Learning a new skill is apparently good for our mental and physical health. This is good news for me as I’m a bit of an ‘evening or weekend class’ junkie. I’m always on the lookout for something new to try and learn. In fact, a friend in Wexford will often send me information on classes local to her, with a note saying, “There’s a bed for you here,” because she knows I’m probably going to say yes.
Last year I spent a weekend with her and others, learning how to dye wool with natural materials from the gifted Terry The Weaver. I came home full of enthusiasm, bought some lovely Galway wool, collected lichens and dyed wool for a jumper. The enthusiasm didn’t last long enough to actually finish knitting the jumper - but like most crafters, I need to have at least a half dozen unfinished items at any one time.
One skill that has woven its way through my life is willow basket weaving. I was lucky enough to learn from the wonderful master craftsman Joe Hogan. I first went to Joe in 2012, when my sons gave me a gift of a course for Christmas. Despite being a bit intimidated by the others on the course who had experience, I learned so much under the expert and kind guidance of Joe. I developed a passion that has seen me return to him - and other weavers - over the years.
Another memorable time was when Ma and I went on a lace-making course in Kinsale. She was 88 at the time and was determined to learn Carrickmacross lace. Over the few days, she made a beautiful butterfly and even found time to show some of the others on the course how to make crochet lace. That was a special time with Ma, as she passed away later that year.
The process of picking the fabric and design is half the fun of making the quilt.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, I got involved with an online quilting group led by Roisin McManus. I was a complete novice, having only done basic patchwork as a teen. Back then, we covered squares or hexagons cut from empty cornflake boxes with material and then sewed them together to make a cushion cover. This quilting was a whole new process and a steep learning curve. I fell in love with the process and the camaraderie of the weekly Zoom check-ins. Several months, numerous yards of fabric and quite a few spools of thread later, I had finished a village quilt for my youngest daughter. It now adorns her bed and I’m trying a totally different pattern for my oldest daughter. The process of picking the fabric and design is half the fun of making the quilt.
I tried wet felting and - believe me - it’s wet. I enjoyed it as a once-off, but the Easter bunny I made bears no resemblance to any creature. I tried Headford lace, which is a type of bobbin lace. Again, I enjoyed it, but I don’t see any lace collars ever being part of my wardrobe. That course was organised by a community initiative established to revive Headford lace and they have some very innovative projects. One I also got involved in was growing flax to make linen. The flax grew really well, but the process of turning it into thread is quite daunting - so I decided I’d enjoy the pretty blue flowers as it grew and the flax seed in my brown bread.
Apart from learning or improving a skill the courses are also an opportunity to meet people, make new friends and learn from them as well as the tutors. There is something very therapeutic about being with others; creating something. In general, I find crafters very willing to help and share their knowledge and often their materials.
I look back at all the different courses I’ve done and - whether I succeeded in making something half decent or not - I learned a lot, have creations of various quality around my home, and have made some great friends along the way.
I hope, like my mother, I’m still enthusiastic to learn at 88.