Saturday, February 03, 2007

Yo! There's A New LYS In The Far West!

Oh what a wonderful day it's been. It was a clear cold morning and the air was fresh and beckoning, so I decided it was a perfect Saturday for a bit of missionary work. I take my duties very seriously, and whenever the time is available (and sometimes when it isn't) I am to be found out and about in the far reaches of Cork and Kerry, instructing the native population seriously yet kindly on the importance of turning their faces to the light and experiencing the great joy that comes from accepting yarn into their lives.

It can be uphill work here in Ireland. These people have been hurt before. The older ones among them may well have spent cruelly hard childhoods working away on Aran sweaters destined for big posh shops, or fashioning pair after pair of XXL socks in hairy harsh wool for the menfolk of their families. When they got older and slightly better off, they vowed never to touch knitting needles again, and often didn't teach their children either.

My allotted task is to open their eyes to the joy that cometh in the morning (and the afternoon and the evening) to those who willingly embrace the delights of a newer, softer knitting world. A world where colour and texture and buttery softness are not strangers.

Put more succinctly, this means marching into big tourist shop after big tourist shop, surveying the racks and piles and heaps and mountains and pyramids of knitted garments and saying in a loud clear voice, 'Don't you have any yarn?' This is usually met with puzzled stares. I then substitute 'wool' for 'yarn' and faces clear. Not for long, though. 'No, no, there's no call for that sort of thing these days.' I enquire how it then is that they manage to get hold of the finished garments. Somebody somewhere must be obtaining the forbidden fibre surely? They don't know, sure don't the sweaters come in all finished, and they're a great bargain if you want one.

No, I don't want one. I don't even want yarn (well I always want yarn but I have to admit when it comes to Aran weight bainin, I don't actually need any at the moment). I just want an opening into which I can put my practised spiel. About have they any idea how big knitting is in the rest of the world these days? Do they realise how many Americans and Australians and Canadians and English will be pouring into Ireland from Easter onwards, all searching for real Irish yarn? About how good it would be for business if they actually thought about stocking some? And while they're at it, some patterns and needles as well, so visitors can get started right away? Sometimes you get a nod and a 'you have a point all right,' but mostly it's back to the blank stare.

So I was in zealous form as I drove into the little Kerry coastal town of Kenmare this morning. I had another reason for being there: Deb from The Irish Ewe in Maine loves Kenmare deeply and I wanted to say hallo to it for her (and incidentally call into Jam on the main street for one of their delectable scones with jam and cream). Pangs of hunger assuaged, I sallied forth renewed to do battle.



See that nice sign down the street? 'Twould fool you, wouldn't it? You'd think, 'Ooh, goody, yarn,' and head straight for it. I know these people at the Kerry Wool Market of old, and made my way there with firm step, rehearsing my arguments in my head as I went. Oh the missionary zeal is wonderful when it's in full flow. In the door I went, gathering my breath as I went for the opening gambit.



Oh.

Well I'll be...

A whole basket of skeins, straight from my old friends at the Kerry Woollen Mill (no, no relation to the shop: when you deal in wool and live in Kerry the naming options are limited). 200g skeins at €7.95 which isn't bad.

'So how long have you had this in, then?'

'Oh a month or two. We thought it might be nice for the visitors. They're starting to ask for it a lot, actually.'

Well, who cares why they finally took the decision, the thing is they have yarn. Genuine Irish yarn, spun in Kerry. And in colours too. It took the wind out of my sails a bit, I'll admit, but I nevertheless pushed home a few minor homilies on the importance of building on your base by stocking patterns and needles as well. I took a look around the shop, to see if there were any new ideas I could pick up.



Nope, that was the only stock of yarn, that one basket (those are rolled up mohair scarves there in the background, not cones, keep calm). Still it was definitely a start.

I wish you could have been there this morning with me, pottering along the quiet street of Kenmare and enjoying a knitting gossip in the bright cold sunshine. The air was like champagne. I was wandering back to the car when suddenly -



This sign, pointing into a side alley, stopped me dead in my tracks.

It couldn't be!

Now those of you who have seventeen yarn shops within a five minute stroll may not understand the magnitude of this serendipitous (look it up, girl, look it up) discovery. This is Ireland, for heaven's sake. Not only Ireland but Kerry. Not only Kerry but the tiny town of Kenmare! I had already found bainin in a knitwear store, where hitherto no bainin had been - was I now to find even more unexpected riches? I didn't wait to think further, but positively dived down that alley.



Look at that. Isn't it adorable? It reminds me for all the world of Loop in Islington, except here there was nothing but the echo of gentle footfalls in the street beyond instead of the roar of London traffic. I pushed open the door and went in.

Come on, you can come too. Isn't this exciting? A whole new LYS!



Omigod, do you see what I see? Smack right there in the middle of the shop?

