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Beautiful Irish knitwear to keep you swaddled and stylish this winter

Knits are taking centre stage this season – wear with anything from jeans and combats to an elegant skirt

The woolly season is upon us, as the days close in and darken earlier. We have a wealth of Irish knitwear designers to keep us swaddled and stylish, and with a wool trade that goes back centuries, it’s not surprising. A recent visit to the Sheep and Wool Centre in Leenane in Connemara was a revelation, with fascinating information on all aspects of wool and its economic, political and social history.

According to esteemed fashion forecaster Li Edelkoort at her Talking Textiles annual conference in October, the overwhelming return of knitwear as a category of its own “is no longer just an afterthought, it is a head to toe, day in day out, morning to evening phenomenon. With sweater weather moving to centre stage, all other categories will follow the lead of knits.”

Most photo shoots of knitted jumpers today are taken against a traditional Irish landscape of mountains, forests, rivers, or sea with associations of hardiness, comfort and protection. Irish stylist and show producer Catherine Condell, who wanted to do something more elegant with this photo shoot, reckons that “a lot of Irish people don’t look at traditional knitwear as fashion, whereas it never goes out of fashion”.

Her signature is always evident in her styling – variously described as theatrical and poetic – and for this shoot she deliberately chose to elevate traditional knitwear with more flamboyant skirts, dresses emphasising strong colour – bright yellows, clarity reds and blues. “The big ball skirts make it look feminine and girly and everybody has a fantasy about the big ball skirt,” she says. The result offers new ideas about how to update an everyday item and create an eveningwear look. What’s more comfortable than a big sweater over a long dress or combats?


Condell’s style has remained constant over the years “and I don’t do too cool for school shoots”, she insists. “All I can say is that styling is instinctual and that I have never done a makeover. I can tidy somebody up and suggest a good haircut and a good make-up lesson to produce a slightly better version of how they want to look themselves, as opposed to a big reveal as if they were going to a wedding.”

As to what she wears herself, she believes that “after a certain age, women should have their own uniform. Mariad Whisker (who operates a private made-to-measure service) makes 99 per cent of my clothes because I hate bells and bows. I wear mostly black and I feel completely at home in a boiled wool black coat with big pockets. I put on inexpensive white tees and black leggings every day and throw over some of my Mariad Whiskers, many of which I have had for over 20 years.”

For someone who deals with some of the most beautiful clothes in fashion, it’s a surprising admission that she wears the same things every day, “and even to weddings. Even if I was a size 8 – and I am a big girl – I would wear the same. I wish more people would wear what suits them because the fashion world sends people into orbit worrying about fashion.”

Her favourite shot in this collection is the moss green cardigan worn with a denim shirt and combats “because these knits can be worn in different ways and not just with jeans”.

All sweaters are from The Sweater Shop, a family run business founded in 1987 which sells both traditional and contemporary knits in their stores in Dublin, Galway and Kilkenny. Photographer: Barry McCall; model: Thalia at MorganThe Agency; stylist: Catherine Condell assisted by Delfine Ryan; make-up: Zoe Clark; hair: Leonard Daly.

Deirdre McQuillan

Deirdre McQuillan

Deirdre McQuillan is Irish Times Fashion Editor, a freelance feature writer and an author