Narrative Tools Blog

Welcome to the Narrative Tools blog.

Our online Narrative Tools blog will continue to grow over the coming 12 months. Here you will find updates and additional recorded information on our monthly public engagement activities and content gathered. If you would like to contribute to our blog please submit your entry here.

View our Narrative Tools online exhibition here.

UPCOMING EVENTS

Narrative Tools - Crafternoon Tea
Thu, 6 May 2021
11am - 12 noon

Join us for an enjoyable Crafternoon tea and chat as part of the Bealtaine Festival At Home 2021. You are invited to come along, join in the conversation and we’d love it if you could share a story, a tool, or a piece of craft that is special to you. We will share some of the Narrative Tools project with you.
We will be sharing a video from Cushendale Woollen Mills and a crafter will join us to talk about their tools. It’s all about sharing and chat! Please do bring along a family member or friend to share the experience.
Free online event. Register HERE.

Call Out  - Narrative Tools Online Exhibition
We invite you to send a photograph of a treasured handed-down tool or inherited hand-made items and tell NDCG why it is important to you (200 words max). We advise to photograph or scan your items on a plain white or non patterned background at a high quality. Submit your entry HERE or post to: Narrative Tools project, National Design & Craft Gallery, Castle Yard, Kilkenny. Include your name, photograph(s) with a brief description of the photograph. Penned narratives are also welcome (200 words max).

GDPR: Your details will be held securely for the purposes of the project in line with Design & Crafts Council Ireland policy, and will not be shared with any other person/agency.

Here are some of the Narrative Tools entries we have already received. We hope that you enjoy them and that you are inspired to send us your own images and stories: 

NARRATIVE TOOLS

Judy Greene
My mam got this machine when she was 13 to supplement  a poor family income after the death of her father. She had 8 children and made all our clothes, as well as others on our street in Athlone. She dressed the street for Halloween fancy dress competitions and won many. She made our Holy Communion dresses, debs and some of our wedding dresses. She was conscious of fashion and kept us ahead of the shops (but we didn't know that). She always had a bit of a remnant and lace was reused on every new creation. She was sewing well into her 80s and had all the grand-children involved.

John Lee
I think every craftsperson has a favourite tool, the one that fits your hand perfectly, always feels right and works beautifully. This is mine, a Stanley No.53 spokeshave. It has lots of history, it was originally my grandfather's, then my father's. Maybe that's why it feels just right, nearly 100 years crafting in our families hands. Any piece I've ever made featuring curves has been shaped using this spokeshave; the Presidential Innauguration Chair, bespoke pieces for clients in America, Europe and beyond. Now my teenage children are using it. I wonder what stories they will create with it...?

Aoife Kirwan
This measuring tape belonged to my Grandmother Maura Kirwan née Flanagan who sadly passed away in 2020. In her past she worked for Singer. It now holds a special place in my millinery studio.

Mario Sierra
I grew up with jars full of old halfpenny coins all over the house and workshop and they are still here today. My mother and I use them to measure our picks per inch as we handweave.⁠⁠ The halfpenny coin measured exactly one inch in diameter, so some handweavers would use one to measure the picks per inch as they wove. A pick is a single shot of yarn across the loom, and a handweaver needs to keep the amount of picks per inch a constant as they weave. A weaver would lay the coin on the cloth and count the amount of picks next to it. ⁠⁠Over time they are rubbed clean by the weavers fingers, rubbed of all detail and cleaned by the yarns natural oils from the weavers fingers which keep them shiny and clean. ⁠⁠Sometimes these coins come in handy to fix other issues, on John’s loom I found he’d inserted a coin into the frame of the loom to keep his front beam turning smoothly. My mum keeps hers in a piece of tweed to the side of her loom.⁠⁠

Éilís Murphy
I am a scavenger of tools, with a magpie's eye for orphaned treasure.
The weights unearthed at the end of my garden, during a land reclamation of an area long overgrown with briars.
The wooden mallet found at a Lancashire car boot sale early one Sunday morning. Smuggled to Ireland in my hand luggage, unnoticed by airport scanners.
The cutting mat retrieved from a skip outside an architect's firm, a castaway of the 2008 financial crash.
They all bear marks of users past. Echoes of their journey to my hands.

