An arts project that knits together creative work, single parenting and paying the bills – The Irish Times

October 19, 2021 by No Comments

“Part of me thought all along that the Old Knitting Factory and I were meant to be. Like I was drawn here by the universe or something.” Betsy Cornwell touches the stone wall of the 1906 Connemara knitting school where she lives with her young son. For the past year, she has been working to crowdfund the building’s purchase so that she can use the space to create a childcare-inclusive arts residency for other single mothers like herself.

A bestselling young-adult novelist, magazine editor, and tutor at the National University of Ireland Galway, Betsy speaks candidly of her “struggle to balance creative work with single parenting and paying the bills” and how that struggle inspired her vision of a space for other single mothers to make art. To date she has raised nearly €40,000, but she is still working towards covering her down-payment and the renovations necessary to open the residency.

Betsy shakes her head at her own words. “That’s silly and melodramatic, I know. But when I found this place, I wanted so badly to believe it was meant to be. I’m a writer – sometimes I can’t help but see good stories everywhere I go.”

The Old Knitting Factory, a rambling white-and-yellow building on the shore of Lough an Mhuillin in Carraroe, has certainly seen its share of stories. First built at a cost of £600 by the Congested Districts Board for Ireland, it both taught knitting skills to local women and used their labour to create textiles for sale. Many of the women who worked in the knitting factory used their earnings to emigrate to America, which Betsy notes is especially touching for her as an American in Ireland.

In the 1970s, filmmaker Bob Quinn and his family moved into the factory and turned it into the first Irish-language cinema, a project that was later documented by his son Robert Quinn in the film Cinegael Paradiso. In the 1990s, the factory became a home and jewelry-making studio for Jackie and Ed Keilthy of JEK Jewelry. The knitting factory’s views of Lough an Mhuillin have also served as inspiration for artists including Charles Lamb and contemporary painter Pigsy.

The Old Knitting Factory: the history of women’s work there was no rosy vision of sisterhood.

The interior of The Old Knitting Factory in Connemara

“The Old Knitting Factory has always been centred either on women’s work, or on art,” Betsy says. With her childcare-inclusive arts residency, she hopes to bring those two parts …….



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