The forced lockdown of lockdown with schools, offices and hotels closed has brought many parents and their children closer together. A surprising result of these restrictions was the experience of restaurant critic Katy McGuinness and her daughter Ellie Dunne, who both found themselves with time off during this long period, with McGuinness working from home and the university course of Dunnes online. Dunne (22), who has Down syndrome, is an art student taking the portfolio course at Stillorgan College. She has always painted and works from her own studio in a guest bedroom.
To wean their mother off the distractions of social media, the other McGuinness kids had given her boots of yarn to knit. So she spent her evenings knitting blankets inspired by Ellie’s bold and vibrant abstract patterns. Friends, seeing the results, asked about commissioning and suggested he contact Miriam Cushen of Cushendale Woolen Mills in Graiguenamanagh, Co Kilkenny, for help.
With Cushen’s enthusiasm for the project and after several months of meetings and discussions, a limited edition blanket stitch bordered throws under the Ellie Dunne Art label went on sale in December. All 50 sold in one day.
“When you have a disability, you are told you can’t do things, you don’t have the same opportunities [as others] shine,” says McGuinness. “Ellie is talented and wants to continue studying art – this opportunity has really thrilled her.”
The blankets, hand woven in Irish wool from the fleece of native Galway sheep which is spun, carded, dyed and woven in Cushendale, are available in two colours, moss green and orange. For Cushendale, one of Ireland’s oldest weaving companies, the collaboration “was a bit more meaningful and a learning process for us and for them – it was a journey for all of us,” says Cushen.
But that’s not the end of the story. Cushendale, Dunne and McGuinness are now planning another cover, and new yarn color swatches are already being picked. For Dunne, it’s a remarkable achievement and, as she says, “it’s been very exciting to see this happen at different stages – I think my favorite cover was the orange one”. For her mother, the challenge was to understand the whole process and technical requirements of translating an abstract work of art into warp and weft threads on the loom. “But we have a waiting list now and we’re very proud of it.” elliedunneart.com , cushendale.com