Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Aran Islands - Part Two: Yarn shopping ! (yoho!)

It might come to a surprise for a lot of foreigner who admire and are willing to pay a few hundred bucks on an Aran Sweater that Aran Island has no sheep. Yes, you heard me, I repeat, there is NO SHEEP on Aran Island, right.

So your dream of getting yarn spun by the sheep living peaceful on this paradise of an island won't come true.

However, I have done two remarkable purchases on the island itself though.

There are quite a few craft stores on the island that indeed sell Aran Sweaters. The big one that is right off the ferry port: Aran Sweater Market

But you gotta watch out this one though. After investigation, not all the sweaters are handmade in this store. Only one corner of sweaters that marked 'Handknit' are indeed handknit. BUT they are not knitted by the Aran natives, they are products from Dublin, Calamara, etc. FYI, there is no such a thing as Clan sweater, it is a total marketing thing confirmed by the natives. If you are happy with the pattern, go for it, but don't buy it because it is supposed to be your 'clan sweater'.

I was disappointed, but I told myself, 'never mind, I might as well get yarn since they are cheaper than in Dublin anyway'. So I got some yarn from Kerry Woollen Mills. (sorry for the cat, just can't get rid of him during the photo shoot, but then again, this blog is called Yarn Cat, so...)

Though the yarn is not from Aran Island itself, it is from one of the few working woollen mills in Ireland, I told myself I might as well get them. 200g for 8,95 Euros, not bad. I got four balls to try to make a warm comfy sweater one day, I wanted to start right after the trip but then the weather started to get warm, it might not be very wise to work on a worsted weight project. So it goes to my stash right now and waits quietly for fall to come again. I got a ball of each other colours as well, to make hats, socks, etc, coz the yarn just seems so comfy that I am sure it will make some cozy items for winter.

So I told myself, that's it for yarn shopping. Then to my surprise, there are a few little craft shops in stone houses just before the entrance to the Dun Aonghusa cliff fort. I didn't hope for much but then I found a gem! An Tuirne is the one of the most authentic aran sweater stores in the island. There is not fancy lighting deco, no plasma TV, just a lady -- Rosemary O'flaherty, sitting behind the cash register, knitted away peaceful and occasional looked up to say hi to the tourists. Yoho! 'There are real handknit sweaters?' I asked, 'yes, they are knitted by me, my mum, my aunt and 10 to 15 other knitters on the island'. Guys, seriously, please check her store out if you ever go to the island or if you really want to get a real handknit sweater (then again, I believe if you are reading my blog, you are knitting yourself and can probably make one by yourself), please order it from her. She is a very nice lady and there aren't much publicity about her store. I believe the truth is it is a very small humble business and they can't spend too much money to make a cool looking website with cool models posing and stuff, that's why. Think about it, if you have to knit the whole store full of sweaters, how can you have time for all that?! The sweaters are sold for 110 American bucks, how can you hire those cool looking models? Check out her website, the lady that is posing for the sweater is Rosemary.

Since I won't buy anything that can possibly be made by myself - my new policy of 2008. I got yarn! She is very honest to tell me that the yarn is not from the island since there is no sheep, but it is from a farm in Calamara and spun there. Fair enough, so I got these...

No kidding, 250g for 8.5 Euros only! You can see on the sticker! Shall make a sweater or two out of it. Oh geez, I got this from Rosemary too!

The bag from her store with all the Aran Stitches, it becomes the new home of my WIPs. People on the train just stare at me and my bag every morning on my way to work...

The next day, early in the morning, we took the ferry back to Galway. This trip have confirmed me again how little one might need to live a happy life. Sure there aren't much job opportunities on the island, but if you are lucky enough to be able to work from home, you could very possibly be living on an island like that and live a happier life than in the city. There aren't much on the island, only one convenient store, one bank, one police station, two post office, one doctor, a handful of restaurants and pubs, shitty weather half of the time. But you got the whole island of nice and friendly villagers with whom you all know each other, fresh vegetables from the land, and every day when you wake up in the morning, you get to see the open Atlantic sea, where there is nothing between the sky and the sea but you and the island...


alicia said...

nice cat, nice yarn!!!i look forward to see your creative work :)

Mairead Sharry said...

Hi, there are sheep on Inis Oirr, the smallest of the three Aran Islands. I card, dye and spin the wool from the sheep and then knit and weave it into wonderful caps and scarves and wall hangings as well as sweaters.
I hope you visit when next in Ireland.
Mairéad Sharry

Mairead Sharry said...

In the meantime you might like to see my blog

staplerc said...

I am very interested in visiting Inis Oirr and would like to learn how to spin wool. I have not been able to connect to the blogspot of Mairead Sharry, but would appreciate any information on Inis Oirr and spinning wool.

Mamalou said...

Hi Staplerc, blogging ate into my craft time...if you email me we can talk.
Mairead Sharry

Shepherd Dionys said...

I think you mean 'Connemara' when you're saying 'Calamara' as to a region/area that the wool comes from. This would be the region on the mainland NW (and West) of the Aran Islands. It is where you will find the best wool, to be sure.

I will second the importance of shopping at An Tuirne. It has the most beautiful handknit Aran sweaters you will find in all of Ireland and they are, every one of them, handknit ON the Arans with a good deal of the money staying on the Islands.

jackie.kennedy said...

I recently bought a cardigan and hat for my 4 year old daughter and when I brought it home and tried it on her she said that it was scratchy, and indeed it was 80% wool 20% alpaca it was totally unwearable. I was so dissapointed that I soaked it in Fabric conditioner so see if it made a difference, but no. I go no comeback from the Aran Sweater shop and am left with a lovely cardigan and hat that is akin to wearing a sack for comfort.

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Kristin said...

I found your note about finding unscoured Aran wool yarn, and hope you might help me. I have stored about 20 balls of such authentic natural-colored yarn for years. Finally I decided to make a sweater, and can already see that I am going to run out! Do you suppose I could order some yarn that might match (maybe for the sleeves where it would be okay if there is a little difference) from these women? I hope you might respond, because I absolutely love this yarn and would like a complete sweater when I'm done.
Kristin in Alaska

Yarn Cat said...

Hi Kristin,
I think you have to call the woman to order it directly from her.
I heard from people that she does send out yarn overseas if you contact her directly. She doesn't do email I think since as you know they have very limited technology on that island...Hope that helps, and if you need further help, give me a shout.


Eliana Cooper said...

Beautiful yarn very good collection of colors.
Aran Sweater