Dyed in the wool

Knit wit Tim Ryan is a star in the as­cen­dant in de­sign cir­cles. In­vest now, while he’s still af­ford­able, writes ALANNA GAL­LAGHER

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‘Boys weren’t al­lowed to knit at my school but I got my kicks at home, play­ing with yarn on my mother’s knit­ting ma­chine,” says ris­ing tri­cot star, Tim Ryan. “I also had a friend in school who ab­so­lutely de­tested the sub­ject so I also used to do her knit­ting home­work for her. In re­turn she would colour in the mar­gins of my copy­book.”

Ryan hails from Puck­ane out­side Ne­nagh in Co Tip­per­ary. He taught him­self the knit ba­sics on his mother’s do­mes­tic knit­ting ma­chine. “My mother worked from home, cre­at­ing hand-made jumpers for money. There were al­ways bags of yarn around her work­room and I liked to play and ex­per­i­ment with them. I learned how to find my way round the ma­chine.”

The de­signer went to Lim­er­ick Col­lege of Art and De­sign to study fash­ion but soon got bored and trans­ferred into sculp­ture in­stead. This in­flu­ence is ev­i­dent in much of his work, which ex­hibits three-di­men­sional qual­i­ties.

“I knit­ted all through col­lege, mostly pieces for my­self, but then my friends started to want some­thing sim­i­lar. From there I started to sell into Sé Sí, a one-time pro­gres­sive in­de­pen­dent bou­tique in Tem­ple Bar. I didn’t have a master­plan. I hadn’t tended to spe­cialise in knit but that was where my tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise lay.”

Ryan’s style is fem­i­nine with a twist. While his spring/sum­mer col­lec­tion showed a lot of colour, many of this year’s au­tumn/win­ter gar­ments in­volve drap­ing, cre­at­ing an edgier, more aus­tere sil­hou­ette.

Th­ese spi­ral pieces are al­most ar­chi­tec­tural in their struc­ture. “I add vol­ume in­te­grally. By not be­ing re­stricted to cut­ting shapes from pat­terns I can add and sub­tract vol­ume to a sin­gle piece, and cre­ate the gar­ment I want. This, for me, is one of the in­ter­est­ing things about the knit­ting process. It’s also a great way to get a sense of the pro­por­tions of an item of cloth­ing.”

Ryan’s sig­na­ture style is vis­cose lurex but he’s now up­ping the luxe ante by us­ing fine gauge wools and Scot­tish cash­mere to cre­ate ev­ery­day lux­ury items.

“My de­signs are wash­able, they drape well and they’re glitzy with­out be­ing too brash,” ex­plains Ryan, who is cur­rently stocked in Elaine Cur­tis’ Car­low store and Ju Ju in Grey­stones.

Ryan also one of the win­ners of Brown Thomas’ Men­tor Award at this year’s Dublin Fash­ion Week. The Dublin store will be show­cas­ing his tal­ents for a lim­ited pe­riod in Au­gust.

He moved to Lon­don two years ago and this has helped him take the next log­i­cal step, to get a UK agent and stock­ists. Lon­don’s white-hot bou­tique, Con­crete, has just taken his Au­tumn Win­ter col­lec­tion and Harper’s & Queen and Elle mag­a­zines have taken pieces for their Septem­ber edi­to­ri­als. Th­ese are big en­dorse­ments and it’s ev­i­dence that his creative process is go­ing in the right di­rec­tion.

“Lon­don makes de­mands of you. You get less of any­one’s time. You have to step up to the plate, and ac­cel­er­ate your learn­ing.”

Up un­til re­cently Ryan couldn’t find the cal­i­bre of hand skills re­quired to cre­ate his col­lec­tion, but he then dis­cov­ered Mace­do­nia, where the women still have the type of hand skills peo­ple in Ire­land took for granted 30 years ago. His­tory is re­peat­ing it­self as th­ese women also work from home, do­ing their own child­care and ex­ist­ing in their own com­mu­ni­ties.

Ryan is in the process of get­ting Fair­trade ac­cred­i­ta­tion for his gar­ments and is also hop­ing to set up an academy of knit­ting in the re­gion. “The ex­ist­ing in­dus­try is to­bacco, which is not sus­tain­able in the long term. It’s great to give the younger gen­er­a­tion a rea­son to stay and the op­por­tu­nity to learn a new skillset.” Ryan de­signs for real peo­ple. “Dif­fer­ent clients suit dif­fer­ent shapes. My gar­ments don’t nec­es­sar­ily have what they call hanger ap­peal. They are pieces you re­ally need to try on to see how they hit your body. I don’t have a pre­scrip­tive way that some­thing should be worn, dif­fer­ent shapes look en­tirely dif­fer­ent on dif­fer­ent body shapes.”

In­spi­ra­tion comes from his many ad­mir­ers and friends. “I might get re­ally ex­cited by a cer­tain pink yarn and then I be­gin to build a de­sign by imag­in­ing how a per­son I know, who never wears pink, would wear the shade. It’s quite in­stinc­tual.” Things are com­ing to­gether for Ryan. And yes his mother is very proud. “No, she hasn’t built a shrine to me yet, but she has

mucked-in and sewn last-minute la­bels into gar­ments.”

Above: knitwear de­signer Tim Ryan

Be­low left: one of Ryan’s de­signs

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