Spotlight on hand-dying

For years I have oooh and aaah at the skill and craftsmanshop it takes to hand dyed a skein of yarn in a way that’s pleasing.

I tried it myself some time ago – both with blank hanks of yarn and roving, natural, food-colouring & acid dyes – and I have to say that my respect for the dying process, and the level of knowledge you need to get a good result, is high.

I’ve often, and at some volume, admit to being a dunce when it comes to colour theory.
I cannot match colours up well. There’s a reason I’m almost always in black. Black goes with everything. It does the job I can’t. It’s just not in my make-up to do a good job, so when I find a dyer who can do just that it feels as if I’m in the presence of an elemental god of some kind.

HOW did they know that lime green and that teal would blend so prettily?
HOW did they get that yarn to look exactly like a rusty nail, or a peacok’s tail feather, or a misty rainy day in March?!

So, getting to chat to a dyer and get down and dirty with their dye pots is always a pleasure. This is exactly what I did when I got to chat to Eve Chambers last year at Woollinn.
I used her delicious yarn for my most recent pattern: Manannan.


Here’s how she describes her process:

“I dye a lot of semi solids. In crochet, the stitch definition is vital. I found that commercially dyed yarns lacked a fluidity when I worked with them. A solid was flat. A gradient’s colour shifts took over the story of the stitches.

I was raised by an artist mother, and the alchemy of primary colour work that she used always fascinated me.

In dyeing my semi solids, especially the Pop range – I’m going back to the alchemy. The singles are dry. The semi immersion bath is ready and heat slowly rising. The skeins are added to the bath, and slowly sink beneath the surface as they soak up the bath. It’s a slow process, but by controlling the heat level, the dye strikes with a specific non uniformity on the skein, but with uniformity across the batch. Like all handdyed, there can be variations across batches, however the end effect of the Pop Collection is a watered silk look.

When you knit/crochet with Pops, you can see ripples of colour density, thus lifting or setting back your stitches, but always looking like light is moving in waves over your work.”

It’s safe to say, there’s a LOT more to it than “dying and drying”, as Gamercrafting explains in her latest YouTube Podcast.

Check out both Gamercrafting and Eve Chambers, folks! I love them both, and you will too.

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OK, so first, a few facts about me to put what I’m about to say in context;

Fact One.
Most of you know at this stage that I am diabetic; I have been since I was 17. If my maths are accurate (and despite my job description, that’s not always a given!), that’s exactly 20 years ago.

I wasn’t overweight, I had a healthy diet, I exercised, my family had no real history of diabetes. My illness is not my fault, but I got it anyway.

Luckily, though – if anything about a long-term, chronic illness that will eventually be the literal death of me can be considered lucky – I was born in a country that provides free healthcare for illnesses like mine. I’m not blamed for my condition. I’m not expected to go to unreasonable lengths to keep it in check.
I get insulin, and blood test strips, and needles and emergency glucose kits as often as I need them, and blood tests and doctor and nurse check ups and eye exams on average every year to be sure I’m maintaining my health. I get all this for free, and all I have to do is turn up and take it.
The Irish Republic does all this automatically for me because it knows that a healthy population benefits us all.

And it’s the gods honest truth when I say I’d not be doing this job if I lived somewhere where I had to pay for all this myself. And it’s equally true that my mental health – and my physical health as a consequence – would suffer greatly if that was my reality. It would have run my into the ground years ago.

Fact Two.
I’m a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, though perhaps I’m less visibly so than others who fall under the umbrella of that most gloriously cumbersome of acronyms. And the fact that I now, finally, live in a country that recognises – in our very constitution – my brothers and sisters rights to marry who they want and live their own happy lives is a huge deal and makes us a better, fairer, stronger country.

Fact Three.
And I’m a member of a perpetually emigrating race. Simply put, due to invasion, colonisation, war, famine, you name it, Irish people have set foot on boats, ships, and planes generation after generation looking for a better life abroad when one was denied at home.

So, when I say I’m nervous and scared for the US mid-term elections tomorrow, know I mean it.
I empathise with people suffering with illnesses they can’t afford. I feel the pain of my trans and non-binary friends as their humanity is stripped from them. I look on in horror as the same thing that happened to my ancestors happens to the current wave of unjustly maligned immigrants.

So, I’m expressing a hope today that when you do vote in the mid-terms tomorrow, that you vote with kindness and compassion for those worse off.

I firmly believe that poverty is not the fault of the poor.
Illness is not the fault of the sick.
Weakness is not the fault of the weak.
And kindness isn’t weakness, even if Trump would love you to believe it to be so.

