We are all busy here behind the scenes – putting the finishing touches to the pattern collection that will be released as part of our forthcoming club, and awaiting the arrival of our new and much-anticipated yarn – Milarrochy Tweed.
Milarrochy Tweed is produced for us by our friends at Donegal Yarns – a company I’m really excited to finally be working with. Because my love affair with Donegal tweed goes back a few years . . . In 2012, I’d started working with a few different yarns that were being produced by a mill in Kilcar, Donegal. These yarns were nothing like anything I’d knit with before, so Mel and I decided to visit Donegal to see what was going on there.
We were impressed with everything we saw: a small company embedded in its local community and landscape, creating really distinctive yarns with a long history in the area, whose success and longevity were entirely due to the commitment and expertise of the women and men who worked so hard to produce it.
What makes Donegal tweed yarns so distinctive? They are generally single ply, woollen spun, richly saturated, and peppered with neps and flecks which lends every strand of every shade an unusual depth and complexity.
Whichever fibre blend is used to produce them (and several interesting blends are produced here at Kilcar) to my mind, Donegal tweeds are dream yarns for colourwork: ideally suited to bold contrasts as well as subtle tonal effects, while the neppy nature of the strands lifts the surface of a fabric and really makes it sing. I just love working with these yarns, and, as you can well imagine, am incredibly excited to now be able to produce my own small tweedy range from fibres dyed and spun at this mill – named after my own Scottish locale – that bears so many similarities with the Irish landscape where it was created.
A few weeks ago, I returned to Donegal with Tom, so we could see the processing of our yarn first-hand. The mill operates on a completely vertical system – which mean that all initial stages of the yarn’s processing are carried out in-house.
A Donegal tweed yarn starts life as a bale of scoured fibre . . .
The yarn is “dyed in the wool” in vats like this one.
The mill operates on a strict dyeing schedule, which means that shades of like nature are always processed back to back to ensure consistency of colour. No point juxtaposing a pale blue with a deep red!
When the wool comes out of the dye vat, it is a completely solid colour.
In order to make a solid into a tweed, you have to blend it, and in order to blend it, you have to follow the wool on its journey to the most exciting place in the mill. . . .
The blending room!
IT’S RAINING NEPS! HALLELUJAH, IT’S RAINING NEPS!
Can you imagine working in here? The urge to hurl myself with wild abandon into the woolly snowstorm was really pretty strong. . .
But there is work to be done and yarn to be made. . .
Once the dyed wool is blended with the colourful neps, it enters a fascinating tubular system (which resembles those interesting money-funnels you once routinely saw in supermarkets and department stores) and travels through the mill upstairs . . . to be carded . . .
. . . drawn, twisted . . .
realigned, and drawn again
. . . until it forms a workable sliver . . .
. . . which is ready to be spun.
Back downstairs, the air is filled with the sound of the spinning mules and winders whirring back and forth.
The technology is efficient, but this is in no sense an automated process.
At every stage of the yarn’s processing, skilled hands are involved.
. . . resulting in the beautiful, flecky, truly distinctive yarns known as “the genuine Donegal”.
We really enjoyed following Milarrochy Tweed from its beginnings as scoured fibre to the lovely spun-up end product here at Donegal Yarns, and Tom took many more fantastic photos than I have showed here. Perhaps I’ll share some more another time.
A massive thanks to everyone at Donegal Yarns in particular Chris Weiniger (above) whose knowledge of textiles and sheer commitment to what he does always impresses. Especial thanks to Seamus Campbell (pictured in this post’s fourth photograph) – a man of many talents and much woolly acumen with whom I really enjoyed chatting.
In part 2, I’ll show you what happens to Milarrochy Tweed in its next processing stage. Ever wondered where the majority of British-branded hand-knitting yarn is balled or skeined? In the next post I’ll show you!