Robert O'Connor
These are a selection of some of the tools I use. They have been gathered over a 35 year span, from when I first started woodturning. My favourite tool of the bunch is the 3/8 spindle gouge, which is used on a daily basis and is the first tool to be put in the suitcase when going demonstrating. It has done a lot of mileage in Ireland and abroad.

Friederike Grace
My Dad cut gemstones and because of that, he was very supportive of me becoming a goldsmith. He helped me pick my first set of tools and gifted them to me, as my wages as an apprentice with 280.-DM a month didn’t leave any space to buy lovely tools. He also made tools and holders for my drill bits and burrs, in the picture a wooden draw plate for knitted tube necklaces, made from an old breakfast board and a pitch holder to secure jewellery for setting gemstones. It fits perfectly into my engraver/setters ball. My original mouthpiece made from horn, metal compass and jewellers saw, metal draw plates, for making wire, wood/leather drill. My tools moved with me to Ireland and I am using them for over 30 years now, reminding me of my roots.

Iona Crawford Topp
This scalpel belonged to my paternal grandmother, Evelyn. She was born in 1914 and grew up working in the cotton mills of Bolton, so making her owns clothes was second nature to her. She continued knitting, sewing and embroidery into her 90s until her sight was no longer good enough to be able to see the stitches. When she passed away I kept her scalpel and it is invaluable to me in my ceramic studio today. I have never changed the blade, so it isn’t very sharp now, but I use it more as a pottery knife than a scalpel, so I don’t mind.

Pamela Hardesty
I grew up playing under a quilting frame always set up at the end of the dining room each winter. In her retirement my mother made a quilt each year, raffled to raise tuition for one local student to attend West Virginia University. When my mother passed away, my sister and I, along with my husband, had the job of emptying her house.  At the end there only remained the Singer treadle sewing machine used by my grandmother and untouched for decades; too heavy to transport to Ireland unfortunately.  When I removed its covering cloth, I noticed four drawers stuffed with sewing items:  scissors, needles, crochet hooks, old tins of buttons, old wooden spools of thread, old pin cushions - four drawers of treasure! It was like a time capsule and a conversation with my grandmother. Now I have many of these tools and sewing bits with me here in Ireland. Of course I owe these women my entire career as a maker and a lecturer  in textiles. In my entire sewing life however, I must admit I could never tolerate a thimble.  Now, in the virus days of my endless sewing and mending and upholstery, I’ve reached for this thimble of my grandmother when my fingers became too sore and it makes me think of my grandmother’s hand continuously now as I work with it. Using this thimble seems so right and intimate.  It feels so part of me now. 

Warren Hayes
I have a small block, which I love. I bought it in a second-hand tool shop in the UK, with my first month’s wages as a professional furniture maker. There is something about the shape and feel of it that just works. I have kept it with me ever since and I’ve used it on pretty much every commission I have made, be it in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and now back home in Co. Kildare.

David McCaul
The hammer that I use to forge most of my jewellery is an old hammer that my father had as part of the toolset he was given when he joined the Irish Air Corps as an apprentice 55 years ago. I say given but he had to pay for the tools slowly in instalments. He gave it to me when I started making jewellery 22 years and it has been in use almost daily ever since.

Emmett Kane
I am privileged as the third generation to work and create in the same space in Castledemot, Co.Kildare since the 1940's.  This space started as a workshop and my studio but has always been a space where wood has been worked.

Sé O'Donoghue
My bench peg. It is the unassuming centre of action for all jewellers. It is my home. With all of the busyness of life and work, it always feels good to sit back down in front of this. You can read a peg, it shows you hints of the maker's care, or meticulousness, or haste. It subtly changes and evolves with every job. This has been a constant, and has seen every piece I've made for the last 20 years. The stories it could tell. I know every mark of this, every notch. Working on any other peg feels like wearing someone else's jumper.

