You can probably tell Ireland has had a few nice days, from the sheer lack of Internet activity. I know myself, I was out basking in those few all-to-rare rays of sunshine, and had no intention of sitting at a computer. And when the sun finally went down for the night, it was a bottle of wine, and the couch, then bed, to try and rest the weary muscles for a tough day of digging in the garden. Well, the few spuds are finally down, I can proudly say, I am now officially an urban vegetable gardener (and have my folks laugh at me and my new-found welly-wearing interests).
Its now raining again, so I'm back. Sorry for being so fickle, and unloyal, but after our terrible summer last year, you just cant say no to the few nice days on offer. (Even the girl in the off-licence agreed...she said last year we had a lovely April and the summer was crap, I don't remember that far back...)
So, what have I been doing fibre-wise in the past few weeks?
I was supposed to start an on-line spinning course, and start my Fairtrade Dishcloth swap, so I used these to justify going out on a day long fibre-fact-finding mission of South Kerry. Some women go to the hairdressers, others to the Spa. This obsessed and getting more obsessive crazy lady decides to drive over the mountains to Kenmare. To buy a bag of fleece and a few balls of yarn.
Part of the plan for building up The Woolly Way of Ireland blog, was to visit as many textile places in Ireland as possible. I kinda had it in my head to spend the next year or so, going off on trips round the country to find out what's really going on. (Really, its just an excuse to run away from the general mummy duties involved in rearing a toddler, and get some me time).
So, I planned my route. Milltown, Beauford, Moll's Gap, Kenmare, and back again.
So this journey, was the first of what I hope, will be many journeys across Ireland in the name of textile research. I had my little notebook, and pen ready to jot down any interesting things I came across.
Firstly, just outside Tralee, is Ballyseedy Woods. Now you may ask, why would I mention a woods in a search for all things textile. Apart from it being a beautiful place to stop for a walk, if you go to the Southern entrance, at the gate you will see a Spindle Tree. Now its quite small, and looks like a little bush, but its a Spindle Tree. And if you have never seen one, well, there you go! It gets its name from, yes, spindles. I have never seen or heard of anyone using spindle wood these days for making spindles. But for anyone who has an interest in the history of fibres, its nice to see the real thing. I have also found Oak Galls in Ballyseedy Woods. These are, basically, deformed leafbuds, where the Gall Wasp lays its eggs. They were traditionally used for making ink and for dying fabric. The best time to gather them is late winter, when the young wasp has left the gall.
On to Milltown, and a quick stop into the Milltown Organic Centre. Really I'm stopping to get some organic seeds, but as this is a textile mission, if I wanted to mention them and their lovely shop, there has to be some fibre connection. They stock two types of string, made from re-cycled materials. So, I bought one of each. they are small and cheap, just the way I like them!
The lady asked me what did I want them for, and I replied, nothing, just like to have different types of string. I'm beginning to wonder if the cracks are showing, I always thought I kept my obsession well hidden, (apart that is, from this very open, and obviously fibre-obsessive blog!).Out of Milltown and onto Beauford, to the Kerry Woollen Mills.
As I said, I was supposed to be starting an online course in spinning. this is a free course run by the online Weavers and Spinner guild. I recently told someone I learnt to spin off YouTube and they got a great laugh out of it. They thought I was joking, but it's true. I love how technology is saving crafts. Its really an amazing development. Pick any craft, and skill, and there's a YouTube video for it. Oh, but I'm deviating...back to my road-trip. In Kerry Woollen Mills, I got a lovely big bag of carded wool, and half a blanket from the sale box.
They are a company to watch out for. As well as their own range of clothing, blankets, etc, the aran yarn, and fleece for spinning, which I have mentioned in previous blogs, they also sell their fabric, and are looking into developing their organic yarn. I cannot plug them enough, as I really believe there is a huge gap in the market for 100% Irish fabric and fibre. And I am so happy they are just down the road from me!
