Weaving a winning style with Irish linen and flax

Kindred of Ireland and the Linen Shirt Company are reviving traditional fabrics

It is one of Ireland’s most famous textiles, and, though long ignored by Irish designers, linen is beginning to enjoy something of a revival in fashion north and south.

Flax is also being grown, harvested and woven by Charlie and Helen Mallon in Co Tyrone. Spearheading the idea of making clothes closer to home with traditional materials and breathing new life into a heritage craft are two companies: Kindred of Ireland, founded by Amy Anderson in Dungannon; and the Linen Shirt Company in Kilkenny, whose founder is Anneliese Duffy. The latter won the Best Product award this year at Showcase.

Both companies, in their own individual ways, show how linen with all its qualities can keep you cool – in every sense. Historically, it made Sybil Connolly’s name in the 1950s and Paul Costelloe’s in the 1970s; in later decades, Mariad Whisker became known for her ultra-stylish takes on this age-old fabric. More recently, Niamh O’Neill decided to use linen extensively in her spring/summer collection for the first time.

Anneliese Duffy’s linen shirts, whose fabrics are sourced from both Emblem Weavers in Wexford and McNutt in Donegal, are designed for men, women and children. The shirt stories for women include shirtdresses with crisp pleating and distinctive collars and cuffs, styles that are seasonless in a fabric that improves with age. Some of the men’s shirts in relaxed fits have grandad collars, while junior styles are simple with pearl button front details.

Duffy, whose family founded the business in 1972, grew up with a love of fabrics and started sewing on industrial machines during school holidays. Later, having studied pattern cutting at the Grafton Academy, she completed a degree in Fashion and Textiles at NCAD, and gained valuable experience working with the gifted craftsman Bill Gaytten, John Galliano’s right-hand man for years.

She is passionate about keeping manufacturing in Ireland, investing in new training programmes for sewing machinists and passing on skills that would otherwise be lost. “It’s the only way we can safeguard this industry for future generations and help it grow to new levels,” she says. “We are going to have to be more self-sufficient and impose levies on imports from the Far East.”

For Amy Anderson, a textiles, art and design graduate of University of Ulster whose romantic Irish linen dresses have featured in Vogue and Tatler, it was a photograph of her grandmother spinning yarn in Moygashel, and other members of her family who worked in the mill, that prompted her desire to breathe new life into Irish linen.

The third generation of her family to work with the cloth, she launched her company in 2018, selling online, and recently opened her first shop in the Smithfield Market area of Belfast. Her dresses are romantic in spirit, her jackets and coats in lustrous beetled linen are functional and stylish, and everything is responsibly sourced and handmade to order.

Like Duffy, she stresses the importance of maintaining sewing skills. Having spent time in China as a volunteer with a design company employing survivors of trafficking, she has partnered with the anti-trafficking organisation Flourish NI to help develop their Sew & Skills programme for victims by donating 10 per cent of her profits to aid their recovery and independence. Find out more at kindredofireland.com

READ MORE
RECOMMENDED