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A skein of Donegal Tweed
Donegal Tweed once knitted up
click each image to enlarge

Yarn Profile: Tahki Donegal Tweed

First Impressions
Few yarns have been around long enough to be considered landmarks, and Tahki's Donegal Tweed is certainly one of them. This earthy yarn is still spun in the very county for which the yarn was named—County Donegal in Ireland.

Donegal Tweed is both a style of yarn and the name of a specific yarn, which I'm reviewing here. The most notable characteristic of this yarn type is its coloring—subtly heathered hues punctuated by literal "flecks" of color. What appears red may actually, upon closer examination, be an artful layering of red, blue, purple, yellow, and perhaps a little black.

The fibers in Donegal Tweed are dyed first ("fleece dyed" or "dyed in the wool"), and only then are they blended together to create that telltale composite heathered color. Next come the actual "tweed," or solid flecks of color. The trick here is to sufficiently incorporate the tweed so its flecks stay put in the yarn (and fabric) without blending so much that they lose their "pop" quality. The mills in County Donegal are among the most skilled at this technique, hence the yarn is named after them—and Tahki Donegal Tweed is spun in Donegal.

Knitting Up

Donegal Tweed unspun
A true worsted-weight yarn, Tahki Donegal Tweed has been spun woolen for a more lofty, "homespun" look. If your only experience of woolen-spun yarns is the puffy farmhouse-style yarns of yore, Donegal Tweed may confuse you. It looks for all the world like a worsted-spun singles.

But if you untwist a length of the yarn just a little you'll see that it's actually composed of two fine, jumbled strands of fiber that have been twisted together so tightly that they almost seem wrapped around one-another like a barberpole.

Perfectly suited for beginners, Donegal is an easy knit. I used relatively sharp-tipped needles and they never snagged, no matter how quickly I knit or how often I gazed out the window.

Working from the center of my center-pull ball, the yarn did get kinked up a few times. I just made sure to pull out generous lengths of yarn as I worked, and I occasionally dangled my work to release some of the twist. In only a few places did the twist get noticeably tight in my fabric.

Blocking / Washing
Here lies the magic of Donegal Tweed.

Because the yarn is so smooth and round, stitches can even look like they've been knit with spaghetti—and the tweed adding a sort of pesto effect.

Until you wash your fabric, it just looks like any other collection of knitted stitches. The fabric tends to be a little light, somewhat lumpy, and the edges often want to curl.

But the moment you drop that fabric into warm soapy water and give it a gentle squeeze to saturate the fibers, they begin to relax. Their fine, crimpy ends stretch their legs and get to know their neighbors, filling in all the open spaces in the fabric, loosening the tight ones, and truly making themselves at home.

Washed Donegal Tweed at right, unwashed at left

Even before I pulled my washed swatch out of its bath, I could feel the relaxation with my fingers. The water ran clear immediately, there was no bleeding. I blotted my swatch and lay it flat to dry.

Not only was the washed swatch smoother and more cohesive, with a delicate bloom across its surface, but it also felt distinctly softer to the touch. (Unwashed swatch at left, washed one at right.)

Wearing
Remember when I said that this yarn looks like a singles, but it's actually made of two strands of fiber that have been tightly twisted together? This wasn't done just to be pretty—it helps give great strength and stability to a material that could otherwise be fragile.

Also aiding Tahki Donegal Tweed's wearability is the fact that it isn't made from the finest, most delicate (hence vulnerable to abrasion) fibers. Nor is it made with the wool equivalent of sandpaper, far from it. The wool in this yarn has sufficient staple length and fiber diameter to produce a surprisingly strong, well-wearing material while still maintaining a lofty and inviting hand.

If your fabric is going to offer up any pills at all, you'll see them in the first wearing or two. Just pluck them off, or snip them if they're reluctant to leave, and rest assured that should be the end of it.

Conclusion
Few yarns stick around for a long time, and Donegal Tweed is one of them. I suspect if Tahki ever threatened to stop carrying this yarn, half the knitting world would go on strike.

Donegal Tweed in textured stitches

Donegal Tweed is good for a lot of things. It excels at any kind of cables or textured stitchwork, the yarn's overall roundedness giving the stitches tremendous height and three-dimensionality in spite of their softer heathered texture. After all these years, I still think the yarn is at its most beautiful in Heather Lodinski's Central Park Hoodie. In terms of price, a women's Central Park Hoodie with a 44-inch chest will take 9 skeins, or about $150.

Felted Donegal Tweed
It's also a fantastic felter. And if you happen to be a weaver, you'll love the way this yarn fulls together in your fabric. Give it a few brushings to raise the nap and you'll be one happy camper.

The food world has its notion of "terroir," the idea that if you close your eyes and really focus you can pick up hints of a distinct geography, soil, water, air, you name it, in every sip of wine, every nibble of cheese. I like to think that yarn, too, can have terroir—and Donegal Tweed is a prime example. The terroir may be a little more subtle here, but it provides just as deep and enduring a satisfaction to the wearer.

 
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