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!
Robert hasn’t noticed that she is wearing his jumper!
They are just lovely. (Just watch her though!)
That’s an eagle eye, Beth! 🙂
Finola , A Very Handsome Jumper : When I was young we also used those terms , jumper, jersey , and pullover in Ontario but that was when we were more British and less American than now . Frank
Thanks, Frank – glad you approve! Do you say sweater now?
Loving the jumper story & I’m especially drawn to your alignment explorations. Over the years my focus has been Hidden Ireland & I’ve created a 2 hour presentation to include images of alignments from Newgrange to the Great Pyramid at Giza. I’m sure you know about this!
I’ve had to postpone my Spring in Hidden Ireland small group of May 2020 due to Corvus-19! Planning now for Spring 2021!
Stay strong & well!
Maine (& Co Meath)
We will welcome you in 2021, Ann!
The jumper looks wonderful on Robert. The flecked colours in the wool echo the colours in our countryside.
We are closed at present in Kilcock Art Gallery, giving me time to read and reread… and just finished your article in the Irish Arts
Review about the stained-glass George Walsh who has shown with the gallery of the last 42 years.. In 1979 his father George Walsh Secior had a solo exhibition. George Senior having worked with Harry Clarke. Thank you for your mention in this very interesting article..
Keep Safe, Breda Smyth, Kilcock Art Gallery
Next time we are near Kilcock (once this is all over) we will drop by. Look forward to finally meeting you in person!
Dear Finola, I love reading your recent writings and this particular one re the forests and their hidden secrets, ..social history of our land. Such devastation and bad husbandry regarding these forests. I feel sad to see these lost dwellings which are part of our past being overlooked, hidden and discarded as if they do not matter.
Thank you for all your interesting writings. I hope you and Robert are keeping safe and well. Best wishes. Breda Smyth, Kilcock Art Gallery
Yes, it’s all a bit distressing – the forestry, the lost heritage. There must be a better way.
That’s a beautiful jumper and I love the colours! What a lovely present.
Thanks, Jo. Robert is definitely a colour man.
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How gorgeous is that! Robert is now officially a walking work of art! What a treat.
But wasn’t he always? 🙂
Since Beibhin Martin stopped making lovely jumpers near Baltimore, Ive been looking out for something like this – Im very envious!
Yes, Beibhin’s jumpers have been a sad loss.
A really lovely sweater (or jumper) made more gorgeous by Robert’s happiness, the Donegal tweed (I enjoyed the link to that because I love the yarn and have made garments from it), the design, the thoughtfulness of the donor, the back ground and the scenery and because it Easter Sunday and we should have some joy today despite all the dystopian chaos in the world.
We used to buy Donegal socks as well as Bebhinn Marten sweaters from Skibbereen to sell in a wool shop here and it was always such a pleasure to chat with the sock sellers, and with Robert (another Robert!) about this and that and to then unpack them all and listen to the delighted comments of shoppers.
Hi Ginny – thanks for the comments. I also love those Donegal socks!
I’m very envious! Looks like a beautiful heirloom. What a wonderful gift!
An heirloom – Robert would say an hare-loom.
All the same, Robert’s not a bad model for the jumper!
Easy on the eye!
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