Wool Maker Lane

knitting, spinning and life with alpacas


3 Comments

Spinning Gandhi Style

At a recent meeting of the Irish Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers a lovely gentleman produced a box like object the size of a book.  He opened it out and informed us that it was a Charkha spinning wheel.  Now anything that turns and produces thread or wool of any kind grabs my interest but when I saw this compact machine I was transfixed.  I was aware of its association with Gandhi but what I hadn’t known was that he had actually invented this spinning wheel when he was in jail in Pune in the 1920s for civil disobedience.

16681948_399720327040273_8753088055880339431_n

“The spinning wheel of Gandhi brought us freedom.” (Punjabi folk song)

Whilst incarcerated Gandhi used the spinning wheel to spin cotton thread and produce fabric for his own clothing.  He rejected European style clothing, instead, opting for the simple loincloth that we so often see him wearing in photographs of the time.

This was a part of the Swadeshi movement which held an anti-colonial (anti-British) philosophy that attempted to promote the self-sufficiency of the Indian people.  At that time India was importing much of its cotton textiles from the north of England.  The movement encouraged Indians to create their own fabrics rather than import machine made cloth from Britain.  In an effort to reduce poverty in rural India and to stem the flow of Indian money destined for England Gandhi stated that it was

“the patriotic duty of every Indian to spin his own cotton and weave his own cloth.”

mgspinner

Gandhi received some criticism for being backward looking and eschewing the benefits of modern machinery but in response he claimed that “a plea for the spinning wheel is a plea for recognising the dignity of labour.”  He also argued that he was not against machines per se but that he was against India’s dependence on British machinery.

For Gandhi the spinning wheel was an emblem of non-violent protest.  It featured on the first national flag of India in 1921 but the flag went through a number of transformations before it got to today’s current version.

1921_india_flag-svg

1931_flag_of_india-svg                                                     06

Gandhi recognised the personal benefits of spinning.  It has been reported that he got up at 4 a.m. each morning and spun for one hour.  He claimed that spinning was akin to meditation and that it ‘calmed the nerves.’

 

Below is a video of a modern Charkha in action.  It was made by Jonathan Bosworth who created the Charkha that I saw at the IGSWD meeting in Dublin.

 

India gained its independence from Britain in 1947.  Gandhi was assassinated in 1948.  His personal Charkha spinning wheel was recently sold in the U.K. for £110,000.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Leave a comment

Spinning a Sweater

This has to be my most ambitious project to date for a number of reasons but mainly because of the time involved.  Over the Christmas holidays (doesn’t that sound like ages ago?) I was listening to the AndreSue Knits podcast and she was chatting to a fellow knitter, Sue Stokes, about a Sweater spin.  This has been a goal of mine since the alpacas first came to live with us but anyone who has been near a spinning wheel will know the hours that it can take to spin even a small ball of wool.  Habitually I have a grand plan to spin ‘tonnes’ of wool and then produce a substantial pullover that would keep one cosy in a Force Ten gale but usually the moment that I have enough yarn spun for a hat or a pair of gloves…off I go and the amazingly grand garment gets put onto the long finger (this is a wonderful Irish phrase often used to describe the inactivity of procrastinators).

16708422_399720270373612_2969503317990318263_n

So brimming with enthusiasm I signed myself up to this challenge.  And indeed where spinning is concerned challenge is the word.  My right foot, which still has a painful fracture, is redundant and the left has taken over.  It’s doing well and treadling beautifully however my body has to take on an awkward posture when I am on the Ashford Traveller as the ‘business end’of this spinning wheel is to the left of the treadle.  Slowly but surely I am getting there.

I am spinning Albie’s fleece, which I love to bits, into a two ply yarn.  This will be the last beautiful brown fleece that we get from him as over the winter he has started to grow a lot of grey hair on his fringe (which isn’t used) and down his neck (which usually would be).

16681817_399720307040275_6439947366367685386_n

Also, this will show you how impulsive I am, I have no pattern in mind.  I have merely cast a sufficient number of stitches onto a circular needle and I’m going for it.   The plan is to knit up to the armpits and then decide what sort of a design the jumper will take.  I have been researching stitch patterns and pullovers from a number of traditions which I have to say is phenomenal fun but hugely distracting.  The good news is that I have about 45 more rows before a decision has to be made so there’s no rush really.  If possible I would like to use a contrasting fleece….but we’ll see!

 

Bristol Hat Fine and Finished

16708243_399720290373610_8211308514630511439_n

On a recent trip to the UK I managed to finish this little lovely out of leftover Debbie Bliss yarn.  I had started it before Christmas and left it there to be finished off when I returned.  It’s always great to have a project waiting for you that you can get stuck into straight away.  On my next jaunt over I will have to apply myself big time to the great spin fest so that I can make more headway on the sweater spin challenge.  This means being highly organised and taking plenty of carded fleece and bobbins with me.

 

Broken Joint

During my last stint of spinning in the UK  I managed to break the conrod joint of the Ashford Traditional.  This is a piece of leather that attaches to the treadle.  I had a quick hunt around for some leather to replace it with and stumbled upon a pair of redundant jeans with the perfect label.  What could be better?