From the Mills, I drove to Killarney, and took the scenic route to Kenmare. Just outside of the town, I saw the signs for Muckross House. Ah, how could I forget? Mucros Weavers! This place is the ultimate tourist attraction in Killarney, although parking can be a bit chaotic, it is a welcome pit-stop, a toilet/coffee break. Especially when they have a very large tufted wall hanging by Mary Cuthbert on the wall. Inside the weavers shop they have an array of woven scarves, and more scarves, but also ruanas, and other touristy stuff. But what caught my eye, was a small wicker basket with end cones of yarn. Now they are large end cones, but a bit pricey for me at €15-€25 euro. They also sell their woven fabric but these are not on display and you need to contact the workshop before travelling to see them. Its a pity really, and considering how popular quilting and patchwork is, I'm surprised they don't have a small amount on display.
The cafe in Muckross is heaving, so I decide to press on, and stop instead, at the Avoca shop at Moll's Gap. This is the highest point of the journey over the mountain, and if the weather is good, you get a great view from the tasty cafe. Before getting to Avoca, you go along a beautiful drive up the mountain, along the edge of Killarney National Park. The weather is grey and overcast, but in places like this, it doesn't matter. It is beautiful no matter how wet and windy. Well, you wouldn't say that if you were in shorts and t-shirts, but you don't travel around Ireland without emergency wet-gear in the boot of the car.On the way to the top is a stop-off called Ladies View. Now, an unwary traveller might think this is a nice place to stop for refreshments, but if you want a view, press on to Avoca. Although I have passed it several times, I never stopped here until now. Feeling very much the tourist I went in. The shop is has all the usual Irishey stuff that you see everywhere, but they did have a nice range of Avoca throws and scarves. According to the label, they are made especially for the Ladies View shop. And I wonder, are they owned by the same people? Why would Avoca supply a rival shop down the hill? I was impressed, these were actually nice. But I didn't shop, and headed up faithfully to Avoca, looking forward to a nice latte and creamy bun.
For all the doom and gloom talk of lack of tourists, there is quite a few about. The car park for Avoca is almost full, and oh no, a tour bus arrives just before me! There goes my latte...I have been to this Avoca shop many times, and know what they stock. It a strange mix for the top of a mountain, in the middle of nowhere. A range of bubble-gum-yummy-mummy clothes, that I have to admit I like, but wouldn't wear, well that's my excuse because I can't afford them, expensive designer kiddies stuff, a large range of lovely unnecessary kitchen utensils, designer jelly beans, and matching trowels and wellies for the token gardener. And at the back of the shop a few shelves of throws and blankets. This is Avoca, the most successful production weavers company in Ireland. And yet in their shop they don't stock a great range of actual weavings. They have become a brand label for all things sugar and spice, buy the clothes, cook the food, a lifestyle. It's a pity really...Needless to say, I didn't stay long, or buy anything.
On to Kenmare...
You come down the mountain, and find yourself directly in Kenmare. It comes as a surprise as it is literally just over the mountain. Best thing to do is park and explore. About 2 years ago, I did a kid's workshop in the Library in Kenmare, but apart form that I have never stopped to walk around, only passed through it on the way to West Cork. First things first, I really needed some caffeine, so I started to look for a nice cafe. I saw Jam, and knew it would be ok, as I had frequented the Jam in Killarney often enough. It was lunchtime and mobbed, so I though I'll take a stroll, until it eases off a bit. Kenmare is famous for its linen and lace, and you do see it in the Quills, and 2 other lace/linen shops on the main street. But I am always very weary of these shops. I mean, anyone that can sell a small linen doily with a lace trim for €3 is not selling Irish linen. I know Ulster Weavers still produce linen, but really, is it just a con? I don't mean con in a bad sense, I think if asked a detailed question about the linen, they wont say it 100% Irish and my grandmother made it down the road, but the illusion of it being Irish. I told someone recently, an American who is looking to find Irish hand-woven fabrics, that she would find it hard getting some, and she was surprised. They are all surprised. Is this not the home of linen and lace, all those sheep on the hills, are they not the source of all our yarn? No, they are not, and it is our shame. Our loss, that our textile heritage has been let slip away. The next politician to knock on my door, and there is plenty about this year with the local/EU elections looming will get an ear full...
