Culture Near You is an online map of culture in Dublin. We’re constantly adding to this cultural map so we get to meet lots of the great people featured, and we thought you might like to meet them too!
For this blog series, we’re meeting the makers, the movers and shakers, the partakers, and the doers of the map - to find out more about what they do in the city. You can find out more about Culture Near You and how to get involved here.
We spoke with Helen Crawford, knitter, teacher, textile artist and creator of the delightful knit creatures, the Beasties.
In this blog, Helen shares with us how the first Beastie came to be and their journey so far, as well as her favourite things to do in Dublin and how you can get knitting yourself.
Tell us a bit about yourself, and what you do?
My name is Helen, and I make monsters! I’m a knitter, embroiderer and sewist, and I combine these crafts to make “Beasties”, a range of handmade monster dolls. Each one is unique, and they are all created using my own templates and patterns. I knit with 100% natural fibre yarns, and every Beastie leaves my Dublin 8 studio with a handmade accessory or outfit that showcases their individual personality.
As for me, I’m originally from Co. Down in Northern Ireland. I moved to Dublin to go to college in the early 2000s and, as I often tell people, I forgot to leave afterwards! I’ve always enjoyed making things, and I grew up with plenty of opportunity and encouragement to do this as I come from a family of makers – my mum is an embroiderer, my dad builds traditional Irish river curraghs. My childhood bedroom was usually strewn with half-finished sewing and knitting projects, so I’m delighted to have been able to develop these skills as an adult and make a career of them!
At the risk of sounding like a crazy person... I can’t wait to spend the warm summer months making loads of stock for Christmas markets!
How did the first CrawCrafts Beastie come about, and how long have you been making them?
It was a happy accident! A few years ago, I fell into a bit of a rut at work and I found the thing that helped me the most was taking up knitting again... So I REALLY started knitting! I went from being someone who picked up their needles from time to time to being completely obsessed, and once I’d made more hand-knitted hats, mittens and scarves than I could reasonably wear in a lifetime, I started trying to figure out how to sell my work. It was tricky though, because I knew I needed to find an “angle” that set my knitwear apart from what was already out there.
Then one day I was knitting a pair of fingerless gloves and I ran out of yarn halfway through. Rather than unravelling what I’d done and chucking the yarn back in my knitting bag, I decided to make a little woolly dude instead. I’ve always had a fondness for weird and wonderful creatures… As a kid (and, if I’m honest, right up to the present day) I loved cartoons and the Muppets. So I improvised the pattern as I went along, making use of some of my favourite knitting techniques on the way, and the first Beastie was born. Of course, I still have him – these days he’s enjoying a comfortable retirement on my bookshelf! I made a few more for family and friends, and then took the Beasties to market for the first time just before Christmas 2013. It was a weekend-long market, and I was amazed when all those Beasties had headed off to new homes by mid-afternoon on the Sunday! That was all the encouragement I needed to continue, and since then, I’ve had fun expanding the range of Beastie characters with ever more elaborate hairstyles, outfits and accessories.
Could you describe your work for anyone who might be unfamiliar with it?
Beasties are small (usually about 15cm tall) hand-knitted monsters. They all go out into the world with at least one handmade accessory, and with so many possible combinations of colours, facial features and accessories, every Beastie is unique. While I have a few “core” Beasties who always show up on my market stall (ones with cookies or an Aran sweater are especially popular), I’m always looking out for fresh characters to add to the lineup. I’ll get ideas for new Beasties from just about anything - film and TV, public figures, even people I see in the street! And Ireland provides plenty of inspiration for Beastie accessories too, from our national love of tea to our homegrown sports.
In terms of how I work – well, due to the small stature of your average Beastie, it involves a lot of miniaturisation! That in turn means that Beasties are super-handmade. To get things on the scale I need them to be, it’s usually easier to sew, embroider and knit by hand, rather than using machines. I see this as an advantage though, as it allows me to be more thoughtful about the creation process, and make use of even the smallest fragments of my materials. More recently, I’ve been embracing the waste-reduction angle even further, and using upcycled materials in my work – such as making some of my stuffing for the Beasties from offcuts of knitting yarn.
Do you have any stand out or favourite moments from CrawCrafts Beasties?
One of the best surprises about making Beasties is the community that has grown up around them, and one moment from a market I did last Christmas really springs to mind as a highlight. It was getting near to closing time, the crowds had gone home and I was wondering if perhaps I should pack up early since I only had a handful of Beasties left on the stall and it was really cold! Then a father and son showed up, with a Beastie they’d adopted from me at one of the last markets I did before Lockdown happened. They’d come along just to say hello, and better yet, they’d brought a scrapbook full of photos of all the adventures their Beastie had had since I’d last seen him! It made me so happy to see someone connecting with one of my handmade creations in this way, and for this to have led them off on their own creative journey.
(I actually did a blog post of my own about this, if you’re curious to have a look inside the Beastie’s photo album!)
What’s your favourite thing about what you do?
Apart from having the opportunity to make a living from doing the things I love the most, I’d have to say that I really enjoy the improvisational side of kitting Beasties out with all their clothes and accessories. I get such a kick out of figuring out the angles of making miniature versions of everyday items, especially if it’s something I haven’t tried before!
They’d come along just to say hello, and better yet, they’d brought a scrapbook full of photos of all the adventures their Beastie had had since I’d last seen him!
What are you most looking forward to in the coming weeks and months?
At the risk of sounding like a crazy person... I can’t wait to spend the warm summer months making loads of stock for Christmas markets! I’m also prepping for a group exhibition in August with Textile Journey, a collective of Irish-based textile artists. It’s an opportunity for me to use my crafts in a different kind of way, and I’m excited to see where this new path leads!
Lastly, if someone would like to get involved with knitting, how can they do that?
If anyone wants to learn to knit, or build on what they already know, I can help! I run weekly knitting classes from my studio in Dublin 8, and I teach all levels from complete beginners to more advanced knitters who just need a hand figuring out a tricky bit in a pattern. Classes can be booked on my Knit With Helen website.
I also run an online knitting shop, selling a range of yarns, knitting needles and tools that will help budding knitters get their first project off the ground!
Helen and CrawCrafts Beasties will be at the Griffith Barracks Multi-Denominational School Summer Fair, which will take place on Sunday 11 June.