Project Homegrown: from sheep to hanger

Deirdre McQuillan meets a young textile graduate who wants to create a buzz about Irish wool

Fashion designer Aisling Clancy from Rathmines, with her coat made from sheep and alpaca wool. Photograph: Eric Luke

Fashion designer Aisling Clancy from Rathmines, with her coat made from sheep and alpaca wool. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Aisling Clancy’s new coat can trace its recent lineage back to a flock of sheep in Glencullen. “While I was working for A/wear in garment technology I started to think about what happens in Ireland and question how sustainable it was to be importing natural fabrics from all over the world,” says the Dubliner and NCAD textiles graduate who has a long-standing interest in sustainable fashion. “I decided that wool cloth could be produced from start to finish and began to ask why we weren’t doing it. I thought I would prove that we could”.

This was the start of what Clancy calls Project Homegrown. The first step on the journey from field to fashion was contacting a sheep owners association where she found a farmer who was interested in her project. Philip Maguire in Stepaside, Co Wicklow has a flock of Wicklow Cheviot sheep.

“She is hardy, a top-class mother and clips a good fleece of wool of high quality” is the glowing description of the flock on his website.

Clancy also contacted Xandria Williams in Kildare who has a 80 alpacas. From both of them she acquired over a 100 kilos of the raw wool, then brought it to Donegal Yarns in Kilcar (known for supplying finished multicoloured fleck yarn for the weaving, knitting and craft industries) where general manager Christopher Weiniger oversaw its cleaning, spinning and carding. The next step was to have the yarn woven in Donegal by father and son Shaun and Kieran Molloy, fifth generation weavers. From the spun and carded yarn, they produced 35 metres of Clancy’s own grey-blue herringbone tweed. Two fabrics were made, one in 100 per cent Wicklow Cheviot, the other a mix of 70 per cent Wicklow Cheviot and 30 per cent alpaca.

“We have a lot of sheep in Ireland like Cheviot, Blackface, Dorset, Galway blue and Bluefaced Leicester but to find the biggest numbers I settled on Wicklow Cheviot because there are half a million of them.

“A lot of wool goes into insulation and carpet making and sheep farmers make their money from meat, not wool,” says Clancy who in addition to her masters in textiles from NCAD, has a diploma in fibre from Ballyfermot College and a first class honours degree from Plymouth College of Art in the UK.

With the yarn, she designed a coat and scarf; the coat was made for her in Fashion Hothouse in Harold’s Cross, Dublin, and the scarf knitted by Bonner of Ireland in Ardara, Co Donegal.

Altogether the coat cost around €500 to make, but it is a prototype that more than proves Clancy’s point. “You can use Irish wool for coats and I think it is possible to do things here. People are very receptive to the idea and are asking more questions. I would like to make Wicklow Cheviot wool a brand like Shetland wool and get more people using it”, she says.

Already a spin-off of her project has been that Donegal Yarns have ordered 15 tonnes of wool from Philip Maguire that might have otherwise gone into insulation. The Molloy weavers are also now using Irish wool in their blends.

“I want to create a bit of a buzz about Irish wool to support the industry and keep what is left here and promote its high quality. And the reaction of the farmers has been one of pride in seeing the end product,” she says.

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