The Yes Woman: Sewing a cushion takes me out of my Dublin comfort zone

My jaded relationship with the city is reinvigorated at Elks of Ireland

Lucy Clarke with Jojo O’Connor (6), who is wearing Elks of Ireland clothing. Photograph: Eric Luke

Lucy Clarke with Jojo O’Connor (6), who is wearing Elks of Ireland clothing. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

A year of saying yes to new experiences has had one consequence I didn’t anticipate. It has reignited a romance with Dublin that I hadn’t felt since first moving here almost nine years ago.

Our relationship had become jaded, the city predictable. I tied myself into a pattern of visiting the same places, taking the same routes, and generally ensuring that Dublin delivered only what I expected.

It takes an aimless wander to happen upon some of the city’s hidden delights, and I had neglected to schedule in enough aimless wanders.

It all became clear this week, when I bemoaned to friends and colleagues that I had never pursued my interest in sewing.

I’ve always wanted to make something useful. The intersection between creativity, precision – at which I’m abysmal – and utility that goes into making a garment is fascinating.

You see it particularly in children’s clothing. A tiny cardigan. A hat too small even to fit on a teapot. Nothing could be a greater declaration of love and protective instinct than to make a garment for a child: I love you, and I’ll keep you warm. That is essentially what someone is saying when they take the time to fashion something tiny in the certain knowledge that in a year it won’t fit any more.

 

Native material

My moaning was silenced by a colleague, who directed me to Lucy Clarke, founder of Elks of Ireland. Clarke designs children’s clothes, handmade in Ireland using native materials. I was put further in my place to discover that her studio is in Rathmines, minutes from where I lived for years. I thought I knew all the nooks of that neighbourhood, but it seems not.

This is what Dublin does. It is as though your partner of 30 years comes home from work with a little surprise for you that says, “We’ve been together a while, but there’s more to know about me. We’ll never be bored together.”

 

Pleasantly tactile

Clarke’s studio is tucked away in a residential neighbourhood, and the moment I walk in, I feel comfortable. There is a sense of organised chaos, and the feel of walking into another time.

There are swatches of tweeds and linens, and some tiny but intricate garments hanging from rails. Although I love the mossy, landscape-inspired demeanour of tweed, I wouldn’t have associated it with children. When I touch the fabrics, however, I’m surprised to find them very pleasantly tactile.

I’m most taken with a beautiful linen that is designed to look like a tweed. From a distance, it has the green hue you’ll see when staring into the sea from a pier on a cloudy day. Up close, it is a tapestry of duck-egg blue and taupe. It reminds me of gawking into hedgerows as a child, trying to spot birds and other treasures.

Clarke suggests I use some of the fabric to make a cushion cover, and directs me to her sewing machine. “But I have absolutely no knowledge or skill,” I say, recalling that moment at school when the teacher had sent me up to the board to (fail to) work out a percentage in front of everyone.

“Of course you can. I’ll help you.”

I am briefly reassured, but the fear comes back when Clarke tells me the linen I like so much comes from an innovative Irish company called Emblem Weavers, and that there are only two bolts of the fabric in all the world.

I touch it reverently, suddenly understanding her love of these fabrics. They are special; in their mottled patterns is a narrative that goes back centuries.

It takes two hours, but with much patience, Clarke helps me to produce a cushion. Only one of them exists, and it lives on my couch. elks.ie 

  • The Yes Woman says yes to . . . getting creative and no to . . . getting stuck
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