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Donegal Tweed

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We talk to Patrick Temple, CEO of Magee Weaving and Susie Page, Magee Textile Designer about what brought them to work in one of Ireland’s oldest weaving mills and where mill’s direction is for the future.

As one of the 5th generation behind Magee 1866 and as an engineer by training, Patrick has a real affinity with the Mill. Patrick shares with us what drew him to this specific area of Magee 1866 from a young age: 

‘’When I was a child, Dad and I would often call in with hand-weavers around rural Donegal, some of the weavers lived miles away and it was always a great expedition to find our way up narrow side roads in the mountainous valleys. I loved being allowed into the ‘weaver’s shed’ where the loom sat with its well-worn seat. I was always asking dozens of questions about how the loom worked and how all of those of yarns came together to form ‘Donegal Tweed’, a fabric that has been part of the local heritage in the northwest of Ireland for centuries. Donegal Tweed is a woollen fabric, distinctive in its flecks of colour and ‘salt and pepper’ or ‘herringbone’ patterns. Donegal Tweed is what our ancestor, John Magee, started buying back in the 1860s and that heritage remains very much part of who we are today. 

I was also in and out of the Mill all the time, running about the warping machines and looms…health and safety wasn’t quite so rigorous in the early 1990s! As you might have guessed, I was the child with a lot of Lego and Meccano sets, so the literal nuts and bolts of weaving naturally appealed. Although, I didn’t go straight into the Weaving after school as Dad always encouraged us to go off and do our own thing before getting involved, so I trained as an Engineer in Trinity College, Dublin. This led to work in London, Sydney and then Scotland where my main project involved developing wave energy as a sustainable and renewable resource. In my late twenties, I was then ready to come back to the Weaving Mill. I was immediately involved in all of the complex areas around production, working through the logistics and operations of turning tonnes of yarn into thousands of meters of fabric each season. I work with highly skilled teams from the textile designers to warpers, weavers, finishers and menders on the mill floor. I feel privileged to work with people who have been connected to weaving and Magee for generations. Today, we work to bring all of this knowledge into our fabric and work with our designers to bring a contemporary edge to this wealth of heritage.’’

This means that an emphasis on design and creativity is key to us today and for our future. Susie Page, one of our lead fabric designers, came to us from Scotland, which also has a rich heritage in textile design and manufacturing.

“I wanted to do something connected with fabric design, so I came to Donegal, which is really renowned for its tweed and craft history. Donegal is such a lovely place to live and work, but due to the variety of customers we work with, we also have the opportunity to travel throughout the world. We get inspiration from what we see in shops and exhibitions in key cities such as London and New York, but here in Donegal, we also get the peace we need for design inspiration. It’s good to have that balance.”



When designing fabric, our design team consider both our rich heritage taken from our beautiful archive, in balance with new trends that we see coming through within the fashion world.

“We’re always trying to do something new and innovative”, Susie says, “while covering our classics as well. Each season we include new creative patterns and colour combinations. When working with customers, we sometimes get new ideas from them as well; they might request a colour combination that we haven’t thought of, and in exchange we often surprise our customers with traditional patterns used in different ways, in new colour palettes, which is exciting for them, too.”

For our fabric designers, the process begins with creating mood boards and deciding on the qualities of fabrics they want to develop that season, and the stories they want to tell through that fabric. Whether it’s a traditional Irish linen or a rich Donegal Tweed.

They then design the yarn that will make up the fabric. Working closely with our spinners in developing our own colours, our designers will select the finer details down to for example the nepps of colour that come through in our Donegal Tweeds.

Our designers then create ‘blankets’, which showcase different colour combinations, woven together in one fabric. Sometimes unexpected colour combinations can inspire a new direction for their collection, but usually they have planned the exact end result they would like to achieve.

The finalised designs then go into production within our weaving mill, where the fabric is warped, woven and finished by our expert team, ready to be shipped off into the world. This fabric is used then by our own Magee 1866 clothing collections, as well as also being exported internationally to other clothing brands, tailors, and more.

