An Ireland – America Connection

Just in time for Saint Patrick’s Day I have a little tale of Ireland and the USA.  I posted about this dress with a superb Irish tweed over two years ago.   At the time I was looking for information about Carol Brown, which I found:

Born Lucy Caroline Brown in 1889, Carol Brown became interested in Irish woolens during a bicycle tour of Ireland in 1926.  She became friends of the Wynne sisters of the Avoca Handweavers in County Wicklow, Ireland.  Carol began importing the woolen yardage which she sold through a shop in Boston.  In 1937 she moved to Putney, Vermont and opened the shop in her home.

There she sold a variety of woolen goods – Irish tweed yard goods, woolen blankets and lap rugs, and handknit scarves, caps and sweaters.  Her interest in natural fibers led her to expand into other fabrics from around the world, such as fine Swiss cottons and Thai silks.  The shop was mentioned in a 1971 newsletter from the Amy Vanderbilt Success Program for Women, in which the lap rugs were highly recommended!

Brown became a community leader and a patron of the arts in her adopted town.  She died in 1990, just shy of her 101th birthday.

To my delight, I’ve heard from the Wynne family, of the Avoca Handweavers.  Graham Wynne adds to the story:

“So interesting to read this! I stayed with Carol and Laurie, her nephew, in Vermont in about 1972 while I was a visiting student from Ireland with a summer job in Boston. My great aunts Emily, Veronica and Winnifred Wynne ran the Avoca Handweavers having resurrected the business in the 1920′s after they returned from the first World War with no jobs and no prospects of husbands either. Carol was their USA agent and she visited Avoca most years on buying trips. She bought Irish handwoven products from other weaving firms but I think she had a soft spot for Avoca and their friendship endured for many, many years!

“I remember many cold and drafty lunches in the enormous dining room in Tigroney House in Avoca with just four of us at one end of a table that probably could have comfortably sat twenty! The three sisters worked very well together, each having her own strength in one or more areas of the business. One of their talents was how they combined colors that very often reflected what they saw in nature. The tweeds were almost indestructible and I’m sorry that I don’t have a vintage Avoca Handweavers jacket to wear in memory of them sometimes! They were wonderful, highly intelligent, versatile women – way ahead of their time in terms of “Liberation”. They never married.

“My parents, Pat and Una Wynne took over the business in 1959 (after Emily died and Win and V could no longer manage things due to age and declining health) and saved it from extinction. They kept it going as best they could, and continued to employ weavers until a property developer named Charlie Houlihan purchased Tigroney House, the land and the business. Soon after that the Hilliary and Donald Pratt bought the Avoca Handweavers from Charlie and with their brilliant business and design sense turned it into one of the best known brands in Ireland, now it is simply known as “Avoca”. There is not very much handwoven product made now in Avoca, County Wicklow but the “Old stuff” is still much loved and used by thousands of people world wide who either bought it or were given items for wedding presents!

“I have quite a good collection of rugs and bed spreads from the last period of Wynne ownership and use several of the rugs to keep warm while watching TV!

“I hope there are still many who enjoy the amazing fabric. Perhaps some of it may be re- tailored to fit a new generation of aficionados!”

You can definitely see what Graham was referring in regards to the color mixing.  I so love the sunset colors of my dress.  And Graham’s stories of his great-aunts makes them come alive!

Thanks so much to Graham Wynne for sharing this bit of his family’s history.

17 Comments

Filed under Curiosities

17 responses to “An Ireland – America Connection

  1. Wow, such an interesting story, Lizzy! I used to weave, and know how labor-intensive those handwovens are. (Plus my interest was piqued because my mother’s maiden name was “Carol Brown.” Her great-grandfather, Hugh Brown, came to the U.S. from Dublin).

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  2. I love these brand/company profiles; I know for a fact they’ve helped on shopping trips I’ve taken. Thanks!

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  3. The colours of your tweed really sing, Lizzie. Lovely to learn more about a venerable old Irish tweed name – thank you. I found this little film about the Pratts’ purchase of Avoca (and where they’ve taken it since) really enjoyable and suspect you will too: http://vimeo.com/62274419

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  4. I recognized that tweed immediately from the featured image – so glad that the story behind it is getting better and better. And yes, it’s true I have a hard time leaving a cool dress on the racks while thrifting! Always happiest when I can connect them up with the people who will truly appreciate it.

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  5. I love these “stories behind the brand.” What an amazing historian you are, Lizzie!

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  6. What a beautiful label! And a lovely story. Thanks for sharing this, Lizzie.

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  7. Morning Waters

    What a lovely story, I have visited the Avoca company the last time I was in Ireland. My husband and I purchased some lovely sweaters to give as gifts and I bought a lovely knitted scarf in a wonderful blue that I just adore. The town of Avoca was also the setting for the wonderful TV series “Ballykissangel”. I practically swooned when we drove over the bridge and there was the familiar (from the show) Pub, church, shop etc.
    – Celtic Lass-

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  8. Pingback: College Girls Become Farmers During World War I | witness2fashion

  9. Pingback: Avoca Handwoven from Ireland | The Vintage Traveler

  10. Edie DeWeese

    I worked for Carol Brown a little bit in the early 1970s. I had always seen her ads in Saturday Review, so when I moved to Brattleboro, I sought her out. She was a wonderful person, funny, smart, and generous. And her eclectic style was obvious throughout her house–which was attached to the shop. She made her own bread and would butter each piece before she cut it off the loaf–what a good idea! Still have a length of cloth that I bought with my employee discount and can’t bring myself to cut into it.

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