Wool Maker Lane

knitting, spinning and life with alpacas


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The Bramble Beauty

My lovely cousin sent me a book on dyeing for my birthday and would you credit it it is the same as Jenny Dean book, Wild Color, that I already have. I have to say that I was delighted to get it as it means that I can bring it to England when I go and leave it there as it will give me the opportunity to dye whilst I am over. It is much cheaper to get undyed wool in the UK but I will need to be on the look out for dye stuff. I have spun a skein of Bert’s second best fleece and I am considering what to dye it with. The days are very short here at the moment which curtails my foraging activities in the garden and the woods. I am wondering whether I should go with onions or ivy. There are plenty of ivy leaves around but I just don’t know how long it would take me to gather a sufficient amount for a dye bath. I do get very excited thinking about the possibilities though I must say.

The wool that I did manage to dye successfully with blackberries I made into a hat which I have called the ‘Bramble Beauty.’ I love to wear it and I’ve received a number of compliments which multiply once I explain the process of achieving the colours.

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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.


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Dyeing with flu

Visit to the Lake District

All has been quiet on the blog front recently.  I had the joy of attending a beautiful wedding in the Lake District in Cumbria in the north of England.  What a gorgeous place.  I’d never been there before and I’m so grateful that I went.  Here’s a picture of sunset on Lake Windemere.

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The wedding was in a large country house in Ambleside which originally housed relatives of Beatrix Potter (who was also a local resident).  In one of the rooms on the lower floor there was a display from a local knitting group:

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Dyeing attempts

I arrived back from the UK with flu so all went quiet for a while.  I found a rosehip bush in the local town which was bursting with ripe fruit so I had no choice but to take out my carrier bag and start picking.

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I soaked and mashed the rosehips.  Wow there were so many seeds within them I couldn’t believe it.  I mordanted ( is that a word?) the wool with alum and I made the mistake of dunking the wool straight into the seedy pithy mixture and simmered it slowly for a couple of hours.  I then left it overnight for the beautiful orangey dye to adhere to the wool but alas the dream of tangerine coloured wool was short lived.  As I took the wool from the mixture I also brought out lots of orange flesh and tonnes of seeds.  I had no choice but to hang the wool from a tree to hose it down and as the water removed the flesh and seeds it also took the colour.

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I can’t pretend that I wasn’t disappointed with the results.  It is a lot of effort to go to for no outcome but I really like a word that comes up frequently when reading about dyeing and that is ‘experiment.’  It really has to be a ‘try it and see affair.’  Undeterred, this weekend I decided to go into the wood to pull up an armload of ferns as I hoped that I could be sure of getting some green out of them but a few blackberries caught my eye…and then a few more ..and then..Well  I just had to get that carrier bag out again and before long I came home with a pound (lb) of fruit.

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I quickly mashed the berries and soaked them in water on a low heat to release the colour and left the mixture over night.  This morning I strained the mixture and put the solid parts of the berries into a small bag made from an old net curtain.  Returning the liquid and the bag to the saucepan I added the wool and put it on a very low flame to simmer for an hour and a half.  I will leave it overnight.  So far I like what I see….but I am not getting too excited…yet.

Albie’s Eyesore

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Poor lovely Albie has a sore eye.  I went to feed him yesterday and I noticed that his eye was weeping and that it had some white gungey puss like substance within it.  I called the vet immediately and I picked up some opticlox from the surgery.  Albie had to be held still while I lowered his eye lid and squirted more gunge into it.  Unusually he didn’t protest at all.  I think that he knows that we’re trying to help him.  We’ll do this daily until the infection goes.

Solidago Socks

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I finally finished my Solidago socks from a design by Mary Jane Mucklestone.  I must say these have taken me ages as I kept putting them down to focus on other things but the joy of seeing them complete and on my feet is fantastic.  This is a pattern that I am definitely going to keep handy and try with another colour scheme.


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In the pink

Having dyed Bert’s wool pink last week I decided to put it to good use and to make a baby hat for Hannah who is the daughter of Bert’s owner.  First of all I made a small swatch:

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The wool that I dyed last weekend came out as a really subtle shade of pink which was perfect.  When knitted up on 4 mm needles it turned out that 10cm x 10cm could be achieved with 19 stitches and 26 rows.  I cast on 72 stitches and started knitting in stocking stitch for about 11 cm.  I divided the total number of stitches by 8 and then started decreasing evenly across 8 divisions every alternate row working 16 rows altogether before breaking off the wool and passing it through the remaining stitches and sewing up the side seam.  So easy and quick.  I was delighted.  I decided to embellish the hat with a small flower and hey presto it was complete.  Hannah now looks gorgeous with her new headgear.

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Sock knitting

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I returned to my sock knitting this morning.  I haven’t touched these for a while now and I have a feeling that I messed up where the Fair Isle pattern is concerned (the curse of watching t.v. and counting stitches simultaneously).  I studied what I knitted briefly and I really can’t imagine anybody getting down around my ankles with a magnifying glass so I’m just going to keep on working away at them.

Dyeing

My efforts to get the resources for dyeing this week have moved on somewhat thankfully.  Last week I ordered some alum from WildColours.co.uk and it arrived to my workplace.  My colleagues couldn’t understand my joy when I pulled it out of the package but they gave me understanding looks when I explained how hard it had been to get.

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A few minutes later I was handed another small package from a friend and I got such a shock when I opened it:

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More alum but where the alum from the UK was in crystal form the most recent alum was in a small block.  It turns out that it came from one of the Chinese markets in Dublin and the lovely note accompanying the packet informed me that if I need more that is where I should go.  I’m really delighted to hear this and can’t wait to get started with dyeing wool naturally.  I even bought some undyed wool so that I don’t waste any of the teensy amount  of white/grey alpaca fleece that I have left.

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The only fly in the ointment is that those bushes that are growing all around me are just not bearing enough fruit at the moment so it’s a bit of a waiting game.  I’ve been reading an old book that I found in my mother’s house.  It’s called The Woolcraft Book, spinning dyeing weaving and is by Constance Jackson and Judith Plowman (1982, pub. William Collins).  I must say that it is fascinating reading and I have been returning to it again and again.  The authors are based in New Zealand and recommended, not surprisingly, ferns for dyeing.  I hurried out into the wood to see what is available there:

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Somehow I don’t think that I need to worry about finding a source of green material.  I shall give the blackberries and elderberries a little more time though.

Alpacas

The boys have been allowed down into the garden again as the grass is getting rather long.  Usually they have the whole run of the place but recently Bootsy decided that when they are by the house it is too far to go to the back field to relieve himself preferring to use the driveway instead.  This morning I had to put up a hasty barrier using string and garden chairs and old bits of a trampoline.  Alpacas are very good with barriers though however flimsy they may be.  Unlike sheep it doesn’t take much to keep them contained.

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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.