For today’s interview, I thought we could meet Aishling Doonan of Ruby Sasha Designs. This year, Aishling won the Guild of Irish Lacemakers Prize at the RDS National Craft Show for the second year in a row. Aishling’s work is intricate, beautiful and always has a timeless elegance to it. I’m delighted that she could answer some questions for the blog and that I can introduce you to a wonderful Irish Designer.
Aishling, can you tell us when you started designing and describe your creative background?
Once I could knit, I designed my own things. I taught myself to crochet from books in the local library and I created an entire wardrobe of crochet dresses for my Sylvanian Family bunny rabbit, that I kept safe in a biscuit tin. As a child, I was a reader and a creator in equal amounts and after ploughing through all the Little House on the Prairie novels, What Katie Did and Little Women, I was obsessed with recreating what I had read. So my Sylvanian bunny had gowns, capes, bonnets and shawls. This obsession never really left me and I have always harboured a deep fascination with shawls especially.
My creative background is really just loving to create things with my own two hands. Clay, fabric, paper, it doesn’t matter, I love colour and patterns. Art was always my best subject at school and I always need to be making something. If my hands aren’t working, nothing feels right.
We know you love working with lace weight yarn and patterns. Where did your love of lace begin?
Before I got married and before the Internet took hold, I remember looking for a nice shawl pattern. There was very few about in magazines or books in the library, but my local bookshop did some research for me and ordered in Traditional Knitted Lace Shawls by Martha Waterman. I knit every single shawl in the book, but the only yarn I could get my hands on was a 4 ply cotton by Patons, and it just wasn’t hitting the right notes with me. I knew what I was looking for, I just couldn’t find it. When I finally got into the internet, after a lot of searching, I found Heirloom Knitting by Sharon Miller. I quickly bought the book and some 1 ply cobweb and tried some patterns. I will admit that it didn’t go well and I ended up with a felted ball of frustration. I set it aside for a while and after my daughter was born, I slowly crept back to it. Once I got the hang of it there was no stopping me and my first ever cobweb shawl still had pride of place here at home.
Detail of centre crown
Can you tell us about RDS National Craft Show and your recent win of the Guild of Irish Lacemakers prize?
I found out about the RDS National Crafts Competition by accident, in 2010, when I was looking for a country show where they gave out prizes for crafts. I had seen so many fellow Ravelry users in the US sporting their blue ribbons and I was curious if there was anything similar here in Ireland. By a happy coincidence the day I found the RDS Crafts Competition, was also the final day for entry. So I looked through my stash of finished objects for something that fit the criteria and decided to enter my Peerie Smoorikans Shawl. It was all done online and only took a few moments. I was delighted to find out after a few weeks that my shawl had been chosen for the exhibition that year. I have entered a shawl of my own design every year bar one since then and I have made it to the exhibition each time and have also won some prizes.
The Competition is judged in two separate categories, for the established and the emerging maker, over 10 craft categories. There are also 11 sponsored prizes and two top category winners, one for an emerging maker and the other for an established one.
The Guild of Irish Lacemakers prize is a sponsored prize separate to the RDS Category prizes, and I have been lucky to win in two years in a row.
Where did the inspiration for the Ríoga Shawl come from?
I am possibly not very traditional when it comes to inspiration. I have noticed lots of artists are inspired by nature or some other outside influence, a struggle, joy etc. When I am designing I do it instinctively, I love the geometry and simplicity of the Shetland Lace motifs and for every stitch and motif I am drawn to and use, the design seems to flow from there. If it isn’t working, I begin again and keep adding until I am happy with the overall design. Much like writing, a first draft is an unpolished jewel and I will often come back to a design after a break and change or tweak things with fresh eyes. For the Rioga Shawl I knew I wanted a beaded edging and a crown motif. I was halfway through knitting the plain mesh centre triangle when I realised how fitting it would be to have a beaded crown in the centre of it, to tie in all the elements. I am so glad I did, because I think it’s what makes Rioga so special.
Aesthetically, how do you see your designs worn with a modern wardrobe?
I think that any sock weight triangles make wonderful scarves and cover ups. They are so easy to carry and wear, in such a myriad of ways, that I think they could be integrated very simply into anyone’s wardrobe. The finer, larger Shetland shawls, also look stunning when they are worn folded around the neck. They make an eye catching alternative to a Winter scarf. Of course, you can also wear them to more formal events and being so light and beautiful, they are deceptively warm and make the perfect wedding cover up. I think everyone should own a Shetland Hap shawl as a cosy couch companion.
Can you tell us where your inspiration comes from and what are your key concepts in your designs?
I love the three separate areas of a Shetland shawl, the centre or all over, the borders and the edging. Each has their own distinct personality, there is so much scope for design. The centre can be plain or lacy and generally has a smaller repeated design.
What has been the most challenging thing you have encountered while trying to move into design?
My own confidence in my abilities. I love making and knitting up new designs, I even go as far as writing out a pattern, but then I seem to lose steam and I have moved onto the next new design. Putting designs out there for the public to enjoy is quite a daunting step and I always seem to talk myself out of it.
For the knitters out there, how would you describe your personal style?
My personal style is, let me see, very uncomplicated and unfussy. Classic pieces and clean lines, in all natural fibres. A shawl draped around the neck and shoulders is always very elegant and interesting. It’s almost like jewellery and can really lift an outfit.
How would you like to see Irish craft promoted in the media?
I would love if people could fully appreciate the time and quality of materials that go into a handmade piece and that craftspeople could get properly paid for their work. I don’t think the general public realise what they are actually paying for.
What is in the future for Ruby Sasha Knits?
I have five new shawl patterns ready for test knitting and also 2 new cowl patterns. I am busy polishing up my patterns and double checking them for errors. I have a funny feeling there may be some new fair isle patterns in my future too as the colder weather descends. I think I will always design, I just need to work on the other side to the job, the marketing and publishing.
Disclosure: All images in today’s blog post are owned and provided by Aishling Doonan
Thank you so much for answer my questions Aishling we wish you the best for future designs and projects! If you want to follow along on Aishlings’ journey you can find her on twitter here, blog here, Instagram here and Ravelry here.
Best wishes for the weekend and see you all on Monday,
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