This month we had the pleasure to get to know Máirín a bit more! She’s the designer behind this month’s Inishere Wrap!
This is Máirín’s first time in Knotions (and spoiler alert – very much not her last).
Tell us a bit more about yourself. Where do you live? Who do you live with? How did you end up there? Where are you from originally?
I’m Máirín Ní Dhonncha, from the smallest of the Aran Islands (Inis Oírr/Inishere); I now live in Galway city with my husband, three children, a rescue dog and a rescue cat.
I used to work in the film industry (as a script supervisor), but when my children came along it was too difficult to combine film hours with children! I started a little online shop to sell my knits (www.aranaccessories.net) and gradually started designing patterns.
Given that a lot of Knotions readers aren’t from your neck of the woods, can you tell us how to pronounce your name?
My name is the Irish spelling of Maureen, and is pronounced the same way. A lot of Irish names have a “-ín” at the end. It means ‘little’ so Máirín means ‘little Máire’ or ‘little Mary’. My mother’s mother was Máire, so the name is a link to her.
When I was small there was a tradition to carry on family names, so two of my brothers were named after my grandfathers, and one of my sisters was named after my other grandmother. I’m from a large family of 8 children though, so not all have family names!
Who taught you to knit?
The girls were taught to knit (and sew) in my school from the age of 7 or so, but my mother started teaching me just before I started learning it in school.
The first thing I made was a little hairband, and the second was a teddy bear.
I actually still use that teddy design when I’m teaching children to knit.
Why do you like to design?
That’s a tough question! Before I started designing things myself, I used to modify patterns to get the result I wanted.
I started a little Etsy shop where I was selling knitted hats and other accessories, and I really wanted to sell mostly original designs, not just knits I had made from others’ patterns.
I was also lucky in that one of my early patterns (the Simple Cable Beanie) became quite popular through Pinterest. It was a good confidence-booster that this pattern, which I had nearly not bothered to write up at all because I thought it was so simple, was liked by many knitters. It still is one of my biggest sellers, and it’s so rewarding to see people post photos of their own versions, and to read nice comments about their experience of knitting it.
Do you design full-time or part-time?
I design part-time, but as my children are getting older, I have more time to devote to designing.
What are your favorite things:
I love greys, blues, greens and orange! I’m a big fan of the colours found in nature around me; the many shades of the sea and limestone rocks of my island home are close to my heart. (I guess the orange comes from the lichen found on the rocks!)
I love Aran weight yarn (heavy worsted). Now I love having projects with different yarn weights after each other.
I love natural fibres, particularly animal fibres. I think that wool in particular is such an amazing fibre; it’s biodegradable, renewable, harvested to benefit the sheep, warm, water-resistant…it’s been seriously undervalued over the last few decades, but I think it’s being appreciated more and more in recent years.
On a side note, the Irish television station, RTE, recently released some archive footage, which shows my school in 1984 (I’m in the footage! https://www.rte.ie/archives/2017/1212/926824-santa-visits-inis-oirr/) and nearly all the children were wearing handknitted wool jumpers. Our school, and our homes, rarely had central heating then, and our woolly jumpers kept us nice and warm!
Types of objects (e.g., shawls, hats, etc.)
I love designing hats, because they are nice and quick to work up, and to see if an idea is a good one or not! I would quite like to design a jumper/sweater at some stage.
I love shawls too, because they are so versatile. Sizing is usually not an issue, and you have a nice flat surface to work on (without having to worry about the 3D nature of knitted garments).
I know you love designing cabled items. Are there other things too? Or, is everything that you design include cables?
I do love cables; I think that they are such an important element of Irish knitting in general, and Aran knitting in particular. Cables were just part and parcel of our learning to knit, and not viewed as anything difficult.
I have designed a few items for a UK publication, Your Crochet & Knitting, which don’t feature cables at all. It’s a magazine that comes with 8 different colours of fingering weight yarn and the knitting needles you need with each issue. I love the challenge that comes from creating designs with a small yardage of different colours, and just one set of needles.
Do you have a design that you think people should give a little love?
Well, I’m fond of all my designs, so it would be hard to pick out a favourite! I’m particularly pleased with a design which will be in an upcoming issue of Knotions, because I had it in my head for so long, and it actually turned out even better in reality than I had hoped. (That’s the Ogham scarf, which will be in the February issue).
I quite like the unpredictability of which designs will resonate with people; some designs I know are not going to be big sellers, but they are ones I still really want to release (like the Aran Shopper Bag). With those, I design to satisfy myself, and if even one person buys it, it’s worth it to me.
Having said all that though, I love the Andes Beanie; I think it’s such a great, fast knit that looks so much harder to make than it actually is. Only one skein of chunky yarn is required, and it’s easy to finish in one or two evenings.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I get a lot of inspiration from the Aran Islands, and elements of its history and tradition. I love taking elements of traditional design, and paring them down to one or two elements, so they can really shine on their own.
Galway, the city where I live, was recently the European Capital of Culture; and they had a wonderful exhibition in Galway City Museum about the monuments of the Aran Islands. It was certainly inspirational in terms of using history. The exhibition has now finished, but there is a video here which captures some moments from the Islands which people might like to have a look at!
Can you tell us about your process when you design? I’m curious about your inspiration and how you bring that to life.
Often I have an idea in my head which I might let percolate for a while (and hope no-one else releases something just like it!) Then I might work up a swatch to see if it looks good in reality (which sometimes it doesn’t).
If it’s a hat design, I usually design it on the needles, and write down what I’m doing for each row. Then I knit it again from my typed notes, and try and see if I can improve it in any way e.g. work the decreases in a more pleasing way.
What made you choose to submit to Knotions (three times now!)?
One thing that made Knotions very attractive to me is that Knotions takes care of the photography. I quite like photography myself, but it’s hard to get people to give their time to be models – and to plan a day where the weather and background are also co-operating!
I also felt that Jody, the editor, could visualise my designs in the same way that I did; and see the potential in my little swatches!
What does a typical Máirín-day entail?
First off, it’s time to get the children up for school, and then I walk the dog. He’s quite active, so that takes about an hour, but is an enjoyable time to get fresh Atlantic air and exercise! Then I do some household chores, or grocery shopping, and usually have a little time before lunch to do some knitting-related work. This might be based on the computer, typing up or uploading new patterns, or photographing new designs on my trusty phone!
After lunch, it’s time to collect my youngest from school, (fitting in another mini-dog walk on the way!). I help him with homework, and usually have time to do some more knitting-related work in the afternoon. Sometimes I do sample knitting for other designers, which I have found has really helped my own knitting, in terms of trying out new techniques or cast-ons. After dinner, and general tidying up, I love reading for a while, then watching television while knitting.
Other than knitting and designing, do you have any other creative endeavors?
There are lots of creative bits and pieces that are necessary to be a designer, I think, like taking nice photographs for your social media, or writing blog posts. They usually take up my creative energy nowadays.
Before I started designing, I used to use www.hitrecord.org as a creative outlet; it’s a wonderful way to spark creativity.
Do you have a stash?
I have a big stash. I always think that I will use it up eventually, like the sample hat I made recently for my new design, the Beirt Beanie . When I was filling in the details on my Ravelry page, I realised that I had originally bought that yarn back in 2010! (It was leftover after I finished a children’s jumper).
I love a good bargain, though, so I find it really hard to resist buying at sales. I have some special one-off skeins too from yarn festivals; these are usually waiting for just the right project, but will eventually be used when that comes along!
from Knotions: Thanks for giving us a peek into your life and your process! I love learning more about the people in Knotions.