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Jewellery to dye for

Living

Ciara Moynihan

Killasser-based artist and designer Frances McGonigle is has just been named as a finalist in the Jewellery Designer of the Year category of the prestigious Irish Fashion Innovation Awards (IFIA). She will compete against just three other designers in her category, and against 20 in total for the overall title of IFIA Designer of the Year 2020. She is the only Mayo designer to have been selected for the awards.
Born in Athlone, Frances studied at Grennan Mill Craft School in Kilkenny and the Crawford College of Art, Cork. Her stunning jewellery pieces are made at her Ox Mountain studio, Rothlú. The techniques she uses include the traditional ‘resist dyeing’ techniques of Indonesian batik and Japanese shibori, often described as a fold-and-bind dyeing process.
Announcing the award finalists, the IFIA described her environmentally friendly creations as ‘super-lightweight lusciously hued jewellery’, complementing the pieces as ‘modern, striking and beautiful’. “Rothlú’s vision is to create and deliver a lovely wearable art piece that will brighten your day, lift your spirits and make you feel good,” they added.
Ahead of the awards ceremony, which will be held on March 26 in Galway’s Galmont Hotel and Spa, Frances tells The Mayo News about her work at her north Mayo studio and her creative process.

Your background is in fine art and landscape painting. How did you first get into jewellery design and incorporating textiles into your work?
Prior to studying painting, I made architectural mirrors from waste cardboard. They actually looked like metal by the time I was finished with them, and sold really well domestically and internationally, as well as featuring in interior design magazines and on TV.
Fast forward to a few years ago, and I’m trying to make a living from painting (laughs) – it was clear I needed a supplementary income, so I decided to focus on textile resist patterning to produce a range of silk accessories and hand-bound books. However, the silk and cotton wastage from both those activities bothered me, so I reverted to my past activity of making something out of scraps – that something being Rothlú jewellery.

When did you set up your design studio, Rothlú, in Mayo?
And what drew you to the Ox Mountains as a location?
I married into the Ox Mountains! Prior to that I was living, and making and painting, in Roscommon. Rothlú jewellery began in late 2017 at my present location, where I also live with Will and our dogs.

What is the meaning of ‘Rothlú’, and why did you choose this name?
It means ‘Rotation’, or ‘Whirl’. I chose it because it relates to the recycled aspect of my product, and to the rotating motion required for the type of shibori dyeing process I use to pattern textile. Fun fact – in Hindi ‘Rothlu’ (no fada) means a person who cries a lot for the silliest of reasons… That’s me!
How do you feel your surroundings have had an impact on your designs?
One of the shibori processes I use is called Arashi, meaning ‘storm’, because that particular weather is evoked in the pattern. One certainly feels the weather where we live, so that process, plus the colour palette and textures in the Ox Mountains, all impact the designs.

What else has influenced your designs?
I really like the simplicity of batik – an ancient wax resist art which lends itself so well to brushwork, drawing with copper tools, and sgraffito (‘scratching’) type mark-making. I use all these techniques.
I came across shibori for the first time on a trip to Japan in the ’90s, and loved the painterly aspect of some of its methods. The resist in shibori is created by clamping, pleating, sewing and twisting fabric before dyeing it. In general, I love these resist arts because of their unique and un-replicable aspects.

You use eco resin and remnant textile in your creations. Can you explain why you chose these materials?
Eco resin comes from pine trees and is non-toxic, whereas most other resins are highly toxic. It also stays nice and clear – some other resins are prone to yellowing over time.
I collect remnant silk, cotton and linen from various sources – once it’s a 100 percent natural material I can then hand-dye it to my specifications. I’m therefore using up small scrappy remnants that are probably due for landfill, and transforming them.
Like many of us I’m pretty appalled at waste and over-production in the fashion industry, so I’m determined to keep improving the sustainable side of my brand.
It can be difficult to eke out a living as an artist, maker or designer in Ireland. What supports have you found invaluable, personally and professionally?
Mayo Local Enterprise Office have been fantastic. They provide great training and supports in conjunction with mentors who specialise in design, craft and making.
Fellow artists and makers have been brilliant and so generous with advice and feedback. My husband, Will, is always tremendously supportive and has a great eye for design. All my family and friends help me keep going!

What has being chosen as a finalist in the Jewellery Designer of the Year category of the Irish Fashion Innovation Awards meant to you?
It means I get to push the boat out and challenge myself design-wise for a very exciting, prominent, high-calibre event.
My fellow nominees are all excellent in their field, as is always the case with the IFIAs, so I’m pretty humbled. I’m grateful to Edmund Shanahan and the IFIA’s selecting panel for this great opportunity.

What advice would you give to any young jewellery designer starting out?
Register with your Local Enterprise Office and ask them for DCCoI mentoring, especially in business and branding. Get to know your customers and listen to them, whether that channel is through social media or direct sales. Be true to yourself and your chosen materials.

Lastly, where can people go to view and buy your handmade jewellery?
In Mayo, O’Reilly Turpin, Westport; Shine Boutique, Claremorris; and Caffrey’s Gallery, Ballina. In the rest of Ireland, The Guinness Gallery, Foxrock, Dublin; McCarthy’s Jewellery, Galway; Leitrim Design House, Carrick-on-Shannon; Wild Design, Cork and Killarney; Handmade Design Studio, Mullingar; and The Bastion Gallery, Athlone.
I’ll be supplying more great stockists, to be announced, into spring/summer.

For more on Frances McGonigle and her Rothlú jewellery design studio, visit www.rothlu.ie, where online purchases of Rothlú earrings, brooches and necklaces can also be made.