Five Bags Full

In a previous post I said I was contacting a farmer about getting some alpaca fleece. Well this weekend our new tent arrived so me and Dave decided to go camping on the lake near where the farmer lived. On Sunday afternoon we met the farmer at his beautiful house right on Lough Derravaragh. First of all he brought us into the field to meet the alpaca. They had just been sheared on Friday and were looking pretty silly. They're quite small fellas and very cute. They came over to see us, apparently they're quite inquisitive and they weren't scared. He says he keeps them for interest and to scare the foxes away from the sheep when they're lambing. They chase foxes and predators away. He started with two and there are now five of them.

We ended up buying five fleeces from the five alpaca he had. This included a baby alpaca fleece. It's soft, crimpy, lovely and seems to be really good quality. There are two white ones and the others are lovely orange/brown colours. He showed us a lovely throw and cushion he had made by a spinner from the fleece. They were so soft and warm, it must be lovely to be warmed by a throw made from your own alpaca fleece. In the picture you can see some of the locks.

So today I set to work processing the fleece. I took a small amount to run through the process and see if there were any problems with it. I don't want to ruin a whole load of it or make lots of work for myself so I did a trial run. Some people spin alpaca as is without washing first. I decided not to. Alpaca like to roll in the dust and you don't know what they've been rolling in and I didn't want dust all over the place and getting into the bearing of my wheel.

I emptied one fleece out on a big bag and started sorting through it. I took out any obvious dirty bits and put handfuls of locks into a bucket. I then picked at the locks and took off any short bits and dirt. There wasn't so much dirt which is great. I put them into laundry bags and then soaked the bags in hot soapy water for fifteen minutes. The water got pretty dirty and grey. I then rinsed the bags in clean water.

After this I squeezed the bags in a towel before taking the fleece out and putting it on a towel on a rack to dry. For the next go I'll probably just put the locks directly into the laundry bags. I think I'll get a load more laundry bags and wash a load of fleece in the bath. Hopefully I can get them all clean and dry so that I can store it away until it's time to spin them.

I think you can expect to hear a lot more about alpaca fibre preparation and spinning in the next while. I think all this fleece should keep me busy for some time to come.

World Wide Knit in Public Day and Some Spinning

Saturday was world wide knit in public day and Dublin joined in at Stephen's Green. Sinead from Knit Inc and Diane from Chicwithstix were both involved with the organizing. Some of the knitting bloggers who made it there were Teaandcakes, bridin, Gerry Berry, She knit up that ball, ktreu and others. If I've missed you and you were there let me know in the comments and I'll link to your blog.

In the morning people met in This Is Knit in Powerscourt for some knitting on a sunny balcony. When I arrived it was all in full swing. My jumper that I knit was admired and I got on with admiring the various knits people were wearing. Hand made knits are so much nicer and more interesting than stuff you get in shops. There were some fabulous shawls on show. This Is Knit had a prize draw for the occasion too.

After a quick pit stop to get a picnic we headed for Stephen's Green. The knitters set up across from the band stand, there was a big brass band playing there so we had the perfect spot. One of the girls had made some great WWKiPD posters. It was such a fun afternoon sitting in the sun, knitting, chatting to fellow knitters, making new friends and listening to the music. We got many confused looks from passers by. Many people stopped to chat and look at what we were making. Loads of people treated us a bit like a zoo exhibit though, looking at us, taking photos but not talking to us. We're knitters, we're friendly and willing to bore you with all the details if you ask!

There were a few spinners there too. It was great to see other people spinning and it got many funny looks too. Chicwithstix is a whizz with a drop spindle. The day had to come to an end eventually and we all drifted off. It was great to meet all the other knitters and know that I'm not alone, there are other knitters about and they're making beautiful things.

I also finished off my second yarn on my spinning wheel. It was made from cloud like blue faced leicester(bfl from now on) combed top from Wingham. I spun it sort of thick and thin. I was looking for a low enough twist wool that would be all fluffy and poofy and preserve the qualities of the fluffy top. I've found that spinning is the ideal thing to do while watching tv, keeps me occupied but it doesn't take all my attention. I did two full bobbins of the bfl and then plied them together. I ended up with 178m of about 11wpi wool.

I wound the yarn off the bobbin using a set square to wrap the wool around. You can use a device called a niddy-noddy for this but I don't have one so the set square worked really well. I tied it up and took it off, washed and dried it. It's funny the finished wool changes when you ply it and finish it off. This turned into the most amazing beautiful soft wool.

I can't believe I made this myself. It's not scratchy and the thick and thin bits add lovely texture. I've never seen something like this in a commerical yarn. Machines don't make mistakes and the yarn produced from them is consistent and perfect. Which is good for certain things but I'm now seeing the charm of non perfect textured yarn. It's got such charm and life to it. Anyway I'll stop now before I sound mad. Here's the wool but really you need to squish it to get the full effect. I'm hoping to knit this into a cosy cabled hot water bottle cover.

Westley's Slip From The Hamiltonian Path

I brewed up an extract beer last week. It's an American pale ale hopefully along the lines of Sierra Nevada pale ale. It's fermenting away downstairs with the most wonderful hop aroma coming from it.

Here's the recipe.