COLINETTE!!!

I was on my knees, babbling, hauling, stroking, hallucinating for five minutes before I thought to introduce myself in civil fashion to the charming lady behind the counter. It turns out that Jo and Jean are both accountants as well as passionate knitters, and since they couldn't find the yarns they yearned for, took the amazingly sensible step of opening their own shop in the town. And Jo is originally from Welshpool in Wales, and has known Colinette since its beginnings, so that's why they have this rarest of delights right here in Kenmare.

Oh I did have a nice couple of hours. I talked to that lovely elderly lady in the picture above - her name is Bridie O'Shea, and she told me that she learned to knit as a toddler using - wait for it - six inch nails! No, truly.



'My sister promised me that the next time she came home to the farm she'd bring me needles and some wool but I wasn't going to wait. I just got a couple of those big nails and a bit of wool from my mother's bag and I taught myself!'

Since then, she says, she's never stopped knitting, and has found it a way of coping with sadness and bereavement as well as providing warm family clothing. 'It's a great skill to have, and I wish all the young ones would learn it.'

Of course I bought several skeins of Colinette Point 5 - that's the thick and thin homespun one - and headed off feeling like it had been a very very good morning indeed. I took another route back, via Moll's Gap and Killarney, because it was such a stunning day.



There was a mist on the hills and the countryside is still rather brown after the winter, but in no time at all it will be greening up again. It will be beautiful when you come back in May, Deb!



And here's the road just going into the pass at Moll's Gap. Not too much traffic as you can see.

When I got home, and thought of photographing the Colinette for you, I found that the first spring primroses were opening their little pale yellow faces to the afternoon sun. What a perfect end to the day.

27 comments:

TutleyMutley said...

Your new LYS looks ADORABLE!
My sister lives about half an hour from Kilkenny and when I was last over to see her, I went LYS hunting. I found a teeny tiny fairly unimaginative place in Waterford where I bought some irish spun multicoloured cotton for a dishcloth swop (Dishcloths! a new discovery for me!) - We (my sis and I) are planning to walk the Kerry Way in the summer. I must make just a little detour on the way I think...

LaurieM said...

"O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"

I'm sooooo happy for you. What a lovely little shop. Now you will forever be finding excuses to slip away to town for a bit, just so you can visit.

rho said...

What a super find - and it is such a lovely shop too - I could spend some time and money in there no doubt.

The picture of the car coming towards you had me saying Yipes - until I reminded myself you all drive on the wrong side of the road there ;)

Julia said...

How exciting! When I come back to the real Ireland, I will find real yarn! What a happy day!

Karen said...

What a great morning! Love the Colinette - what's the shade called?

Peg said...

Bridie O'Shea - how do you get more Irish than that? What a delightful story, and all in the new little LYS. I am so happy for you, Jo. Love the little logo on the bag!
My LYS just had a large 7th Anniversary Sale - me, the $2.00 Queen came home with two large bags full!!

MonicaPDX said...

Oh, lovely shop - and from the outside, too. I especially love the typestyle for their sign! (Yes, I know, I'm weird. [g] It's all those years in advertising, then word processing. I love fonts.) Wonderful you found it. And a wonderful post, too. Especially with one big laugh I got, when you showed the sign for the Kerry Wool Market. It looks a lot like a very familiar logo we see all over here in Portland. Just... go take a look. It's right on the first page, a quick peek will do it:

http://trimet.org/

(I think it's really supposed to be a stylized rose/triskele, for the 'tri' in Tri-Met, but truly - doesn't it look familiar?) ::starts giggling again::

gail said...

Wow! What a wonderful story!! I have a friend who recently went to Ireland and had a problem finding yarn!! Your comments to the shop owners are absolutely right on. I absolutely must visit Ireland now!!!

Angeluna said...

Fabulous post, I laughed until tears ran. The idea of righteous Jo marching into shops and preaching wool. Love it, love it, love it. Photos great as always (Richard?). And you couldn't have found anyone better than Bridie O'Shea.

Tan said...

Very lovely, and congratulations on finding TWO new yarn sources on one journey.

Fiberjoy said...

Hurray for your own LYS! What a bright and cheerful day all around.

Tracy said...

What a wonderful discovery! Back in 1999, I was one of those bewildered Americans who couldn't understand why Ireland -- IRELAND! -- didn't have wool shops on every street corner. I found handknit sweaters everywhere I went, but the wool to knit them myself? Nowhere to be found. So glad to hear about the new shop in Kenmare (which I have to say was one of my favorite places that we visited). Even in this age of having a world of knitting supplies at our fingertips on the Internet, there is nothing that can replace a visit to a real bricks-and-mortar LYS. Hoorah!

All the Way With Knitting said...

