On Francis Street, a Knitters’ Institution Winds Up

“I want to do a single blanket for myself – crochet,” says Shideh Kiasar, peering in behind the rainbow-wool window display of the Constant Knitter to see if the customer inside is finished yet.

Once inside, Kiasar reaches up and squeezes a few balls of wool piled up on the tall shelves that line the length of the shop, and run from floor to ceiling, in colourful cubby holes like a woollen sweet shop.

Kiasar’s blanket will be for when the temperature eventually drops, she says. Crochet was her new lockdown hobby.

She’s already made a cardigan, tablecloth and a blanket for her cat. “If the cat gets a blanket I deserve to get one too!” she says.

How much wool to buy, though, weighs on Kiasar’s mind, she says. “If I finish and I need more, then it’s a challenge for me to find out where can I get them,” she says, as she reaches for the bulging bags.

Get working fast, says shop owner Rosemary Murphy, so she’ll know if she needs more soon. “Let me know immediately and we’ll keep it for you.”

But, says Murphy, the shop will close for good at the end of the month.

Closing Up

Murphy says she opened the shop at a time when knitting was really taking off.

“God, some of the designs, some of the designers out there are so absolutely amazing and innovative and different,” she says, reaching for books of her favourite designs on the shop’s bookshelves.

Knitting has changed. Materials even. “I mean, people are knitting with banana skins!” she says. “​​It just became so much more interesting and creative and artistic.”

Her mother would knit her and her sister’s school jumpers when they were younger, says Murphy. “And I’ve been knitting all my life, I just love it.”

Murphy blames Brexit and Covid for the closure of her Francis Street knitting mecca, so she’s picking the moment to retire.

“I have a lot of wool from a really nice mill in West Yorkshire, and with Brexit it was too difficult,” she says.

After lockdown, she couldn’t face staying open until 6pm, she says. “It was too long a day and I was on my own and it’s very hard.”

Now, customers pick over what’s left of the stock.

Local knitting groups wonder where they will meet after Murphy’s retires. The room above the shop was a hub for knitters.

“We had the stitch and bitch, and the stitch and butch classes, so people met here, and came here to socialise,” says Murphy.

For years, Helen Crawford ran knitting classes out of Murphy’s upstairs room. That it was above a shop was a big bonus, she says.

“Especially for me, running classes if someone forgot something or they needed a ball of yarn, it was just a case of running downstairs,” she says.

Groups could have met in pubs or houses, she says. But knitting groups relished gathering above a haven of yarn, says Crawford.

“The thing that set Murphy’s shop apart was the quality of the stuff she had.” Yarns made of natural fibres, and not acrylic like more easily available wool, she says.

Murphy says that American tourists regularly bought from her. The shop would get bus loads, she says.

And the Irish Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers held events and meetings there for seven years, says Máire Ní Neachtain, the guild’s secretary.

The guild held workshops in using spinning wheels. “It’s a big loss, because it was so welcoming and Rosemary always published our activities so we got quite a lot of new members,” she says.

In 2017, the first Revived Yarn events were held there too. People knitted hats and scarves for homeless charities, says Elisabetta Melis, who founded the group.

Crafters have so many wasteful ends of leftover yarn, says Melis. “My idea was to invite people to donate the material that they want to, or to donate their time and skills to help the least fortunate.”

Melis says it means more than donating items picked up from a stack. “It’s the love and attention that a person would put into knitting the hat.”

Murphy introduced Melis to a network, she says, and was there with advice. “She never hesitated to put me in contact with people that would help, and would offer her venue without any charge.”

Melis isn’t running the meet-ups right now. “A lot of people don’t feel comfortable yet to meet in person,” she says.

For the future, “I am planning to look into community centres, or other venues, you know, we could rent,” she says.

Making Friends

Murphy lifts a bottle of champagne from behind the counter. Someone gave her, just to say thanks, she says. “I’ve made so many friends through this shop. It’s been lovely.”

She says she got an email recently, too, from a past visitor to the shop. They used to live on the street, they said, and broke their jaw and couldn’t speak for months.

“So she used to come here and listen to the guff upstairs. It kept her sane,” says Murphy.

Melis says she’s really happy for Murphy that she is retiring. “Based on what she gave back to the community, I think now it’s her moment to enjoy herself a little bit.”

Murphy says she was too busy to knit while running The Constant Knitter.

Thirty kilos of her stock is dedicated to her retirement years, Murphy says. “That won’t mean anything to a non-knitter – but that’s a lot.”

Pip Murphy, her sister, is sitting on the stairs that lead from the shop’s ground floor to the first floor.

She flew in from New York a few days earlier. “Well, I’m coming to stock up,” says Pip.

“She knits more than I do,” says Rosemary Murphy. “I don’t knit all the time, she does.”

“And so when she heard that I was closing down the shop, I knew I get an email back – ‘I’m coming to help you.’”

[CORRECTION: This article was updated at 3.40pm on 11 August to correct that Revived Yarn is still an active group, just the meet-ups are on hold. Sorry for any confusion.]

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