Aine is keeping it knit

Aine Clarke of Hansel and Gretel, Pump Street, with Culture Quilt. (2501PG45)
Aine Clarke of Hansel and Gretel, Pump Street, with Culture Quilt. (2501PG45)

What have a Derry traffic warden, an eight year-old boy and a woman from Warwickshire got in common?

No, this is not a preamble to some horrendously unfunny joke but instead a small snapshot of people who have contributed to the City of Culture Quilt currently being crafted in Hansel and Gretel Knits in number nine Pump Street.

The Culture Quilt at Hansel and Gretel, Pump Street. (2501PG46)

The Culture Quilt at Hansel and Gretel, Pump Street. (2501PG46)

The project is funded by the Culture Company and is being managed by Hansel and Gretel owner Aine Clarke.

It’s hoped that as many people as possible will get involved in the project by contributing their own knitted or crocheted square. Aine has already had interest from as far away as San Francisco and Australia and she hopes that the finished product will measure 40ft by 20ft.

“I visited Galway and London recently and saw pieces of crochet and knitted art. It was really visual and pleasing and I thought it would be a great idea to do something similar in Derry.

“It was then that I heard about the City of Culture’s individual artists award. I think thousands applied but only 45 were successful; I was one of the lucky ones. I have to thank the Culture Company for giving me this opportunity; I am quite excited.”

Aine has been in business for ten years and when she’s not busy working away in her little shop she’s teaching people from all over the city how to crochet and knit.

“My mother, Mary, used to knit and sew when I was a young girl so I got the bug from her. She’s a retired teacher now but she helps me out in the shop - I would be lost without her,” said Aine.

In the middle of the interview, a postman with a bundle of letters under his arm enters the shop and hands Aine her mail. Aine opens one of the letters and a knitted square falls out of the envelope. Inside the envelope is a note from a woman in Warwickshire.

“You couldn’t make it up,” says Aine.

“This woman from Warwickshire contacted me via Facebook - this is her knitted square - I’ll attach it to the Culture Quilt with a few other squares later on,” she smiled.

The Culture Quilt is the project’s centre piece but its aim is to teach as many people as possible how to knit and crochet.

“The whole ethos of the project is to encourage as many people as possible from the city to try out knitting and crocheting.

“I tell people to try and knit or crochet a square of about 20cm by 20cm. It’s totally up to the individual what colours they want to use and if they come to the shop here in Pump Street I will provide them with all the wool. I have had people from America and Australia with connections to Derry contact me to ask if they send a square back home, would it be ok if a friend or relative comes up to the shop and sews it on to the quilt? I can’t get over the response.

She added: “In the last three weeks I started a group of 70 girls in St. Cecilia’s College and I am teaching them how to crochet. I have also been teaching in the Waterside Hospital, the Girl Guides, several primary schools and even a few homes; I haven’t stopped.”

Aine keeps everyone up to date with the development of the quilt on Facebook. In the last few weeks she’s convinced her eight-year old son Oliver, local traffic wardens and even postal workers to give knitting a go and to prove they’ve contributed, she posts photographs online.

“There’s been a lot of interest online and everyone is always waiting to see what photograph I am going to put up next.

“The project has only been going for the last three weeks and it’s been amazing. We have already got Girl Guides involved, the Women’s Union and North West Regional College and St. Mary’s College want to get involved after Easter.”

Aine said that one of the reasons she initiated the project was because she was saddened at the downward trend of girls learning how to knit or crochet.

“I couldn’t believe that some of the schools in Derry didn’t teach crocheting or knitting. I’ve been doing this for quite a while, crocheting and knitting have been proven to help people with depression and anxiety; there are so many benefits to it.”

Craft Month takes place in Derry during August this year and that’s when Aine hopes to be able to unveil the finished quilt.

“If it’s big enough maybe we could hang the quilt from the walls of Ebrington Square but these are ideas that I want people to come up with themselves.”

If you would be interested in contributing to the City of Culture Quilt, contact Aine Clarke on 02871 261 360 or visit the Hansel-Gretel Facebook page. City of Culture Quilt workshops take place at Hansel and Gretel in Pump Street, every Tuesday at 12.30pm.