No, that’s not the answer to the old chestnut about what you get when you cross a sheep and a kangaroo – it’s what I got Robert for his birthday this year. But this was no ordinary, off-the-peg, item of clothing but a piece of ethical, made to order, cherish for life, knitwear, hand-crafted in Ireland. That’s a quote from the maker.
First of all, for our non-Irish or non-British readers, a jumper is what you see on Robert in the header photo. It might, over here, also be called a jersey, a pullover, or even (in the depths of the country) a gansey. It’s hardly ever called a sweater.
Secondly, this is a Liadain Aiken design. Liadain isn’t a common name even in Ireland. She was believed to be a 7th century poet (see this article) and the name may mean ‘Grey Lady’. For the correct pronunciation click here.
Liadain and Robert in the nerve-centre of her operations – just outside Ballydehob
I discovered Liadain Aiken through a piece about her knitwear in the Irish Times. I was entranced by the images of colourful scarves, hats and jumpers and noted that the piece said she was in the process of moving to Ballydehob. I got in touch and asked if we could come and choose something for Robert.
That’s how Robert and I found ourselves driving up into the hills behind Ballybane last month, on his birthday, not quite sure what we were going to find. We knew Liadain Aiken Knitwear by some standards fitted the definition of ‘cottage industry’ so perhaps at the back of our minds we couldn’t get rid of that famous image of Peig Sayers knitting by her fireside.
An Muircheartach’s iconic photograph of Peig Sayers, one of the many Blasket Island story-tellers
But what we found was far from Peig – this is modern cottage industry, one that harnesses the power of the internet for distributed manufacturing and online marketing and sales. Liadain is charming, and strikingly attired in her own knitwear, but she is no amateur. With a degree in interior design and further qualifications from the Grafton Academy in Dublin and Knit-1 Studio in Brighton, she is the director and designer for her own team of knitters, many of whom work from home. On her website she says, ‘I strive to create lively and joyful garments that will be cherished for years.’ This kind of statement is music to Robert’s ears.
Although the jumper was a gift from me, Robert got to choose the colours and what followed was a fitting and selection session as it turned out that what really appealed to him was to incorporate as many different colours as possible into the one jumper. (I think he might have a Pied Piper complex but don’t tell him I told you that.) He started off with the selection above and ended up with the one below.
In the process Liadain explained her working methods to us and showed us how a jumper such as this, in multiple colours, is knitted and assembled. She made it look easy but it was obvious that this is a highly-skilled and complex process.
The jumper arrived this week, in the midst of our Coronavirus lockdown, and Robert loves it! I strongly suspect he would sleep in it if he could. You will see it, I predict, in many future posts.
It’s made from pure merino wool from Donegal Yarns – take a look at their website to see the pride they take in producing these beautiful flecked yarns. Of course, a made-to-order product like this is more expensive than an off-the-rack purchase, but both of us loved the process of buying it and see it as a long-term investment piece. As they say here in Ireland, it will ‘see him out.’
Liadain is currently catching up on back-orders and designing new products so it’s not possible to order in her shop at the moment. But if you’d like more information, sign up for her newsletter or get in touch with her. If you’re on Instagram or Facebook, follow her there.
Thank you, Liadain – this is a great jumper and a very happy customer!