Kindness takes bravery. So, so much bravery, and it often takes exceptional strength too.
Reaching out can feel scary when you’ve been told over and over that a certain religion, a certain colour, a certain ethnicity, a certain sexuality, is looking to do you or your way of life harm.

Fear kills kindness, folks.
That’s something we’ve all seen time and time again in history. Fear makes us look inward and disregard the basic needs of others. It makes us circle the wagons and turn our backs.

But, here’s the thing; The opposite is also entirely true.
Kindness kills fear. All it takes is a little warmth and the fear melts away.

If you can’t physically reach out and grasp the hand of a refugee or an immigrant or an LGBT person in support and solidarity, I understand. Differences can feel overwhelming and things certainly do seem chaotic right now. But at least, please, do try to reach out and grasp a pen instead, and vote for someone who can take that extra step.

So, tomorrow, I hope you vote for an American future without hate or bigotry or selfishness.

Please vote for the people who will give medical care to those who need it without judgement.
Please vote for those who insist that refugees and immigrants be treated with dignity, and that their children be surrounded by compassion not cages.
Please vote for those who respect Native people’s right to live and breathe in safety on the land of their ancestors.
Please vote for the politicians who understand that trans people aren’t a threat and that our differences make us stronger, not weaker.
Please vote for the people who don’t need to be told why black lives matter.

But above all, please, please, please, vote out the bullies wherever you see them.

America is too important and too influential to be left in their reckless and petty hands any longer.

Thank you.


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The Blind Mind

Think of an elephant.
Or an apple.
Or a happy honeybee.
Or a daffodil with a top hat on.
Or any one of a bazillion other physical objects, real or imaginary.
There is a very high chance that you can see the thing in your mind’s eye, right?

If you can, congratulations, your brain is functioning pretty much as expected.

If you can’t, well, you’re probably like me, then. You most likely have aphantasia to some degree or another. Basically, your mind’s eye is blind, or out of focus, or fuzzy.

I’ve never been able to find my way from A to B without getting lost.
I can’t draw accurate pictures for shit.
I am very face blind, and will not recognise you on a second, third… fifteenth meeting without a lot of context. (Sorry!)
I forget movies I’ve seen because I have no way of storing visual memory.
I don’t dream in pictures, just in emotion which can get very trippy.
I have zero sense of colour and fashion, so I stick to the most basic of clothing.
I don’t see the value in reading fiction; historical facts are far easier to recall and focus on, so I read a lot of biographies and fact-based literature.
I can’t visualise the faces of my loved ones when we’re apart, which makes being apart even more difficult.

I have absolutely no clue what my shawls will look like until I have them quite literally completed and off the blocking wires, and I had NO IDEA until quite recently that other designers could.

So, I guess, on its surface this weird wiring in my head could be classed as a low-key disability. I mean, yea, look at all that stuff up there (and I’m finding more and more to add to that list all the time), it’s all gonna add a level of difficulty that others don’t have to deal with, especially when we’re talking about my designwork.

And it does suck. No two ways about it.
But here’s the thing. It also gives me a perspective on the design process that most others don’t possess. Because I can’t see the finished design in my head in any form at all, I have nothing in particular to aim my focus towards.
I end up then, meandering off the path others may stay confidently on. Where others have a direct, efficient and logical highway from idea to completion, I barely have a dirt path. I’m flailing around in the dark!

It takes me longer to get wherever I am going, but the scenic route affords me more opportunities to experiment and invent.

For me, designing isn’t about the visuals anwyay; it’s about a certain lingering, attractive tension and flow, and a sense of “rightness” in the maths (even when it’s not exactly accurate) that I don’t think I really can adequately explain. This is something I have struggled to articulate for decades because I simply didn’t have the language to make sense of it, and it’s something I’m only now beginning to understand. “Where do you get your ideas?” was an interview question I lived in dread of because I hadn’t a clue, and much like a magic eye picture (which, for the record, I also cannot do to save my life), I was worried that focussing too hard on the question would ensure the answer would simply disappear.

“I don’t ‘get’ ideas” is the best answer I have come up with so far.
I don’t get them, they don’t get me, I basically start with a hook and some yarn and I doodle til something happens that I can hang an idea on. I’m the proverbial monkey with a typewriter, folks.

It’s an unpredictable, inconsistent and precarious method, and it feels extremely amateurish to me, but it’s also the only way I know how to do this, so… I guess until they invent mental spectacles for aphantasiatics, it’s the only way I can work.

