As I celebrate the 5th year of Beannaigh Traditional Handknitting, I've been thinking back a lot to how I learned how to knit. This dog, Ladybug, is how I learned to knit. It is a funny backwards story that started with an ad in the Seattle Sunday Times...
I'd had to put down my old dog in 2003, and friends were on the lookout for a new companion for me. If CraigsList was a thing then, I didn't know it - I still looked at the newspaper classifieds and checked out the Little Nickel. I was perusing the paper one Sunday when I saw an ad for an 11-month-old Red Heeler, "needs good home, $75". I wasn't looking for a herding breed, but the ad really stuck with me. Later the next day a regular massage client said, "Pam, I saw a dog advertised I think you should look at!", and she told me about the same ad. I told her I'd seen it, and how funny that she would have noticed the same one!
That same evening a dog-trainer friend called. "Pam!" she said, "I called about a dog I think is perfect for you!" It was the same dog, and she'd called the owners to find out all about it.
I still wasn't sure. I was pretty busy with my massage practice, and I knew Australian Cattle Dogs (heelers) could be a lot of work. I thanked her, and sat down to my evening TV time.
That same night, Evening Magazine featured a farm in Roy, WA where anyone could take their dogs, of any breed, to learn how to herd sheep. They talked about how great it was for dogs who were having problems, or who just needed to get out and work as they were bred for. I was sold! I immediately called the people who needed to rehome their Cattle Dog.
Ladybug was a mess. She had grown up in a backyard, with no socialization, never allowed in the house, never been on leash or in a car. There was a deep rut worn into the grass along the fence, where she would run up and down nonstop all day. Please don't think, "oh those awful people, how could they do that??" They didn't understand the breed when they bought their puppy, and they did the right thing by finding her a new home. They asked me all the right questions, and I could tell they wouldn't let me take her if I didn't know what I was getting into.
I didn't know what I was getting into! But the Evening Magazine story said anyone could come, so we went straight to Ewe-Topia Herd-dog Training. Long story short, I've never had such a soul-mate in a dog, and I don't think I ever will again.
But what does this have to do with knitting???
The sheep at Ewe-Topia are there to train dogs, but they also need to be sheared. When I volunteered to help at shearing, the woman who was doing the shearing brought some friends along to pick fleeces. I had no idea what they wanted - turns out they were going to spin the fleece into yarn! I thought that sounded just great, so the shearer gave me a couple of fleeces to take home. I signed up for a spinning class at Weaving Works - me with my dreadlocks and many piercings, among sedate older ladies all talking about what kind of yarn they wanted to spin and the projects they would knit with it.
What was I going to do with my yarn? I had no idea. I found a fabulous book titled "The Knitting Goddess" (I had been a classics major in college), bought it, and taught myself how to knit by making a sweater. They all said I couldn't start with a sweater, but I did and it is beautiful!
Long story short: it didn't take long before I made the connection between my Irish heritage and the fabulous Aran fishermen's sweaters, and then the meticulously patterned fisher ganseys of Scotland and England. I wanted to knit them all! And I wanted to knit them before they disappeared. So many traditional fishing villages have disappeared, and their fishermen's sweaters with them...I didn't want to see these old ways die.
So I created a business...
I lost my Bug Dog in 2008. She wasn't old, but had terrible knees. After multiple surgeries on both hind legs I had to accept that she couldn't recover, and for reasons of quality of life I let her go. It was heartbreaking, and it reinforced my determination to always adopt from a rescue and never buy from a backyard breeder.
But in a funny roundabout way, Ladybug brought me an amazing and thriving handknitting business, and so to her I say "Beannaigh": I salute you, I honor you, and I bless you.
Pam Connolly, owner of Beannaigh Traditional Handknitting, is a hardworking single mom with an old-fashioned cottage industry.