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Living on a farm in Co Cavan surrounded by the stunning countryside and with the nearby Lough Crew Hills in County Meath as the picturesque backdrop from her studio window, Sandra Coote of Crafts of Ireland is surrounded by the beautiful rural landscape that inspires her passion to keep alive the traditional skills of her area. Like in every other area of rural Ireland there was a time when handmade was not a description on a label, it was how everything was made and to have these skills was a necessity to clothe and feed a family. These are the skills that Sandra has learned and shares with those who visit her studio.
When you visit Sandra at her studio you will be introduced to her collection of spinning wheels that she uses to spin wool that is obtained from local farmers, some of this wool is dyed using plant dyes obtained by collecting suitable vegetation from the garden and surrounding fields to produce a range of beautiful soft colours. Wool spinning classes are a regular feature at Crafts of Ireland and Sandra loves when a student leaves a workshop with the wish to purchase their own wheel and continue to improve on the skills that they have learned. When not at her spinning wheels she is knitting socks on antique circular sock knitting machines, the oldest of these machine dates from the late 1800s and is still capable of producing beautiful socks that are finished with a “Kitchener” stitched toe, the same method that has been used since World War 1 to produce seam-free socks. Her studio is the only place in Ireland where these wonderful machines can be seen working. The studio is also home to a large collection of sewing machines that date from 1861 and other items of crafting history.
Some of the skills that Sandra uses were learned from a very early age, she began to crochet at the age of 9 and learned from her grandmother how to use a hand-cranked sewing machine. In 2012 Sandra was the winner of the knitwear section of Craft Master, an Irish television production in conjunction with the Craft and Design Council of Ireland, for the duration of filming Sandra was based at the “Knitfield” Studio in Donegal with knitwear designer Edel McBride as her mentor, this is one of several awards that Sandra has won for her handcraft skills over the years but perhaps her biggest personal achievement was designing and crocheting in thread the dress she wore for her wedding day.
Sandra’s love of traditional skills is not confined to her crafts, she loves to bake traditional Irish bread and cakes and serve these with homemade jam and freshly churned butter.