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What’s in a name?

It’s not like my parents were thumbing through an English/Irish dictionary when they were pregnant with me to find the most epic-sounding name possible for their little bawling bundle. But, despite this, they hit the nail on the head pretty darn squarely.

My full name is Aoibhe Caitríona Ní Shúilleabháin.

…I’ll give you a minute to get over the shock. Take your time.

There’s a lot to digest in there, I know. You’re not alone in your puppy-dog head tilting, I promise. How to pronounce my name is a question I get aimed sheepishly at me on a regular basis.

I used to feel the need to apologise.
“Sorry, I know it’s a crazy name”.
“It’s so complicated, I apologise”.
“Oh, just write it “Eva”, I don’t mind”.

But as I matured I started to see the power that comes with an unusual name, a traditional spelling, something that stands out. My name is spelt exactly the right way when you are an Irish speaker. The letters follow a distinct set of rules understood by people across this island, and scattered around the world. I learnt that just because it’s not the standard set by English spelling, doesn’t mean it’s not absolutely 100% valid and correct.

So, I stopped apologising, and instead started to educate.

This past weekend I was in England, at the gloriously inspiring Hillview Farm Creativity Fest. All weekend I had a lanyard with the truncated, professional version of my name around my neck. “Hi!” it proclaimed “I’m AOIBHE NI.”

I got the question a few times. Once, directly, other times with a sort of a faux-casual sidle, all asking the same thing; “How do those letters… make that sound?

So, here it is folks. Short of my going around with a flip chart and a laser pointer to everyone’s house, this is the best way I can explain it.

In Irish, as in many languages, the sound a consonant makes can be altered by something either before or after it.

Think about the difference in English between “trust” and “thrust”, “sip” and “ship”. Just, with Irish it happens with different consonants in different ways.

So, the “bh” in my name isn’t a B sound, but a soft V. It’s like as if the B sound just sorta gave up and didn’t put all that much effort in.

The “Aoi” combination is a classic in Irish. It’s pronounced a few different ways depending on the region, but in Leinster, where I grew up, it’s a kinda AY sound (as in Hay, or Ray, or Stay). Other regions make it a sharper EEE sound, (as in Need, or Creed). They’re both valid, and I will answer to either.

So, smushing it all together, we get AY-v-ah.

…yea, that e at the end is pronounced like an A (as in Lamb, or Bath)

Ní is pronounced exactly like that bendy bit half way down your leg. The fada (that’s the accent) on the i changes it from a short sounding vowel to a much longer, broader version.
So, i is ‘ih’, í is ‘eeeeh’.

Once I had learnt all that aged about oh, 6 or so? came the next phase of self discovery; working out the translation for the words in my name, and folks, this is where I suddenly developed a life-long grá (love) not only for my moniker, but also for the process of explaining it to interested people.

My name, when translated directly from Irish into English means… ahem;

The Radiant and Powerful daughter of the One-eyed Man

I mean, c’mon… what’s a girl to do with that? It’s a wonder I don’t obsess about spending my entire life inside a Tolkein novel, yearning to be a Rider of Rohan, tbh.

And, for what it’s worth, my father has two, perfectly serviceable eyes. A more suspicious person would be worried about that. 😉

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The power of a purchase

The 22nd of May is an auspicious day for me.

It’s not because that was the day Ceylon changed its name to Sri Lanka;
or because it’s the day that Apollo 10 came within a tantalising, eight miles of the surface of the moon;
or because it was the day Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister of the UK…

I mean, all that stuff is cool, sure, but for me that day will always mean one thing;
It’s the day I made my first ever pattern sale.

The 22nd of May, 2009 seems like a lifetime ago now, and indeed it, was.
I hadn’t had my Tunisian crochet lace epiphany yet and had no idea of the career that lay before me, the people I’d meet, or the friends I’d make.

Dave and I were together a year or so, maybe a little longer, and we had just moved into our first place a few months prior. The recession had seen us both lose our jobs in late 2008, but things were still good despite that little hiccup.

Lemme give you some background here.

Ravelry was launched, in beta, in May of 2007, and I became a member some time after that. I can’t now recall if I was given a waiting time to join, or what my ticket number might have been if I was, but I do remember that I had to wait for a friend to submit my email address before I could register.
This was clearly the dark ages, folks.