And finally, an all-important word on sustainability. Patrick’s experience in work with renewable energy together with the family’s inherent interest and respect for the environment means that sustainability has always been relevant to the Mill. Today, it is really front of mind. For Patrick, it is essential to continue working with natural, biodegradable and renewable fibres like wool, cashmere, and flax. These fibres weave together to make fabric which stands the test of time. 

“Magee Weaving brings you a unique fabric which is deeply imbued with the knowledge of generations of weavers, brought to life by the vibrancy of our design and by its very nature, a sustainable choice.”

My early memories of Magee as a child were built around what Dad wore as he left for the office at exactly 0750 every morning – namely a navy suit with a brightly coloured tie. (While Dad has never worked directly in our design departments, he has always had a natural flare for colour and styling!) The upstairs wardrobe was full of soft earthy brown and green houndstooth jackets with the odd thornproof suit in a moss green with a fine red thread running through (great for dressing up in as a child!). My brother and I also acquired a bright green linen/silk bolt that we used for ‘tent’s and ‘hide-outs’ in the woods at home. Probably not the final end use desired by the Weaving designer at the time but perfect for us – 65m went a long way for these structures.

Our fabrics and garments have evolved over the years, but the core message of quality and producing a timeless product has always been at the heart of what we do. We focus on natural fibres – wool, alpaca, cashmere, linen and silk. Traditionally Magee 1866 concentrated on jacket and suits, I joined the business in 2012 and while I have no formal training in design, I have been steeped in our brand since a child and love and believe in the the idea of taking a clothing brand and building a lifestyle around it. This is what we are striving to do and use our amazing fabrics as much as possible in these collections.

The Magee 1866 fabrics would have been originally all handwoven and their function was not fashion but utility. In the 1960’s two leading Irish designers – Sybill Connelly and Irene Gilbert started to use our Donegal tweed in the women’s collection. We have always been renowned for our brightly coloured and intricately designed apparel fabrics. In 2018 we launched our first interiors collection.

While we do buy from other mills, particularly in suiting – the UK and Italy, this vertical approach from mill to finished garment allows us to develop truly unique fabrics for our product collections.

Each season we are working to subtly push the boundaries, combining the best of Donegal cloths with contemporary styling – AW19 the Duffle and Alexa coat, while still retaining our more classic pieces. A tricky balance! The Autumn Winter season is so strong for us, colours are rich with earthy tones and our natural cloths really come into their own.

Trends are evolving all the time and the casual direction the world is moving is very prevalent – I still believe there will always be room for a smartly tailored suit, so much so we have just launched an extensive made to measure service!

Spring Summer is a little more difficult, but we are looking to develop the Irish linen story across a number of products and use a more softer colour base across our lightweight wools. For us the ideal spring piece is something that can transcend seasons, particularly in Ireland where our weather is so unpredictable.

A sneak preview to SS20 and our Irish linen suit in an olive green Glencheck (also available in navy) is a wardrobe must – the great thing about this suit is how you can mix up the styling – the checked jacket with plain linen trousers and a t-shirt or the trousers with one of our Irish linen grandfather shirts (an exclusive made in Ireland product). Embracing the casual trends we are introducing a casual lux collection.

I have been working with our team to review how we can use our beautiful Donegal tweeds and linens in some timeless and the more quirky accessories, e.g. our Donegal tweed teddy bear (Made in the UK) and our throws – made in Donegal by us. This is an exciting area for development – watch this space!

There’s no doubt that the iconic Peaky Blinders series from BBC One, and especially Cillian Murphy’s performance of 20th-century ganglord, Tommy Shelby, has had a huge influence on men’s style everywhere. We can see its influence all over the streets of Ireland and the UK, from men’s haircuts to the rising popularity of the baker cap.

Magee 1866 has over 150 years of history, designing, weaving and tailoring, so of course, Peaky Blinders ticks all the boxes for us. We wouldn’t recommend rocking up to work on Monday in a full three-piece tweed suit with a baker’s cap on top (unless you really want to?) but with a bit of modern sense, you can achieve the Tommy Shelby look for any occasion.

1 | The Suit

For the role of Tommy Shelby, costume designer Stephanie Collie had several suits made by London-based tailor Keith Watson.

