Some Spinning

Currently spinning a batt called Betsy Doodles by Laura Hogan from her etsy shop. Beautiful blue merino and soft fuzzy grey shetland. It will be 2-ply and about fingering weight when it's done.

Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef in the Science Gallery

After all my talk of the crochet coral reef it's finally here! I recommend that you go dive in and immerse yourself in the woolly wonder that is the hyperbolic crochet coral reef at the Science Gallery, Pearse St, Dublin. It's running from now until the 11th of June and the gallery has free admission.

I went to take a look last week and it really is amazing. I've never seen so much crochet in one place. When you walk in you see a fabulous kelp forest made of videotape. The toxic reef follows in a riot of colour. It's amazing that all this is made from rubbish and the things that people throw away. It also makes you think about the plastic trash that is clogging up the oceans, polluting and destroying the coral reefs.

The Irish reef is upstairs and it's so impressive to see what Irish crocheters have come up with. Beautiful shapes and colours abound and it's quite overwhelming to try and take it all in. I'll definitely be back for another look around the reef. I was looking out for my pieces but didn't manage to spot any of them this time so further investigations will be needed.

At the back of the exhibition there is the Maths Chapel. Here the smaller jewels of the reef can be seen along with two Escher prints. I was pleased to see a staff member from the Science Gallery crocheting while explaining maths and hyperbolic geometry. It's such a fun contrast and most people are really surprised by it. You can see them do a double take when they are told all this complex maths underlies this crocheted beauty.    

Here's some photos but really they don't do the reef justice at all. If you can make the trip to the Science Gallery at all.

Here's a very nice video from the opening night featuring the ladies who started it all Maragaret and Christine Wertheim of The IFF.

And the winner is...

Thanks to everyone who entered the Aran Brew is two competition. I really enjoyed reading all your comments and thoughts about spring. I've also discovered new readers with blogs too so I'll check them out. For fairness I decided to draw the winner out of a hat.

So drumroll please... The winner is...

Chic with stix!

Congratulations and I'll contact you about getting the yarn to you. I look forward to seeing what it becomes.

Porterhouse Independent Beer and Whiskey Festival 2010

The Porterhouse will be running their 7th independent beer and whiskey festival from the 25th of March to the 4th of April this year.  The festival is a celebration of craft beer and whiskey brewed in Ireland. Last years festival was a great success and this year the festival is expanding with beers from Carlow brewing company and White Gypsy are being added to the line up.

Last year I had the great opportunity to judge the Michael Jackson award for Irish beer and this year I am delighted to say I will be on the judging panel again. There are many new beers on the list this year and I am really looking forward to tasting them. I'll be writing up a full report about the days tasting in the next week.

Go along to the Porterhouse and get your Irish beer on! 

Bottling: The less glamourous side of home brewing

Read any home brewing blog and you'll see lots of posts about beer recipes, grain, hops, brewing techniques and indeed talk about tasting the beer when it's been made. What you won't see so much about is the bottling of the beer. Bottling must be the most hated task of the home brewer. Compared to the fun of planning the recipe and brewing the beer it's just tedious, it's the last finishing step that has to be gotten out of the way before you get to the good part which is drinking the beer.

It has to be done though and this week I bottled my polar beer which I brewed back in January. It's been sitting almost unnoticed in the shed getting nice and cold.

I've developed a bit of a system to deal with the pain of bottling. I put a load of bottles to be sterilized into a plastic box. The plastic box means I don't get sterilizer all over the kitchen counter as it can stain it. I then use a funnel to pour the sterilizing solution into the bottles until they are full. If I'm using swing tops I then close the bottles and leave the solution to do it's work. I then rinse them until there is no smell of sterilizer from them. I don't usually leave the bottles to dry though I suspect I should.

I boil up the recommended amount of sugar with water and let it cool. I pour it into a sterilized better bottle which acts as the bottling bucket. Using a sanitized tube I transfer the beer from the primary fermenter to the bottling bucket.

