OK, so when I wrote last week about how Donegal yarn is spun, I left out the best bit.
It was deliberate, as I thought this process deserved a post on its own.
When Maureen at Donegal Yarns started our tour of the factory, she said she had taken a school party around recently. And one of the children had been so impressed, that they said it was like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
We smiled politely of course. But in my head I was thinking, there’s no way this is going to be that impressive. I’ve seen factories before. Those kids were too impressionable.
Then we went to the mixing room (below). Even the name sounds like something out of Willy Wonka. In fact, it was probably called something else, but that’s what I remember.
It looked like a fairly ordinary room, with a pile of coloured fleeces at the bottom. To be honest it looked a little bit grubby. My expectations were not raised.
Then it started snowing wool.
Slowly at first. Pieces of the coloured fleece started drifting down lazily from the ceiling. We looked inside, and saw there was a rotating double-ended pipe up there, spinning gently, with pieces of the wool coming out from either end. Well this is nice, we thought. Beautiful even.
Then it span faster, emitting larger clumps of wool. Then faster still. And again faster, until from the outside all you could see was a blizzard of red, white, ochre and black.
At this point, Maureen said I could go in. Like Augustus Gloop being told he could swim in the chocolate river. OK, not quite as good; but still, slightly surreal.
Apparently you can’t really contaminate the wool, as it will be washed thoroughly later. In fact after it’s been mixed together here, it's sucked through pipes in the floor, and spat out into a baling machine on the other side side of the corridor.
More echoes of Willy Wonka. I wonder if misbehaving staff ever get sucked down the tube as punishment, and sent back to their parents, never to inherit the factory.
After I had danced like an idiot in the blizzard of wool, and Jamie had taken enough photos of me doing so, I was hosed down outside.
Not, I was pleased to find, with water. That would not be a good idea in a building covered with wisps of animal fibre. Everything would get stuck to it.
Instead an air hose is used to blow all the wool off - and indeed is used on machinery to do the same.
We then asked the questions we should have done at the start, like how this process works and why it is used.
Apparently it’s a pretty efficient way to mix all the wool together. There are often large volumes, and as we covered in our previous piece on Donegal Yarns, there are both lots of colours and two distinct types - one that makes up the body of the fabric, and another that creates the flecks.
Those have to be thoroughly mixed, otherwise you’ll end up with cloth that has noticeably more of one colour in one part of the material than another.
It has to look random, but not be random. Like a random-number generator, which never feels random if numbers repeat. Or early iPods, which were apparently changed so the shuffle function didn’t play songs that were near each other. Because that felt more random.
That’s probably one tangent too many. Let’s just quickly round off the production process.
The mixed wool gets stuffed into bales, like the ones above. Those are then used to feed the carding machines, before that's washed and spun. Those stages are all spelt out in our previous article on Donegal Yarns.
I never actually saw what that mix of black, ochre, red and white got turned into. But going on what I’ve seen before from Donegal tweed, it will probably be surprisingly subtle. I’ll see if I can track down a picture of the cloth for a future article.
Photography: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man