Having a suit that fits well is essential; it will give you that Tommy Shelby swagger without all the criminal activity. Fitted, tapered trousers will give any man more height, and give a modern look. The trousers mightn’t be entirely historically accurate in Peaky Blinders (apparently bell-bottoms were the look of choice) but the tailored trouser is definitely sharp looking, and we would recommend going the same way.

Among the Shelby clan, tweed rules the day, with grey herringbone and dark checks coming through. This look is reminiscent of another era, while still being entirely comfortable, modern and wearable. If you’re going all-out, definitely include the waistcoat (and a pocket watch!) but for an updated look, you can make it more casual by leaving the waistcoat at home. It’s good to have options.

Three piece grey tailored Donegal Tweed suit. €699.

2 | Outerwear

The Baker’s cap is potentially the most essential part of this look, dare we say it. It’s different to a flat cap, as it has a more structured design and a button on top. These caps were a popular choice in the early 20th century.

And then, of course, there’s the coat. Cillian Murphy’s character is seen in a long wool coat with a prominent lapel. His coat is slightly oversized (probably for gun-slinging purposes) but it makes an attractive silhouette, and is easy to wear over a suit.

Other essential details include black gloves, sturdy boots, and a pocket watch, at your discretion.

Left to right: Arranmore Double Breasted Donegal Tweed Coat. Doonalt Tailored Coat. assorted men’s caps.

3 | The Shirt

Especially in the first season, Tommy Shelby is seen pretty much exclusively in a penny-collar shirt, sans tie. Difficult enough to find today, the grandfather collar shirt is a suitable substitute, with the same rounded collar and button-up neck. Style it with a crisp white linen for the Tommy Shelby look, or a striped cotton flannel for added warmth.

Left: Irish-made linen grandfather shirt. Right: Striped Irish cotton grandfather shirt.

4 | The Dinner Suit

For a man whose idea of ‘business casual’ is a three-piece suit and pocketwatch, it’s no surprise that Cillian Murphy’s character goes all-out for formal wear. The black dinner suit has a timeless, cinematic elegance, and it’s making a comeback.

The dinner suit is usually worn as a two-piece – jacket and trousers – with a crisp white formal shirt and a black bowtie, just like Tommy Shelby above.

Left to right: Two piece dinner suit. Silk self-tie bow tie. Slim fit formal shirt.

Handweaving is a skill that has been passed down through the generations. It is suggested that the art of weaving dates back to the Palaeolithic era, although there is little evidence to support this. Woven linen cloth has been found dating back to the Neolithic period. While there may be a few thousand years in the debate as to when weaving was first developed, we know for a fact it is a reassuringly ancient skill and craft!

Market day in the ‘Diamond’, Donegal Town.

This unique fabric is the backbone of our family company – in 1866 John Magee founded his handwoven tweed business in Donegal, Ireland. At that time weaving was a skill many farmers and fishermen had honed, the cloth they wove on large wooden looms was hardwearing and tough, and the most ‘technical’ fabric of its time – used to keep out the damp and cold in not only Donegal, but across Ireland, the UK and was a staple garment for the early polar explorers and alpinists across the globe.

Photograph of the 1924 Everest Exhibition – photograph from the John Noel Collection. Tweed and wool feature as the ‘ultimate kit’ for these pioneering alpinists. Wool has a natural ability to ‘wick’ away moisture to its vapour state, making it still one of the best and most sustainable technical fibres.

In 2019, we are still designing and producing a unique handwoven fabric – we retain similar, timeless designs – namely the herringbone – inspired by fish-bones and the ‘true Donegal tweed’ – the salt & pepper. We use the finest of yarns – lambswool, mohair and cashmere. Designs are sent to the weavers who work in their homes, the raw fabric is then sent back to the mill to be washed and finished. We wash the raw, oily fabric in the peaty waters of the River Eske, which flows by the mill, resulting in a beautifully soft finish.

The traditional wooden handloom

Donegal handwoven tweed is distinctive with its bright flecks of colour woven through each piece. Heather purples, grass greens, fuchsia pinks, gorse yellows, sea blues, rusty oranges and earthy browns to name but a few colours found in this unique fabric.

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