“Instead of teaching me something useful like marrying a millionaire, my mother taught me how to knit and crochet,” laughs Castleconnell designer Caroline Mitchell.
I RECENTLY stumbled across an account on Instagram that made me stop, scroll, and follow immediately. With our dwindling digital attention spans, you know as well as I do that it takes something special to do this. The fact the account was for a local Limerick brand was the cherry on top.
I was drawn in and captivated by the intricate designs and stunning colours worn by the array of models across the feed, but my first question was: “Is this really knitwear?”
If you’re like me, when you think knitwear, you think of a big woolly jumper or a heavy (possibly itchy) scarf. So what Castleconnell native Caroline Mitchell does with knitwear is truly an art. She’s made knitwear an all-year-round wardrobe staple, and, at that, one that lasts for generations.
Caroline Mitchell Knitwear began putting out beautiful pieces back in 1996, which tells us one thing – this brand has survived the rise of fast fashion, online shopping, and a recession, so it’s here to stay.
Caroline’s work is made to measure, lightweight, flattering, and, most importantly, unique. These pieces are truly bespoke.
For the big day
One speciality for Caroline is wedding wear. Reader, I am ashamed to admit I had never seen a bride in a knitted wedding dress, but let me tell you, now that I have, I am reconsidering everything I thought I ever wanted for my own wedding day.
Sitting down with Caroline, she told me all about why knitwear is becoming such an underground trend for the big day.
“It’s not something that loads of people wear, but there are a lot of brides who don’t want the big flocky dress. If you have a knitted wedding dress, you’re comfortable for the day and it can be shortened afterward and worn as a normal dress.”
Caroline also tailor fits styles for grooms, mothers of the bride, bridesmaids, the lot. She takes pride in bringing clients’ visions to reality on their special day.
“When you go to a wedding nowadays, especially in the winter, you’re not outside for very long, so you don’t want to be wearing something that’s too warm.
“Normally when people come to me, they’ve already had a look at my website and want something in that style but changed around a bit or with something added to it,” she adds. Making custom tweaks to her own design is something she says she’s always happy to do for clients.
The perfect blend
The Castleconnell designer works with a mixture of fabrics to ensure her unique pieces are built to last, she says.
“I use a lot of blends. I do use a wool blend and cotton blends and linen blends. I find when they’re mixed with a little bit of man-made fibre – or woman-made – they lost longer and wear better. It helps keep the cotton or the wool lasting – or the kid mohair, which I use sometimes in the winter.”
“I have people who have been wearing my stuff for 20 years,” says Caroline.
“Sometimes they’ll come back and get something else and they will still have the original.”
“I’d have people, they may have bought a pink dress with a white detail on it ten years ago, and they want a different detail put on it, so I change it around it a bit. They pair it with different shoes and it looks completely different.”
She fondly remembers how one particular design of hers is now well on its way to becoming an heirloom.
“I made a communion dress for a girl a long time ago. A couple of years back she graduated from Trinity and wore it as a top with a pair of trousers.
“She was very petite, I have to say, so it still fit her as a top, rather than a dress.”
A knit for every season
The ranges on Caroline’s website are endearingly named after family members and feature a host of different everyday items from jumpers, beanies, ponchos to wraps, cardigans, scarves, and skirts.
Caroline takes inspiration from the seasons and their colours for her collections. Floral designs feature heavily, something she says is no accident.
“Flowers seem to crop up a lot for me. At the moment in spring/summer, it’s all inspired by the poppies I grow in my garden. I was dying to use them.”
Mother knows best
For Caroline, knitting is something that’s in her genes, her upbringing. She learned the life skill she’s since turned into her life’s work from her mother.
“Instead of teaching me something useful like marrying a millionaire, my mother taught me how to knit and crochet,” she laughs.
She asked if I knew how to knit and was horrified to learn that, at 30 years of age, I’d have absolutely no idea where to even start.
“I’m going to have to ring you every week and check on your progress,” she smiled.
I may just pack in this whole journalism thing and give her a run for her money.