“Part of me always thought the Old Knitting Factory and I were meant to be. Like I’m drawn here to the universe or something. Betsy Cornwell touches the stone wall of the 1906 Connemara Knitting School where she lives with her young son. For the past year, she has been crowdfunding the purchase of the building so that she can use the space to create an artistic residency including childcare for other single mothers like her.
Best-selling young adult novelist, magazine editor and tutor at the National University of Ireland in Galway, Betsy speaks candidly about her “struggle to balance creative work with single parenthood and paying the bills” and how that struggle inspired her vision of a space for other single mothers to make art. To date, she has raised nearly € 40,000, but she is still working to cover her deposit and the renovation work required to open the residence.
Betsy shakes her head at her own words. “It’s silly and melodramatic, I know. But when I found this place, I wanted so badly to believe it was meant to be. I’m a writer – sometimes I can’t help but see good stories everywhere I go.
The old knitting mill, a rambling white and yellow building on the shore of Lough an Mhuillin in Carraroe, has certainly seen its fair share of stories. First built at a cost of £ 600 by the Congested Districts Board for Ireland, it both taught knitting techniques to local women and used their labor to create textiles for sale. Many of the women who worked in the knitting mill used their earnings to migrate to America, which Betsy notes is particularly touching for her as an American in Ireland.
In the 1970s, filmmaker Bob Quinn and his family moved into the factory and made it the first Irish-language cinema, a project that was later documented by his son Robert Quinn in the film Cinegael Paradiso. In the 1990s, the factory became a jewelry making home and studio for Jackie and Ed Keilthy of JEK Jewelry. The views from the knitting mill on Lough an Mhuillin have also served as inspiration for artists such as Charles Lamb and contemporary painter Pigsy.
“The old knitting factory has always been about either women’s work or art,” Betsy says. With her artistic residency including childcare services, she hopes to bring together these two parts of the building’s history.
The history of women’s work at the Old Knitting Factory, however, was not a rosy vision of brotherhood. The Congested Districts Board functioned as a branch of the British Conservative Party, working, in their own words, to “kill Home Rule with kindness” – to quell the Irish desire for independence by funding public works.
“Every day I think of the women who worked here,” Betsy says, looking around the high-ceilinged space that now serves as her living room and kitchen. “The research I have done so far tells me that they were probably underpaid and exploited. I recently discovered that even the height of the windows was designed so that the women who knit here all day cannot look out and be distracted from their work. So the idea of giving modern women the chance to look out the windows, slow down, and be able to soak up the beauty is close to my heart. It’s incredibly hard to find that time and space as a single mom.
Betsy intimately understands the difficulty of balancing a creative practice with single parenthood and paying the bills. After leaving an abusive marriage several years ago, she was faced with the homelessness that became the spark in her determination to find a stable home – and her inspiration in creating a space she could share with others. other single mothers.
“I remember ringing the doorbell of the domestic violence center with my baby on my chest in her baby carrier, knowing we couldn’t go home that night, knowing we had zero share where to go. I remember the nights I spent in a hotel in another town where my ex couldn’t find us, staying in a friend’s spare bedroom while I looked for a place we could afford. I remember my friends helping me pay my rent when it turned out that I couldn’t even afford this little bungalow for a month, ”she says. “And then I’m like, how dare I buy a house, let alone a knitting factory. But I’m here, and no matter what happens next, I know I’m doing my best.”
With the deadline to purchase the old knitting mill approaching October 1, however, Betsy begins to fear that if she can’t meet her crowdfunding goals, her work on the project will be in vain. She recently faced significant expenses that depleted the funds she had originally planned to put down for a down payment.
“But I couldn’t have done without trying,” she says. “That’s the only thing I’m coming back to right now. I remember how scared I was, how scared I have been since we left our house, my baby and I. I could not have not tried. And when I think back to the last year of single parenthood while in lockdown, moving from this project to my other three jobs, I don’t see a single day that I wasn’t working to my capacity or above. I want to be proud of myself for the hard work and passion I put into this project, whatever the outcome.
In her fear, she turned to the online community that followed her progress at the Old Knitting Factory. “It didn’t sound like a story I was telling anymore, it had to work somehow eventually. It was just hard. I was so scared to admit how hard I am completing this project. But when I did, when I told people I was afraid to fail, that’s when they really saved me once again.
In the past month, the Old Knitting Factory’s equity fund has doubled to over € 38,000 – enough to cover a down payment with a co-signer. Now, Betsy hopes to raise enough money to buy the plant independently, as well as to cover the costs of the renovations.
“I’m still not sure if I’m going to make it on my own,” Betsy said, “but I’m hopeful. I think it’s the best kind of story I can tell.
For more information on the old knitting mill, visit betsycornwell.com