Ger Henry Hassett
This curious ‘Needle Book of Abel Morrall’s Needles’ belonged to Gertrude Browne, born in New Ross, in 1900. She completed The Department of Education, Technical School Examinations in 1929 in Domestic Economy which included Cookery, Housewifery and Needlework. The Needle book was gifted to me by her daughter, my mother-in-law, along with a large collar and cuffs in New Ross Lace which she made. This lead me on a journey of discovery into needlemaking, ‘The Art and Mystique of Needlemaking’ Abel Morrall Needlemakers, 1785-1991. I had no idea of the skill and craft involved in this process. A household item we take for granted today yet owning a needle kept many women out of poverty and destitution.

Caroline O'Brien
My father trained in Northampton in the 1950s and spent his working life in the shoe industry.  He started out in Kilkenny, working with Padmore and Barnes from 1959-1966, emigrating to Canada in December 1973. During my childhood I was always mesmerised by my father's knife - that's how we knew it, Dad's knife.  It was one of his few personal possessions, and we never touched it. I trained with Sicilian tailors and Canadian theatre artists and have spent my life dressing dancers at major ballet companies around the world.  A number of years ago, long after Ed had finished in manufacturing, we were deep in discussions about his work and his passion for doing a job well.  He passed the knife on to me that day - a legacy of craft and making that I shared with him.

Isobel Egan
The tools that belonged to my Dad are some of my most cherished possessions. They both remind me of the man he was, but also the innate skill he was endowed with when wielding them.

Alison Ospina
When my Father died in 2007 I inherited some of his carpentry tools. I have fond memories of watching him making small sculptures at his bench in the garage when I was very young. He let me help with the sanding, perhaps that’s where my love for wood working began? He was proud of his carpentry tools, most of which had been handed down to him from his own father, who passed away in his early 40’s. He especially loved his father’s plane, which he used, cleaned and sharpened with great care. When I use the plane, I feel I am reaching across time and contacting both my father and my grandfather - perhaps Dad felt that too.

Niki Collier
In my childhood we always had a men shed with a striking collection of tools for woodworking and electrical wiring. For my dad and granddad. I do not remember any of them ever showing me how to use the hammers and the saws which I used to make the furniture for my dolls. Or helping me with the making of it. Sure it would have been a waste of time on a girl. But being denied the right to own or even use tools as a child had stayed with me. Ever since I started my practice I have coveted every single tool which brings the passion of making to another dimension. Tools are a magical extension of our abilities to conjure up help and hope. And for me personally they are always a reminder that all us powerful strong women have made it because there were those ready to yield knowledge. In my case it took relentless enthusiasm and die hard attitude. Tools could yield hope. The ones I have do.

Aoife Soden
I aim to create glass pieces which encourage the viewer to touch, look closer or engage with the pieces. The shapes are kept simple and it is the addition of details, a thicker internal ring, a contrasting stripe which encourage closer inspection. I have one pair of diamond shears which I take with me everywhere, when I assist others, travel or make my own glass. They were a gift from the first glassblowers I worked with in Denmark after college and they were made by a master tool maker in Murano Italy and had to be adjusted .... twice ..... to fit my smaller hands.

Roisin de Buitlear
These are a number of tools that I use. Collected over a career spanning 35 years these are also a time travel journal of tools, places  and people I have worked with. Starting in the UK with a tool maker called Ivan Smyth, who custom made my first set of tools for my hands. The Pucellas or jacks as they are known elsewhere, are the long tools on the left. A small and large pair made from one piece of sprung steel. The parrot nosed shears bottom right are also his. I got them for my 21st birthday and have used them ever since. Italy, Seattle, Sweden and Japan are also represented here.. all places with long glass histories like ours, and tools bought new or given as gifts by other glassmakers. They all have their own tacit histories and have travelled miles and miles around the globe with me. A mix of hot and cold working hand tools represent the areas of glass that I work within they are the most precious of objects. However everything I make starts with a pencil and scalpel so I have also included them.

Greg Sullivan
The image is of a spindle box with 88 different spindles and wheels. All the wheels are made by the engraver and are unique to him and the lathe they're made on. The copper ones have hammered rivets to hold them in place while and are then profiled with a knife. The stone ones have lead cents which are cast onto threaded spindles.

