In national school I won a knitting competition for a cardigan I made.
It was an ambitious pattern with all the 80s trimmings, diamonds and stripes, a roll neck collar, primary colours, plastic triangle buttons, we’re talking full Carlton (Fresh Prince of Bel Air) here.
To this day a good friend still disputes the win as my mother, my nana and even my teacher were all guilty of doing “a few rows” for me. I countered that it was a communal effort, and that was how I learnt to knit with a little (or a lot) of help from those around me.
I still have that cardigan, those women could knit! And crochet, there’s hardly a baby who’s been born that doesn’t have a crochet blanket in its local GAA colours from my mother.
I learned to crochet from a lady named Sue from Thailand who had a wool shop on Barrack Street. Ponchos were in and I was determined to make myself one.
Once a week I would sit in her shop for a few hours crocheting away while Sue’s customers and friends would come and go, some would even join us to do “a few rows”.
It was a lovely time and I was, ahem, hooked on crochet. Unfortunately Sue’s shop closed. I still crocheted in my spare time, however none of my friends crafted or if they did we didn’t talk about it and we definitely didn’t do it in public.
Fast forward 15 years and things couldn’t be more different. With the onset of social media and sites such as Pinterest and Ravelry and TV shows like The Great British Sewing Bee the familiar phrase “Penneys, girl!” is often being replaced by a proud “Oh, I made it myself”.
Stitch n’ bitch sessions have cornered the coffee shops and pubs and handmade is becoming hip again. Spread over three floors and with an online shop, Vibes and Scribes has been a mecca for Cork crafters since they began stocking art and craft supplies eight years ago.
I spoke to Joan Lucey, managing director to get her take on the growing Corkcrafting community.
Recently featuring on their own stamp from An Post - a testament to the shops iconic status - the place is a hive of activity as they are preparing for a Christmas card demonstration.
Joan feels that while crafting has never gone away there are a number of reasons as to why it has gained such recent popular public appeal: “People were starting to become more conscious about being green and recycling, the recession had a part to play and then it become fashionable through social media with posting finished objects on Instagram and Pinterest and the various lifestyle blogs and of course mindfulness, in today’s busy society craft is an artistic expression and a way to develop ourselves and as well a lot of parents see it as an antidote to screen time for their children.
“By introducing them to the world of crafting you are really giving them a skill for life.”
Joan sites milinary as the number one Cork craft.
“It is enjoyable, serves a purpose (to match an outfit) and it is surprisingly simple to achieve a stunning effect. Ten years ago it was said that knitting was the new yoga it is now definitely true of crochet while most people can knit, crochet has gained ground, as you can work through your garment faster and it is more forgiving for beginners with freedom to create unique and individual items. Decoupage and scrapbooking are other growing trends,” says Joan.
“Having noticed it first five years ago in the States, Vibes and Scribes began stocking supplies and it has completely taken off. The social side was always there. At Christmas we knit hats for the Simon Community and we have people of all ages all sitting down together which creates a great atmosphere.
“The staff of Vibes and Scribes are all crafters themselves and so are very approachable for people looking for advice on patterns and material and we have a YouTube channel where the staff have made their own videos of how to do every step for the various crafts, ordinary people doing what anyone can do if they put their mind to it.
“We also encourage people to show off their finished objects, people are so proud of what they have made and will often post to our Facebook page or bring pieces back to the shop.
"Customers who would craft a lot are very price conscious so to facilitate this Vibes and Scribes stock a large range of clearance line wool, people are looking for value along with quality, for example we have a loyalty card and people might buy the bargain wool and when they have the loyalty card full we find they will treat themselves to the higher end wool.”
One trend that Joan is hoping will take off here as it is already popular across the water are mens’ knitting groups and professional crochet guru Molla Mills newest book, Crochetterie, Cool Contemporary Crochet for the Creatively Minded also aims to attract men to the gentler arts.
As she points out in her introduction men were traditionally more involved in handicrafts be it mending nets, working with leather etc. and in Finland it is not uncommon for them to knit and crochet.
Molla describes her book as a technical manual and her clean Scandinavian styling should appeal to both the sexes.
Straightforward instructions make her patterns accessible for beginners while her urban finishing touches and updated ideas for filet or pixel crochet offer inspiration to those with experience, in fact her patterns are very adaptable and with a little tweaking offer infinite possiblities to create your own charts.
It’s not as text book as this would make it sound though and there are charming characterful quirks throughout, I smile when I see that the first tool requirement is not as you would suspect a crochet hook, but an extra light bulb for twilight handicrafts and Molla demonstrates the variety of stitches with an even wider variety of colourful thumb plasters.
We are shown how to whittle our own crochet hook and even if crochet is the new yoga, it’s still advised to do actual yoga so there is a section on that as well.
Most items are modelled by men in the pursuit of manly things, like making coffee and listening to music, these are all blown out of the water by the image of Molla’s own father in his crocheted Wayfarer’s Jumper wielding his well-worn axe.
Flicking through the pages I immediately fall in love with her father, no I mean with her pattern rug, and following her tip decide to make it into an on-trend wall hanging.
The travel mirror I choose as an easy beginner’s project and I am really pleased with how it has turned out. Another project that caught my eye and made it water slightly are the child’s Lego slippers.
In Molla’s world “these will have the biggest sleepyhead happily tiptoeing to the breakfast table”, in reality Lego, floors, and bare feet does not a happy morning make.
Nordic children are obviously made of tougher stuff then me. A charming book with style and substance that just might have the men in your life reaching for the wool.
Vibes and Scribes hold craft demonstrations most Saturdays. Check out their Facebook page and vibesandscribes.ie for more information and to register online (€3 nominal fee that can be offset against any instore purchases).
Search Facebook and Ravelry for craft groups, ask at your local craft shop, ICA, school, library and community centre for demonstrations or classes or why not start your own group with some friends?
- : Crochetterie by Molla Mills (Jacqui Small, £20) is out now.
- Vibes & Scribes, Bridge Street, Cork. vibesandscribes.ie.