Donegal Yarns - Spinning yarn for over 100 years

A ‘Donegal style’ yarn is renowned for its distinctive fleck and colours that are so reminiscent of the local landscape. These yarns are typically used to create the now famous Donegal tweed fabric.

The origins of Donegal tweed are intimately connected to the land in this most westerly corner of Ireland, which is not well suited to agriculture. However, sheep have always thrived on the hills and bogs of Donegal and were kept for their meat and their wool used for weaving. In the early days the dyeing and spinning of wool was mostly the domain of women, who used local plants such as yellow gorse, green moss, red fuchsia and blackberries, as natural dyes. The men of the family would weave by hand for personal use or to sell locally - the skill passed down from father to son over generations.

Although some of the traditions may have changed over the years, the unique local yarn is still produced today by Donegal Yarns in their wool-spinning mill in Kilcar, Co. Donegal. The result is a wide range of vibrantly coloured yarns that create the opportunity for beautiful textiles to be created through both weaving and knitting. Thankfully, the tradition of hand weaving is still being kept alive by a small group of local weavers including Eddie Doherty and Studio Donegal, who source wool from Donegal Yarns.

Donegal Yarns has a wonderful history dating back to the early 1900’s. The first commercial spinning mill was built to cope with the demand from the establishment of the world famous ‘Donegal Carpets’ factories in Kilcar and Killybegs. This facility brought the skills required to produce yarn to an industrial scale. The initial development was first led by the Congested Districts Board, set up to restore the fortunes of the West Coast of Ireland after the famines and then for much of the 20th Century by Galterra Éireann.

In 2006 the business was bought from State into private ownership and later the name changed from Kilcarra Yarns to Donegal Yarns. The new owners brought access to wider international markets and the product range expanded to finer count yarns and luxury blends. Today Donegal Yarns operates a complete vertical production process from raw wool, through dyeing, blending, carding and spinning to a finished yarn. The wool is dyed and spun in Kilcar by a dedicated and skilled team of craftspeople and technicians, some of whom are 2nd and 3rd generation workers from the same family.

Part of the ethos of Donegal Yarns is to engage with the next generation of young designers and producers, to help sustain the growth of the textile industry in Ireland and internationally. Recently the company collaborated with Aisling Clancy, a textiles graduate from Dublin, to develop a range incorporating 'Genuine Irish Wool'. This project was set up working with the Wicklow Farmers Association and the breed of choice is the Wicklow Cheviot, a hardy Irish sheep. Whilst the wool they produce is coarser than wool from Merino sheep, it has the potential to be developed into a high quality and durable fabric for uses such as making outdoor garments and upholstery. View the ‘Genuine Irish Wool’ project called 'Project Homegrown' here.

Thanks to Chris Weiniger, General Manager at Donegal Yarns, for telling Craft Editions the story behind the business. Find out more about Donegal Yarns here.

Images courtesy of Donegal Yarns.

Brian Waring