Here’s an experiment for you to try. The next time you’re strolling through Dublin City this winter, take note of one clothing item that repeatedly stands out. You’ll see it slung casually across shoulders, tied into a makeshift hood, or knotted up nice and tight to keep the wearer cosy during these chilly months. The football-inspired scarf is having a moment, and seemingly everyone is sporting one.
Bold, brightly patterned, and often boasting an eye-catching design, the scarf is proving to be an exciting design opportunity for creatives. Many artists and designers who typically work in digital mediums are using the scarf as an entry point to the world of fashion. Musicians and photographers have also seen the benefits of the medium, using it as an opportunity to create physical merchandise to commemorate a show, exhibition, or album release. The popularity of the piece has shown that it is much more than a stylish accessory – it is a wearable canvas on which to display art, design, and ideas.
I set out to explore the city’s scarf trend and examine why it has become the accessory du jour for Dubliners. I spoke to a number of Irish creatives who work across many different disciplines to understand the backstory and design process of their scarf.
Megan Nolan Walsh
Megan Nolan Walsh is a designer and multidisciplinary artist from Dublin. She creates vibrant, wearable pieces inspired by her love for colour, life, and self-expression.
“My scarves originated as a college project! I studied weaving in NCAD and got the opportunity to go on exchange and study Fine Art in Norway. I was lucky enough to have access to a digital TC2 Loom, which is a digital weaving machine. Being far away from home and the only Irish person in my course made me want to create something based on that. The Claddagh has always been an important symbol for me, one that really signified Dublin. Claddaghs were everywhere, from the jewellers on Thomas Street to the windows of the houses in the estate I grew up in.
It took weeks of work to create my first sample. I ended up embroidering over the top of the fabric I designed and adding hand-stitched sequins to give it some extra sparkle. I didn’t consider selling the scarves until the pandemic. I noticed football-style scarves were becoming quite popular and thought again about my Claddagh design.
After a lot of research, I found a company that was based in Europe, so everything could be made in the EU. To launch the scarves, I decided I wanted to juxtapose the very traditional Claddagh symbolism with the idea of a modern Ireland. I reached out to my friends and shot lots of different couples wearing the scarves: queer couples, straight couples, all types of couples!
The scarves are my best seller. I sell them in three different colourways and have a matching beanie for those who want to wear it as a set. My next release will be some new clothing. I’m a DJ and run events, and wanted to create pieces inspired by that, so I will be releasing a line of tops designed with clubbers in mind.”
Kate O’Loughlin is a Dublin born and bred messer and multidisciplinary artist
“Every year I design and make a new football scarf documenting my relationship with football at that moment. Since my youth, I feel like I’ve had a rocky experience with football and its misogyny and I often explore this in my drawings. The TOEBOG FC scarf is the fifth scarf in this collection.
The idea for this particular design arose after a lockdown kickabout with my girlies, Peggy & Laetitia. I watched them BOOT the ball around without a care in the world. It reminded me of the beauty of the once stigmatised, yet humble, toebog. After this iconic kickabout, I took pen straight to paper. I was playing around with animation in my practice and liked the idea of documenting the toebog through drawing in frames to tell the tale. Through all this, the TOEBOG FC scarf was made!”
Kate frequently collaborates with artists to design and create merch. She recently collaborated with award-winning illustrator and artist Megan Luddy O’Leary on a scarf for Dublin-based indie rock band, banríon. Band member Robbie Stickland tells me:
“I always loved Kate’s scarves and so many of my friends wear them. We got [the scarves] made last summer but decided to wait until winter when our EP was coming out. The main inspiration behind the scarves was the card design that Megan Luddy O’Leary created for us. We printed that on t-shirts for our first drop of merch. People really liked them, and we loved them too, so we sent the illustrations over to Kate to turn them into a scarf design.”
