by the end of September, which is the dye a long cut off date.

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If I get no further I shall try another tack but I’ll give it another week to see about the alum and the berries.  I think that elderberries may be ripe in the next couple of weeks so that’s another possibility.

Liam’s hat

My friend mentioned to me the other day that her little baby doesn’t yet have a hat and naturally what could I do but offer to make him one and I was only delighted to.

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I used Katia Merino Aran Plus which is 52% wool and 48% acrylic.  It is incredibly soft to touch and the colours are so cheery for a little one.  I needed just under 50g which means that I have enough yarn to knit another one.  I didn’t use a pattern.  I knew the circumference of Liam’s head so I cast on sufficient stitches and the garment just evolved.  I love it.  Hopefully it will keep him warm and cosy as the weather cools down.

Pointy topped mitts

Thanks to the strict rules of the U.K. Airport Authority I left my green mitt knitting back in Bristol for me to get on with on my next trip over.

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I managed to complete one during my time there and finish the rib of the next one so that I can fire away as soon as I arrive next.  I experimented with the pointy top, as can be found on Eastern European type mitts, but I’m on the fence about this one really.  I may be too rooted in my own “round top mitt tradition” to embrace change.  Whatever the top they are beautifully soft and will keep somebody snuggly warm this Christmas … and beyond.

Alpacas

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The boys’ fleeces are starting to get a little longer and now that the weather is turning I have bought some haylage for them to eat along with their nuts.  They did a great job keeping the grass down all summer.