Wool Maker Lane

knitting, spinning and life with alpacas


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Annual Visit to the Royal Meath Show

Well the first Sunday in September has arrived and wow what a splendid day it has been …starting with some decent weather and all the fun of the Royal Meath Show.  This is a yearly event when the farmers of  Meath (and indeed further afield) come with their precious animals to see if they can win a rosette or even a trophy or two.  For each winner of a category there is a token monetary prize which usually covers the cost of the initial application.

One of the loveliest aspects of the show is that in many of the cases the farmers’ children are encouraged to show off the animals and walk them around the ring.

Sheep

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This year there seemed to be less sheep which had been dyed yellow.  The sheep above were in a holding pen while those in the pictures below are of the animals in the ring with their owners making a great effort to keep them still while they waited for the judge to come down to their end of the line.

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Cattle

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Above is Henry the Highland bull.  He was on display along with his pal Hamish but as there were no other Highland Cattle they weren’t in competition.   I find this chap’s horns formidable and I couldn’t imagine what it must be like trying to carry out certain husbandry activities on him….alpacas are difficult enough to subdue when necessary!

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This young bull belonged to two brothers and he was just about to be brought into the ring.  One of the lads is busy with the last minute grooming which involved sprinkling a load of ‘sparkle dust’ onto the animal’s coat to make it glisten.  It’s incredible the length that the people went to to get the ‘edge’ on their fellow competitors.

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This lovely young girl brought her cow Christabel along to the show.  She did so well for her first time out by coming fourth and I have been informed that she is definitely coming back next year.

 

Other animals 

Horses formed a large part of the show and were competing throughout the entire day. There were also classes for goats but alpacas, being kind of rare in these parts, were just on display.  These beauties were from Trim Alpacas.

Donkeys and snoozing piglets were also on view.  Trim is synonymous with donkeys as there is a field of them beside the castle.  It is a popular past time for families to go into town to feed the donkeys.

Gardening classes

There were a number of vegetables on display but by far the most beautiful gardening category for me was the dahlias.  They were in plentiful supply and added great colour to the marquee.  You can see that marrows aren’t too popular..only one in the category which, naturally, turned out to be the winner.

Crafts

Many crafts were also on display but as usual for me it was the knitting that caught my eye.

Doll’s dresses seemed to be popular while there were some soft toys.  Of course there were also garments in the competition:

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As there was a barrier about a yard in front of the display tables it was very difficult to see anything in great detail but it seems that the winner was the beautiful Aran Cardigan.

These ladies were discovered in the Craft Tent selling knitwear.  They are from the Trim Library Knit ‘N’ Natter group which meets every Thursday morning.  They were very warm and welcoming and maybe if I find myself free one Thursday I may just head down there.

All in all it was a great day and I’m thinking that if I could get organised a little more next summer I could possibly submit something to the knitting category…we’ll see!

 


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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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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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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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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.