This was back in the Web 2.0 days when manual data entry was the norm for all start-ups. I can’t imagine Ravelry’s Casey had an easy time of it as all us insular, hermit-like crafters squirmed out of the shadows to see if maybe, possibly, we were capable of having more fun crafting together as a group rather than alone in our corners.
Turns out, we could! Turns out, it was exactly what many of us needed!

I doubt very much if he got a lot sleep in that first year or two, poor chap.

But, eventually, my email was submitted by a friend, inputted into Rav, and I got my acceptance email. Whuppie!~

It’s hard to imagine now the impact that something like Rav had on someone like me, but believe me when I say it was huuuuge. See, I grew up in the middle of nowhere between two towns, only one of which had a library. That library had maybe three crafting books?… none of which really held my attention, so when Rav happened, it was seismic, opened up a world of ideas I hadn’t even considered in my wildest dreams, and eventually lead to that first, shiny pattern sale.

One dollar, folks.
One, siny, digital dollar for a hat pattern. From a complete stranger. Not a friend, looking to be supportive, but a total unknown entity.
Someone I didn’t know and had never met had thought my idea was good enough to part with money for. They had money, they gave it to me, AND were satisfied with the set of instructions they got in return.

Wait, what?!
My imagination had made me money, people! Holy crap!
My brain had essentially become a neurotic, cantankerous ATM. Like, that fact still blows my mind to this day; but that first sale, that first spark of potential? … wow.

That feeling is why I’m writing this post today.
The power of a purchase is a profound thing, folks, even now. Each one is a small vote of confidence that the ideas in my mind might just be worth showing people, might be worth working on, might be worth my time, my heart and my creativity; that they might be worth someone’s hard-earned money.

Each pattern purchase reminds me that this is worth working on.
I know that sounds very capitalist, I do. But it’s nonetheless true. The things I design take a lot of time from conception to completion. To do this at all it has to be full time. And as much as I love the idea of creating without any thought of money, this is a full time job or it’s nothing, and rent needs to be paid.

So, next time you see a design you like (be it from a new designer, or someone more established), do me a favour and buy it if you can?

Maybe you don’t intend to make it any time soon, or maybe ever, but the designing of a thing takes time, patience, and a spark that not many people have and that so many people lose because they don’t get the tiny little shows of support they need to keep trying. So, next time, rather than just liking a thing, or sharing it, or adding it to your wishlist or your queue, buy it. Spend the few bob. Vote with your Dollars and your Euros and your Yen.

Maybe buy it for yourself, or for a friend, or just do it for the designer.

Give a designer a boost, folks. It’s the most praticial, predictable way to ensure we get to keep designing so you get to keep making.

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A Speck of Immortality

I had intended, dear crafter, to write my next post about the wondrous sense of immortality I get from every stitch I work up, and every pattern I publish.

I was planning to wax overly-lyrical about how, as creatives, we are in an enviable position. That every poem we commit to paper, spindle we turn, thread we lace, stitch we make, daub of paint blobbed, note sung, flower pressed, we ensure a little speck of us will last long after we’ve breathed our last.

I was planning on describing how I feel about this.
I had phrases I was excited to use in context like “the breath of history” and “wrapping future generations on our soft, squishy stitches”, but all of that has been hastily set aside as all of this came into timely and desperately sad focus two days ago.

That was when I got a text from a former crochet student of mine late at night about another student from the same class. Short, and to the point as she always is; “Did you hear about Susan? RIP.”

I hadn’t heard, and what followed was a frantic, sleepy search for confirmation online, wondering what had happened, how her family was, and a little unexpectedly, I found myself wondering what her last crochet project had been, and if she had managed to finish it.

Of course, there are more important things in life. Of course there are.
But brains go to odd places when they’re in shock, and that one thought has stuck with me since.

Susan was not my most naturally gifted student. She’d tell you that herself. In fact, she did tell me that, at least three times every class.
Whatever the opposite of the phrase “duck to water” is, that would have fit her at the beginning. She hadn’t held a scrap of yarn in her life, so this, as she was closing in on retirement was totally new. But she was by far my most determined student. She worked at it like I have never seen anyone work before. She chipped away at those stitches like they were a coal face, and little by little, stitch by hard-won stitch she began to see the pattern in each double crochet, each half treble, then her fabric smoothed out, her hook stopped sticking, and she immediately started to make things for her beloved children.

A scarf for him as he began a new job.
A slouchy hat for her because she could find nothing that fit around all her curly hair.
Christmas decorations for her neighbour.
A hat for the dog…
And she gifted me with some spare fabric from a ill-fated attempt to learn dressmaking years earlier, a serger she’d never used, gluten free flour when I expressed a curiosity…

She was such a effortlessly generous lady and I have no doubt in my head she would have continued to make things that would have brought pleasure to others for many years to come, if she had been given the chance.

