Wool Maker Lane

knitting, spinning and life with alpacas

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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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I managed to get the three and a half batts spun into singles, stuck the bobbins onto a Lazy Kate and plied them together.  This was a while ago and I have been waiting patiently for some decent weather to give the wool a wash and hang it out to dry.  Today is the day and as luck would have it I am staying at my mother’s house (she is recovering from an op) where there is an ‘all weather’ parasol in the garden which is perfect for today.  Not being sure exactly when the weather is going to change I have tied the skeins beneath it …  for peace of mind.


I must say that Bert’s fleece is much cleaner this year.  Last year the water was filthy.  The water in the bowl was heated to 25 degrees Celsius and contained a small amount of washing up liquid.  I had another bowl waiting close by with water of the same temperature in order to rinse the wool.


Up the skeins went ….  and now waiting for them to dry….

The time won’t be wasted though as the Ashford Traveller has come with me and will be spinning away for a repeat performance.


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Inspecting the fleece


I now have five bags of fleece from three alpacas.  As you know we only have two alpacas Bootsy, who is light brown and Albie, who is dark brown.  Bert, who belongs to a neighbour, is white.  Actually I should say that his fleece only appears to be white as my hands are anything but when I work with his fibre.  Bert guards a flock of sheep and as a consequence his fleece gets matted with the various dirt that the sheep leave behind them in the field.

Having said all of that the quality of the fleece depends on which part of the alpaca the fleece comes from.  For spinning the best fleece is known as the blanket.  This describes the area from the ridge of the alpaca’s back down both sides of its body until you reach the top of the belly and the upper leg…imagine a large saddle that would stretch back as far as the tail. The fleece here is the most dense and in many alpacas, highly prized.


Another way of distinguishing the best part of an alpaca’s fleece is by identifying the fibre which has what is known as crimp.  These are the fuzzy soft strands which are a delight to both card and spin as the fibres pull together so well. Above is Bootsy’s fleece.  Even though he is eight year’s old it has plenty of crimp, lots of volume and is a pleasure to work with.


Bert’s fleece is a dream to spin.  It is extremely dense and comes off the                                                                                 wool carder really easily without much assistance.


By comparison Albie’s looks like it’s just had a soft perm!  It is quite fine when it is compared to the others but has a beautiful deep chestnut colour that your eyes can get lost in.

It’s quite interesting that three different alpacas can yield such different fleeces.  I can’t wait to start spinning them.