Hillary Bell
This embroidery hoop belonged to my grandmother who came from Scotland. She gave it to me when I was about 8 years old and tried to teach me some stitches. Stitching, embroidery and making clothes was just a part of life then. Just about everything I wore was home made. Even though making was taken for granted, it was valued more than it is today. I really love the workmanship in this little hoop and how functionality is at the heart of the design - embroidery hoops are not made like this today! It is a piece of mini engineering and putting a piece of cloth into it to sew is a joy. Even the name “Gripwell” describes what it is designed to do.

Breda Fay
GANS/DCCI announcement of a Collar project prompted me to root out a collar made by my grandmother, Ellen Lambert, in 1925... it's what she called Irish crochet. Craft and handwork were very important to my gran, as was storytelling and Irish heritage and so intent was she on passing on these wonderful skills that she spent many hours sharing them with me, her eldest grandchild. What a gift! I also found some of her sewing equipment, but other than the two bone crochet hooks and the scissors, I don't know what they are for. I also think the 'sharp', 'rust resistant' needles for 3/7 were cute.

Anne O'Hara Quinn
Mary Anne Sweeney Kilduff, a Sligo native, sailed to America in the late 1800’s in the aftermath of the Irish famine. Success followed and she made her fortune and unlike many of her peers, returned to Ireland in the 1930’s. During her time in America, she sent this gold thimble to her sister, my grandmother Celia.  A much treasured item that spans five generations: sister to sister, mothers to daughters and finally, to be passed on to my granddaughter. This gold thimble has been my inspiration for pursuing many heritage skills, most especially lacemaking  Its legacy is not merely in gold, but the opportunity afforded to me to pass on my skills to so many others.

Sheila Jordan
This photograph shows my father-in-law Arthur Boland using a Mill Bill held in a wooden handle called a Thrift to dress the bed stones in the family water powered mill in the 1970’s.   I now have several of these rusted metal tools, which fit in the palm of my hand.  I used them to dye fabric for a series of felted pots inspired by the mill.  I am interested in that link with the past and the skilled craftsmen who worked in the mill over the years.  Although I use the tools for a different purpose there is a connection to the past and the pleasure and satisfaction of working with tools and materials and the human hand which I love.

Nicky Read
The most basic of kitchen tools, but an essential one - the wooden spoon. This one was made for me by my younger brother...29 years ago. He was post college and pre-career and exploring his creative side, trying his hand at woodwork and stone masonry. He is now a TV documentary producer. I have had many other wooden spoons over the years, but this one has outlasted them all and remains my favourite. I have not been precious with it and have used it for everything from custard to curry and everything in between, including Granny Wallace's lemon curd. This spoon reflects me; my love of cooking, the value I place on craft and anything hand made, the fact I am right handed and my love for my younger brother. This simple spoon has a special place in my kitchen utensils drawer and it will always be with me. I'm sure my brother has forgotten he ever made it. Perhaps it's time I reminded him...

Paul Bokslag
My grandfather worked in a small fruit import office in Rotterdam, the Netherlands for many years. His real passions however were writing poetry and short articles and making things with his hands. He was a master of papier-mâché and loved lettering. I remember admiring his work as a child and I still have some of his ink, pen-nibs and a book that he learned from in my studio.                                                                                                                                                                



Martha Cashman
My attachment to the items of my past was heightened in childhood when my uncle returned from America to clear out and sell my grandparent’s home. Seeing my three brothers being allowed to chuck and smash the items from The Parlour ‘the out of bounds room’ across the yard to the horse trough was devastating. After much protest I was able to rescue several items of old fine china and coloured glass ware, old records and tools from the kitchen. Forty years later these items are all dispersed throughout my sister’s and niece’s homes, all held in a special place of the home.

Ryan Connolly
The upholstery tools in the image are, from left, Hyde pliers, tailor’s shears and pincers. These and others were the tools my father used, they were a means to create keep going, little else was probably thought of them at the time. It is only now as we see less and less people working by hand that we appreciate the value of the work, the people who did it and in this case their tools.



Mark Campden
My father’s bamboo brush pot was a junk shop find in his home town of Banbury when he was an art student. The brushes are Japanese, like sumi brushes but firmer. They are about 40 years old and I haven't found anything of the same quality. One is marked by my father as a wax only brush but now is too precious to use with wax!



