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.


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.


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.


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

Alpaca Antics


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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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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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.


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.


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.


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



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.


Et voila..Autumnal Furrows.

It fits really well and is incredibly soft.  I’m so pleased with how it’s turned out.


A swirly whirly week


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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.


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.


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.


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


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:


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.


Sock knitting


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.


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.


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


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.


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:


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.


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..


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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!.”


There were also equestrian competitions, craft competitions and best flowers and veg.


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.



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.


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.