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
‘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