At this stage I usually need help to move the full better bottle up onto the table. I then attach a bottling wand to the tap of the better bottle. Bottling wands really help with not losing the will to live while bottling.

I get all the bottles and caps I'll need together on some newspaper and then put a bucket under the bottling wand to catch any drips. Then I bottle away and hope that it doesn't take too long.

Usually I measure the final gravity of the beer. This time however I forgot to take a sample before I put the sugar in so the reading I took is wrong. Ah well I'm sure it fermented out and the required amount of alcohol is present. Very precise I know.  

I usually have a husband helper to close the bottles if they're flip tops and cap with crown caps if needed. I can recommend a helper as it speeds up the process and you also have someone to talk to. Some people recommend opening a home brew from the previous batch when bottling and this is also very sensible advice. For more on bottling see Barry's excellent guide to bottling.

I don't know even blogging about bottling is getting to be as tedious as the act itself. So that's enough of that. On to the results of the sneaky taste of the beer. I can't wait to taste this beer when it ages a bit more and is fully carbonated. It's nice and clean with no yeast profile which is what I was looking for. It's malty but I couldn't fully work out what was going on with the malt from the taste I had. I was impressed by the hop profile, it's got a lovely bitter hit just at the end and no real flavour or aroma. All in all it's looking very promising for the polar beer.

Aran Brew featured in Mail on Sunday article

I discovered that Aran Brew was featured in the Irish Mail on Sunday yesterday. I did an interview with Caroline about home brewing a while ago and had almost forgotten it. The article is published in full on the Bibliocook blog here. Great to see an article about modern home brewing dispelling the myths that it tastes awful and is only for people making beer on the cheap. She also captured the sense of community and enthusiasm that goes along with home brewing. It's such a fun hobby and I think more people should try it out.  

If you've just come to this blog and are wondering why all the posts seem to be about knitting and where the hell is the beer, well here's a link to all the posts tagged with brewing and a link to those tagged with beer. My most recent brew was an alt beer called Polar Beer and I'm going to bottle it this week. From the preliminary tastes I've had it seems to have turned out really well.

I'm also going to use this post to link to Ireland's newest micro brewery Dungarvan Brewing Company. I know the people who have set up this brewery and they are true beer enthusiasts. They were home brewers originally and are now living the dream by setting up their own brewery. The beers will be featured at this years Franciscan Well easter festival and I'm really looking forward to tasting them especially the copper coast red ale.


Aran Brew is two! Blog Giveaway.

It's been a long cold winter and spring has been slow coming in this year. On Thursday evening when I found myself with some spare time I decided to dye some yarn and fleece. I wanted to cheer myself up with some spring colours. I wanted to capture the colour of a daffodil bud just before the flower bursts out. I ended up with this.

I'm really happy with how it turned out. It's such a lovely fresh spring green colour. The yarn is from Cushendale woolen mills and it's a lovely sock yarn spun from Irish fleece in a traditional woolen style. I visited the mill in Graignamanagh when I went walking by the river with my Mum and aunt recently. It's a lovely village in the first place and the mill makes it even better to visit. Unfortunately I forgot my camera so I can't show you photos of the place or even the glorious sunshine and views we had when we walked by the river side.

I just looked back at my post history there and have discovered that next week Aran Brew is two years old. It doesn't seem like it, maybe that's because I've had so much fun writing this blog and documenting my adventures in brewing, knitting and all the other crafts I try. I love seeing comments and hearing that people like reading what I write. There is another reason to celebrate this week, the blog has made the (not so) short lists for the Irish blog awards. Congratulations to the other fibre related blogs on the list, Dublin knit collective, She knit up that ball, Clasheen and Etsy Ireland. Also congratulations to Live at the witch trials, The Beer Nut and 9 Bean Row. Well done everyone. I'm going to the blog awards in Galway so expect a report on that.   

