This week I am taking a closer look at one of Ireland’s beautiful crochet designers Aoibhe Ní Shúilleabháin. Aoibhe very kindly took the time to answer some questions for the Notebook. Today is Part II which focuses on hobbies and future projects. If you missed it you can find Part I here. I hope you enjoy this insight into Aoibhe’s hobbies and I take a look at her beautiful new shawl Selkie.
On Hobbies and GIY
Aside from crochet, do you have any other hobbies?
SOOOO many. I grew up in a small patch of farming countryside between two distant towns, so keeping myself occupied was a life skill I developed early on. Most of my time was therefore spent trying to make one thing out of other things.
I built rickety tree houses in the apple trees in the orchard with a hammer and nails and mis-matched planks of wood, I made bird houses, polished rocks (please, don’t ask…), did mud pottery and fired them in a self-built kiln, I knit, crocheted, did patchwork, and dress-making for my toys on an old hand-crank Singer sewing machine from about the age of eight or nine.
Later on, when I had money and access to resources like libraries, I added some rudimentary weaving to my quiver, along with drop spinning (not allowed do that anymore because of RSI, though), wheel spinning, needle and wet felting, dress making for me (so many wrap around skirts, omg!), jam-making, baking all sorts of cakes and bread, cooking meals from scratch (can you call that a hobby in this day and age?), and gardening, of course. I love growing berries particularly.
I know you love growing your own food and being out and about in your garden. Where and when did you get bitten by the gardening bug?
I was told when I was tiny that I got my grandfathers’ green thumbs. One was a farmer, the other was an avid gardener, I believe. These skills didn’t skip a generation, of course, and my mother had me helping out planting bulbs and weeding flower beds when I was quite young.
I used to get a great kick out of digging, too, so while I was still in the process of losing my baby teeth, I had mastered the use of a shovel and spade with my Dad’s help (…even if I did have to jump up and down on the spade a few times to get it to bite into the soil!), and volunteered any time a pickaxe was needed. There’s something truly life-threatening about physical garden work that I can’t put my finger on. All I know is a good, well-used shovel always makes me smile.
We had these amazing blackberry bushes and elder trees along the hedgerows around our field, too, so their berries were a treat to gather every autumn once I’d learnt to avoid the bramble prickles.
As I grew up, I was granted a small section of grass down the end of the orchard at home to turn into a wild flower meadow, and I spent years collecting a few, precious seeds from outside my meadow from the flowers along the roadside, sewing them in trays and transplanting them when they were mature enough, into my little meadow. I had all sorts of Irish blooms in there and took great pride as a young teenager in being able to name them all.
I also managed to grow chestnut trees from seed as a girl. Those trees are now producing their own chestnuts every year in my parent’s field. It’s a strange feeling to be a chestnut grandmother!
I guess, the bug bit me with these early successes, and the almost manic joy I derive from donning my wellies, grabbing a shovel and getting mucky. There is nothing in this world more glorious than being covered in mud and sweat, with a gigantic, tired smile on your face. I’d recommend it as a mood enhancer to anyone.
Why is growing your own food important to you?
I think it’s a combination of several things, actually.
There is simply nothing like the taste of food you’ve pulled from your own garden. And knowing that it is at its nutritional peak is very satisfying indeed. Feeding it to the people you love brings it to another level, too.
Even the dog benefits from carrots that are too small to bother fiddling with in the kitchen. She becomes very attentive in the garden when it’s time to start pulling what we have to call “orange vegetables” from the ground.
Beyond that, as a diabetic, knowing what I’m eating and where it comes from gives me a lot of comfort. There is so much these days to consider when preparing a meal, it’s nice to take one thing off that list. I know my veg is grown with the least amount of pesticides (I try for zero, but sometimes, that’s not possible), and the least amount of chemical interference, so I trust it more.
Also, I think a knowledge of veg farming and foraging, along with clothes-making and food preservation, will be essential life skills during the zombie apocalypse. What can I say? I’m terrible in combat, so I’m hedging my bets!
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions today. Can you leave us with the answer to just one more: What does the future hold for Aoibhe Ni?
Well, I have no saintly idea, but I can tell you what I hope will happen.
