Wool Maker Lane

knitting, spinning and life with alpacas


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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 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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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!

 

 


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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.