We are absolutely thrilled to have the amazingly talented Irish designer Aoibhe Ni be our guest tutor and speaker at unravel 2018. Aoibhe is teaching a class, speaking on ‘inspiration and where to find it’ in our talk programme and is also the very special guest on the Pom Pom pomcast! We spoke to Aoibhe to find out more about her background, journey as a designer and her must haves for her own creativity…
Where are you based and can you tell us a bit about how your location and heritage influences your work as a designer?
I’m based in Co. Meath, on the East Coast of Ireland.
Meath is a gorgeous county full of rolling farmland, meandering rivers, little villages (including the one where the Book of Kells was originally held) and thousands of years of visible habitation in the form of neolithic tombs, iron age ring forts, the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, countless Norman castles and fortifications, great houses and literally too many burial mounds to count.
I’d be lying if I said the pride I feel daily for my corner of this lovely island didn’t come through in my work. I’ve found inspiration for De Danann, Nuada and Selkie in the patterns worked into the neolithic stones around NewGrange, and for Macha in the precise knotwork illuminating the Book of Kells.
But mostly, I find myself channelling the nebulous independent streak common across all flavours of Irish creativity. That “ah, I know that’s how I’m meant to do it, but I’m doing it this way instead,” thing we all seem to have a share in over here. It’s what I call the “sure… it’ll be grand” gene.
When and how did your passion for Tunisian Crochet begin?
Like many of life’s wonderful events, it was purely accidental.
I had seen “linked” stitches in a pattern book some years before, and thought “Hm, that’s an interesting way to avoid gaps in taller stitches…”, so I filed it away in my head as a potential thing to play with some day, and processed to give it no more notice.
Then, about ten years ago, a knitting friend got so sick of me lamenting my inability to make crochet lace shawls as beautiful as the ones she regularly produced with knitting, that she sat me down and insisted she teach me how to knit lace.
Now, I knew the basics of knitting already, so her patient tuition wasn’t complete double dutch to me, but as my head was far more familiar with crochet, her explanations sort of transformed like magic, from knitting into crochet in my brain. All the yarn overs and decreases in her lace knitting became the basis for my Tunisian lace shawls.
Soon after, I had a real-life Eureka! moment, and my Dublin Bay shawl was born. And really, as you can see from my designwork since, I haven’t exhausted the possibilities in this wonderful technique yet!
Thank you! I’m very glad you like my designs.
My approach to designing is certainly an undisciplined one, and it’s not exactly a method I’d recommend.
Honestly, how I start a project is probably the least understood part of the process to me, and in fact, it’s going to be the subject of the talk I’ll be giving at unravel2018, too.
For a long, long time I was simply unable to understand from whence my ideas sprang, but over the years it has become a little clearer to me that shapes, how they fit together, and mathematical compromise appear to be at the very centre of it. For me, it’s the “feel” of the maths, the ebb and flow of stitch numbers that brings me the greatest satisfaction when designing.
I work on the basis of ensuring my rows have enough stitches ot keep my piece on a flat plane, and everything after that is up to the way the stitches dance around each other. It’s all very fluid, organic, and in intuitive for me.
But, I’ll tell you more about that at the festival! 😉
What is your proudest career achievement to date?
Big career achievements don’t mean as much to me as all the little ones, admittedly. I mean, it’s wonderful knowing I have three ebook of shawl patterns, collected together on ravelry, and getting to contribute to books, magazines, and teach as well-known festivals like unravel are all up there as career highlights, but there are so many little things I am so, so proud of, and even more memories that give me great joy.
Like, the first time someone showed me the shawl they had made with my pattern, in person. Wow!
The first time a stranger recognised me in my LYS. I think I was more excited to meet her than she was to meet me, frankly.
Knowing that someone had decided to use one of my shawl patterns as her wedding veil! She used Honeymeade, and her wedding photo is on the pattern’s Ravelry page. I was so proud to be a part of her big day.
I think it’s fair to say I’m most proud of the fact that people are willing to use their time, skills and yarn to make the things that come out of my head. That feels like real magic to me.
Do you have any ambitions or plans for the future you could share with us?
I’d love to do a print book of shawls. Maybe that dream will come true in the next year or two, we’ll have to see. As a former graphic- and print designer, there is something so very satisfying about seeing your work in tangible form, print and bound. It feels like you’ve planted your flag; that’s something I would get great satisfaction out of.
