Cork women share their passion for their crafts

Cork Craft Months runs all this month, and COLETTE SHERIDAN talks to three of the exhibitors this year about their life and work, and their love for their craft
Cork women share their passion for their crafts

Orla McCarthy, one of the exhibitors for Cork Craft Month, running throughout iAugust.

CORK Craft Month, co-ordinated by Cork Craft & Design, takes place throughout August.

Showcasing the best of contemporary Irish craft, more than 50 workshops, artist talks, markets and demonstrations, it will take place across Cork city and county.

You can view everything from a crochet flower demonstration in the People’s Parklet on Douglas Street, to enjoying an evening of vinyl, crafting and spoken word at the Roundy Bar on Castle Street.

Orla McCarthy, of Loombeam, one of the crafts people showing her wares, completed a degree in textile and surface design at the National College of Art and Design in 2014. She won the Society of Dyers and Colourists International Design competition in 2014.

Orla makes wall hangings using punch needle embroidery and weaving techniques. She set up Loombeam during the pandemic when she was laid off from her job as manager of the Oxfam shop on Cooke Street in Cork.

It’s very much a sideline as her day job is full-time. Orla admits she is in a dilemma, trying to decide whether she should give more time to her craftwork or keep it as a part-time activity. She enjoys making the wall hangings.

“Punch needling is like embroidery but it’s a bit cruder,” she said. 

“It’s done with wool, sometimes called needle hooking. You punch through a hessian-type fabric. You can draw onto the fabric and punch the colour into the drawing.

“I can create the designs myself. The woven hangings I make are more labour intensive. I use a little loom. Row by row, I weave and create a wall hanging.”

Orla’s creations often use typography. “I use a lot of Irish and Cork sayings such as ‘notions’, ‘I will yeah’, and ‘out, out’ which sold well at the end of lockdown restrictions.”

Over the years, Orla did a number of internships including one at Dunnes head office where she worked with the Paul Costello brand. She did an internship at a company in London that does commercial prints.

Orla also did an internship with Emblem Weave in Wexford, one of the last weaving mills in Ireland. “I helped them design a collection that we brought to Premier Vision in Paris, which is a trade show.”

However, Orla didn’t manage to secure a full-time job using her skills.

“Then I fell in love, got pregnant and that was the end of all of that.” 

Now, having renewed her passion for her craft, she says being in Cork is limiting. With a five-year-old son, she is not in a position to move to London to pursue her interest. 

“The scope for working in textiles in Ireland is limited,” said Orla.

During Craft Month, she will be showing both her wall hangings and the punch needle pieces. She will be doing workshops in punch needling and weaving at ‘Vinyl and Crafting’ on August 16 from 7pm-9pm at the Roundy.

Hannah McGrenera, of Saw Framed Jewellery, is originally from Taiwan and moved to Derry initially with her stepfather and Taiwanese mother. But because of the troubles, they moved south. Hannah was 15 when she settled in Cork.

A graduate of the Crawford College of Art and Design, she used to specialise in large welded pieces as well as doing ink drawings.

“I have a very steady hand, which I got from my grandfather who taught me calligraphy,” said Hannah. 

“It’s free hand. You have to keep your arm raised and keep your hand steady. I loved it but I haven’t done it in ten years.”

With an interest in fashion, Hannah worked in fashion retail for 15 years. She got into visual merchandising, which involves window displays and shop layout.

During the recession, she moved to Dublin and became a product developer in ladies’ accessories and moved to the buying office of Dunnes. Five years ago, she and her Cork-born husband returned to Cork. Hannah is now a carer. 

“I have a child, Mila, with a disability. She is 20 months. We also have a son, Nicholas, who is six.”

Hannah admits that combining her jewellery business (inspired by wanting to create unique pieces that are not mass-produced) with being a carer is very hard. 

“Mila was in hospital for a year. I didn’t work during that time. We’re getting help now from a nurse from the Jack & Jill Foundation. It gives me time away from caring. It’s like my own therapy time which I do in my studio at home.”

Hannah lives in Béal na Bláth where she creates her unisex contemporary jewellery. 

“I do very funky designs, things like a miniature cheese grater. It’s an object that can be worn around the neck. The objects I make are like mini sculptures. I also have a spinning globe that can also be worn around neck on a necklace and I have a little gift box made with a bow on it.”

Other unique jewellery objects that Hannah makes include a miniature crochet hook and miniature knitting needles.

The business is going well. 

“If only I had more time and energy to put into it. I set it up just before Covid. The first three months were great. It’s still not bad.”

Hannah’s creations are stocked at Forest & Flock in Bantry, Cork Craft & Design at Douglas Woollen Mills and Cork Flower Studio on Douglas Street. She is one of the faces on the Cork Craft Month’s billboards. She will be at the Made in Cork market at St Peter’s on August 20-21, displaying her jewellery.

Iarla Ryder, an exhibitor at Cork Craft Month
Iarla Ryder, an exhibitor at Cork Craft Month

Another exhibitor at Cork Craft Month is Iarla Ryder of Riona natural skincare products, handmade in Carrigaline. Iarla made quite a career leap. She used to work in insurance. But what led her to going back to college to study complementary therapies was a year spent travelling around Asia. During that time, she learned a lot about Thai massage and did a course in it.

“When I got pregnant, I started using oils on my tummy, using skincare products that were toxic free and natural,” said Iarla. 

“So it developed from there. I learned a bit about oils and natural skincare.”

Setting up her business “just naturally happened. I started making products for family and friends. They ordered again. A friend made me some stickers. My partner did the design and it went from there. I started working at markets. It developed over the years.”

At the same time, Iarla (mother of teenage girls, Doireann and Rion) was working as a complementary therapist. She continues to give massages and does facials and reflexology, using her products. 

“There’s not too many products in my range. It’s a no-fuss natural approach. I’m working on the mind as well with the essential oils. I do a range of chakra mists which are for balancing (energy). I have a range of body oils and there is a facial range with oil cleansers, night cream and facial oil.”

Asked if her products promise anti-ageing properties, Iarla says: “As I’ve aged myself, I have incorporated hyaluronic acid which plumps the skin. It’s in the night creams. I have recently added the new retinols to the facial oils.”

Iarla uses “pure plant oils, butters and vegan bioactive ingredients.” 

She also uses coq 10 which is said to be good for dealing with fine lines. Iarla tests her products on her daughters and friends. For Craft Month, she will be showing her work at St Peter’s on North Main Street on August 20-21 for the Made in Cork programme. Her products will be exhibited at Cork Craft & Design.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Echo 130Echo 130

Podcast: 1000 Cork songs 
Singer/songwriter Jimmy Crowley talks to John Dolan

Listen Here

Add to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more