16 September 2008

Irish interlude

writing to you from a tiny village in Donegal now, where I have come for a week to visit with my friend M and learn a bit about Ireland. Along the way we've had a bit of help from various people pointing us to the proper pubs, a certain friendly feeling that's caused impromptu song and conversation, and a studious dog that just this afternoon led us on the walk we ought to have along the Inishcoole Strand. We've stumbled upon exactly the right guesthouse, so as I type I am watching the sun set behind the placidly clustered islands that spread out into the Atlantic, ending a rare and sunny day here.

Donegal's exactly the right bit of Ireland for me, and I go the full experience yesterday with a trip to a wool factory. We started ordinarily enough with the shop where they sold the scarves, the coats, the hats, the knitting yarn, then went upstairs where about 8 vast built-in looms lay mostly idle but threaded with gloriously tweedy wools. One was being operated by the rare sort of Irishman, one of few words, who churned through his pattern with a fly shuttle loaded with 5 different colors.

Back downstairs we asked about how to acquire weaving wool since I'd much rather weave than knit this kind of stuff, and we were directed to go round the back, told to ask for Tristan and be careful to not trip on anything. So round we went and straight into the real bones of the operation- two levels of bins full of every shade of tweeded wool, a huge warp preparing machine where another guy rolled dozens of meters of white boucle, spinning and carding machines, and then Tristan himself, also as tweedy as his surroundings with a brown vest, a shock of dark hair peppered with white, and a gift for long conversation.

He took us through the intricacies of wool selection, the history of sheep in Ireland, the challenges of purchasing local, how dye takes to New Zealand wool, and then how the staple fiber length affects the spinability. Detailed stuff. And then, on to the carding machine and making rovings, and then the spinning frame, apparently his big love of the operation. Built in 1953, the design hasn't changed much since the turn of the century, and had just been reconstructed a few years ago. He oiled the machine up and demonstrated how it worked, then took us through every step of the operation, down to the accelleration rate of the spinning frame, the calculations he had to make to set everything up and get the right twist rate, and the modifications he was looking forward to doing in order to spin more. He even told us all about the latest in Italian spinning frame design, ending with "but they're just not as beautiful as this machine here".

And then, the most glorious part of the afternoon, he pointed me to the levels of yarn and said, "now just go ahead and find what you want, then I'll give you a bag and we can weigh it up". He knew every thread intimately, the thickness, the best sett for weaving, the dye lot, just by giving it an eye and perhaps just a bit of a pat, so everything I asked resulted in about 15 minutes of information on that particular thread. I learned how he made bouclé, how this one was with a bit of olive but that one was with a bit of limey green, how this bin was the things that they'd been weaving two weeks ago but hadn't sorted back yet.

I ended up with a large bag of delicious tweeds in all the colors of the landscape here that I will somehow have to figure out how to get back to Iceland, but when I am there I am sure that the color will remind me of all the things I've seen so far.

(pictures are on the photostream and will be updating as I get a chance for internet here n there)