Beyond that, I intend to keep working, keep designing, and keep teaching my techniques to anyone who’ll listen!
We are very excited to have you teaching your class, Pax for Beginners, at unravel 2018. Can you tell us a bit more about what participants should expect from the workshop?
Pax for Beginners is such a wonderful class to teach, and covers all the basic techniques used in my patterns. By the end, the aim is that my students will feel confident in their shiny new abilities that they’ll be able to dive into almost any of my shawl patterns, or maybe even start designing their own.
All students will get comprehensive notes, packed with clear, colour photos and explanations, and that coupled with a copy of Pax itself means they’ll have everything they’ll need to start on their own lace adventure that very day!
Tunisian Lace is a lot easier than the finished pieces make it look, so my students will be baffling and impressing their crafting friends in no time at all!
Have you taught at a yarn show before and what do you like most about teaching?
I’ve been lucky enough to teach classes on my techniques in London, Cambridge, Lincoln, Yorkshire and Buckinghamshire in the past as part of both festivals and my own teaching tours, as well, of course, as regular classes and workshops in Dublin, too. The only thing I love more than making crochet, is making crocheters!
So, teaching a class, and showing a group of creative, inspiring people what I do, and why I love it so much, is… well, it’s the most fun I can have, really.
It’s always inspiring to watch people master a new skill, and to see them come up with their own versions of it along the way, too.
Our crafts are ever-evolving, and for so young a craft as crochet, there’s no telling who will come up with a new angle, or a new solution to an old problem, or a new take on an old technique.
When I teach a class, I don’t see a bunch of people who don’t know what they’re doing yet; I see a group of potential innovators, future designers and creative geniuses just waiting for their very own spark of inspiration.
Have you any tips for visitors to a yarn show, and what are you most looking forward to at unravel 2018?
Oh, bring a big shopping bag, folks. Or several bags. In fact, bring a bag full of other bags. You’re going to need them! Going to a yarn show, especially one with such a marvellous array of exhibitors, is like stepping into a sweet shop where everything on offer is good for you! Indulge a little, or a lot. You and I both know you deserve it.
In addition, be bold! Ask questions. If you see a stranger working on a pattern that takes your fancy, or someone using a technique you’re unfamiliar with… ask them what it is! I can guarantee (unless they’re counting stitches at that exact moment!) they’ll be happy to chat. Yarn festivals are about making connections, making friends, and learning things you didn’t even know existed five minutes prior.
As for me? I’m a looking forward to meeting my students the most. But I’m also excited to roam the stalls, and see what yarns and accessories are on display that I don’t have access to back home in Ireland. You have such a wonderful tradition of indie creativity in the UK. I intend to take full advantage of that while I’m there. I may just have to bring a big shopping bag of my own!
If you had to name three things which you couldn’t live without (creatively!) what would they be?
Oh, I like this. It’s kind of the Desert Island Discs for the yarn world.
So, firstly, I’d be lost without my trusty set of KnitPro Symphonie hooks. They’re made of beechwood, and I’ve designed every single one of my shawls using them. The reason I love them so much is that, being wooden, I have been able to modify the hook heads with an emery board, to suit my exact crochet motions. They are now, after a decade, filed and pared and buffed to perfection.
That may seem silly, but having television on in the background is helpful for me. It keeps the most conscious part of my brain busy and entertained while I’m working on long stretches of plain crochet, or trying to feel my way to the best lace pattern for a particular yarn.
It’s soothing, comforting, and most importantly for me as a diabetic, blessedly sugar free.
Boiling the kettle, and going through the ritual of scalding the pot, finding just the right tea cozy, rooting around for my favourite cup (it’s got Star Trek’s Mr. Spock on it), waiting for the tea to brew, and pouring myself the perfect cup is a great excuse to take a break when I fall down a mathematical rabbit hole.
I’ve found many solutions to design problems at the bottom of a teacup.
Hear Aoibhe’s talk ‘Inspiration & where to find it’ in the Long Kiln Gallery on Saturday 17 Feb and as a pomcast guest with Pom Pom Quarterly magazine on Sunday 18 Feb. Talks are free to attend with a day ticket. Arrive early to guarantee your seat! For the full programme click here.