The weaving of Donegal tweed is among the greatest of unbroken traditions in Ireland. When you choose Donegal tweed, it is possible you are wearing a fabric that was woven by hand on an ancestral loom hundreds of years old.
The area of Donegal, overlooking Donegal Bay, has been inhabited for centuries, beginning with Danish settlers. Remains of ancient earthen forts can still be seen. The origin of weaving in Donegal is difficult to trace, as it is seems it began with the very first farmers.
Historically, Donegal is salt and pepper pattern flecked with many-colored slubs, though there are many different versions and colour combinations. The term donegal now describes any tweed that has colorful thick slubs woven into the fabric. Authentic Donegal tweed is woven in Donegal County and is always clearly marked.
With all its beauty, tweed is a particularly rugged fabric. It's tight, warm weave resists wind, rain mist and even frost. The bold texture fends off wear and abrasion.
The clicking of wooden shuttles still emanates from the neat white cottages as weavers work, much as it did centuries ago. Originally, weaving was a family enterprise and the wives of crofters created the beautiful yarns by dying the wool of their own sheep with a brew that could include orange lichen, green moss or purple blackberries. They would then spin the wool into yarn.
Their husbands would then work the looms and carefully create the complicated designs. A day's work may produce 30 yards of fabric. On market day, the tweed was loaded on a donkey and taken to town.
Currently, about 25 weavers continue to work hand looms. The looms are little changed since biblical times, but now the yarn is pre-dyed and delivered and the finished cloth is picked up in a van that quickly circuits the 40 -mile route. The majority of Donegal tweed is produced on power looms at mills in Donegal county.
See the Orvis Donegal Tweed Collection for women.
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