Oh, 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.The 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!
We’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.
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.
The 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 . . .