While I was waiting for the lunchtime rush to be over, I made my way to the Spin A Yarn shop, just off Henry Street. For a yarn addict, I always feel incredibly uneasy in yarn shops. I can't quite figure this out. I know yarn, I've been working with it for years, but the sight of all this brand spanking new (expensive) yarn always makes me feel uneasy. I feel more at home in a hardware shop than a yarn shop. I think its all the knitting stuff. I am not a huge fan of knitting, rarely knit, and find it hard to come to terms with shops completely dedicated to knitting. What about all the other fibre Arts? Strange. That's one for the analyst, if I ever get one. So, feeling uneasy, I walk into the yarn shop. And I am immediately greeted by two lovely bright chatty lady's, sisters in fact. I browse around, find the eco-yarn I have driven all the way here for, and buy it, and some curved needles. I don't know why I bought the curved needles, but they could come in hand someday...I should have known this would be a nice shop, because of the couch. It's the first thing you see when you walk in, and is very inviting. So, a quick chat with the ladies, as I'm gasping for coffee, I head down for my lunch and caffeine hit.I had no map or addresses with me, the tourist office was shut, doesn't' open for a few weeks yet, and I was looking round for the Kenmare Lace Centre. As I am planning to go to Monaghan this summer for the Clones Lace workshops, I thought I could do with some inspiration. Also, its the only place I could find in Ireland that stocked a book written by an Australian woman about the history of Irish Crochet lace.
I couldn't' see it anywhere, and decided to ask for help. Coming towards me was a traffic warden, so I figured, if anyone swould know its him. Now, I am fairly ignorant in all things lace, and I thought the Kenmare Lace Centre, was just a lace centre in Kenmare. I asked the man for directions to the Lace Centre, no, not the imported linen/lace, the Centre, which has Carrickmacross lace. He just laughed at me and said I was in the wrong county, and he's not giving me directions to Monaghan. I admit, I was a bit slow on the uptake of the joke, and then he said, do you mean Kenmare Lace? Well, let him have his joke, it could have been the highlight of his day, but he gave me good directions in the end, and I found the Kenmare Lace Centre. It is in a side door of the Tourist office leading upstairs.
When you enter, you think, oh, its a bit small, but believe me when I say its all in the detail, and give yourself plenty of time to visit. I think its one of the best hours I have had in ages. Nora, an incredible woman, who set up the centre to try preserve the technique of Kenmare lace in Kenmare. I give her a round of applause for her efforts and her enthuasism. I, and another woman, got a great talk on the types of lace, looked at demos, talked between ourselves, poked, prodded and generally immensely enjoyed an hour or two chatting about lace, crochet, Irish heritage, sourcing books, materials, etc, etc. If you are passing, do stop in. As Nora said about some of the beautiful antique lace on display, she wanted it to be here, on display, in Kenmare, not in storage in a museum in Dublin. Its Kenmare's heritage, and it should be preserved in Kenmare. I also discovered she stocked a great range of lace cotton thread, so if I get the lace bug after my weekend in Clones I will know where to source my materials. I was so reluctant to go home, but eventually I did, with a small pack of postcards, my eco-wool, fleece, string, and a book on Irish Crochet History.
Where will I go next, there is a whole country to explore. All the details of the various shops are now on the Woolly Way of Ireland blog. If you have managed to read through all of that, well done! You deserve a prize...
If anyone fancies doing the same little fibre-fact-finding mission in their own area, send the info on to the Woolly Way. If I have to do the whole country by myself, it'll take a life time!