 

 


Leave a comment

Happy New Year…Happy New Jumper

Icelandic Sweater

Yes miracle of miracles I have completed my Icelandic yoke sweater in what, for me, is super quick time .  There is a reason for this….I have fractured a bone in my foot and have been under strict instructions to “Rest up.”  Easy for a consultant to say when you’ve just limped in the door but a pretty hard task when you have a busy life that doesn’t stop for broken bits and pieces .  While this ‘inconvenience’ did not prevent me from going to work it did allow me to take it easy the rest of the time with leg raised and needles clicking.  Every cloud…

This has meant that I have had lots of time to focus on the yoked sweater that I returned from Iceland enthusing about.  I had never knitted one before and really wanted to learn about the construction of such a garment.  Whilst in the Hand Knitting Association of Iceland shop in Reykjavik  I bought nine 50g balls of dark blue Léttlopi, and two 50g balls each of pale pink and sea green.

I used the Anniversary Pattern from Ístex which I downloaded for free on Ravelry.  I found the instructions to be really clear and easy to follow including the chart for the pattern.  As usual I went off piste slightly by changing some of the design.  At the base of the pullover, I simplified the colour work by using a two by two pattern in the contrasting shades.  This was because I was worried that I hadn’t got enough wool.  In fact coming up to the end I hurriedly ordered some more balls from Iceland which eventually weren’t required (hats, mitts….?)

Every part of this project seemed so easy.  My major worry was the joining of the sleeves to the body to form the yoke but it actually all worked out fine.  It did seem to take an age to get around the 272 stitches that were on the needle at one point but it was only for nineteen rows as on row 20 the first of five sets of decreases commenced.

I must say that I really loved making this jumper and work started taking a go slow towards the collar as I didn’t really want it to end.  I now have no ongoing knitting here at the moment as I try to decide whether the next pullover will be a traditional gansey style or a pullover with a yoke.

 

Coats are a growing

15781021_380970062248633_1732011176156510358_n

Albie and Bootsy’s coats are starting to grow back now as it has been four and a half months since they were sheared.  Luckily, for them, we have had a really mild winter up to now.  I found it very hard to get down to the field to feed them with the bad foot so one particularly dark, muddy evening I decided to put their feed in the boot of my car and drive down to them.  All was going well until I got the car stuck in a ditch and had to get a local farmer to pull the car out the following day.

Left legged spinning

14553164_1699570933691573_8891121849396625408_n1

As my left leg is now the main shaker around here I have had to train it to work the treadle on the spinning wheel.  I’m getting better at it I must say as the spinning wheel now remains stationary rather than being pushed towards the middle of the floor by an over zealous foot.  I would really love to make my next knitting project from Albie’s fleece so there will be plenty of spinning going on now that the left leg is as good as the right used to be!

 


Leave a comment

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.

main_blackelderberry_03

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.

14523076_334632673549039_1629796610451237954_n

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.

14523134_334632400215733_2636462240627513843_n

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

Alpaca Antics

14448877_334633120215661_5055904438292678013_n

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.


Leave a comment

Haircuts for the Boys

Yes the time finally came for Albs and Bootsy to be rid of their fleece.  We had been waiting quite a while for this to happen but unfortunately the shearer’s machine had to be sent to the workshop for an overhaul as it had recently sheared about 2000 sheep.  Our friend Richie, who organised the shearer, called me the night before to tell me to get the boys ready in the pen the following morning as he was coming at 1 p.m..  So about 11 o’clock I headed into the pen with two bowls of food and as they were munching the gate closed behind them…

Bootsy is always sheared first as he is the ‘headcase’ of the pair.  It takes two people to hold the alpaca down and one to do the shearing.  The shearer was incredibly slick and fast getting each animal sheared in about 30 – 40 minutes.

14088410_317076555304651_4666540081902091580_n

It was so funny to see them when they ran out of the pen almost a third of the size that they had previously been.  It must be quite a relief to the alpaca to be free of all of the fleece that had been so incredibly thick.  14102675_317076578637982_3650126020941887464_n

Albs also got his toe-nails clipped and both animals got a drench for worms and parasites…that was even less popular with them than the shearing itself!

14117842_317076501971323_2201703976194784218_n

And this is the incredible amount of fleece that came from the two alpacas.  Soon after the afternoon’s activities I lay an old sheet on the ground and graded each animal’s  fleece into three sections:

  1. No Way
  2. Okay
  3. Fine and lovely

The no way fleece comes from the legs, tail and head and also fleece that contains guard hairs. Fleece that is cut too short to be able to be spun is also in this category.

Okay fleece is fleece that’s soft or just hasn’t got a lot of crimp.

Fine and lovely comes mainly from the saddle area and rump.  It is very soft and has lots of crimp.

14089264_317076481971325_4727894205456641075_n

Once sorted the different grades are then put into old pillow cases, to reduce the possibility of mould, and placed somewhere dry ready to be carded.

This was a great day the results of which will keep me busy during the long winter nights!


4 Comments

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.

12495040_1691995257752488_8018635413171670134_n

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.

1917570_1691995244419156_1192688629265616311_n

 

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.

10660233_1691994651085882_6872167608835092753_n

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.

1557703_1691995034419177_6866229062700407555_n

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!

 

 

 

 


Leave a comment

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.

11057946_1667255863559761_9057893835138502958_n

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.

11227598_1667257533559594_2737384568363407705_n

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.

12195996_1667255766893104_6615927419724439748_n

Albie

IMAG0632_1

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?

12036543_1667256176893063_4614605788727495129_n12190846_1667255826893098_9220648597357962703_n

12190977_1667824136836267_5715221748891315245_n

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.

12196137_1669916229960391_7505105369883024826_n