MAKING A STRONG return to fashion this season are cabled knits, those familiar decorative motifs that the French call "le style irlandais" appearing in varying guises in many collections.
When Marc Jacobs sent out boyfriend Arans worn over floor-length skirts on the New York catwalk with other designers including Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren following suit, suddenly sweater dressing became a trend. In the coming months, expect the high street to be flooded with densely textured jumpers and chunky woolly hats and scarves for winter warmers. Aran-style sweaters and cabled leggings will be all over Topshop, and both John Rocha for Debenhams and Warehouse will be offering full-length knitted maxi Aran dresses with roll collars for those brave enough, or slim enough, to wear them.
REAL ARAN HANDKNITTERS may be a declining breed, but one Aran Islander still passionate about the craft is Mary Deevy, née Fitzpatrick, who learnt how to knit and sew as a child at Killeany National School on Inis Mór. "Delia Mullen used to teach us how to knit socks, turn a heel and finish off with the toe on four needles. Later, at 13 or l4, when I was at technical school, Máirín Conneely used to give us wool and needles and we used to knit for her. She would measure the width and length of the sweater and gave you money for that and wool for the next batch," she recalls. There's a well-known photograph of Mary and her sister Kathleen with Aran jumpers taken by the late Leo Daly which became a best selling Irish postcard.
Deevy's parents ran a pub called Tig Fitz on the island and in between pulling pints, she took to the needles. "It was a great pastime. I picked up a lot from the older knitters because we wouldn't have had magazines or anything like that then. In the summer we used to knit hats and sell them to the tourists for pocket money." She continues to knit for family and friends and now two of her daughters have inherited their mother's interest. "Last St Stephen's Day, Kathleen and Noreen started knitting and by the time the day was over they had both knitted a hat," she says proudly.
Evidence of her work is displayed on her kitchen table - everything from little egg and tea cosies, headbands and hats to chunky sweaters in traditional stitches. She points out the stitch patterns on the sweaters, the moss, cable (three different kinds), twist, plait, diamond and honeycomb. It takes her about two weeks to complete a sweater and she's skilled enough to be able to knit and watch TV at the same time.
She buys wool in shops such as Hickey's in Mary Street, Patricia's in Parnell Street, both in Dublin 1, and Knit 'nd Make in Rathmines, Dublin 6. Deevy describes her love of knitting as an addiction. "When I see a pattern that I like, I just have to have it. When I have nothing to do, I like to knit, but you need patience," she says. She sees a renewed interest in the craft today. "I think knitting has definitely taken off again and I think a lot of young people are at it. Chunky wool can be knitted quickly, especially on big thick needles, and God bless whoever brought in the timber needles because they don't make noise," she laughs. "My mother used to say that time wasted was time spent in purgatory." When I show her the leggings in Topshop's winter brochure, she looks closely and immediately reckons they could be made with four balls of wool on 30 stitches. She could probably run them up in days with her eyes closed.
Mary Deevy can be contacted at 01-4533695/087-6313884
KNOW YOUR KNITS
As part of Galway Heritage Week, on Saturday, August 28th, Mairead Sharry of Inis Oírr on the Aran Islands will give a talk at Galway City Museum about wool, wool crafts and the traditional clothes of the Aran Islanders. She will be spinning wool from the island sheep, weaving a crios and showing how pampooties were made. Entrance is free and the talks will be from 11am until noon, and 2pm to 3pm.