Louth Federation President Susan Potts travelled to Portugal on holiday and stumbled across her next ICA project. Wandering through the streets she found trees, benches and inanimate objects covered in brightly coloured, intricate patterns of crocheted wool. The whole area had been yarn bombed. Yarn bombing has grown in popularity across the globe. Susan tracked down the artist behind this installation in a local craft shop. “Despite the language barrier I left the shop with wool and a hook. She even taught me how to do a few stitches. I realised this was a great tool to get people engaged and I thought, ‘I’ll go back and do this at home.’”
2016 was the first year the ICA incorporated a yarn bomb into their activities by ‘bombing’ the Market Square in Dundalk, Co Louth — a feat that garnered tremendous support from fellow members and the local community. The primary goal of the Yarn Bomb Dundalk for Susan was to celebrate International Women’s Day; but also to unite all of guilds of the Louth Federation in a common project.
“It was my first year in as Federation President so I thought it would be a nice way to get the whole Federation (11 guilds) involved. It is easy to feel fragmented if we’re not meeting all of the time,” says Susan. “This project galvanised people and created a sense of inclusion.”
The Louth Federation also believe that events like this are tools for changing the narrative associated with the ICA. With the resurgence in the popularity of knit-craft among young women events like this have become a method of attracting fresh members. During the first Yarn Bomb small laminated tags were attached to the pieces. The notes, from members, were their reasons for joining the ICA, the experiences that bring them back every week and the opportunities they’ve been exposed to as a result of their membership.
Corry diDhalaigh of the Blackrock guild credits this with the notable increase in her membership numbers last year. She says: “We had a few members that said, ‘We thought you just sat around knitting in some little corner.’ It made it all very much more exciting and younger and vibrant and more inclusive.”
Along with heartfelt testimonies from members the cards contained the contact details of the ICA — encouraging women to contact and join their local guild. Like Corry, Brenda Leary, Federation Secretary and President of the Blackrock guild also experienced significant growth in her guild this year, which she credits to initiatives like yarn bombing. Brenda explains: “We’ve got ten new members this year. People notice things like this.”
Yarn Bomb Dundalk has grown in both the number of participants involved and the scale of the objects being ‘bombed’. Now along with trees and benches, the Louth members are expanding their operation to stools, brushes and even an expertly decorated anchor. These exceptional pieces aside, Susan notes that even the most inexperienced crafters can lend a hand. “Everybody is able to contribute something, you don’t have to knit and you don’t have to crochet, you can come down and wrap a CD in a piece of wool, do a bit of weaving,” she says.
Along with showing the local community what membership in the ICA has to offer, this event acts as a publicity vehicle for the ICA’s national campaigns, their charity work for the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland or Knitted Knockers, their initiative to help women who’ve undergone a mastectomy.
Susan and the Louth Federation are overwhelmed with the support they’ve received from local businesses and community. Following their success with the first yarn bomb, the Louth County Council were happy to welcome the ICA back to Dundalk for International Women’s Day 2017, and while in the previous year they were limited to one week of yarn bombing, the council have now extended that stay from International Women’s Day until after the St Patrick’s Day celebrations. Susan says, “Louth County Council have been fabulous, they saw the great response last year. I’d advise people to have proper permits. You also have to take care when attaching pieces to trees, particularly in nesting season.” In regard to the organising of Yarn Bomb Dundalk, Susan applied for planning permission for this project last August and would advise other Federations to allow plenty of time.
Not only have the local council been of support but the whole community turned out on International Women’s Day in Dundalk. “Women’s Aid were here, they had the One Billion Rising and did a flash dance but they also invited all of the girl’s schools, the co-ed schools and the women’s clubs and dance groups. We had the radio here,” says Susan. “Myself and Bernie, Federation Treasurer, were nearly hoarse going around all of the people we were chatting to, telling them about the ICA. It was an ideal opportunity.”
Even with the success and growth of Yarn Bomb Dundalk, Susan isn’t ready to set her project aside just yet as she explains, “At our last National Advisory Committee meeting in January as I was giving my report, I spoke of all the things we have done during the year and that I was busy preparing for this. I hope I encouraged every Federation President to do the same and that next year for International Women’s Day we would have a National Yarn Bomb.”
“I think in the bigger counties it would be great, even if you never get a chance to visit each guild, we can all work on something together. This year I went back to Portugal, to Lagos and saw crocheted chimneys. I put it up on Facebook but I think people were afraid I’d have them up steeple jacking!”