Keep it up girl..my Granny knitted Fair-isles in the 1920s for a pittance and died of cancer with no treatment and did the rich golfers send her any money for painkillers ? Now we can knit and keep the beauties for ourselves. That lady has such a lovely face b.t.w .

Lesley said...

The knitting evangelist! I see wonderful book fodder here...

The Mother of Ewe said...

Congratulations on your exciting find! It's HUGE news for Kerry/Cork knitters. Can't wait to get there. BTW, most of the sweaters in Ireland are knit in Sri Lanka out of Austrialian wool, then sent back to Ireland for the labels to be sewn in. You know if you find an "Irishknit sweater" for under E200, it's not knit in Ireland, that's for sure!

Kristy said...

I decided to read your entry to my husband - about the Cork Yarn Missionary and then what to my wondering eyes should appear but a gorgeous yarn shop just for you! I am so happy for you! I can't say that my husband shares in your joy on the same level as I do, but he understands - being married to a yarn horder such as myself! Everybody should have at least one yarn shop within a short drive!

Lou Ann said...

My Name is Lou Ann from Canton, Ohio in the US. I found your blog as a link to Knitspot. Anne is my instructor at the local yarn shop. I am taking a sweater class. I knitted many years ago in nursing school, but have recently started knitting again. I was so excited to read your entry because I came to Ireland in October, 2005 and looked everywhere we stopped for real Irish yarn--couldn't find it. There were several shops with a few skeins of yarn that were the massed produced yarn I could get anywhere. Thank you for being a missionary. I'm not certain when I will be back in Ireland (hopefully 2008 or 9, but hopefully I will be able to find many shops and yarns. Anne has told me I will really like your blog and how delightful you are.

Charity said...

Jo, I'm so happy for you! What a wonderful find, indeed! :0)

Kelly said...

You are too right, Jo. I was all over Ireland last year, and only managed to stumble across some yarn stowed in a back corner at the Blarney Woolen Mill. It was Tivoli DK tweed - I made off with a whole bag of it! I'm excited for you to have found the new shop.

My grandmother one told me that her father taught her to knit on long nails with some twine. Imagine!

anne said...

oh the scenery shots were lovely! i mean, the ones OUTSIDE, jo! here i sit and it is -5° outside,with snow all around. it IS sunny for once though, so maybe spring is on its way here too!

pacalaga said...

how WONDERFUL! What a neat discovery, and a sweet little shop. Some of us may have many yarn shops within a short distance, but the ones near my house aren't so sweet and whimsical, and I'd bet good yarn money that none has ever been graced by Bridie O'Shea.

Dez Crawford said...

A new LYS ... wool in TWO places ... !!! ... the magnificent BRIDIE O'SHEA ... the stunning scenery ... the wee flowers and the adorable sheep on the bag ... all in one day!

How do you contain yourself?

I love the idea of being a Knitting Missionary, Sister Jo. I think we could get away with collecting mission money, even. For necessary expenses only, of course. What shall we name our order? The Sisters Of St. Bainin? Our Lady of the Shetlands? The Friars of Fair Isle?

Thank you for sharing your lovely day.

Dez, in Baton Rouge, where the daffodils popped up on Imbolc.

Connie said...

Kenmare was my favorite place when we went to Ireland in 1994 - now a yarn shop! How nice.

Anonymous said...

Stumbled on your blog tonight, Will definitely be visiting that yarn shop later this year, when i will be down in Kerry on holidays from the yarn desert that is Dublin Publicise this shop on Ollann Ban or Stitch n Bitch.ie

Maire the weaver

Anonymous said...

Just stumbled onto your blog. Sorry but I am living vicariously through your experiences. I live in Alaska and my dream is to someday head to Ireland and hunt up some wool. The pictures are great!

Kemberlee said...

I love Spin a Yarn (www.spinayarn.ie ... new site coming soon). It's a wonderful store. Not only do they stock Colinette, they also stock Araucania and Noro! We're in Macroom where there's no yarn shop, but there are five in Cork City, one in Bantry and an excuse for one in Killarney. But once I discovered Spin a Yarn I haven't been into the other shops. Fortunately they're only about half an hour from us. Jo is just the nicest person I know. She's so helpful to new knitters. I've crocheted for more than 35 years and just reteaching myself to knit after so long and Jo is a great help when I get stuck. And Jam is a great incentive too ;-)

Pam said...

Hello, I'm Pam from Chico, California. I recently made a new Irish (Galway)friend while on vacation. When I mentioned the desire to visit Ireland and purchase some real Irish yarn, her eyes glazed over as she thought about it. "Oh, you mean wool. You'll love Ireland, but I don't know where you'll find wool." Now I know what she meant. I found your blog as I was searching online for Irish wool. I still plan to visit and hunt for wool someday. Happy to hear your educating everyone.