Cara Murphy
Hammers are very special to a silversmith as they are the main tool we use. Some are my dad’s, some are mine, some we share and others we don’t! Some I have been gifted by different silversmiths I have worked with including several from Mogens Bjorn-Andersen (Denmark). Some are forged from the Design & Crafts Council Ireland blacksmith course, some came from Prague, others America….

Jane Murtagh
I was very fortunate to meet generous silversmiths and metalsmiths as a young student from Dun Laoghaire Art School in the late 1970's. The planishing hammer was given to me by Cynthia Rice from the Kilkenny Design Silversmithing studio. We visited the studios around 1978 and my memory of Cynthia was that she was a quiet English woman who lived on a barge and as we left she handed me this planishing hammer, I use it constantly.

Mette-Sofie D. Ambeck
I inherited this dusting brush from my Father – Bent Ambeck – who was a Danish civil engineer and used it when he was making work drawings, back in the days before computers...My Father died suddenly in 1990 when I was 16, so I never got a chance to ask him questions regards the brush, but it was on his worktable and now it is on mine. I have used it for many years now, both as a graphic designer when I draw, and when I need a tidy workspace to make my artist's books.

Peter Sheehan
Clearing my father's garage - a clutter of things that might come in handy - I came across a number of his tools that I have added to my own clutter of things. It is as much to remind me of him as anything else… He was a maker and repairer of things that you needed - a trailer, a bench, a gandalow (of sorts), a drawing board for me, a desk for my brother. The things he made were improvised with what materials he had - usually off-cuts of deal & marine ply - and could never be described as highly crafted. They were made to fulfil a need, with love and no fuss.

Síne Vasquez
An engineer by profession, my Dad also made the most beautiful furniture, purely for the love of the craft. My grief after losing him propelled me further into jewellery making, the act of making providing relief from a loss that was swallowing me whole. And the realisation that life is too precious not to do the things we love prompted me to return to study as a jeweller.

Nicola Watson
This image shows my grandmother's embroidery scissors and her precious sewing box. My grandmother, Sadie, was a mill worker in Bessbrook and spent many a long day working with her hands. She had a make do and mend attitude, nothing was discarded. I could imagine her mending shirts and replacing buttons. I am now an Art teacher, specialising in textiles and sewing. This interest in sewing was nurtured by my grandmother, passing both skills and tools, down the generations. I hope to pass these to my daughter one day.

Eimear Earley
My grandmother died when I was 12. I remember her as a frugal housewife, baking bread, making packed lunches and mending clothes. Some 20 years later, her sewing box came to me when the house was being cleared out. It contains the expected items like needles & thread (with various vintage spool labels) and evidence of her thrifty ways; cards of darning yarn,scraps of fabric to be used for patches, and a collection of odd buttons - spares snipped from the labels of shirts, cardigans and jackets. I do wonder what she would make of me now, darning my own socks and patching holes in her great-grandchildren’s leggings.

PRECIOUS CRAFT ITEMS

Mary Meaney
This blouse is made of cotton lawn and crocheted sections and dates from about 1900 or so. It belonged to my grand aunt Margaret Mary (Babs) Purcell née Meaney who died in 1956. The blouse was made by her mother Mary Anne Meaney née McNally (died 1920), who was a noted dressmaker in Goresbridge, Co. Kilkenny (originally from Leighlinbridge).

Ellen Hardy
A needle, threads and an embroidered peacock; my only link to a grandmother I never knew, Ellen Hardy Henry. Born in 1884, Ellen was a native of Foxford Co. Mayo. She worked in a clerical role at the Foxford Woollen Mills. She enjoyed embroidery throughout her life and completed a peacock for each of her six children. This peacock always hung in my family home and was our only material memory of her. I have always been drawn to the colours, the stitches and her skill. Before my father died he gifted the peacock to me, as I have also enjoyed embroidery since learning the skill in National School. These threads link me to my Foxford roots.

Shauna Sweeney
The pictures are by Evelyn McNamara. They show a small piece of crochet that my granny made. My cousin kept it when our granny passed away. She had it for years and one day put it in the washing machine by accident, turning it from white to blue. She used it on her own wedding day and pinned it into her wedding dress as her 'something old and blue'. When I got married she passed it on to me to do the same on my wedding day. It was special to have a piece of our grandmother with us on the day.

