Meet the Designer

We get to know Irish knitwear designer Ruth McKeon of Knitterarium

In this article we delve into the designing world of Ruth McKeon. Ruth lives in Co. Westmeath in the middle of Ireland. Ruth is the creator of Knitterarium, a world of beautiful designs inspired by stories from the past, present and future. We caught up with Ruth to find out more about her love of knitting and storytelling.

You say that “Empty needles with cakes of yarn are like an open book of possibility to me; it can become anything I wish it to become.” How do you approach your designing – do you start with an idea, or do you start with a definite ending?

I work both ways equally, depending on the design. For instance, some of my earlier pieces, such as the Éire Collection and the current Ladies of Legend Collection, they were led by a definite ending. I wanted to portray -and tell- the story, so, from that, I then worked backwards, and chose each element that would lead me to the ending I wanted. With a piece like my Dying of the Light pattern, it all came together one evening while driving home, and the setting sun in the sky was a canvas of colour and inspiration before me. I then worked forward with each design element to portray that vision in my head until I got the end piece I was after. I’m comfortable working both ways, ideas and inspiration can strike anywhere, in any form. Sometimes it’s a colour, a pattern, a poem or a story I’ve read. Sometimes it’s a story of my own I am thinking of.

We’re lucky to come from a place full of stories – we’re seeing a series of designs from you called ‘Ladies of Legend’. Would you say Irish legends are one of your main inspirations?

Here in Ireland, we are lucky to have a wonderful rich and vibrant history. It is a heritage I am very proud of and, when starting out, it was very natural and comfortable for me to dip into the background of legends I grew up listening to. For me, the Irish legends are as natural as the air I breathe. As a designer, though, I’ve grown and developed further, and I think it’s important to take inspiration from many things and places, so for now you will see upcoming lines coming from things outside of Irish legends, but I will, no doubt, return to them when I am feeling a little homesick.

Your designs tell a story, but you’re also inspired by stories you’ve read. What kind of stories most attract you?

Any story or poem that, through their words, can paint a picture in my mind is what attracts me most. All forms of literature, for me, can paint those pictures, and I found many ideas lately, from the light-hearted to the dark and horror-filled. For me, my designs are the re-telling of those stories, they are a visual showing of the picture painted in my mind by stories.

You have a penchant for designing shawls. What about shawls draw you in?

Shawls I’ve found, give me the scope and area to have a little more freedom in design, I am not limited in my design area by shaping, as you would have in garments, or by having small areas like socks and other accessories. Shawls are also a wonderfully versatile garment to wear, for me they are the ultimate accessory. I’ve been known to co-ordinate outfits for special occasions around shawls I want to wear.

Are there any designers that you look to?

I am not, what you would call a “dedicated follower of fashion”. I am a person who tends to walk along to my own beat, and the same happens in my designs. While I follow fashion in general, and know what is current, I find I’m happier designing what speaks to me and comes from the heart, so I don’t tend to look to anyone but design to my own beat.

We’re seeing in the past year a renaissance in the Irish fibre scene – we have a growth in amazing indie dyers, designers and podcasters, etc. How do you hope to see it develop?

The Irish fibre scene at the moment is quite fresh and full of so much exciting, upcoming talent. It is an exciting time to be involved. For me, I’d like to see it continue to grow and develop by nurturing and supporting current and upcoming talent. I would love to see a national network of support and build this talent, I think that, by helping and supporting what is home-grown, I think we can make a great name for the Irish fibre scene at home here, and that can only build bridges to a bigger international platform for everyone.