20 May 2022

Ann Nolan

Award-winning designer who works with textiles to recreate the magic of our boat-building heritage

Ann Nolan

Born in Co Waterford I came to Limerick to study on a new course, called ‘Fashion Knitwear and Textiles’ at Limerick School of Art and Design’ (LSAD).

It was set-up in 2013 and jointly led by Liz Spillane and Mairead Neill. There were just five of us initially, so we were the guinea pigs if you like. However, it has developed into an amazing course over those few years and now has over 60 students. My primary education took place at Butlerstown NS, Co Waterford; and for secondary school I attended the Loreto Convent, Youghal and Ursuline Convent, Waterford. I did a BA (Hons) in Wales and a Master’s Degree in Fine Art (MFA) at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in the USA. Both of those degrees were in woven textiles.

Growing-up, I never thought of myself as being an artist as such, but I was always interested in textiles.

One of my earliest memories is of learning how to knit. I have absolutely no idea where this artistic creativity came from, I guess it must have been latent or dormant in the family and I was the lucky one through which it sprung into life again. I certainly never thought that I could make a living from it, so for years I pursued a different path. Only going to college later in life taught me it could be a career.

People are drawn to art from a deep longing but others follow a different path for years without recognising it.

A few people are very lucky to arrive at a stage in their lives when they are in a position to go back to college (or indeed go to college for the first time). I count myself in that group and as a mature student it was great to be in college again and be immersed in that great energy, enthusiasm and creativity. Personally, I was always interested in producing an end-product which is a bit more difficult with Wovens. For the latter there is more emphasis on designing rather than actually producing a garment. So I had my eye on the end-game and how I was going to make a living from doing the course. Indeed, I am now back living in Co Waterford and in the process of setting up my own business designing knitwear and accessories. It’s an exciting and daunting time, but I fully intend on having fun along the way. Having worked in London and New York I have many experiences to draw from in this new chapter of my life.

The concept for my final year collection at LSAD was based on the age old tradition of boat building in Ireland, and in particular, the structure and spine of the Néamhóg (Currach).

During the second year of the Knitwear course I completed a mini-collection based on the Blasket Islands. One of the garments from that collection won the 2016 RDS Craft Awards sponsored by Donegal Yarns. The islanders’ life was harsh, indeed so harsh that in the 1950s they had to abandon their homes and way-of-life and leave the island, which was tragic and heartbreaking. At the moment I am continuing with the boat building concept and indeed looking at Island life over the years. Recently, one of my designs was used in Dance Limerick’s production of ‘The Autonomy Project’ with the concept centred on the spine - this time the human spine rather than a boat or structural spine. It was also great to support Lisa McLoughlin with this production.

Technical training is very important particularly in the knitwear sector.

We had to become very competent with the various knitting machines, learn how to pattern draft and construct garments. Alongside that we had to garner and develop our own design style. We got a lot of tuition along the way, but design is very personal and everyone develops their own sense of design and style. It is very fluid and grows and develops throughout college and on through one’s lifetime. New designers should start-out by exploring the options available, for example, the best college to meet your needs. Once you are in college options will open-up even further for you. Alternatively, think about doing a Post-Leaving Certificate Course (PLC), to open-up exciting new opportunities which may be explored and developed. Even if you have left one lifetime behind it is never too late to go back to education and learn something new.

For more information about Ann’s work please see: annnolan or contact:

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