By Maire Treanor
Earlier this summer, I travelled from Ireland to the States, to give some workshops on Clones Irish Crochet lace. While I was in NYC, at the beginning of my trip, I met up with Dora Ohrenstein over breakfast, in an atmospheric French restaurant, close to my hotel in upper Manhattan. Dora told me about her upcoming trip to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, ending up in Kiev at the end of August. I was excited to hear that she would meet Antonina Kuznetsova, the Ukrainian crochet designer, with whom I had been in contact for the past few years. I was thrilled to hear that Dora would also be meeting Ludmila, the publisher and editor of Duplet, a Ukranian magazine that will be featuring my book on the social history of Clones Irish Crochet lace.
A few days later in a phone conversation, Dora invited me to meet her in Kiev. I was thrilled at the prospects of such a trip, to a place I had only dreamed about. Over the next few days, I decided that if the flight to Kiev wasn’t too expensive from Ireland, I couldn’t turn down this fantastic chance to ‘tag along’ on a trip that had already been organised for Dora.
For the past few years, I have been following the progress of Duplet online. I have always been amazed by this needlework magazine, with its emphasis on Irish Crochet-inspired clothing, worn by young, sexy models, and its use of international charts, allowing anyone to follow the patterns. This magazine acts as a tutor for crochet in Ukraine, and anywhere else Russian is spoken. Duplet has been the modern pilot and inspiration for a resurgence of Irish Crochet in Eastern Europe.
During Soviet times, there were only a few types of yarn in Ukraine, either thick yarn or thread, with no variety of colours. When independence came, Tonya (Antonina’s nickname) and Luda (Ludmila’s nickname), like many other people throughout the former Soviet Union, were fascinated by the beautiful colours and fashions that their western counterparts wore. They wanted to dress just as fashionably, but with very little disposable income, they decided to crochet and knit their own outfits, leading a trend that has been developing since. Both Luda and Tonya were scientists who became unemployed in the shake-up that followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and both turned to their creative side.
In 1997, Luda started up a magazine, which over a few years, became a needlework outlet for many Ukrainian and Russian women. Around this time, Tonya’s mother, while on a visit to Western Europe, bought her a magazine, which included a top made in Irish Crochet. Tonya thought it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen, appealing to her love for plants and flowers. In 2003, she sent a sample of a crocheted Irish-style top to Luda and so began a great partnership.
Making this nineteenth century lace more relevant to 21st century fashions, Tonya is continually playing with new colours, replacing the traditional white or ecru in linen or cotton thread, with a thicker thread than that used in fine Irish Crochet lace. Meanwhile, Luda researches old Irish Crochet books and regularly prints excerpts from the early twentieth century Priscilla books and modern Japanese Irish Crochet in Duplet. Motifs and filling stitches are charted, using Quark Express, Corel Draw and the skills of brilliant computer designers who work for Duplet. Many designers take their inspiration from Duplet, which charts new types of filling stitches and motifs, encouraging them to personalize the motifs by making their own changes to the motifs illustrated.
Duplet has a regular readership of 23,000, with 12,000 for the half-yearly, more expensive, special issues on Irish Crochet and other specialties. Luda has no sponsorship or advertisements in her magazine, as she feels advertisers would try to dictate content. Luda is a colourful red-haired personality, full of fun, with a twinkle in her eye. She loves to encourage Ukrainian Irish Crochet designers by showcasing their tops, including those of Tonya, in an exciting way, on her very pretty young models. The magazine is a great window and inspiration for these designers.
All this is particularly exciting to me as a researcher of Clones Irish Crochet. I have been researching the local and social history of this art since I first came to the small Irish border town of Clones in 1987. There I met Mamo Mc Donald, a great personality and spokesperson for women’s rights since the 1950s. Mamo talked lace and I made it. We formed a workers craft co-operative in 1989 with 15 outworkers, and co-founded the Cassandra Hand Summer school of Clones lace in 1990. Having learned the secrets of Clones Lace and Irish Crochet from some older people in the Monaghan-Fermanagh area, Mamo encouraged me to write a book on the subject, while the older women were still alive. I revived the local Clones knot, which hadn’t been used as a filling stitch for generations. I love to share this filling stitch and it has become my signature. Most of the older crocheters with whom I worked have, over the years, now passed on.
In 2002, Mercier Press published my book on Clones lace in Ireland. In 2010, the American publisher Lacis republished it in the U.S. Nowadays, I continue to research and write articles on Clones lace. I also pass on my experience and passion for it by travelling and giving workshops on Clones Irish Crochet Lace wherever I am invited. What a wonderful way to see the world!
Here is my report on our week in Kiev with Dora, Tonya, and Luda.