Boil Volume: 21L
End Volume:18L

150g Crystal Malt
100g Amber Malt
20g Chocolate Malt

2.3kg Light DME

Steep grains at 66 deg C for 30 minutes

60 minutes
Pioneer 9.2% AA 30g
Centennial 8.2% AA 10g

45 minutes
Centennial 10g

30 minutes
Centennial 8g
Cascade 4.5% AA 10g

15 minutes
Centennial 20g
Cascade 10g

Flame Out
Cascade 20g
Centennial 10g

OG: 1.044

Safale S04

The name and label may need explanation. We were walking along the Royal canal to see Broome Bridge. The great mathematician Hamilton had a flash of inspiration at this bridge and carved the equation for Quaternion multiplication on the bridge. The modern graffiti didn't seem to contain any such flashes of brilliance but it was cool to see the plaque commemorating the event. Just as we reached the bridge the dog decided to jump in the canal. Maybe he figured out some great doggie mathematical problem, we'll never know. I snapped a photo of the smelly soggy doggie and this became the inspiration for the name of the beer.

Meanwhile I bottled my Molly Bloom's Raspberry White Beer last week. As you can see it turned out to be bright pink in colour which is great. It tastes very unusual, quite dry from the fruit and there's lot of flowery chamomile in there which I think may not be a good thing. A bit of carbonation and aging will help this beer a lot though. It will also benefit from being cold. I might open a test bottle tomorrow in celebration of Bloomsday.

Summer Ramblings, a bit of everything

Things have been busy here at Aran Brew recently.

A few weekends ago we went to Eddie and Riona's wedding which was great, congratulations guys! Read their travel blog, it's great but it does make me very jealous of all the cool places they went to see.

We were driving home after the wedding and stopped to take a look at Lough Derravarragh just outside Crooked Wood. There's a great view from above the lake and we stopped to take a look. There's a field there and as you can see in the photo there's alpaca in the field!

I got to wondering if the farmer ever sells the fleeces and then I noticed a post box. Oh dear. I got out a pen and a paper bag as I had no paper with me and wrote a note with my contact details to the farmer saying I was a spinner and asked if he ever sold the fleeces. I apologized in the note for bothering him if he thought I was mad. Which wasn't unlikely given the state of the paper and the request.

I forgot about it and presumed they had rightly dismissed me as a madwoman but yesterday I got an email from the farmer and he said he's shearing the alpaca next week. He says I can come along and buy some fleece. Real alpaca fleece in Ireland, complete result! Sometimes it pays to write random notes.

I've also been sewing a lot recently. My Mum and I made a skirt using a pattern we made up ourselves. It's really nice but I have no photos of it yet. It was harder to do than I thought but I learned loads. In the photo is the beginnings of the spring ruffle top. This is going well, I did the top of it in an afternoon. I just have to do the bottom and join them together now. Hopefully it will turn out ok. I also bought some more fabric in Ikea when I was in Belfast, it was really cheap and I might turn it into some funky stuff for the house.

I also racked my Raspberry Wheat Beer onto secondary. I sterilized the better bottle then just put the frozen fruit into the end of it and racked the beer on top of it. I used 400g of raspberries and 400g of mixed summer berries. I tasted a bit last night and I think it's ready to bottle now. It's an interesting beer, unlike anything I've ever had before. It's light and not hoppy and pretty fruity, there's also a lot of chamomile going on too, maybe too much. I'd love to dry hop this with cascade as I think it would be lovely but that would disqualify it from the ICB all grain challenge. It's a quandary as I want to enter the challenge but I also want the beer to taste the best it can.

Dave and I went away for the June bank holiday weekend and lo and behold the sun came out. At one point it was 26 degrees which is very hot for Ireland. It was the best weather we've had in two years and luckily we were camping at the seaside for it. We headed up the causeway coastal route on saturday morning having been at a barbecue in a friends house in Belfast on friday night. I can recommend the Torr Head cliff road for anyone who likes driving along tiny roads with huge drops beside them. The view of Scotland from the head is pretty cool too. I didn't realize it was that near.

We brought the dog camping with us and he seemed to love it. We stayed at a campsite between Portrush and Portstewart. I think I'd prefer Portstewart for an evening out or something to eat. Westley was even left off his lead for short bits in the campsite and he didn't run away. We brought him along to see the Giant's Causeway. We'd been told it wasn't great but we really enjoyed the weird hexagonal rocks.

The dog didn't love it when we dragged him into the sea for a swim though. We went to Downhill, it's an amazing long beach with no stones, you can park your car on the beach too which is handy. There are also decent waves to play around in. It's just a pity the dog didn't like the water more. We also discovered a good way to cool the dog down on the hot days, we gave him ice. He loved it.

I also found time to sit outside doing some crochet while sipping a lovely cold Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. We bought some beer up north as it's much cheaper up there. English ales are especially good value, in some shops there's a two ales for four pounds deal. Down south it's not unusual to pay 3.50 to 4.00 euro for an English ale.

It was a great weekend. Here's a photo taken near Carrick A Rede rope bridge. The sea was incredibly blue and clear with the sun beating down upon it. I've rarely seen the sea this colour in this country.

As we came home a friend of mine rang inviting me to go camping with her for a few days during the week. So I snuck off for sneaky mid week break. It was great to see her and her young son. He had great fun in the campsite which had a playground and a pets corner. We had a barbecue one of the nights and sat down and relaxed outside in our camping chairs. It was a week that really reminded me of what summer is all about.

Here's hoping for more hazy lazy days...