Photo of Kate by @absolutelysnappin
Orla King is a graphic designer based in Dublin who specialises in print and motion design. Orla combines 3D renders and analog design techniques to create texturized and visually engaging work.
“The Project Arts Centre reached out to me in July last year with their plan to create a limited edition run of Project merch. One of the ideas was football-style Project scarves. The brief was pretty open; they were very open-minded in terms of creative direction and ideas and were happy for me to do my thing as long as the design and colour palette was bold, playful and uniquely Project. With that in mind, I took the opportunity to go a bit mad.
The scarves were designed in two colour variants; the first being a nod to the iconic blue and pink exterior of the Arts Centre building and the second reflecting the extraordinary and vibrant energy of Project. Both scarves feature the words ‘Provoke, Inspire’ in white lettering, an ode Project’s mission which is to inspire, provoke and challenge through great art.
I designed a few T-shirts back in my college days, but this project was my first proper venture into wearable design and I loved it! It doesn’t get old walking around town and spotting someone wearing your design. It was fun to work on something I don’t usually get the chance to do. I’d definitely consider releasing some of my own scarves, but I’d also love to design jumpers or a football jersey in the future.”
Photo by Clara Cronin
Ciara O’Neill is a Dublin based artist and illustrator. In 2016 she graduated from NCAD with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art and Visual Culture.
“Over the last few years I have grown quite a big collection of football scarves. It started with collecting ones that were part of merch drops for bands and musicians I liked, but last year I noticed that illustrators were also designing their own pieces. I wanted to do it too but had no idea how to go about it until my friend and illustrator Conor Nolan dropped his own scarf online. He was kind enough to share his tips and tricks with me which gave me the confidence to design my own.
Growing up, my mam had little mushroom-shaped toadstools in our back garden. They were placed under a cherry blossom tree which we had at the time. I remember being about eight years old and sitting on them and playing with our pet cat. I guess that memory resulted in me holding a fondness for mushrooms.
I had wanted to design something with mushrooms for a long time and had a few designs that were sitting on my iPad for too long, and they weren’t quite working as art prints. When I tested the design on the scarf, everything just clicked into place! The design process itself was a little different to how I usually create. My normal thick curvy lines didn’t work due to how the scarves are printed which resulted in me using a more boxy design based on pixel style art. It took a few attempts to get right, but I enjoyed the challenge. I have designed t-shirts in the past, but I honestly enjoyed making the scarves a lot more. I am already thinking up other scarf designs for next winter!”
Niamh Barry is a photographer working across film photography, digital photography, and video. Her work explores moments that normally go unseen and queer experiences within Irish society.
“The idea of the scarf came about when I was planning my third solo exhibition: Now and Forever: Interpersonally Queer. Whenever I did an exhibition, I always felt like there was never anything physical for people to take away from it. I love scarves and have a collection of ones I have bought from different creatives in Dublin; they’re such an identity piece. People wear them if they are a fan of the designer or artist who made it and bond over having the same ones. It brings a really nice sense of interconnectedness to the city.
I was a big football fan growing up, my whole family are Manchester United fans, so football scarves remind me of match days in the freezing cold. Football is also traditionally associated with masculinity, so I loved the idea of subverting that by creating a scarf for my exhibition about queerness. It felt empowering to put the word ‘queer’ on the piece and reclaim it in that way.
I really liked the idea of my scarf becoming a piece of memorabilia that people keep and take away with them. It was exciting to think that my photography could become a part of how people express themselves, especially through style and fashion, which can be so integral to our identities as queer people.
I wanted the scarf design to represent the themes of my photos. The idea of interconnectedness led me to think of telephone wires. I used earthy tones in the design, a nod towards the colour palettes of my photos from the exhibition. The whole process really inspired me to delve into making other apparel! I turned the telephone wire design into screen printed t-shirts and tote bags, which was something I had never done before. It felt really rewarding doing it all by myself and really built my confidence as a creative.”
Words: Kerry Mahony