I hope that I can continue designing, for one. That’s paramount. It’s what gives me the greatest joy, and I hope that my design ideas never run out. But whether I can continue with it as a job or not, you can be sure I’ll keep making things out of other things.
Right now, I’m enjoying the freedom and support that my Patreon family have given me. Each month, I gift them with a mini pattern (like a baby blanket pattern, a crochet toy, a pretty household pattern) and I record a How To video explaining a solution to a common problem, or an interesting lesser-known technique, to them. In return, I am funded by them for as little as $1 each.
It’s surprising what the extra few bob and that kind of a vote of confidence can do to your self-esteem and your bravery. I owe them a lot, and I urge anyone interested in supporting an artist on Patreon to give it a go. For me, recently, it’s been the difference between churning out any pattern I come up with in order to make ends meet, or working with love and time on particularly interesting designs.
Doing the videos is also quite a lot of fun. Despite how nervous I get before rolling, I am genuinely enjoying being in front of the camera, so who knows where that may go in the future too. Aoibhe Ni Craft Show anyone?! That’s a pipe dream, but then, so was “being a crochet designer” before I did it, so I’m not going to limit myself before I’ve fallen properly into the water and splashed around a bit!
Also, I’m very enthusiastic – now that I have a steadier influx of finances and can focus on more than the essentials – in getting Legendary Shawls published in book form. I wanted to do that for years, and I think there’s an audience out there for it, but I have not actually had the time to look into getting it printed before now. The fact that I’m actually able to toy with the idea again is another direct consequence of the support I have got from my Patreon family.
Beyond that, I plan to harvest a veritable truckload of raspberries this summer. I guess that, along with all of the above, is firmly in the laps of the gods.
Thank you so much Aoibhe for taking the time to answer all of my questions and for allowing me to share them with all of my readers. Since Aoibhe has answered these questions she has gone on to release the beautiful pattern Selkie made with Green Elephant 2 ply lace Merino. One of the reasons I admire Aoibhe so much is her constant support for Irish Independent Dyers. In an industry where collaboration helps everyone more forward, Aoibhe has worked with Hedgehog Fibers, Ellie & Ada, Dublin Dye, Coolree to name but a few. When I got to chat with Aoibhe I asked her why Green Elephant Yarn was chosen for Selkie and she said it with the design in mind it was the beautiful tones of the blue that reminded her of water and the beach in summer.
Selkie is a perfect summer shawl and project. In part I of the interview, Aoibhe told us how she worked Tunisian crochet with a lace design in mind and Selkie really does show both techniques off brilliantly. The pattern is easily memorable but it does require attention and the swirling design has a beautifully feminine finish as it sits around your shoulders. Yes, I am biased as I have been a lover of her work for about 7/8 years now since the days of the Tea Garden Craft meet ups but I’m not easily impressed and I have a mind that can be distracted easily. So, why do I keep coming back to Aoibhe’s work?
I’ll tell you a secret, I only learned how to crochet so that I could make Venus. Her tutorials and pattern support are fantastic. They are clear to follow and she is always encouraging (read she will not take I can’t do it as an excuse) and is to be found on her Ravelry boards or Patreon if you have an issue which is rare as she extensively tests all of her patterns. She also has a fabulous group of testers on Ravelry who really take the testing phase seriously but with some fun along the way. I’m not a lover of crochet but I yearn for her shawls. I see them as she dances into another workshop happily supporting another newbie group into the land of crochet with ease and laughter, her shawl usually stays in my hand for at least an hour and I show it off to as many people as I can in that time.
I really hope you enjoyed this week’s feature with Aoibhe and I hope it inspired some of you to try design or to pick up a hook and learn how to crochet. If you would like to find out more about Aoibhe, you can find her on Ravelry, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and of course Patreon. Don’t forget you can pick up Selkie discount on pre-sale at the moment and if you would like to nab 25% off the digital copy of Aoibhe’s Legendary Shawls Collection than all you have to do is subscribe and head on over to the VIC area to pick up your code.
Until Friday, thank you for reading!
*Disclaimer: All photography is under copyright of Aoibhe Ní/J. Matkin. Photography cannot be used without expressed permission.