As part of my college course, I have a class called 'Materials and Fibres.' Last week, we headed west to see how fabric is produced here in Ireland. We visited two companies we happen to stock here in Irish Design Shop; John Hanly weaver's in Ballyartella, Co. Tipperary and Ekotree, a knitwear company based in Killaloe.
The first stop was Hanly's. Established in 1893, the company is now in it's 4th or 5th generation, Brian Hanly our charismatic tour guide and current owner, couldn't quite remember. The tour starts outside their factory, where Brian gives us a brief history of the Hanly's and their business. Noticing we are shivering he wraps up his tale quickly and scolds us for not wearing our woollens. Inside, it's loud, very loud. We huddle in close to hear Brian's tour over the hum of machines. He informs us today is a quiet day as they don't have as many machines running! Yarns are being spun around a massive drum, to form the warp for a series of scarves, before being brought to the loom. At the loom, the rapier adds in the weft rows of the weave at lightening speeds, making 250 to 300 insertions per minute. Once off the loom, any imperfections are mended by hand before being sent to Scotland to be finished by specialist companies who wash, dry and brush the fabric, allowing Hanly's to maintain an entirely dry production process.
- The warp drum, where five scarves are repeated and prepared for the loom.
Over the years, the focus of the company has changed. Originally they produced only tweed fabrics. Now with increasing competition from cheap manufacturers abroad, the focus has shifted to producing high-quality scarves and blankets.
After lunch, we headed for the picturesque village of Killaloe, on the banks of the Shannon. Here, we meet designer and maker Diarmuid Neilan. Diarmuid is most interested in the process and the quality of yarns used, for the production of his knitwear brand; Ekotree. He uses a mix of yarns including alpaca, lambswool merino, cashmere and a regenerated wool when creating his high-quality knits. Designs are machine knitted on site, on a double bed knitting machine, allowing him to create volume and body in his scarves. Machines have been programmed to produce fully fashioned garments, meaning there is zero waste. Scarves are then washed in an industrial washing machine, which lightly boils the yarn to eliminate the scratchy feeling so commonly associated with wool. Everything has been considered, trialled and timed to make sure that the process is as efficient and environmentally friendly as possible.
- Ekotree's studio in Killaloe, Co. Clare.
Next on the agenda for Ekotree, is to expand his range and invest in a fine gauge knitting machine, to create a range of summer knits, which we can't wait to see.
Products from both John Hanly and Ekotree can be purchased in-store, with a few selected items available online.
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