Cavan farm takes ‘crafty approach’ to diversification

A couple from Virginia, Co. Cavan, have taken a crafty approach to farm diversification.

Sandra and Alan Coote – who live on a beef farm that sits under the ancient Loughcrew hills on the border of counties Cavan and Meath – are the couple behind Crafts of Ireland.

“The farm is ran by Alan and comprises of a suckler-to-beef system, combined with breeding pedigree Aberdeen Angus and Hereford cattle.

I have to admit to having a bias towards the Herefords – their docility and laid back attitudes make them wonderful cattle to work with.

“I grew up on a farm in Longford and I always had a keen interest in farming. I still take every opportunity I can to help our on the farm,” said Sandra.

After spending 25 years working full-time for a semi-state company, she opted for a severance package last December and decided to indulge her crafty leanings.

“I felt the time was right to finally follow my dream and develop a craft business. Crafts of Ireland is a combination of all the things that I love – from teaching traditional crafts to hosting afternoon tea and craft events.

“My main interest is in our traditional heritage crafts: wool spinning; dyeing wool using natural plant dyes; butter making; lace crochet; and embroidery.

“I also teach the modern crafts of pebble art, button art, needle felting and card making,” she said.

Both Alan and Sandra also have a keen interest in vintage.

While his love is for tractors and cars; Sandra’s lies in vintage and antique crafting equipment.

“I now have a large collection of sewing machines that date from the 1860s and a number of circular sock knitting machines – the machines that helped win Word War I through providing socks for the soldiers in the trenches,” she said.

Sandra finds that her Cavan workshops attract mainly females of all age groups – with crafty hen parties finding them a novel getaway.

However, she has also taught spinning to men.

Misconceptions of Irish wool

Irish wool, she contended, is not being promoted properly. She believes that there is a misrepresentation that the quality is poor.

“This is certainly not true; we have large numbers of breeds that produce high quality fleeces.

I have sourced Jacob, Zwartbles and Cheviot wools locally and love working with them. There is a gradual return to a level of appreciation for traditionally produced ethically sourced materials, and a revived interest in spinning and dyeing.

“We have a very strong craft heritage in Ireland and it is important that we preserve these skills and continue to practice them,” said Sandra.

Sandra will open an extension to her current Cavan studio in the autumn. And, having self-financed the venture to date, she is hoping to secure Leader funding for this.

“This space will double as a craft workspace and a small crafting museum. The health benefits of participating in crafts are slowly being recognised.

“My aim is to be able to provide a welcoming space where people can both learn and relax in a stunning rural location,” she concluded.