Where there's a wool there's a way
Learn practical skills, be productive and make friends at the Knitting and Stitching Show, says Constance Harris
The Knitting and Stitching Show in the RDS today and tomorrow is one of those events that one never knows what one is going to see. And having no expectations, one always comes away inspired. Well, I do.
Several years ago, it was there that I came to appreciate the importance of wool and stitching craft, not just to our economy as surviving skills and a cottage industry, but also as a cultural issue.
Knitting and stitching in Ireland used to be women's form of emotional, artistic expression, while the men painted big canvases or joined political movements and fought in wars. We knitted our emotional lives into those jumpers, considered our pasts as we assembled cloth to be used in patchwork quilts, had time out as we embroidered by the light of a window.
This heritage of story, family and history in fabric is something that has united me with people of other countries when I visited them. There is similarity in pattern or colour, to show we are united in other ways, if not language or skin.
Nationwide, and worldwide, there is a huge interest in traditional skills again. Twice as many people went to the Knitting and Stitching Show last year as the previous year, as more of us want to learn practical skills and pass our spare time in productive, satisfying, interesting ways; often with a socially interactive aspect, as people come together to learn and share.
Re-Dress is running loads of short courses for wannabe creators of fashion and customisation. For details, visit www.re-dress.ie.
Community is a big focus at Stitch in Dublin 9, for not only do they sell great patterns and unusual yarn, such as the can-can, they also organise knitting circles and classes, and fundraisers for developing world communities. For more details, phone (01) 842-9033.
Plus, a good website for knitting and crochet shops and events nationwide is www. irishknitting.wordpress.com.
On our pages today are creations from various exhibitors at the show, from trimming retailers, to felting guilds, bead and jewellery artists, knitwear designers and wool shops.
There is great diversity at the show and even if, like me (and despite my mother and grandmother's best efforts), you are pretty useless with needles beyond the odd button sewing, then go to the show and see what there is to discover. Remember, she who falters at the first dropped stitch needs to move on.
The green jacket on our page today was customised by Alexa O'Byrne, a graduate of NCAD's wonderful embroidery course. Alexa founded A Rubanesque, a trimmings and treats emporium, four years ago. She is an exhibitor at the show and also giving free, daily workshops on customising, which she also organises several times a year through her business.
"Often our customers know how to sew a button on but would love to know more about hand embellishment and recreating designs they've admired in boutiques, or magazines," says Alexa. "We provide the materials and give our customers the confidence to approach their wardrobes themselves."
Also exhibiting at the show is This is Knit, based at the Powerscourt Town House centre. It has long been in the wool business and organises classes year round.
Fashion, despite its proliferation, often misses obvious needs. For instance, this season it is short on good skirts. Wouldn't it be great to be able to make your own and get exactly the look you want?
Sheila Ahern, secretary of Feltmakers Ireland, (www.feltmakersireland.com) which is exhibiting at the show, is a
a felter who makes clothes.
She is also on the board of the Crafts Council of Ireland.
"Feltmakers Ireland run courses and exhibitions," she says. "Our ethos is that when people visit and admire things, instead of saying, 'Oh, that is gorgeous and costs ?100,' we say, 'Why not come and learn to make it themselves?'"
Sheila loves the whole debate as to what constitutes clothes, craft and art, and says felting really stirs it.
"In the past two to three years, we've seen a huge interest from fabulously talented young designers, as well as mature people. Felt gives you great options. You can do the most delicate fine silk, or fine-wool wraps, to big art installations such as Caroline Schofield's fabulous sculptural piece for the new Kilkenny Courthouse.
"We will be demonstrating how to make felt, because until you see it done, it is hard to imagine how to do it. We also have an exhibition called Funshine in Autumn, so everything is orange and bright. We thought up that name when it was lashing rain."
The Knitting and Stitching Show is a hive of "give back" activity. There are loads of free classes. At Very Vintage, you can bring good-quality clothing and swap it with someone else's; then, for a small donation to charity, you can take part in a customisation class. The classes start at noon and 1.30pm each day. Knit a Hat raises funds for Age Action Ireland -- another fun, group effort.
The Learning Curve (see www.twistedthread.com) is the place to check out the classes on offer each day. And there are opportunities to road-test all the latest sewing machines. "I love the knitting and stitching show," Sheila says to me. "It's like a toy shop." Exactly.