On Friday 20th August, I arrived in Kiev airport from Ireland and was met by Tonya and a surprisingly chirpy Dora, given that she had spent 3 weeks in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. We travelled by taxi to our spacious apartment on the 4th floor of an apartment block. Tonya had travelled over 700 miles from her hometown of Kherson, close to the Black Sea, to spend the week with us. That evening, we went into town to explore Kiev and get something to eat. Central Kiev is beautiful with a very lively wide main street and several grand fountains. Although most of the shop signs were in Russian or Ukrainian, I recognised a lot of familiar signs – Zara, H+M, Vera Moda and, of course, MacDonalds. Tonya was very proud of the monument which dominated the main street, representing Ukraine independence. The nation’s 19th year was to be celebrated during our visit.
The following morning, we had an early start, meeting Luda and some of her friends in a forest lodge, an hour from Kiev. Although Tonya had invited us to Kiev, I was surprised to realise that Luda also treated us as her visitors, spending most of the following week with us. We spent the weekend at this lodge, which was a great icebreaker, as we all got to know each other, despite the language barrier, in a relaxed atmosphere. Luda had some friends staying there too – Vladimir, who distributes Duplet and publishes another magazine in Moscow, Olga, who works at Duplet as a financial director, and Jack, her small sausage dog. We had a wonderful weekend, in the quiet solitude of the forest.
On Monday morning we were eager to return to Kiev and on our arrival, spent the rest of the day in the ancient part of Kiev, visiting Kyievo-Pechers’ka lavra and Christian Orthodox churches, with their large golden domes, accompanied by our personal friendly guide and interpreter, Tonya. Although we did notice that young people often speak English, if we had not had Tonya with us, we would have been completely lost, especially in the underground system. Russian is like English in these Eastern countries. All nationalities have Russian in common, no matter what their own language, as they learned it at school. All the countries in the former Soviet Union are now trying to revive their own native languages. As an Irish person interested in the revival of my native language, I am particularly aware of this. I tried, as a matter of courtesy, to learn some Russian greeting words and other simple words. Although I am very interested in the revival of Ukrainian, learning it was just too much for me at this stage.
Tuesday was Independence Day in Kiev and we met Luda at the Golden Gates of the old town, before making our way to an open air craft fair. We walked through cobblestoned streets, packed with hundreds of stalls of beautiful and unusual handcrafts, including all kinds of handmade traditional clothing – there were shirts in traditional colours of white and red, or black with a similar red trim. Tonya explained that the word for red (kpacho) also means beautiful. We admired the handmade rugs and Dora modelled some fur skin jackets. We were tempted by beautiful Orenburg shawls in various colours at reasonable prices and noticed lots of traditional crocheted doilies. I bought some very inexpensive jewellery with precious stones. Wasps crowded around homemade honey, made into a hot alcoholic drink, which we sampled. I remembered having this same hot honey drink at the Christmas Market in Prague, a couple of years ago. Eventually, after several hours of walking through wonderful stalls, we came to the end of our trail, tired and ready for some lunch. We later spent a relaxing few hours sailing on the Dnipro River, observing Kiev from a distance, with the domes of its many Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox churches, dominating the landscape.
Wednesday was the day we had both been anticipating – our visit to the Duplet offices! A photo session was being held that morning and we were invited to attend. We tried to be inconspicuous in the small modern offices. I was excited by Luda’s kind offer to take photos of my antique collection and my personal pieces on her models, in preparation for an article she will be doing on my book on Clones lace. Everything was very professional and efficient in the small, bright, and tastefully decorated space, as Luda quietly and quickly ushered the models in and out of the photo session. That afternoon, we had a long relaxing walk through Pirogovo, an outdoor folk museum, an hour outside Kiev.
Thursday was our last day and we returned to the Duplet offices to pick up my crochet samples. Luda laid out box after box of crochet samples, in Ukrainian Irish Crochet, most made by the very talented stitcher, Nellie Solovey. In the near future, they also plan to publish a special freeform issue with pieces by, and an interview of Prudence Mapstone, the Australian freeform expert, who has also become an inspirational designer for Russian and Ukrainian freeformers.
After leaving Duplet, we travelled by Metro and trolley bus to a shop which sells crochet clothing and jewellery, alongside handicrafts from Peru. Dora treated us to some exciting mambo dancing with the tall Cuban who handles the Peruvian side of the shop. He was an incredible dancer! We continued by trolley bus to a shop where Tonya buys yarn and threads for her business. The bus conductress turned out to be a Duplet fan, and as she recognised Tonya, let us travel free. I bought some samples of Turkish and Italian threads for my workshops, in beautiful colours, at very reasonable prices. We ended our day with a walk through the centre of town and Dora succumbed to her yearning for a mug of Starbucks coffee!
That night Dora left in a taxi at 2.30 am and I stayed on with Tonya for a few more hours, before leaving at 14.30 on Friday, exchanging tips and samples of motifs, while we waited for the taxi to arrive.
We had a wonderful trip, with hopes to return. I recollected that last summer Tonya sent me an email and in reply to my wish to come to Ukraine, she answered that we must work to make our wishes happen. I never imagined then that I would be in Kiev the following summer! Now it is our turn to make Tonya’s dream come true and invite her give workshops on Ukrainian Irish Crochet in Ireland and the States.
If you’d like to contact Maire about classes, designing, or writing, contact her at: maireslace AT gmail.co