And now, with her so suddenly, so sadly gone, I know for sure that those gifts, those beautifully imperfect, ragged-edged, gloriously unique gifts that she worked so hard to produce will be more precious to her family and friends than anything else in the world, and that they will remember her every time they reach out and touch the same stitches she did.

That may not be immortality, but it sure is close.

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The shields we choose

When I was a wee tiny thing, I found myself impressed on a head-spinningly regular basis by my Mammy, and her seemingly endless list of creative skills.

She could trace images from my favourite story books (especially popular was a book about a young witch with stripey socks and curly toes, anyone remember the name of it?), she could embroider (she can still french knot like the wind), press wild flowers (and not-so-wild ones), knit me and my little sister jumpers (even if they were sometimes made of itchy mohair with necks so tight I tried repeatedly to ‘lose’ them in friend’s houses…), french darn, regular darn, crochet (of course).

But the thing that struck me the most – a kid of the 80’s whose life was all hand-me-downs and mass-produced kiddy clothes – was the fact that she’d tell us tales of when she was young and would make her own clothing.

She’d. Made. Her. Own… Clothes.

I don’t mind telling you this blew my little tiny brain.
Where, I wondered, would you even begin with something like that!?
This was magic to me. Was my Mammy a witch or something?!

As I grew up, she introduced me to her hand-crank Singer sewing machine and patiently taught me how to thread the needle, load the shuttle-shaped bobbin, and sew the only stitch the machine could do – a straight hem.

I was in heaven.

Of course, I was undisciplined, and used it more often to punch holes in paper to make “stamps” than to do any actual sewing, but the fascination with making my own clothing has remained with me ever since. It’s the benign, ever-present monkey on my back I have no intention of shaking.

More recently, I have gotten to grips with my own machine (a 1970’s electric classic I found for 20 quid in a charity shop in England. Bargain!), and have begun to experiment gently with it. And suddenly having the opportunity to make my own things, and with a mind bent eternally towards design, I have been pondering the possibilities and the magnitude of expression that comes with this burgeoning superpower.

All this creative experimentation has got me wondering about the off-the-rack clothes we choose to wear, what draws us to them, and why? I mean, every single item has been designed by strangers, made by strangers and sold to us by strangers who have no concept of the nuances of our personalities (or, the shape of our butts..)

I feel it’s important at this point to say that I am not being judgemental here, folks. This is purely me musing aloud about a thing I have not really reached a conclusion on yet. I am aware that dressmaking is a skill, and takes time, money and patience to get even half-way decent at. I am lucky I found that machine, and that it works. It has, nonetheless taken me ten years to get from “Oh, that’s how you thread the bobbin!” to “why is the tension all over the place!!?!” to “hey, that stitching is actually straight for once. Hurray!”

The dress I am perfecting the design for could not be less fussy if it tried. There are no ruffles, no ruches, no prints or patterns on the fabric. It’s plain cotton, is bordered with bias binding, fastens with two, very unassuming plastic snaps and I can put it on or take it off almost as fast as Wonder Woman could. It is gloriously utilitarian and I cannot wait to make a billion more.

I have always used home-made things as a form of emotional armour when going to events that make me nervous. Having a hand-knit jumper on for Christmas at home reduces the considerable stress that day inspires for me. Wearing a home-made dress that I have designed, sewn, and dyed to a crafting event I know next to no-one at affords me a level of protection I simply don’t feel in a shop-bought piece.

And I think it’s the intention behind the make that gives me such comfort. It’s almost like these events – these times when anxiety is crinkling the edges of my brain and the memories of past, public panic attacks are looming – are easier to deal with when I have slipped on my very personal, very individial armour. I spend time preparing a piece, making every single decision about how it should look, how it’s made, how it functions, and I get to wield it as if it’s a shield on which is emblazoned my tribal alliegance.

“This is me,” is whispered with every flick of a hemline, every turn of a cuff.
It’s suble, subliminal even, but spectacularly uncompromising.

I present an image as I wear that dress, that jumper, that shawl, and I am showing the world exactly who I am without even having to open my mouth to explain. It’s a visual shorthand I rely on very much, indeed.

I guess maybe there’s a life lesson in there somewhere? I’m not sure.
For now, perhaps it’s enough that it’s a trick that works.

Perhaps, it’s best if I just keep sewing…

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