Weaving Our Way Through Ireland

IMG_1614Oh, look—sheep! It must be Ireland!

Yes, it was Ireland and, for newbie weavers, sheep mean wool and wool means weaving. One of our goals for this trip was to talk to weavers.

Hand weavers are still working in Ireland but not so easy to find. It seems many of the folks who know the trade are working these days to educate and entertain tourists, as was the case at Avoca Mills.IMG_0635The man we talked to at Avoca was certainly knowledgeable about weaving, and he talked as he wove. He even let a novice weaver take a turn!

IMG_0612We’ve long loved a song called “Nancy Whiskey,” about a weaver seduced by drink (what a ridiculous concept!). In that song, there’s the lyric, “I’ll surely make those shuttles fly.”

We had never understood what that meant because, when we weave, the shuttles move very slowly. But on this trip we were introduced to looms with flying shuttles—it makes hand weaving go so much faster!

We also watched the production looms at Avoca, moving faster than the eye can see. And it was evident that, in spite of the presence of a hand weaver, much of the weaving coming out of this mill is done on mechanized and computerized machines.

As much as we love old-fashioned handmade work, seeing the production looms, and even the flying shuttle looms, was a good reminder of a practical fact. We may have the luxury of doing this craft for creative purposes, but other people made their living at it, and still do.

In fact, the one weaver we met who still does hand weaving exclusively, Eddie Doherty, in the town of Ardara in County Donegal, also owns the pub next door. When we rang his bell, he came from his pub to show us his weaving.

He explained that, in the small towns in Ireland, one profession wasn’t enough to support a family. Years ago, as a young publican, he had needed a second source of income and had chosen weaving.

IMG_1215 That got us noticing other examples—Mannion’s Pub, next door to Mannion’s Butchers. King’s Pub, next to King’s Grocery. And our favorite—Kennedy’s Pub, next door to Kennedy’s Funeral Home! No question who supplied the gargle for those wakes!

Watching these weavers inspired us. I particularly loved the ways color is used to transform relatively straightforward patterns into eye-dazzling beauty.

We were sorely tempted by the beautiful things we saw. On previous trips we have done our best to support the handmade community, buying sweaters and woven blankets and tweed jackets.

But this time we had come to Ireland with an agreement not to add to our wardrobes and linen closets. We had declared a shopping moratorium.

But we couldn’t resist one thing—we bought yarn.

We couldn’t resist bringing home wool and cotton and linen, in the heathery colors of this lovely country.

IMG_1687The plan is to use what we saw as inspiration, and to combine our Irish yarns with our own effort. We’ll make, at home, something to commemorate this particular trip to Ireland. We haven’t decided yet what form our souvenirs will take but we do know they’ll be one of a kind!

I’ll keep you posted! In the meantime, more eye candy . . .

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48 thoughts on “Weaving Our Way Through Ireland

  1. Lovely stuff. Just disagree with one thing. ‘Oh, look—sheep! It must be Ireland!’. Try Yorkshire. Or Northumbria. Or the Ariège…. sorry – I know you know all that too. Where are your nearest sheep communities?

    • I did not know sheep were so plentiful so many places! This is the problem with always going back to the same parts of the same countries over and over again. In the northeast US, we don’t have sheep like you do. We’ll see a farm here or there with a few sheep but we’re much more likely to see dairy cows. Not nearly as cute . . .

  2. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous photos! I think those Kennedy folks are pretty cleaver…a pub next to a funeral home…that’s a natural winner.

    • On previous trips, we’ve shown an embarrassing lack of restraint! And, really, over the 25 years since we first went, the quality of most of the woven and knit goods available has declined in such obvious ways–I’m going to take much better care of my beautiful old sweaters and tweeds now!

  3. WOW! I had to look at everything three times just to take it all in!

    I love that you brought home yarn to weave with from your trip … What a great way to continue the energy and inspiration from travel!

    • We’re pretty excited about the yarn, too–it’s a different way to remember the trip that seems so right for us. I think it might be an approach to future travel/souvenirs–raw materials from that country that can be used creatively.

  4. Beautiful! How great to see the weavers in action, truly a treat! I love that you held back with the agreement not to purchase certain things (I completely understand) but some lovely unique yarn. I look forward to its transformation!

    • The only problem with the yarn is that it seems so special that I’m afraid we may hesitate to actually use it, waiting for just the perfect project. That would be silly but . . .

  5. Well, you should have asked us for orders before you went, I would have loved to buy some of those beautiful hand made things 🙂

  6. I am loving your colourful pictures, and the different colours and patterns of the weaving. Owning a pub AND a funeral home does make a lot of sense! Sounds like you guys had an interesting trip.

    • I know you love color and pattern, from seeing your posts! We did have an interesting trip–not the usual Ireland castles and churches but more the pubs and wild places.

  7. No matter where you see ’em – sheep = wool yarn! Those colours are so beautiful and you will get to play with them on your looms. Just wonderful. Can’t wait to see what you make! Is there room to open a pub next to your weavery do you suppose? That might make for some interesting patterns 🙂

  8. Oh, you were in Ireland! I hope you had a lovely time!
    About the pubs connected to other businesses, this was very very common in towns and villages back in my parent’s day. You often had grocer’s shops at the front, and the pub and the back. Also the pub/undertaker combination was very common. You don’t see it so much any more though, except in touristy or small places.

    • Well . . . . truth be told, I did buy a scarf from Eddie Doherty. It’s very pretty and I really, really wanted to do a little something, mostly symbolic, to support hand weaving.

    • They’re key fobs! It’s loom waste bundled together with a leather collar at top that connects to a key ring. Isn’t it a good idea? Wasting that pretty yarn makes me crazy–I loved this idea for using some of it!

    • That’s good! I’m trying not to post every single photo I took (boring!) but I wanted to use my blog posts as a way to help me remember the best parts of the trip, while also providing something of interest to readers. I hope I’m striking that balance!

  9. What lovely photos and colours too. I would love a tweed or a blanket. Oh boy I haven’t seen a nice tweed jacket in a while. Thanks for sharing and have a lovely week!

    • I could live in tweed jackets. I bought one in Ireland almost 25 years ago that I still wear! And I’m going to treat it a lot more kindly now that I’ve seen what comparable jackets are selling for these days!

  10. Pingback: Ireland, Again | Love Those "Hands at Home"

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