Anyway back to the yarn. Do you like it? Would you like to have it? Yes? Excellent! I'm having my first ever blog giveaway of this skein of yarn in celebration of the blog being two and the blog awards. All you have to do is leave a comment telling me why you love spring and what you'll do with the yarn. I'll announce who has won next week.

While I had the dyeing stuff out I decided I might as well dye some of my alpaca fleece. I grabbed a load of fleece from the bags in the shed. I figured I'd wash the fleece and then dye it all in one go to save myself some time. It worked really well and I'll be doing this from now on. The dyes came from Kemtex in the UK as part of their starter kit. I just dunked the fleece in the pot in laundry bags and sprinkled some dye on. It didn't look like it was going to turn out ok as the water was pretty murky and grey looking. I presume the alpaca wasn't completely clean. I took the fleece out and rinsed it and hung it to dry not expecting much. But when it dried I was really surprised, it turned out to be this lovely soft blue colour reminding me of a blue sky on a day with a few clouds.

I also dyed some silk hankies and have just started to spin them on my Zebisis drop spindle. I love silk, it's amazingly shiny fantastic stuff.  I've got lots going on at the moment so expect some new posts about what I'm knitting, the opening of the crochet coral reef, bottling my alt beer, some brewing plans and some fun beer tasting.

Raised Hackles

After reading Deb Menz's book Colour In Spinning I wanted a hackle. What on earth is a hackle I hear you ask? It's a slightly scary, well very scary looking piece of equipment used for blending and combing fibres. They're particularly good for blending combed top which is one of the most common types of fibre you can get. They're also quite expensive. I was reading a thread in the art yarn spinners group on Ravelry which had a link to this tutorial where someone has made a hackle themselves cheaply.

Being financially challenged at the moment I decided it was worth giving it a go. It wouldn't cost much and would be a very useful piece of kit if it worked.

First I needed a load of hair combs. These were surprisingly difficult to find. I even checked the Afro-Caribbean shops on Moore St to no avail. I do think they thought I was slightly mad looking for a load of hair combs since my hair is very short. I found that they sell all kinds of tat on Moore St these days though. Eventually I found the right combs in Dunnes Stores and I grabbed five of them.

I got some metal self tapping screws and some clamps from the DIY shop. I found a piece of wood in the back of the shed that would work as base to screw the combs onto. All in all it cost less than twenty euro.

Dave was enlisted to help and he drilled two holes in each comb then screwed the comb onto the wood while I held the comb in place. It was pretty easy and didn't take very long. The real question was, would it work? 

It always amazes me that you can learn all sorts of things online that you never could without the internet. I don't know anyone person who even knows what a hackle is let alone someone who knows how to use one. You Tube however comes to the rescue with this video.


I lashed on the fiber like in the video. This is a selection of merino that was part of a mixed bag from The Yarn Room.  I used this fiber before when I carded it with some alpaca and got a nice fuzzy yarn. Actually I just looked back through the blog and I seem to have forgotten to write anything about that yarn. Ah well I'm sure it will show up here soon having been turned into a hat or something. 

I put different colours on in layers building them up until the combs were full. I then pulled the roving and threaded it through my diz. Now I hear you ask, what is a diz? Does spinning require you to learn a different language? Sometimes it feels like it. A diz is used to take fiber off a comb or hackle. It's just something with a small diameter hole so that the fiber comes out the same width when pulled through it. Lacking anything else I used a bottle opener that was handy.


Something magic happens when you pull the fiber off the combs. It all gets blended and mixed up together. I think the colours when mixed are much nicer than the individual ones. I pulled off all the fiber and rolled it up into two big balls. I'll spin these up on the wheel soon. 

The hackle was a success for something we knocked together so quickly. I think it will only work on prepared fleece as too much tugging on the combs would probably break them. I want it for blending fiber and it's perfect for that. So now that I know it works for top I'm going to start blending some of the fiber I have with fun stuff like angelina, silk noil, ribbons, sequins etc.