Knitting's back again: Now it's trendy and that's no yarn
There was a time when knitting was one of the most popular hobbies for women in Ireland. Every major department store had a well-stocked wool department and there was a wool shop to be found on most main streets.
But the economic boom put paid to Irish women's interest in knitting. Towards the end of the 1990s, the last independent wool shop in Dublin, Needlecraft on Dawson Street, closed its doors. Since then, the only place to buy yarn in the capital of this sheep-rearing nation, is the basement of Hickeys in Henry Street and a good deal of its product is non-wool based.
By some remarkable coincidence, just as the economic downturn began to bite, mother and daughter Jacqui and Lisa Sisk opened a new wool shop in Dublin. This is Knit is located on the Powerscourt Centre's first floor, and it is bang up to date, both with its patterns and its yarns (such as this design, pictured).
Law graduate Lisa Sisk discovered knitting while travelling in New Zealand in the depths of winter. One evening in her hostel she spotted a girl knitting. The following day she passed a wool shop. "I walked by three times before I'd go in," she admits. "When I did I found there were some beautiful yarns, lovely soft merinos and cashmeres. The colours and textures were amazing. I'd learned to knit at school and I decided to take it up again."
When Lisa returned to Dublin in 2005 with a well-developed knitting habit, she was astounded to discover that all those beautiful yarns were next to impossible to buy here. Inspired by her daughter's enthusiasm, her mother Jacqui took up her knitting needles again. A short time later the two decided to set up a shop selling the kind of yarn and patterns they wanted to knit.
The first shop in Blackrock was such a success that they decided to open a second in the centre of the capital. "It was a bit strange with all the economic stuff going on but we're doing great business and getting lots of new customers," says Lisa.
With clothes available for half nothing in many shops, knitting is far from a cheap option these days. A ball of good quality wool-based yarn will cost about €6 and often more. A sweater or cardigan will require about eight balls minimum, giving an overall cost of at least €48.
"Knitting is a way of creating something really unique, something high quality with a lovely natural yarn, something you won't see walking around on everyone else," says Lisa.
Some of the manufacturers change their patterns as often as stock in a fashion store. Rowan Studio, for example, brings out a new pattern book every two months with cutting edge designs, some of which have come from students at the London School of Art.
"I think outside of Ireland knitting has been going through a renaissance. I really saw that in New Zealand -- being a sheep-rearing country I suppose it makes sense that they'd keep their knitting tradition alive," says Lisa.
There is only one Irish wool-based yarn supplier, Kincorra in Donegal. "I think it's to do with the sheep we rear here. The wool is quite scratchy for yarn-making. Most of the wool we have in the shop is imported from the UK or the US," says Lisa.
Knitting is also a portable craft. Rumour has it that President Mary McAleese knits inside the presidential car en route to functions.