The Irish Times (2000)

The Irish Times

October 4, 2000

Anne Ó’Maille in conversation with Trish O’Donovan.

Last January Oprah Winfrey launched a TV channel called Oxygen, aimed at women. It has an Internet site of course, and Women’s Hands is the section devoted to the work women do.

Twenty women in the world were chosen because of the kind of handwork and craftwork we do and I was chosen because of knitting. I knit and I work with 170 knitters at this moment all over Ireland. The people from Women’s Hands picked one set that we produce.

It’s a little Aran jacket for a baby combined with a scarf, hat and mittens and it looks lovely. I had always sold it very well in the shop. They asked me how hundreds of those sets I could produce in six weeks!

This was July of last year, and I’m sure that not one of my knitters was working on that day. I would say they had visitors, they were going to the bog, they were painting the front door – but they certainly were not knitting.

I was faced with the situation where I had massive business opportunity and no knitters to do the work, so I went out and recruited knitters and I was very successful in doing this in west Clare and in north Mayo. As a result of this, over the winter we were able to build up a stock of hundreds and hundreds of sets for Women’s Hands and for Oprah.

The sets were packed up and sent to Manhattan and then sold on the Internet. It was a very busy time for us, very busy for our knitters – but very busy for me too because I gave an undertaking when I took on the handknitting section of our business that I would finish every Sweater that we produced, and I had to do that.

I myself put on all the buttons and labels and because they were going to the United States there is a requirement by US customs for a lot of extra labelling. As a result I stayed up days and nights.

Each one went out signed with the knitter’s name. The knitters thcmselves were very proud of this. I have no knitter under the age of 30. 1 have one under the age of 40 and the bulk of the knitters are between the ages of 60 and 85.

A lot of them are based in north Mayo. I’m sure life is very lonely and the winter is very long, so they are absolutely delighted to have work to do. I mail the wool to them. They do whatever is required and send it back to me and then I finish it.

The standard of knitting there is very high. I don’t approve of loose knitting. I want garments to look sturdy and to last a long long time and they will because we use very fine needles and we have the yarn spun just to our specifications. I have about 18 natural yarns on the needles at any one time and we would have a small number of coloured yarns.

Before Oprah came near us, about four and a half years ago, I became interested in the Internet. I set about having a website designed for O’Maille’s. At that time we were still in our old shop in Dominick Street where we bad been for almost 60 years.

Three years ago we moved to High Street and we launched the website in conjunction with that move. We already sell items ourselves through the website, though at the moment we’re redesigning our website, We have even got our own domain name: