How family history helped Amy put a new spin on linen - and why she’s also got designs on a wedding dress
Dungannon fashion student Amy Cranston has tapped into her family's linen industry history to create a new collection for the Ulster University Graduates' show later this month. Here she tells Karen Ireland about her love of homespun fabrics and how she is planning her dream wedding.
Co Tyrone design student Amy Cranston, whose family worked at the famous linen-producing Moygashel Mill, is hoping her new fashion collection will breathe new life into the traditional fabric.
The 23-year-old, who lives in Dungannon with her family and studies at the Ulster University's Belfast Campus, says choosing linen for her designs which will be showcased at the Graduates' Fashion Show on May 19, at St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast, was a natural choice.
Two previous generations of Amy's family have worked at the mill, which is now owned by Ulster Weavers, and this included her grandparents, Paul and Jennifer as well as great-aunt and uncle, Jean and Kenneth Kerr
"All the women in my family were seamstresses and I watched them work when I was a child," she recalls.
And the family heritage has rubbed off on Amy, who says: "At school I was always interested in art so it was no surprise that I chose a degree in textile, art, design and fashion."
Having worked on various pieces during her three-year course, Amy says when it came to selecting fabric and ideas for her final submission there was only one place to seek out inspiration - back at the mill.
"I found an old newspaper cutting of my granny spinning and I was impressed by that," she points out.
"When the mill was bought over by Ulster Weavers my great uncle put me in contact with them. When I explained I was fashion student who wanted to create a collection in linen they were delighted to supply the fabric."
Amy's provisional name for the collection is 'Beauty and the Weave' and she believes she is returning to a fabric which has been neglected and forgotten over the years.
"I want to bring linen back to life with this collection and to showcase how rich and visual it can be."
She says the key influences for her designs date back to the days when her ancestors would have worked in the mill.
"I have gone for grandad-style shirts and overalls, along with a vintage coat. There is also a dress and a reversible dress."
Amy did her research into the fabric and the mill before Christmas then preparing her collection in the New Year.
"I am making Irish linen modern and drawing on what I learned growing up; the things I saw and experienced in my family.
"I used to love watching my great aunt make beautiful clothes for my mum," she says.
"She would design and make her one-off outfits for weddings and special occasions.
"My mum has always loved fashion and we were always dressed immaculately as kids. I think that's where my love of all things fashion stems from," she says.
The world of design has also exposed Amy to social issues, especially during her placement at London fashion brand Beulah - which was set up by a close friend of Kate Middleton who has worn their dresses on royal engagements.
The company was set up by two female designers who also work to put a stop to people trafficking in India.
And the Dungannon woman has ambitious plans for the future.
"One day I would like to have my own fashion brand in Ireland," she adds. "We are a very creative community and I feel this could be a good time for Irish linen to make a comeback - with a modern twist.
"I know there aren't a lot of opportunities for working in big fashion houses in Ireland. I realise I may have to do another job as I build my own collection.
"That is my long term ambition. I want to put my degree to good use and, hopefully, do the kind of work that Beulah does in helping vulnerable women to escape from trafficking."
Amy is serious about making a difference in the fashion industry as a designer and in terms of human rights, adding: "In my spare time I volunteer with No More Traffik, which is part of the global Stop Trafficking movement. I work with a group called ACT in Lisburn and we help to raise awareness of trafficking in Northern Ireland and host events.
"It is a much bigger problem here than most people are aware of. I want to lift the lid on the issue and raise its profile.
"This summer I'm going to Cambodia with a team from ACT to help them with their projects."
When she's not working with linen Amy has her sights on a very different type of fashion, as she's currently planning her wedding to Joel Anderson (25), a master's student also at UU.
"We met when were both taking part in Exodus teams from our local churches doing mission work in Spain. He was on a different team to me but we hit it off and became friends.
"We stayed in touch after the summer and finally he asked me out at Christmas that year," explains Amy.
However, the couple were only together for a couple of weeks before it was time for Amy to head off on her gap year travels to America and then China.
"I was studying at Bible college in California and then went out to do mission work in China.
"I worked with a company called Starfish Jewellery which also helps vulnerable women escape the traffickers by giving them jobs. I loved it, but it was tough on Joel and I being apart," she adds.
"Then when I got back he went away travelling for a few months so we had a rather bumpy start. But we stayed in constant contact and made it work.
"I liked him instantly as he was very different to me. He is outgoing, an extrovert and a people person, whereas I am much more introverted and quiet.
"Despite this we work well together and balance each other out. He makes me laugh and is my best friend."
Amy reveals how Joel surprised her last October on her birthday by taking her to revisit a church they had walked through on one of their first dates.
"It was an old church in Drumbo with amazing views over Belfast.
"He took me there and next thing I knew he was opening the door of the church.
"I didn't expect it to be open but inside it was decorated with lights and candles. I was blown away.
"It was so romantic and then he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. He had picked out a beautiful ring which I absolutely love.
"I always thought I would want to choose my own ring but it is even more special as he did," she adds.
Now in the midst of her final year Amy has the small matter of a wedding to plan for.
"We both come from pretty big families, so it will be quite an event. I am very lucky, though, as my mum is enjoying all the planning and helping out," jokes Amy.
And, of course, there is a rather special dress required for the big day.
"I always knew what I wanted in a wedding dress and, to be honest, it only took me two shops to find it.
"I am very excited to be getting married in December but, for the minute, Joel is busy with his dissertation and I'm focused on my collection, so the wedding plans have had to go on the back burner.
"We will be getting married in my family church and then having a big celebration afterwards.
She says, one way or another, church plays a pivotal role in her life.
"No matter what I do my faith is extremely important and directs my path - my work in fashion or charity."
Amy's collection will feature on the runway at the UU Graduates' Fashion Show later this month - an event which has become a key date in the style calendar here.
Course director Alison Gault says: "Ulster University's Belfast School of Art is helping to nurture and develop the world's next generation of talent like Amy.
"Our students take a lead in organising the event which has become one of the premier graduate shows nationally. It demonstrates unrivalled skills, creativity and diversity of the students and helps put Northern Ireland on the fashion map."
And the Dungannon student's collection also featured in the Irish Fashion Innovation Awards.
"It was exciting to see the pieces on the catwalk and showcased at that event," she says.
"And I am really looking forward to seeing all the work of the students on the catwalk in Belfast. It is the result of a lot of hard work and it will be great to see all the creativity showcased."
UU Graduates' Show, St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast, on Friday, May 19. Tickets, which are on sale now for £15, are available from getinvitedto/festivalartdes/ulster-university-graduate-fashion-show-2017