Knitting an Irish Sweater
When I was packing for the dig, I was pretty confident. Being a Seattle native, I was sure that I knew exactly what weather to expect. I packed for camping in a Seattle summer, building my wardrobe out of long pants and tank tops. I packed only one sweater, for the one or two days I imagined would be under 65 F. My first day in Dublin, I could see that I had been much too optimistic about the average temperature. My single sweater was perfect for the chilly, overcast Irish June, but it quickly became dirty and ragged from being worn in the field every day. I needed another sweater, but something cotton or acrylic from the store would lose all warmth and become uncomfortably heavy as soon as the rain hit it.
I decided instead to knit myself a traditional Irish sweater. It would be cheaper than buying one at the store, and I had always wanted to make one anyway. My first challenge was to find the wool. Every store I visited was stocked with 100% acrylic. One of the clerks told me this was due to the prohibitively expensive price of pure wool. I prepared myself for a heavy price tag, something I’m used to from knitting in the states. The sweater I had brought with me cost $150 to make, which is considered only a bit high of standard in the States. Yarn for hand knitting is sold in such limited quantities that it tends to be overpriced by the mills, to offset the inconvenience of pulling the yarn out of the milling process and cleaning, winding and dyeing it in suitably small batches.
Finally, on a field trip to Sligo I managed to find some pure wool in a craft store. I scraped together enough for a sweater by combining two different shades of white from two different companies. I braced myself as the cashier rang me up, and got all of my large bills together. She looked up apologetically at the high price of the pure wool.
“Fifty euro, please.”
Carting my steal home, I considered my options. I would only have an hour or two to knit a night, and I wanted the sweater done before the field school ended. In the states I had a friend who was a single mom who worked from home, and the only way she ever finished a project was by constantly knitting every chance she got. On the bus, waiting for diner to boil, or in the few minutes before a movie started, she would take out her project and do a few stitches. I decided that I would emulate her, and challenge myself to find as many opportunities during the day as possible.
I found 20 minutes in the mornings while riding the bus into town. I knit through every lecture, and while waiting for dinner to be served. I knit in between sips at Garvey’s. I gained nicknames and became the subject of in-jokes. I was greeted every night in Garvey’s by a “hey, is that jumper done yet?”
The last Sunday of the project, half of the group went to a Gaelic football game on the bus. When I stepped on my friends applauded me, and I beamed. I was wearing my sweater, finished after three weeks of constant work. I gained more compliments I could count over the next few days, as I wore my creation proudly everywhere I went. I also gained strange looks and many expressions of concern for my mental health.
The weather had turned that Sunday. The last week of the project averaged 80 F, and it didn’t rain once.