Wednesday 23 October 2019

Meet the young age pensioners. . .

Many young women are swapping cocktails for crochet as the 'Yaps' phenomenon continues to flourish

Ella Hassett with her knitting circle
Ella Hassett with her knitting circle
Emily Westbrooks upcycles furniture
Alex Carberry and her hand-sprayed lamp
Rebecca Moynihan alters her own clothes
Anna Nolan

Gabrielle Monaghan

On a recent Thursday night in Dublin, when many students were meeting up in flats across the city over cans of discount supermarket beer before hitting the town, 23-year-old Ella Hassett was opening her apartment door to visitors of her own.

Instead of cheap vodka and beer, though, the graduate's eight friends arrived at the soirée with knitting needles and balls of wool; Ms Hassett was hosting her first knitting circle.

The Co Galway native, who finished a master's degree in public history and cultural heritage at Trinity College Dublin in August, works part-time at the university's library. Like many 20-somethings trying to get by in the recession, money is too tight to spend in pubs and restaurants, so she fills her evenings and weekends by knitting scarves, hats and jumpers.

"I wanted to have an evening where I could hang out with friends without spending loads of money on a night out," she says. "These girls could have gone out, but they chose to come to the knitting circle.

"You could argue that it could be cheaper to buy these things on the high street instead of making them – the wool I bought for my jumper cost about €12. But I get more satisfaction out of doing it myself. Knitwear is pretty big in college now and when I wore my latest jumper, someone said to me on campus in a big D4 accent, 'is that from Avoca?'"

Ella belongs to a cohort often dubbed "young-age pensioners" or Yaps. While they may not be getting blue rinses or travelling with a bus pass, elements of a pensioner's lifestyle are creeping into this demographic. Instead of nursing a sore head after nights on the town, these young women are taking up knitting, gardening, baking, jam-making, sewing, flower-arranging and even ballroom dancing.

Developing these life skills not only helps Yaps save money, but enables them to zone out from frenetic workdays or financial pressures and switch off from the endless digital distractions of Facebook and Twitter. The resulting handiwork also lends a sense of individuality to their clothes and homes. All in all, it's never been so cool to be, well, uncool.

Knitting has been enjoying a renaissance since the first throes of the recession, with Stitch'n'Bitch sessions springing up in cities all over the world. Sewing, dressmaking and customising old clothes to create unique outfits are making a comeback too.

Yaps are a growing contingent among the craft lovers who flock to the annual Knitting and Stitching Show at the RDS, which runs from this Thursday to Sunday, and helped boost attendance at last year's event by 20pc to 25,000.

Forty years ago, it was par for the course for women to make clothes for themselves or their families, because buying clothes was relatively expensive. But as the mothers of Yaps entered the workforce and imports drove down the price of clothes, it no longer made sense to spend their free time hunched over a sewing machine.

When Rebecca Moynihan, a 31-year-old Dublin city councillor, realised she was spending too much money altering her wardrobe of vintage clothes, she decided to learn how to sew herself. She began taking Sip & Stitch classes in a studio above the Om Diva vintage store on Drury Street in the city centre.

"Vintage clothes don't come in standard sizes and you have to take them up or take them in," she says.

"At Sip & Stich, you drink wine, eat cakes, and sit around and gossip while you're making something. I made dresses and pillowcases, and learned how to upstyle some of my dresses with different accessories.

"I also went to a 'Learn to Love Your Machine' workshop there because I found my sewing machine so difficult to use."

Rebecca spent much of the summer making a skirt to wear to the wedding of Ciara Conway, a Waterford TD who is tying the knot in December. "I once spent a whole weekend on that skirt," she says. "Whole hours can go by when you do this."

TV shows such as The Great Irish Bake Off, Craft Master, Design Doctors, as well as UK programmes including Kirstie's Handmade Treasures and the Great British Sewing Bee, have all helped make domestic creativity a national obsession.

Yaps have not even let this autumn's bumper harvest of blackberries, raspberries and apples – prompted by a long wet spring and warm summer – go to waste: sales of jam-making equipment, such as Kilner jars and gingham labels, have jumped 2,000pc at Homebase stores in the UK and Ireland over the last year.

While these skills have traditionally been passed down from mother to daughter, Yaps also use YouTube tutorials to learn their craft. They then share the results on personal blogs and social media networks like Pinterest and Instagram.

Emily Westbrooks, a 29-year-old American who lives in Bayside, Dublin, writes about her craft and DIY pursuits almost every day on From China Village, a lifestyle blog named after her hometown in Maine. She has converted her shed into a craft room and spends her evenings and weekends sourcing and upcycling unwanted furniture from skips, markets and websites such as Donedeal.ie and FreeTradeIreland.ie. She also bakes, and raises backyard chickens.

"My mom was over last week and she helped me with some sewing projects," says Emily, who used to work for the Irish Countrywomen's Association. "I made a headboard for our bed by taking the post attached to our bedspring and attaching it to a piece of MDF I found. I used a cheap, comfortable duvet I bought for €5 to make the headboard puffy."

Emily's passion for craft is a world away from her previous life in the US, where she worked on President Barack Obama's 2008 election campaign and John Kerry's failed bid for the presidency in 2004, when she organised motorcades and liaised with the Secret Service.

Shortly after Obama's inauguration, she followed with her new Irish husband Michael to Ireland.

"I was so poor and my husband had decided to go back to school for a master's," she said. "There was no Walmart and no Ikea in Dublin, and I couldn't get our house set up cheaply, so I upcycled furniture out of necessity.

"We are both fully employed now, but I still prefer the kind of satisfaction that comes from turning something sad and ridiculous into something that suits my home."

Alex Carberry feels the same way. She is just 28 but spends her spare time crocheting, knitting, sewing, and trawling flea markets and charity shops for tea sets or furniture she can revamp. She is currently knitting a bedroom blanket for the home she lives in with husband Robert in Islandbridge,Dublin, and regularly outlines her progress on her blog, Hydrangea Girl.

Watching Kirstie Allsopp's craft programmes, Carberry busies her hands with crocheting and rests her feet on a stool she found at a charity shop and reupholstered. She picked up crocheting from a book once owned by her grandmother and browses YouTube when she needs to learn a new stitch.

"People are staying home more because they are watching their budgets," she says. But I think that even if I had loads of money, I'd still be sitting on the couch, mending my husband's socks. I just like being thrifty."

Irish Independent

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