 

Emma McGrath
This was a bracelet that my grandmother May gave me for my 21st. It’s a 9ct gold bracelet made especially for her for her 21st and was commissioned by Grandfather James in 1929 (so bracelet 91 years old). It’s priceless to me. My grandmother instilled my love of fashion and sewing plus shopping. It was fashioned on the torque brooch, Ireland at the time was in its infancy as a free state and cultural references of the Celts were fashionable.

 

OTHER PRECIOUS ITEMS

Bernadette Keogh
My father bought this map and before we took any journey he would map out the route and I would always tell him what town was coming up ,he would put the map on the dashboard of the car and on the way home we would turn it the opposite way around. We used to travel between West Cork and Cavan and when we got to Granard you could see the spark in his eyes he was so delighted to be at his home county.

PREVIOUS EVENTS

Irish Textile Mills
Fri, 9 April 2021
Researching the Douglas Mills: uncovering an important chapter in the history of Irish textiles. In this webinar Anne Kiely and Carmel Creaner will share with you the fascinating history they have uncovered of the Cork textile industry over the past two centuries. This research was carried out as background to a substantial installation commissioned by Cork City Libraries. Speakers include Carmel Creaner & Ann Kiely who will discuss The Woven History of Douglas, Caroline Schofield who will highlight her familial history of woollen mills in Kilkenny, the Arts & Craft Movement and more.

Tools of the Trade
Thu, April 8 2021
Textile artist Caroline Schofield will be joined by a panel of guest speakers who have submitted entries to the Narrative Tools project. Audience members will gain a general overview of the Narrative Tools project and will be able to listen to a selection the wonderful stories and imagery gathered to date. Do you have an interesting story to tell? If so bring along your precious tool or craft item on the day. 

How Tradition Informs Contemporary Making
Tue, 6 April 2021
This webinar will include speakers such as keynote speaker and award-winning fashion designer Natalie B. Coleman*, along with Aisling Clancy Education Manager of DCCI. Aisling will highlight a selection of work by recent DCCI graduates who produced contemporary pieces for InForm. A two-year long collaborative project between the National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts & History and DCCI. Speakers will reflect on how traditional making techniques can be an expression of culture & tradition and how it can influence contemporary craft & design practice. 

*Natalie B. Coleman launched a collection of clothes entitled "Sisters" in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Traditional techniques such as lacemaking, weaving, knitting and hand-embroidery were used in the collection. An exquisitely embroidered bridal gown featuring Carrickmacross lacework on the sleeves. Natalie worked with a team of skilled craftspeople including Carrickmacross Lace makers Marion Egan and Theresa Kelly, embroidery expert and designer Jill de Burca, and knitted textiles designer Katie Hanlan. Natalie produced a contemporary and thought-proving collection which was featured at London Fashion Week. It embodied cutting-edge fashion embellished with traditional making skills.

Heritage Week Webinar: Tools Of The trade
Thursday 20 August 2020 


Join the National Design & Craft Gallery (NDCG) with visual artist Caroline Schofield and special guests, for an informal panel discussion focusing on heritage crafts. This webinar will highlight a selection of wonderful stories gathered as part of the NDCG’s Narrative Tools Project. Special guests will also share expert knowledge of heritage craft skills & collections. Panel participants and audience members will be encouraged to consider how we can preserve and in-still the value of Irish craft knowledge & skills for future generations. 

Narrative Tools Project Gathering For DCCI GANS Members
Friday 7 August 2020          
                      
NDCG along with visual artist Caroline Schofield, would like to directly engage with DCCI GANS members as part of the ‘Narrative Tools’ public engagement project. This online gathering includes an introductory overview about ‘Narrative Tools’, as well as interactive group activities with members of various GANS. Guest speakers include Mary Palmer, of the Cork Textiles Network and The Quilters Guild of Ireland, along with Colm Bagnall of the Irish Artist Blacksmiths Association. We invite all attending, to bring along a craft tool or item to discuss.

If you would like to contact us please email events@ndcg.ie .